singlehood

ending one chapter and starting the next

I’m on the verge of a new chapter in my life. In a month or so, I’ll be moving in with my boyfriend of almost a year. It’s a change we’ve come to see as right and necessary, one that we’re both excited about. The weight of maintaining two households with pets has become an increasingly awkward and heavy burden on both of us. We want to share a home base, to have the chance to create routines that don’t involve one of us racing 15 minutes away to the other house.

I’ve lived with two other men, one of them two separate times. Moving in together wasn’t deliberate or planned, but either horrifically premature or a haphazard decision based on circumstances—or both. I didn’t get a chance to think about what it meant, if I really even wanted it, what I would be gaining and losing. I jumped in blindly, head first, with the assumption that of course I wanted to live with this guy, why wouldn’t I? Even if I had some doubts, it was just for a couple of months, so what was the big deal?

With hindsight, I see the big deal.

Even now, coming at this from a totally different place, it’s so easy to be distracted by the pull of everyday tasks, the mounting to-do lists and plans that come with big decisions and moves. But it’s not enough to just know I want it and get busy doing. This is a pretty profound beginning, and if I don’t take some time to honor that—to recognize the ending that’s inherent in any beginning, to consciously let go as I move forward—I feel like I’ll miss out on some important steps. I might wind up feeling more lost and confused than excited and gratified and grateful.

Like what I felt right after my wedding. I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I got married. I don’t regret marrying my college boyfriend, but I wish we’d taken the time to talk through a lot of things before we got engaged, and I’d understood what a huge transition it was. When I got back to work after the honeymoon, I felt disoriented, depressed and hopeless. Post-wedding blues aren’t uncommon, some of it due to the fact that you’ve been frantically working on a project for months and of course there’s a letdown once it’s over. For me, a lot of it was because I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was changing my identity, taking on a whole new role as a wife and life partner, without taking any time to recognize that I was losing something, too.

And then it was backwards during my divorce—I struggled to let go of the identity I’d built during the marriage, belonging to someone. That period was all about the ending, versus getting married being all about the beginning—and each time I didn’t see that I needed to process and honor BOTH. Meeting my toxic ex just as I was stumbling toward a new truth, right on the cusp of learning who I was without my ex-husband, slowed the process down by about two years. Once I got out of that relationship/nightmare, I was finally free to get to know myself. Date myself. Give all my time and energy and attention to ME.

For the first time in my life, I was my only priority. I got to decide what I did and when I did it. I reclaimed myself, rediscovered my self-respect, and enjoyed the heck out of it.

After a year, when I decided to start dating again, I did it knowing exactly why I wanted to eventually find a partner, with a clear set of intentions and a deep attachment to my singlehood. I had fun with the experience, and eventually stumbled across someone who I grew to love, respect and appreciate, someone who shares my core values. I’m not with my boyfriend because I was unhappy alone—the opposite. I’m with him because I finally figured out what it means to be happy, what it means to be aligned with what matters most to me.

It means being authentically myself. Caring about myself and allowing myself to screw up and say no and have needs. Writing new rules.

It means feeling free. Relaxed. Safe. Loved.

It means taking care of my life, my health, my cats, my home, my friends, my family, my money, my job. All the things I’m responsible for—and not being manipulated into taking care of any person or obligation I’m not responsible for.

It means making sure I have empty moments to stare up at the sky and quiet my mind.

It means curling up with a book for hours, only getting up to find snacks or go to the bathroom.

It means experimenting and exploring and having adventures. Traveling to new places. Doing activities that I love and trying new ones.

It means feeling whole within myself.

It means carrying all of that forward with me, always, through every new chapter and every transition, not taking any of it for granted or forgetting how important it is.

I really treasured my single life, my tiny cozy apartment. It was so straightforward and fulfilling. I loved coming home on a Friday night and reading until I fell asleep at 9 p.m., waking up early to a quiet Saturday alone, making myself a special Christmas dinner of steak salad, creating small everyday rituals. I’ll miss those things. There’s loss in most big changes, and these things are what I’m losing. At the same time, I’ll be coming home on a Friday to make dinner with someone who loves me, waking up early on a Saturday to a quiet day of bike rides, gardening and cooking together, celebrating holidays and creating rituals as a couple. A new fulfilling life with my partner in our new home.

Being on the cusp of change is a really powerful thing, if we remember to check in and pay attention to how we’re experiencing it. It’s an opportunity to take stock of what matters to us, what we’re leaving behind and what we’re taking on. Every new beginning marks an ending of something else, every ending a new beginning, and all that we feel about both deserves to be fully honored.

disorienting freedom of singlehood

(Originally written in July, 2013, just over a week after my last relationship ended.)

This was my first weekend alone, and it felt disorienting and liberating. I loved knowing that my space was my own, to expand and explore and change and roam in at will. There is an aspect of loneliness, but I reminded myself that “it’s just a place to start.” I worked hard on projects, keeping myself distracted, but I also allowed for time to just sit or walk or rest with my thoughts. I’m not afraid of the silence, but right now there’s still a tender empty place inside me that he used to fill. I can only take so much of nothing before it starts to ache, and there’s no release in tears though I wish there was. I’ve cried everything out for the time being, and healing will just come with time, with journal writing, with talking to confidantes, with loving and taking care of myself.

I allowed myself some indulging in terms of spending, though not more than I can afford. It just feels good to buy my home and myself a few new things, just because it’s now fully mine. New dish towels, new olive oil pourer, new salt shaker, new tongs. New table for the backyard, new plants to fill in some gaps. Plenty of food in the cupboards, some new clothes. And a few free things, too – music I’ve been wanting to listen to, that I didn’t even realize I wanted or needed. One of my favorite movies.

I cleaned things out and threw them away – food, clothes, movie files, paperwork, dead leaves. I scrubbed out my fridge and reorganized my cupboards. I found many things that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend and our life together, and while they gave me twinges, some sore moments, through it all I felt a growing confidence and liberation. This is right. I’m supposed to be alone right now, supposed to be living in my apartment with my cats, taking care of my car, taking care of my money, my plants, myself. Not looking after anyone else. Not having anyone else look after me. Not giving energy to anything or anyone but myself and my friendships, as they need me – and to what extent I’m capable. I’m dating myself, developing a brand-new relationship with this divorced, single woman who lives in an adorable one-bedroom apartment with two cats, someone who has her life relatively together, a writer and publisher of books, a hostess, an adventurer, full of deep, abiding gratitude for her life.

Not chaotically torn between ending a marriage and beginning a new relationship.

Not struggling madly to set boundaries against a tide of manipulation and resistance.

Not planning my life around another person’s wants, needs, moods or problems.

Not waiting anxiously not knowing what might happen next – wondering if we’ll break up, if some new shoe will drop, for some new temper tantrum – or even some new expression of love and commitment.

Not stressed out and anxious, worn to a thin thread of patience yet desperately afraid to snap for fear of the consequences.

Not surviving day to day, clinging to what love and affinity there was.

Not codependent or waiting for affection that may not come.

FREE.

Free of all of this, free to be whoever and however I need to be. Free to come and go and not have anyone walking in, bringing their stories, their needs, their issues, their emotions to pile in my lap.

Right now, I need to be free of that.

I need to cradle my own needs, issues, stories and emotions in a loving embrace.

I need to shake out the moths in my spiritual practice and look long and hard at my stories and how they’re defining and limiting me.

I need to build my friendship with me and with others. Explore. Create.

I need to inhabit my life as a fully empowered and independent person, for the first time as an adult not waiting on anyone else for anything. Not waiting for my ex-husband to come back or make a decision or help me with the divorce or get his belongings. Not waiting for my ex-boyfriend to make the movements in his life that he needed to make. Not waiting for any man to become a better and more equal partner to me, or striving to be a better partner to them.

None of that.

It’s odd and surreal and sort of hollow as victories go. But I do feel it’s a victory – over the status quo, over the pain and suffering of losing my ex-boyfriend, over my need to be loved more than respected, my codependent tendencies, my black hole of lack.

Tonight I can make myself dinner and sit on my back patio and read.

Or I can take a long power walk to McKinley Park, listening to music.

Or I can go to the dollar store and spend $4 on 4 things I really want.

Or I can take myself out to dinner.

Or I can go to Safeway for a pork loin.

Or none of the above.

My freedom is strange. It’s like a big loose rubbery emptiness around me, with so few limits (only in terms of vast limits of time, space, physics, riches, and so on). There’s a peculiar quality to it, a tenderness, a thrill of potential joy, a flavor of sorrow and grief for what was, a presence of the past still very much with me, knowing how things would have been only a few short weeks ago, in my old reality. This is the neutral zone, the very essence of a neutral zone. In spite of all the work that I’m doing in thinking and planning and celebrating New Beginnings, and in spite of the fact that in ending things with my ex I’ve started a new beginning, this is the time to float from the ending of one era, of the relationship, of the reality I knew, into uncomfortable nothingness – disorienting, strange, disillusioning nothingness – before the beginning fully arrives.

Tonight is one more marker, one more step on my road through this emptiness and discomfort and into whatever comes next. Tonight marks the first week of my ex-boyfriend moving out, a month since we had our last Monday date (the day his second chance began), the first real week of me living this new life on my own. And while there’s the flavor of sorrow and emptiness, I’m only just beginning to understand how grateful I am to let go of the spell of love, the need for attachment and intimacy, the unhappy watchful games I played for so long. Of course I sort of miss them, just like we miss anything we’ve grown used to. But they exhausted me. They tore me up inside. Reading over diary entries of the past two years reminds me of that more than anything ever could.

And now, I am really and truly done with it. I think I always knew the relationship would be the casualty of me becoming whole and happy again – it was one of the other of us, and in the end it had to be the relationship. Though I am only a speck, connected with all the other specks, no more and no less, part of this entire fabric of creation, I am still too worthy to be so brutally compromised for the sake of being loved. I owe myself better than that, and will not accept the unacceptable any longer.