Singleness, Being Alone, and Deficiency

This one, by the way, is gonna be personal. Not all personal, and I’ll try and keep specifics out of it since the personal things aren’t just about me. Also, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with things getting somewhat confessional here. But I do want to write about this.

Me and the ELO* broke up, a little over a month ago. As is often the case with these things, this situation is.. difficult. Actually, ‘difficult’ is probably the wrong word. It’s fraught, it’s confusing, it hurts like hell, once in a blue moon it feels fine for a little while. I suppose that’s almost always how it goes. And I’m doing all the usual things that a person does at times like these, from impulsive haircuts to spending hours on end watching Veronica Mars to learning ukulele and reevaluating my entire damn life. I figure that’s almost always how it goes, as well. Is it just me, or do LTRs sometimes feel a little like eras in your life?

And then I saw Chally’s post The Deficient Single Woman. Ohhhh boy, that one got me thinking.

Here’s the thing. Part of grieving for a relationship is simply missing the person themselves. Or being angry at them. Or, I guess, just dealing with whatever complicated feelings it is you have for them.

And then, I’m finding, there’s the other bit.

You see, for me, this whole process has as much been about dealing with finding myself single as it is about finding myself no longer involved with ELO. And those are two very distinct things. Being single, as Chally rightly points out in her post, is a social status. It’s a social status that’s seen as lesser- check out the post above for her discussion on that.

Here’s the thing. Dealing with being single means dealing with possibly ending up single. Every time you’re not in a relationship, there’s a perfectly reasonable possibility that you’re going to stay that way. It happens. For as many reasons as there are people in that situation.

I don’t know how to unpack the parts of that which are scary personally, and which are scary because I live in a world that sees ending up single as, well, a deficient way for a woman to be.

I know that the idea of living alone seems awfully lonely to me. I know that I’m at my happiest with someone to come home to, someone to share my space with. Someone to get to taste whatever it is I’m cooking. Someone to talk about my day with, go grocery shopping with. Someone to wake up next to in the morning. A window lit up when I’m walking home that quickens my step and puts a smile on my face, every time. Someone who’s the first person I call. Someone who knows I can be the first person they call.

That stuff is good. It’s also something I always somehow assumed I’d have, in the end.

And while right now there is no way I want to seek out all of that with someone new (after a reasonable amount of time flopping about in NRE-induced idiocy, natch), the idea that that might never happen for me leaves me cold.

And that’s where the unpacking comes in. Because how much of that is because it seems like it’s always assumed that all of those things happen in one kind of relationship? And how much is because I genuinely really want primary romantic relationships? How much of it is not seeing any alternatives? How much of it is my own desire, and how much is what I’ve always been taught to desire? And- more urgently- how much of it is my own fear of never attaining what I desire, and how much of it is my fear of not measuring up? How much of a fear of loneliness is also, or really, a fear of failure?

If, as Chally pointed out, we live in a society where ‘singleness is treated as something to be fixed’, then how are we to tell the difference between what we really want, and what we’re scared of?


*Entirely Lovely Other, who has showed up in a post or three before.

**I always get my hair cut at times like these. Always.

Singleness, Being Alone, and Deficiency

18 thoughts on “Singleness, Being Alone, and Deficiency

    1. 1.1

      Thank you! And thank you for the post I linked to here- it gave me an awful lot of food for thought, as well as a bit of structure to think about a lot of the things that have been going around in the head lately.

  1. 2

    Oh. This. I can relate in a big sort of way to this, as I’m going through a very similar thing. My primary broke up with me a few weeks ago, and as I’m prepping to move into a place *by myself* (my cat objects and says that he is a person too, but as I can’t exactly give him a call about exciting things I’m not counting him in this instance), I find myself scared, anxious, breathing, excited, considering, thinking, reflecting — a whole welter of emotions and states of being. I am grateful for my friends and their support. But this, right now, this is not where I thought I would be in my early thirties. Single, living alone.

    My landlord-to-be described the last three years of my life as a “trial marriage” when I briefly related that my long-term partner had broken up with me, and said not to worry – that she had gone through one of those too. But here’s the thing: my roadmap never said anything about being with someone until I died, growing old together, having that primary partner that I *always* came home to. …but that’s what happened, and I thought that was the way it would always be. And yes, I knew it came with work, and this last year has been a lot of work, but now it’s done, and I’m left here packing up my kitchen alone, cooking alone, getting ready for a new portion of my life alone.

    I liked being in a long-term partnership. And, as you said, doing the grocery shopping together, the telling them about my day, all the minutae that build a life together. And I liked the fact that it made me “not dangerous” – being read as a queer guy with a wedding band, I was read as less of a risk than someone who might be read as a single straight man, if that makes sense. While I wouldn’t go back now if he asked me, I still mourn the relationship and the trappings of identity that went with it.

    Not that I am entirely maudlin about the process, but there is a great deal of change, and a lot of stuff to work through.

    1. 2.1

      That’s such a thing, isn’t it- the whole idea that this isn’t where I thought I’d be. I think that we have so many scripts that, even if we don’t consciously subscribe to them, we can’t help but take on to some degree. And even if don’t personally subscribe to them, there’s no real way to avoid all of the assumptions that come with any social status.

      ..and y’know, all of that theory aside, I’m sorry to hear you’re going through a tough time. And y’know, you know where on the internets I am, if you fancy firing up the Skype and popping on the kettle.

  2. 3

    Break-ups suck 🙁 And I’m sorry you’ve been having such a rough time of late, I hope it gets better soon. The way I see it though is that you’re a pretty damn awesome person all on your own, and being single is certainly not lesser, it’s a time to express all that awesomeness, in ways that make you happy, without the inherent constraints of a relationship.

    Besides, I figure anyone that you decide to date would have to be pretty damn awesome themselves, and that may be way too much awesome concentrated into a small part of the world, which, if I remember my high school physics, would cause a rip in the fabric of time and cause the whole universe to collapse back into a singularity.

    And if and when you decide that you’re willing to be responsible for the destruction of the universe, I wouldn’t worry about finding someone. I mean, perfect strangers who stumble upon your blog think you’re awesome, and since awesome works like gravity (in that the effect gets stronger with proximity), you have nothing to worry about.

    Gosh, do I sounds like a gushing fanboy? I think I’m going to say awesome again… awesome.

  3. 4

    Definitely a post I can relate to. I’m just going to share one memory: a few years ago one of my cousins got married while I was single, and I was invited to the wedding. He’s one of my favourite cousins, so of course I went, and I was in the first year of my PhD and very busy and not living in Ireland any more, so I didn’t really have a chance to arrange a date. It was…passable, difficult in places because of the noise and the crowds, but the biggest annoyance of the evening was having to search Mullingar for mascara and not finding any. Afterwards, though, multiple people told me – and told me how they had had conversations with other people on the subject! – how brave I was for having gone to a wedding on my own! People get stunned when I see a movie by myself. Even though I was clearly fine with my status, and hadn’t even put much thought into it, I was viewed as overcoming a disability.

    1. 4.1

      People get stunned when I see a movie by myself

      Oh my god, I can relate to this so much. That and the ‘bravery’ thing- especially when I’m not being particularly brave at all and am just going about my business. It can feel a bit patronising at times. I can imagine that finding yourself a major topic of conversation at the wedding could be a bit.. disconcerting.

  4. 5

    What a really wonderful post, Aoife, though I’m really sorry that it came from such an unhappy situation. I don’t know if I have anything constructive to add right now, as I’m right with you on absolutely everything you said!

    Warmest wishes, hope everything gets better soon.

  5. 6

    I’m sorry to hear of that turn for you… perhaps some laughter. I have a memory of you, years ago, in a library, attempting to stifle a laugh over irreverent marrow comments posted on an old yellow tinted message board.

    Never fear the end of relationships out of fear one will never again come your way; when you get to be my age, you realise the fear is groundless.

    *throws a hand of magic dust and poofs back into my universe*

    1. 6.1

      Excuse me for this, but…
      ohmygodNelle! Hi! It’s wonderful to see you! Hi! How are you?! It’s been so long! How’d you find me?

      ..also, thank you so much. Don’t worry, I’m not as scared of things as this post makes me out to be. And at the end of the day, even if I don’t end up with that kind of relationship again, I’m never short on companionship and love. Which seem to just plain appear out of nowhere just when I least expect ’em 😉

      (also, have I mentioned hi!)

      1. OK I’m 47 in two weeks time and I have been single all my life. I’ve had some relationships but nothing really long term as such…although a few complicated situations it must be said..but we won’t go there.
        I can relate to what you are saying especially like this is some sort of condition that must be cured! I really do think, as Chally says, that society needs to rearrange itself in relation to people. I do think that society makes it a lot harder to be single than it actually is or needs to be. I do think that society is better and more accepting of different ways of living, than it used to be but still there are lots of ways in which society doesn’t help. A few recent examples (and I could write a book about it):
        1. My cousin asking “don’t you have any man in your life, why not, whats wrong with you, don’t you like men”? A. Its none of his business B. It felt like a judgement C. He assumed it would be a man (which in my case it would be but nevertheless annoyed me that he would make the assumption!)
        2. Often even the most well meaning couples wanting you to enter into their world rather than the other way around. There is often, not always, an assumption that you must fit in to their lives, their arrangements, like somehow you are a little child who must go along with what the grown ups are doing. I’m convinced this is worse for single women but I might be wrong. This gets worse as you get older because more people are married or in partnerships than when you are a bit younger. Somehow you are a lesser being, you must revolve around their lives … couples in particular can be guilty of this…they don’t necessarily go to your house or go with your plans for a night out. They forget that you can’t go to a concert on your own and they don’t invite you. And I often feel that I can’t do the asking..I can’t even explain why not but it is part of how society organises itself. I have one friend who is often in relationships but not always..when she is not in a relationship she contacts me a lot but when her new partner is around she rarely contacts me except for on nights the new lover is not around. It really annoys me because I have been in her life 30 years and longer than any of her often broken relationships! I know I sound bitter but it does make me angry.
        3. An acquaintance coming to my house for the first time..I have a nice house but its big for one person..he just couldn’t get his head around me living on my own and kept asking me about my life as if I were some sort of species to be studied.
        4. Likewise at my new workplace last year a woman, whom I liked, a work colleague, who in other ways was a nice person actually…was obsessed with my lifestyle. She couldn’t understand why I would go to the Aran Islands on holidays, why I lived alone, why I didn’t have whole ways of life seemed to be totally not acceptable to her.
        5. Another cousin, as it turns out the sister of the cousin I mentioned above, making comments at a recent funeral about how it just isn’t “normal” to live in a house with no children..the judgements and expectations of society are just cruel in my view.
        OK I could go on.
        How do I feel in myself about being single? Well, yes I do feel lonely and would like to have someone in my life. I always felt that I would prefer to be alone rather than being in the wrong relationship and I still believe that but its not really the point. The point is that for me it is lonely. I would prefer to be with someone and as you say do all the ordinary things like the groceries, going to a film, going for a walk etc. No matter how wonderful your friends are, and my friends are, it isn’t the same thing.
        Having said all of that there are a few lights at the end of the tunnel:
        1. It becomes normalised to you in a way that it is normal for others to be together. So at home here tonight I don’t dislike my own company, I can appreciate being alone. I would probably find it hard to have children around the place cos its not what I’m used to so my life has taken on its own rhythm which is my rhythm and on my terms. A bit selfish perhaps but not without some good aspects.
        2. It becomes easier. As you get older you become more comfortable in your own skin..or at least I do. I can only speak for myself. But it might be consoling to those of you who are a bit younger. I don’t think it is helpful for people to say “don’t worry you have plenty of time you will meet someone”. You may never meet someone and why should you “worry” as such..there is an inherent judgement in this again, like you are a lesser being. What happens if you never meet someone…like me? You can’t go on forever feeling that you must meet someone to be happy. I think when I was younger I used to say this but not really believe was like a mask. But now actually I believe you can be happy as a single person. I think the trick is to embrace what it has to offer, and to find the good things about being single..but more than that its about valuing yourself. And I think that becomes easier as you get least for me it did. My thing now is that I have a right to be in this world and to be happy. I’m not sure if I really believed that in the past. I have as much right to be here as anyone else. Believing that now makes life a very different place to be. I’m less taken in by the judgements of society and less influenced by them.

  6. 7

    Yay! Now that makes me feel better.

    *checks* I’m well… I had a link to your journal from years past, and followed the trail. Lots of good people congregated on that old yellow board, and it is nice to check in and see how some are getting on.

    It’s been a ride, but things are looking up. 🙂 I play mostly on FB and blogher now. Your blog is bookmarked, so I’ll be checking in…

  7. 8

    I loved Chally’s post, and I like what you say about the relationship vs. the social status.

    I miss having an automatic Person Who Is My Person sometimes more than I miss the actual person. He drove me places and was my date to things and we had a secret language and I could always count on cuddles or a friendly face at the end of the day. A person to come home to.

    As an actual relationship partner, it’s very healthy that we broke up. But I miss the “I’ve got that couple shit figured out and can focus on other things” aspect very much.

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