This week, I have had to deal with a sudden abrupt understanding that more people than I was aware of think something is wrong with me. Apparently, I am broken and need to be fixed. I am a woman lacking- something. What this translated to was very well-meaning and thoroughly offensive sermons about how I just need to put myself out there, because being single is – sure, it’s ok, but it’s hardly ideal or really preferential, right? No one would be single by choice. And I received well-meaning advice on how finding A somebody is easy and it’s better on that side of things.
But here’s the thing- it’s not better. It’s not better Over There Somewhere in the nebulous relationship area, unless you’re actually dating and/or committed to someone you love and care for and are actively invested in. Then yeah, I can see that as better than being alone. But a warm body? Isn’t a relationship. It’s little more than a repository, a place where detritus and memory is stored in the short-term. And if that’s what you’re looking for, that’s fine; but don’t act like it’s better than what I have going on.
What do I have going on? Peace and quiet. Freedom. Independence. The time to pursue my own interests, hobbies, friendships and happinesses that don’t require accommodating or accounting for another person. If another person shows up that makes me want to share my time and space with him and who I feel real love and companionship for, that’s one thing. But to have someone just to have him, to not be so dreadfully alone? Is completely another.
This is the thing I think other people, those who cannot comprehend this, don’t get: I like being alone. I crave it. When I finally get time to myself after a long day or a long week, to putter around my house and do chores, make dinner or read a book or zone out to a TV show? It feels like I’m suddenly breathing after holding my breath all day. Constant interaction with people, the level of energy I’m required to expel in a day at work- by the end of it, I feel like a shadow, staring up at people from a well.
I have always been like this. I didn’t develop this as a teenager or in college. I have always been the quiet, wide-eyed kid who kept to the background, horrified at the idea of being in the middle of a crowd, surrounded by people, forced to smile and talk and be On. I’m older and wiser and do enjoy people and being around them, but it still is very taxing on me and I still retreat into shyness to escape loud situations and large groups of people. It’s not actual shyness- it’s a strong overwhelming desire to not have people in my face, demanding my attention and time. My entire body subconsciously cringes, “please don’t talk to me. Please, please don’t talk to me.”
These things I know to be true. They curl up in the center of my soul with the freely given fragments of all the people I have loved and will ever love:
I learned to write before I learned to talk. By that I mean: the first time I heard my voice, it came out of a pen and sang across the paper under my hand. It stared up at me and echoed clearly in my mind as mine and me and true. It would take many more years before the mine and me and true ever parted my lips and it took a bone-deep grief to cut it out of my throat. I have always been happiest in my head, listening to the world and my voice have their own conversations, whispering soliloquies back and forth.
I remember being a child – maybe 7 or 8 years old – and just feeling out of sorts. I don’t remember why. Likely it had been a long day and I was overwhelmed by it. I drifted out of my house, across the driveway and into my grandparents’ house, where I stayed for a short while, and then left again. On my walk back home, I veered suddenly for the motor-home my grandfather had parked in front of the houses – likely being aired out for an upcoming camping trip after a wet winter – and I pulled open the screen door, crawled in, closed it behind me and laid down on one of the kitchen table benches- a hard plank of wood covered by a threadbare orange floral-print cushion. It wasn’t comfortable, but I stayed there until my father came to look for me, how much later I couldn’t say. When he asked me why I was out there – his tone edging annoyed, because I had scared him – I told him I didn’t know. I just wanted to be alone.
When I was in high school, my best friend and I somehow convinced our parents that we needed to go on a school trip to travel around the UK. We were 16/17 at the time and proceeded to go insane as soon as we left the States (stories for another time). We were stuck in a bus 70% of the time, at historical/tour sites 10% and in hotel rooms with each other the other 20%. By day three of the two-week trip, I was a squirrel clawing at the walls to get out, ready to chew off my leg if it meant escape. I wandered off on my own several times just to get away. One time, a couple of sketchy guys followed me back to my hotel in the middle of the night and the front desk clerk had to chase them off. Another time, I scaled a crumbling wall at Blarney Castle and walked around a gated community full of large manor homes; I eventually found my tour group at a pub after disappearing for over an hour. I was officially put on watch after I got lost so badly flying solo in Salisbury that I delayed the tour a good twenty minutes while they tried to find me. (Mobile phones have done many good things for the world – this was before that time.)
I am glad to be in a crowd as long as there is no expectation for me to exist as part of it, to be a participant. If I’m free to glide through it on my way to my own destination, I am pleased to be there. I travel on my own- I hike on my own- I run on my own- I go to movies on my own. I spent three months living in London primarily in quiet solitude broken up by classes and cultural awareness events, knowing no one in the program before I boarded the plane. Some weekends, I would get on a tube line and ride it from one end to the other, a book in my lap, and explore whatever part of the city that I was suddenly dropped into. I was 19 at the time.
And in all this, in my experiences and choices, I am very, very happy with my life and who I am as a person. My life does not feel like less, because I’m not in a relationship. For me, being in a relationship isn’t a thing to attain, but a choice I make. And if I’m selfish and choose myself until someone comes along that makes me want to choose him instead, who am I really hurting? Why does anyone care? Why does the well-meaning advice automatically assume that, because I am single, that I am wanting and without? If I can respect your decision to actively seek a relationship or to date someone who has insubstantial meaning to you just to stave off loneliness, aren’t I allowed the same respect for the decisions I make?
It’s my life, it’s my heart and it’s my choice. Your judgment is not welcome here.