I read a lot of blogs which offer insights into different views and perspectives about life, love and relationships. I’ve enjoyed reading posts about people discovering new things, or reflecting on their decisions in the past and how that has made them who they are today. They have discussed choices and the experiences whch helped make those decisions, or the influences that have been in force during their lives and have guided them through exciting, tough and challenging times. Therefore it is not without nerves and worries that I talk about my relationship with myself and that word that has been thrown around so much lately (due to a certain national ‘celebration’ held in mid-February): single.
For those who follow my blog, you will know I’ve just gone through a breakup, which means I’m now single. However, for the first time in a long time I’m not ‘technically single’, I am completely and utterly single.
In response to a recent conversation about being single, I found myself writing some rather long responses detailing things I never realised or appreciated until the sentences formed underneath me (or my thumbs more accurately). I realised that my ideas and values have (perhaps only temporarily) altered due to this experience which, for someone who values consistency and can sometimes be a little nervous of change, was a little disconcerting. Yet, this is life. It’s dynamic and ever changing, full of experiences to learn from and full of opportunity. But at this moment, for the first time in a long time, I find myself completely terrified by the word single.
This wasn’t always the case. I used to relish in being single. I had wonderful periods of my life where I moved around the country, worked on my career and was able to maintain partnerships which were second to my individual happiness. It was glorious. I visited my partners when I wanted, and travelled to different cities across the UK and occasionally in Europe for all manner of things. I received nourishment and happiness in the form of new experiences and intimacy without any pressure for future considerations- because we both had things we were prioritising which weren’t each other. This was the best kind of being single. People could ask me if I had a partner and I would say yes to those who were familiar with the concept of wider partnerships, but for those who only understood and wanted to understand partnerships as being only of a primary status, I told them I was on my own.
During this period, I was slightly concerned about not fitting into the ‘template’ that many expect us to live our lives within. I wasn’t working towards building a life together with anyone, certainly not marriage or children, all things which my family value above all things. I was worried that perhaps I had my priorities wrong, and this was actually a phase caused by the backlash of the breakdown of a particularly damaging relationship. During this relationship, I’d been prescribed a soulmate- by each other, by friends and by family. In the latter part of the relationship I became part of their family for eight months, a family which valued motherhood and children even above my own (I thought this not possible, but it really is), so much so I was told I’d not need to find a career and I was merely there to ‘contribute’ as I would have a disrupted career due to maternity leave and homeschooling my children. The idea of celebrating Christmas separately was almost blasphemous, as we were now a ‘unit’- difficult for me as have a separated family who I alternate between each year- and I spent the first Christmas away from ‘home’, and it was one of my worst memories and decisions to date. If this was what safety, security and a fulfilling relationship which was working towards marriage and children looked like, I categorically did not want it.
Different to my friends, I started to celebrate my happiness for putting myself first, rediscovering my old self outside of the hobbies and interests that were pushed on me to make me a perfect ‘fit’, and discovering what it was like to be a single adult for the first time. Therefore, I hope you understand my relief when I read an article written by someone who strives to put themselves first and made it work. I remember crying when I read it. I remember not feeling like I didn’t fit into norms, or maybe I didn’t but it was working, I was happy and that’s fine too. I remembered all the times my friends would joke that I didn’t like or value commitment, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I value commitment, of course I do, and even though none of my partners were primary forces in my life, our mental wellbeing and happiness were hugely important. I was committed to myself, to being the best version of myself, and was committed to trying to forge a new career, after running away from the above situation with a suitcase.
I’m ever thankful to Exposing 40 for sharing her thoughts on almost being your own primary (which is what I took from the post), and the benefits of being a secondary partner in her post Always Coming Second. I recognised it instantly as something I wanted, and had been trying to do. I remember this paragraph especially- which made me realise that I did want different things, but perhaps not that different to so many other people. Simply different to what I thought I should want.
Where some people find security and warmth in a shared home I found claustrophobia. I wanted to travel, he wanted marriage and babies young. I detest routine and our habit of going to the supermarket every Monday actually made me miserable.
Marriage was never on my radar, and children may or may not happen, but I would only allow this to be a consideration if the situation was right. And it would have to be absolutely, completely right. They were not milestones I felt I had to achieve on this single linear progress through life everybody around me seemed to believe in. I was fine with this.
So, what changed?
What always changes. I fell in love. Not teenage love where you naively think you’ll stay together forever. Not love where you think you’ll work because you are willing to change everything about you to make it work, so you feel like you’ve made it. However ‘making it’ would result in two shells of former people, completely unrecognisable in a situation which would never bring true happiness to either party. No, this was different. This was a comfortable love. A settled love. A love where I wanted to wake up together and listen to the radio on a Sunday. A love where I could travel and adventure with a partner, not in spite of a partner. A love where I poured everything into them, and wanted to do so. A love where I started to let myself dream of a future, which did involve everything society said we should want, which I never thought I would want. I didn’t think I could be happier.
That recently ended. I’m currently trying to mourn and grieve for this dream for a future I never had. Grieving for something intangible but very present is a difficult process, but a one I think I can manage in time. However, I’m now single again. I’m not just single, I am alone. For the first time in a long time I can’t access the adventures, the intimacy, the reassurance from a partner. I have to remember how to to do this for myself. And this feels like a different kind of single. This, for this moment, feels horrible. It feels lonely, which is something I never wanted to feel, and a feeling I’m scared of.
I recently read this article, shared by Exposing 40, about being single: Maybe You Should Just be Single. The article details the benefits of the choice to not have a partner, and how being single in your twenties can be an amazing choice at that. But even when I was ‘single’ I’d chosen partners. I’d still chosen to have access to all of the things I wanted from a relationship (sex, intimacy, shared experiences) without having those I didn’t (fitting my goals, desire and wants into half of a box as opposed to a whole one, working towards marriage, children, a mortgage, being tied to a place). We were there for each other when we needed, but weren’t trapped by obligation.
Had I been doing single wrong? If single was being alone, this was one of only twelve months I’ve spent completely alone since the age of 15. And for those who don’t know, for me that is eleven years. To really be happy being single, do I have to go for brunch with girls on Sunday morning, and lament about how great it is to be doing whatever I want, whenever I want? To say I relish never having anyone in my bed (because that’s definitely not what I want- I’d also consider having them on the kitchen table, counter, over the sink…), or going on dates, or having a defined view of my future. Because my married, mortgaged friends would admit they are a tiny bit jealous of this freedom, yet I know they will go home and cuddle their partner a little tighter that evening, thankful that they don’t have to face things on their own.
So what’s next?
The realisation that single isn’t scary (I hope), the rediscovery of myself and of that happiness and self-awareness I once experienced, and to remember that each person is different and you can only work within those parameters of what you think will make you happy based on your experience. I have adventures and travels planned, and things that I have wanted to do for myself for a long time. But I hope to return to putting myself first in everyday life as well. I realise I was moulding myself into what I thought my ex-partner wanted in a partner. I didn’t communicate things that I thought would upset the balance, and I became interested in what he suggested I should be interested in (mostly hobbies he had, or exercise and diet habits to make me ‘healthier’). I wasn’t taking the time to nourish myself in a partnership, which I had previously. However, it wasn’t all bad. He did remind me of how capable I am, and what I can achieve, and even now is adamant that my future is very bright indeed.
So I need to take these lessons into this new phase of my life: remembering my capability and what I can achieve, and ensuring I take the time to invest in my own happiness and wellbeing. If that’s what this new single period in my life will involve then that’s not a scary or bad way to be. And, most importantly, I can make single work for me, and it might look a little different to that of others. But I know I’ll still be taking myself out for dinner, enjoying solo adventures and likely make some comments to my married friends who cook for their husbands (which are in jest, and I love them all dearly). I know many of you reading have found the perfect balance of loving yourself and another simultaneously, and I understand it is not mutually exclusive, yet I also understand that for me it is impossible to achieve that balance without being able to love myself. I’ll take my favourite paragraph from the above article, and remember four words: demanding more of love. Demanding more of simply another person loving you, to check off that important milestone and that being the end of this one quest we have in our life; demanding I love myself first and foremost.
Rejecting that sort of partnership doesn’t mean rejecting the whole notion of love. On the contrary: it means demanding more of love. I’m a gigantic squishy romantic at heart. It’s just that I think compulsory heterosexual monogamy is the least romantic idea since standardised testing, and I don’t see why our best ideals of love and lust and passion and dedication need to be boxed into it.
I’d like to thank all of the bloggers and writers who have helped me during this period- whether listening to my sadness, providing good company, or helping me to identify the important lessons (usually inadvertantly). I would like to further extend my thanks to the wonderful, inspirational Exposing 40 for thought provoking writing and constantly championing self love and worth.