A Hidden Benefit to Being Single? Self-Reliance

It is true that being single prepares you to lead a stronger and more courageous life. It forces you to deal with certain situations because there is no one else to do it.

I pay all my bills and take care of savings and my retirement plan. I read a few books and blogs so that I could understand money better, because I knew if I didn’t do it no one would. My father passed away when I was in high school, so I missed out on a lot of those daddy-daughter lessons like parallel parking and finances. Also, no one threatens the boys I date because my mom is all too excited to see me with someone.

I had to learn a lot on my own, including intimidating men which apparently I do very well (pansies!). But if I was in a long term relationship or a marriage I may not have to do this. Typically skills around money and house repairs fall to the man in the relationship. I never learned how to change a tire sadly, it actually intimidates me. I am incredibly afraid of not getting the bolts on tightly and the wheel flies off on the highway. But for the things that I don’t know, I found resources to help. I have a guy that does my taxes, good friends that repair cars and AAA membership. I can read a map and stay calm when I am lost. I have a friend that is a cop, when I need a little more help.

I was thinking about this very idea this week. I hit a financial bump in the road that is throwing me for a big loop. It is scary to have that happen when you are alone, no one to rely on but yourself to bring in enough money.

I got really upset because it is a scary situation. Let’s just say there is a tax error from 2010 and the IRS is not happy with me. In top of that I have some major car repairs due. It’s bad timing. I got upset and I cried because I was scared, embarrassed for being where I am financially and feeling very alone dealing with this problem. I actually cried for a long time, the kind of crying where you stop and you think you’re ok and then it starts again for no reason. I just let it happen.

I reached out for comfort from a guy that I am dating, I had hoped that hearing his voice would cheer me up. I got his voicemail and tried to leave a vague and chipper message “Just saying hi!” So ultimately I had to pull myself together.

And I did. I reassured myself that things would be ok, that I had options and ways to work on this problem. That I was strong, and flexible and there are always ways to make money. I started to work on my resume to apply for a job I found that would be a great fit for me. I went to bed early, and woke up feeling ready to tackle my day.

This is an underrated skill of being single. We get the privilege to learn our own finances and repairs. If we choose to couple up someday, we come to the table with skills that equal (or may surpass!) our partner. We don’t need to be babied or rescued.

And while it is nice to have support from friends or a partner, we can self soothe. We cry it out if we need to, but we don’t need anyone else to fix our problems. We can learn to do it ourself. Sometimes it does take trial and error and lessons get learned the hard way, but more than anything we learn the strength to rely on ourself.

Advertisements

Break Up Stories- The Train Driver

I’m going to begin at the ending. Timmy and I rarely saw each other after we stopped dating and texting. There was some sexting once in a blue moon. I saw on Facebook that he was in a relationship and I figured that was the end of that.

Then he texted me just to say hello, how are you, what have you been up to, etc. I entertained it until it started going down the road that it always did. I put the breaks on and brought up his Facebook relationship status. He gave me a complicated story about he was  doing it to make her boyfriend jealous. Sounds like a huge made up story, and I told him I wanted nothing to do with it. When he got pissed, I knew I had just caught him in his lie.

A week later he was engaged to the girl. Mazel tov.

Timmy and I met three years before that because of a set up from a mutual friend. Rarely do set-ups work out. Usually someone says “I know the perfect guy for you!” and I will smile politely and sit through the awkward set up where my friend and her husband join me and this “perfect” guy for drinks.

This time, it had looked promising. Timmy was sweet, and I wasn’t going to knock him for having a name that ended in a Y. It felt boyish, and that described him perfectly. Boyish, fun, sweet, charming. And yet he was strong and manly too, he was a train driver. Honest to god, he drove trains for a living.

He had the best hands. And we had so much fun together. We had absolutely nothing in common, but it didn’t get in the way. We enjoyed learning about each other’s worlds. His work kept him incredibly busy but we could text for hours while he was driving.

Our dates were always fun and spontaneous. I learned early on that trying to plan something with him was pointless. It always got cancelled because of work. Things got delayed, he got re-routed, he was guilted into working an extra shift.

He was in a Philadelphia hotel for a night because of work and I decided to go visit. Why not, Philly wasn’t that far. Overall it was a fun trip, but it was a last ditch effort to make something work that was never going to work.

Our spontaneous dates became so infrequent and my patience wore thin. I told him I couldn’t keep waiting for someone to appear that may never appear. I couldn’t have a relationship by text message any more, I wanted more than that.

So we stopped texting. It was sad to lose the fun distraction that I had gotten used to during my days. In those slow, bored moments it was nice to have someone that I could write to and he could make me laugh.

I think my guy friends were honestly more upset than I was. They loved hanging out with the fun and silly train driver. For me, it was a pity but I wanted  so much more from a man. And his behavior when things really ended was more than the proof I needed to know I had made the right decision.

Break Up Stories- The Bridge Engineer

I was smitten immediately with the tall, handsome and dark haired Mark. I went out with a friend just for catching up over cheap beers. I saw him across the bar, she knew his friends, but I assumed he was with another girl there. But he kept talking to me.

He was so smart. So outdoorsy yet interested in art. So kind. When he walked me to my car I wanted him to kiss me, but he didn’t. A gentleman, too?

Must be. He actually called to ask me out on a date, and suggested a very nice first date- dinner at one of the best restaurants in Baltimore and then tickets to see a play. I felt like I hit the jackpot!

And yet, I ignored all the signs. All the warnings about how he would get so tense about anything in the future together. When he postponed any conversation about the two of us together. He didn’t want to introduce me to family yet. The way that I would just feel awful for no reason when I was with him. My gut was telling me this wasn’t the right guy.

But I ignored it. I kept focusing on all the good and ignored all the bad. I fell farther and farther. I introduced him to all my friends and gushed about how perfect I thought that we were together.

Oh, how blind I was.

He had been studying hard for a major exam that he needed to pass in order to get promoted at work. We had an amazing, relaxing day on the day before the exam and had planned a night in New York to celebrate together after it was over. The day of the exam came, and I didn’t hear from him when he was done. It was a Friday, and a beautiful spring day. I knew that his neighborhood would be packed with people going out after work. I waited for a while to hear from him, but eventually I gave up and went to his neighborhood to at least park. Eventually I did hear from him, but his energy was completely off. I thought it was the exam. It was an odd night. But we were leaving for New York the next day after I taught my morning classes, so I just let it go.

New York was fun, but…off. And then the next day he showed up at my doorstep with a box of all the things I had left at his apartment. He just didn’t feel as strongly about me.

This would have been nice information two months ago. Or before going on a mini-vacation. Don’t wait four months to tell someone you don’t like them all that much. Tell them as soon as you know. It usually doesn’t take very long to figure that out.

In hindsight, I can see all the things about Mark that I wouldn’t want to put up with in my life. He was a coward, that hid behind running Tough Mudders and long hiking and camping trips. He was incredibly religious but struggled with balancing that in his life and talking about what he valued. He was uncomfortable with sex and wouldn’t talk about it. Relationships are about communication, and if you insist on hiding and not communicating about what is important to you than you will have a hard time being with a person.

I found out that he was engaged less than a year after we broke up. It always seems to work that way- the guy that uses the easy out by saying he’s not ready for a relationship finds himself over-comitted in his next one.

I wish the couple well, but I am so glad it wasn’t me.

 

 

 

Break Up Stories- The Hot Guy

His name was Dylan and we met at a neighborhood event. It wasn’t even my neighborhood, I had been invited by my best friend to do a basement tour in her quirky neighborhood in Baltimore. I was excited to meet all the people in her neighborhood.

And this one in particular caught my eye. He was handsome, like straight out of a romance novel about a hot, muscular Irish guy. But he was quiet and a little reserved in this environment where everyone had big personalities. I didn’t mind, but it did feel a little harder to connect to him.

We ran into each other a few times on the house tour and finally he asked for my number. We met up on the Sunday after Thanksgiving for our first… hang out? I never know if these things are dates. It’s like feeling each other out- do I like this person enough to do more than a drink? We did, and we hung out and then made out in the parking lot.

Thank goodness he was a good kisser, because talking wasn’t always easy.

We dated for about a month. We had enough in common that there was plenty to talk about. But it never felt like conversation got very deep. But we loved music, and we could talk about it, listen to it, and watch it together. Between that and a solid physical attraction, what more do you need for a month?

The beginning of the end was one night when we met up with friends of his at a bar. I was so attracted to one of them, but I am a lady and I know my boundaries! Until we started bantering. And it was like ping pong back and forth, and we couldn’t stop. It was good natured, but it was the kind of connection that I didn’t have with Dylan.

And it became even more clear when we all relocated to an impromptu bluegrass jam around the corner. It was evidently clear that he had a similar type of chemistry with another girl. Well, that does it.

Strangely, it didn’t end that night. Actually for whatever reason we were still incredibly attracted to each other physically and we slept together that night. The next morning was so awkward I wished I could turn back the clock and sneak out while he was asleep.

And that right there sealed our fate. Neither of us called the other one ever again. I wondered about him from time to time, especially because it was great sex. I wouldn’t mind revisiting that. But when things can fade away gracefully, without pain or anger, it seems like it is a better idea to just leave it be.

Ever had one of those? A guy that ghosts but it actually feels like the perfect exit?

 

Break Up Stories- The Sushi Guy

I met him in the waiting room for my tax guy. Odd place to meet someone, I know. I thought he was trying to start a conversation with me, and I decided to go for it and talk to someone new while we both waited. He was very cute, after all. And he ever-so-casually dropped the line that he was single, so I figured that was a green light.

We talked for a bit and I learned he made sushi for a living at Wegman’s near where I work. There was some fun banter and flirting between us. I decided to make a move and I went to Wegman’s for lunch that week. He was shocked and excited to see me since there was a palpable electricity between us.

A day or two later we were talking on the phone (thank goodness for older men, they still call and talk on the phone!!) and we decided that we might as well get together for a drink even though we had a date planned for a few days later. After we had a drink at the bar he realized he left his wallet in his car, and it had been stolen. I believed him because you cannot fake how embarrassed and pissed he was. I paid for our drinks, and then we made out in his car. It was an exciting and steamy end to the date, I was excited to see him again a few days later.

As I was getting ready for our official first date I had an intense conversation with a friend from work. I was in complete upheaval and almost cancelled the date. Plus, he still didn’t have his credit card or debit card, so dinner would have to be on me. I was feeling shitty and I was paying for dinner? But I really didn’t want to cancel, at the very least some making out would lift my spirits.

So we met for our first date, where he took me to his favorite sushi place and ordered his favorite dishes. He was great- patient and supportive and offered the perfect tid-bits of wisdom when I needed to hear them. Perhaps some people would have seen the wallet problem as a red flag. I saw it as a true human moment. I still think that it was, even looking back with hindsight.

Don’t worry, there are red flags later that I do not ignore.

Our chemistry was off the charts. We met each other’s intensity and kept things really hot. During one moment when we had ripped ourselves apart, we were sitting at opposite sides of the couch to breathe and get a little distance in a moment to cool down. In that charming and disarming way, he said to me “We’re in trouble. This is one of those things that is either going to burn really hot and fast or this is just the beginning and it’s going to get much hotter.”

He was absolutely right. But the more I got to know him, the more I could see that we didn’t fit together quite right. He was a little critical. He was a complete contradiction in a way that I didn’t understand, and I didn’t really want to understand. But the chemistry was still hot, so I was willing to push those things aside.

I promise I open my eyes to the red flags. I was seeing lots of yellow flags and I wasn’t ignoring them. They were there, but nothing big enough to throw it all away.

I knew it was over when he started to forget dates we had. For example, we went hiking one morning. (Side note- I had to wear addidas for that, and now I keep boots in my trunk just in case. I know it’s an odd thing to keep around but you would be surprised how often I wear them. Thanks for that one, Sushi Guy!) He hiked often and when he told me much later that he wanted to take me on the same path that he had taken me, I brushed it off. Maybe he takes a lot of people there, maybe he goes there a lot and forgot he already took me?

And then, there was the big ah-ha moment. We were chatting over appetizers and a cocktail on a Saturday night, and he suddenly lit up. He excitedly told me about an Irish coffee he had earlier this week, and it was so amazing we would have to go get one sometime. I nearly dropped my fork and did a spit take with my cocktail. I put my drink down so I wouldn’t throw it in his face.

“That was with me on Monday,” I said.

I got really angry, and quiet. We were in public, I wasn’t someone that liked making scenes. We had a hushed angry conversation. He tried to play the card that I do the same thing when I tell him the same story more than once.

Nope, not the same thing.

Never ignore the red flags. You can see yellow flags and keep things slow, but never, ever willingly pretend they are not there.

We hung out a few times after that, but it was mostly just physical. I knew on that Saturday that it was over, that this could never be someone that I cared about because he so obviously didn’t care much for me. I knew I couldn’t trust a guy that couldn’t keep his dates straight and I wasn’t willing to open up to that guy.

It didn’t take much for me to walk away. It mostly just fizzled out. Out flame that burned hot and fast at first quickly reduced itself to embers.

Sometimes relationships are great love stories, where two equals come together and make something bigger. Two people coming as they are, flaws and all. Flaws make us who we are, but when two people come together you have to be willing to work with those flaws. I believe that we saw and accepted the flaws in the other person without judging them, but we realized we weren’t willing to work with them.

I felt strong for walking away, for not forcing this into a relationship that wasn’t so great. It takes strength to look at a relationship and see it for what it is, not for what it could be.

This week I am going to share a few of my dating stories, so you can see a little bit of where I am coming from and where I have been. There won’t be anything revealing or cruel, just straight up honesty from my point of view.

Dealing With Single Shame, Part Two

It hit me like a ton of bricks the other day when Iw as reflecting on “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons Why You’re Single” by Sara Eckel. Even though I have been doing a ton of work around being a proud single woman and living my best life, I was still ashamed to be single. How did I know this? I get incredibly defensive when anything around the possible topic comes up.

Like many single women I know, I have made up a series of stories to explain my singleness if the uncomfortable situation arises. I have probably done more than my fair share of bragging of what “a fabulous and fun-filled life I lead as a single woman! Oh all the things I get to do!” I have probably over-celebrated the late nights drinking and slipping into the warm yet unattractive fuzzy pjs alone in bed. All just things to make me feel better about being alone despite the fact that in my heart of hearts sometimes I just want a partner. I have quips to respond when people ask “Why are you single, you’re so great?”

And all these defenses are really just covering up the shame that I think that maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe something is wrong and that’s why nobody wants me. I feel ashamed to be single because it looks like nobody wants to be with me.

Eckel points out that there is nothing wrong with you if you’re single, it’s just a matter of coincidence. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to stand tall and say “I don’t know why I am single.” It is honest, and scary.

I was sitting with a good friend the other day and somehow I made a turn in the conversation about how my life has turned out so far. I made some self-deprecating joke, and jabbed at myself for being thirty and “having nothing to show for it.” Tenderly, he pointed out that it takes a lot more courage to be living a life that is truthful, eliminating the things that aren’t right for me rather than sticking in a career and a life that isn’t right even though it would probably lead me to all the things people think they should have by thirty- a nice car, a home, a family. That gives me so much more to show for my life than a pile of stuff.

Even though he is right, sometimes it feels like I would feel better about my life if I had the physical pile of stuff to point at and say “look, things aren’t so bad! I have things!” Instead, I have my sparsely decorated studio apartment, but nothing comes into that space unless I have thought about it for a very, very long time. I guess that’s how my life is, I don’t keep people around unless they make me feel really good. Why should I feel bad about being single if I know that I am keeping only the people that I truly love?

But, sadly, I do feel bad about it sometimes. Somehow our society has conditioned me (and probably everyone else for that matter) to cherish coupled up statuses. Sometimes it feels like the world revolves around the couple. People that have things figured out in their own lives so they could find each other! Like that old standby “no one can love you unless you love yourself.” That implies that if no one loves you, then you must not love yourself. So you start to try to prove that statement wrong, “look how much I love myself! Look how great I treat myself, I am learning so much and growing and changing!” And yet, doing all the self help exercises, and yoga, and meditation, and praying, and all the other things we do to improve doesn’t seem to bring us any closer to a relationship. I start to wonder about my coupled up friends and wonder if they have things more figured out than me, are they more evolved? Is their life better? What do they have figured out that I don’t get yet?

These roots of comparison are part of what poisons my shame and makes it spread deeper in my brain, making me feel worse about myself and my life. Brene Brown tells us that empathy kills shame. And it’s true. Comparison separates me from everyone else, it tries to figure out what they have that I don’t, what am I doing wrong? Instead, if I used a little empathy to look at the situation and realize we are all the same we are all in it together leading imperfect lives and some people have had the luck of meeting a partner while I haven’t had that luck.

Instead if comparison, I should have a little compassion. Compassion and forgiveness for myself. Let myself off the hook.

I am not sure how to stop my single shame yet, but I think a big part of it is being honest and seeing that sometimes I do protest a bit too much about it and that is me trying to hide some pain and shame. Instead maybe I should just let myself be honest. My life has ups and downs, sometimes I am happy to be alone and sometimes I wish I was able to share with someone.

I bet my coupled friends would say the same thing. So no life is perfect. One is not exempt from feeling some pain and shame even when you are coupled up. We all suffer from that sometimes. And what we really need is compassion and empathy to help each other through.

Dealing With The Shame Of Being Single

Maybe the title of this post pissed you off. It pisses me off, and that’s how I really knew I needed to write this post. Usually when I have really big emotional reactions to something, I know it is worth exploring.

Shame is an issue that is getting a little more attention thanks to Brene Brown’s research and books. After reading her books and listening to a few of her lectures, I have been more aware of the shame that I carry and when I am feeling shamed.

I want to make sure we fully explore the shame that comes with being single, so  I want to define what shame is. Shame is different than guilt because of how we internalize it. She is the feeling we get when something is wrong, and we think we are flawed, inadequate or unworthy. We think we are not living up to other people’s standards.

Shame is conquered by empathy. When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes (or they put themselves in ours) then we are brought together and reminded that not only are we all the same, but we understand the feeling and it doesn’t make anyone unworthy.

Reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly is part of what inspired me to write this blog and to write the way that I do. I realized the power of vulnerability, and the importance of more people stepping up to say “This is who I am. I am proud of who I am, I love myself.” Ever since I read it, I have been working on my own vulnerability, putting myself out there as myself and I have been receiving some great support in return.

Anyway, I wanted to write about shame, not vulnerability. Perhaps that will be another day.

The shame of being single kicks in when you are at a family event, most recently for me it was my cousin’s daughter’s birthday. My cousin, meaning well because she was guilty that I have bought her kids countless gifts now, asks “When are you going to have kids so you can start having these parties?” Like a punch in the gut, I tried to laugh it off with “Well, I’d have to find a guy first…” Maybe it’s the way your mom is always trying to set you up with someone because “she just wants to see you settled and happy.”

I felt single shame this weekend when the weather was finally beautiful and I went walking down to a funky neighborhood. And then I realized all the couples had the same idea, and gosh darn they were cute. It wasn’t jealousy, it was shame that I was alone in the furniture store and what right did I have to be nesting?

Shame is tricky because it sneaks in, nestles up to you and gets cozy for awhile. It can cause a shame spiral where you stay in on a Saturday night cuddling with a dog because “everyone is out having a good time and you weren’t invited.” Not that this has ever happened to me, or anything.

The first step is acknowledging that the shame is there. It’s important to have someone that you can rely on to listen and hold space for you when you are feeling in shame. It is not their job to pull you out, it’s their job to listen while holding space.

Let me take a moment on holding space. This was a new concept for me when I heard about it and then I realized it’s something I’ve always wanted and didn’t know what to call it. Holding space is when you come to a person with a problem and they don’t respond with the knee jerk reaction or with a solution. They just listen. It’s like when you go to a standing room only concert and you go to the bar while someone holds your space till you get back. They make themselves bigger and spread their arms and legs to hold your space. This is what a good friend does. Just keeping the space for you, and you can do whatever you want to do in the space (such as cry, whine, scream, etc) and it is perfectly ok to do so. They will keep holding that space.

So when you’re in shame, know who your person is that you can call and identify the problem (“I’m feeling some shame right now.”), and they will hold space so you can talk through it. Often you will identify what’s wrong and why you’re feeling shame and saying it out loud will allow you to start feeling empathy for yourself. Your friend, being the good friend that she is, will also feel empathy for you. Usually all it takes is “I know how that feels, I’ve been there.”

And that’s the thing about empathy. We’re relating about feelings, not experiences. I don’t have many single friends so they probably don’t know the feeling of shopping alone in a furniture store among a bunch of couples. But they know what it feels like to feel singled out and alone.

Shame can knock you down to your knees. We all feel it. Men, women, teachers, parents, you name it. It can knock the wind and the confidence right out of us.

I have given so much thought on this topic, and almost didn’t post this. In fact I wrote it two weeks ago and just let it sit. I have more to say, but it is a completely different tone. This post is going to be a two-parter, so stay tuned…

 

What Other Path Could You Be On?

“Do you know who you are? Do you know what has happened to you? Do you want to live like this?”

Did you watch last week’s Grey’s Anatomy? I am definitely sentimental, and while some people may have hated the episode I thought it was brilliant. I can really relate to Christina’s predicament.

For those that may not be still obsessed with this show after all this time and one major trauma too many, Christina is a heart surgeon that has always had exceptional talent. She has always said she chooses surgery over everything else, she’d rather have awards than children. Her marriage ended because he wanted children and she wouldn’t compromise her career. In the last episode, we got to see two alternatives of how  Christina’s life could turn out. In one life she becomes a mother of two, married to her husband who is the love of her life. She is utterly heartbroken when she presents an award she has been coveting to the intern she has been mentoring. In the other reality, she wins several awards, her husband becomes her lover and when they can’t emotionally do that anymore he chooses to destroy his life by turning to alcohol more often than a surgeon should.

It got me thinking about what my parallel lives could look like. I am ambitious, I want to creat big things and travel and have huge experiences. I wouldn’t say I am opposed to having children, but I don’t feel the pull that some of my friends do. What could my life be if I devote myself to art, creating, traveling, exploring? What would it look like if I became a mom someday?

Both of these ideas are scary to me. It would mean making a choice and doing something outside of my comfort zone. I think when we get a little scared and intimidated it is a good sign. Playing it safe is staying too small.

And the funny thing is that the fantasies of parallel lives feels like it has appropriate timing. I am dating two guys on two very different paths. One is incredibly creative, passionate and busy. The other works hard at his day job because he is a dad and it is important to him to provide safety and comfort for his son. Could I have chosen two more polar opposite guys to date?

I will say it is a lot of fun to try on both lives. I don’t know where things will go with either guy. It is way too early to tell what is in store. But it got me thinking.

What are your parallel lives? What two very different paths would you explore if you could?