By Jessica Newsome
You asked me how it feels to be single now and I’m not mad because I know that you mean, How are you doing? And Are you ok? And Where is your brain? Because you love me and you are curious. And because I know that I’m going to try my best to answer you in the only way I know how—honestly.
Because honestly, being single feels like everyone having an opinion on how I should be doing and whether or not I’m ok and they are all just positive that my brain is in the exact wrong place. When I was with my ex-boyfriend, no one said doubtfully, “I don’t know, Jessica; it just seems like you’ve got a lot going on,” or worse—
“You really need to just be single for a while.”
In a way, I feel like I’m getting a preview of what it’s going to be like for the 50% of my friends who will statistically be getting divorced in the next 5 to 10 years. Of note—married friends, if you think I don’t have an over/under on your relationship’s expiration date, you can wipe that smug look off your face. Chances are you could be in my shoes in the next decade or two, and if there’s any sort of fairness in the world you might think for a minute before telling me what to do.
Though really, bitter single-digs aside, I’ve learned some interesting things coming through on this side.
Society is unbelievably sexist to single women. The number of times that I have been chided for seeing someone casually, the number of times that I have been told that I need to be single and just “learn to be me,” the number of times that I have been reprimanded for not being able to be alone is truly absurd.
And when people tell me to “just be single,” it sounds like two things: One, don’t hook up, and two, don’t feel feelings. Which are two things I am just not sure anyone has ever told a single guy.
I don’t have any apologies about what I choose to do with my body. I also don’t have any apologies about who I decide to have feelings about or not.
Shortly after I became single, I bought a plane ticket to New Orleans to stay with someone I had never met in person. I told a friend my plan, and her response was, “I’m so glad that you’re doing things for yourself now that you are out of a relationship!”
But I did not deprive myself of anything significantly important to me while I was in a relationship. I like to travel. I have a lot of friends that live all over the world. When I was with my ex, I traveled extensively by myself to visit my friends, because that is something I enjoy doing. While I certainly have more time on my hands now that I’m single, I largely spend that time doing the same things I did when I was cohabitating. I do not need to learn to “just be me,” as if I was some sort alien creature while I was in a relationship and I can only truly exist while single. The truth of the matter is that the essence of my being was formed before and during my relationships—through them but not because of them.
None of my ex-boyfriends made decisions for me. None of them grew for me. Even though I miss them or recognize the ways in which they each shaped me, none of the people I have loved define who I am.
Anyone who thinks that being in a relationship cures loneliness is in for a world of disappointment. Loneliness is a part of the human condition. Some of the times that I have felt the most alone have been when I was in a relationship. If you cannot love yourself and stand to be alone when your partner is 1) unavailable, 2) being an asshole, 3) asleep, or 4) just not the person you need at that time, then yes, you won’t be able to handle being alone and single. But frankly, I learned how to be lonely pretty early in life—for pity’s sake, I was homeschooled. Loneliness sucks. But it won’t kill me, and I am fully aware of that. Whenever I’m in a relationship again, I will have days, sometimes far longer, where I feel deathly alone. And I am going to handle it the same way I do now single and always have regardless of my relationship status: drinking whisky and writing poetry. Calling up a friend. Meeting someone new. Reading. Watching crappy tv. Going for a walk in the sunshine. You know. The things you do because you’re human—not because you’re single.
That doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day I want to be in a relationship. I love company. I like when I wake up in the morning and have to figure out when I’m going to brush my teeth around someone else’s schedule. I grow a lot when I have to make room for another person in my life. And the fact of the matter is that I will never have that again if I just “stay single” and “learn how to be me” for the rest of my life. It would be like wanting to be a musician but never taking lessons, or playing gigs. It would be like wanting a job in a certain field but never submitting your resume. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in being single, or that it’s wrong to take your time, or to give yourself rest. People learn things in different ways and at different times and it’s ok to give yourself what you need.
Which is definitely something that being single has taught me. Part of giving myself what I need is letting other people have what they need—empathy—and not avoiding another person’s pain. When I was in a relationship, I actively avoided people who had recently dealt with a break up. I didn’t want to hear them. I was happy and I didn’t want anything to upset that balance. I didn’t want to be inconvenienced with another person’s pain.
And I really regret that.
There was something about being in a relationship that allowed me to be selfish and smug in the same way that grates on me now. The next time that I’m in a relationship I want to remember this disconnect and learn from the experts—the people who have accepted and loved me, no matter what life place I’m in.