Party of One: aka How to be Okay with Being a Total Loner

Today, someone else’s blog post title jumped out at me: HOW TO GET OVER LONELINESS. I scanned through it, and quickly saw that it contained all the usual advice. Join groups! Know and love yourself! Talk to people!

It’s well-meaning advice. It really is. I’ve read dozens of other blogs and articles (not to mention self-help books, and studies, and news reports, and podcasts…) that gave very similar, well-meaning advice. But it doesn’t work for everyone. I have joined a number of groups and attended regularly for years. I engage in small talk at groups and at work. And I love myself and know myself so well, that i can genuinely say that if I were someone else, I would love to be best friends with me. I’m kind and cool and funny and smart and genuine and totally into accepting people and mutual respect and stuff.

But I am alone.

Okay, not 100% alone. I have three kids, ages almost 15 through 19. But they’re kids/young adults with their own lives and interests. I’m just the mom. As they grow and venture off into jobs and college, I find myself with more and more free time to myself.

Anyway, I already decided some time ago that I am done trying to make friends or seek intimate relationships, whether platonic or romantic. It’s really not worth the emotional turmoil, anxiety, or suffering when someone I’ve grown fond of and attached to decides that they are bored with me and disappear from my life. That has been the inevitable ending, no matter how much I give, no matter how caring, or generous, or open, I am, no matter how un-clingy I am, no matter what I say or do or don’t say or don’t do. So, fuck it. Who needs it?

I have learned that being a total loner can be pretty fulfilling in a number of ways. It certainly doesn’t have to suck to not have friends or relationships. In fact, there are quite a few positive benefits from doing your own thing:

  1. You can almost always find good seats at the movies, at concerts, at live sporting events, and plays. It’s amazing how many single seats there are scattered around arenas and theaters. Last minute great tickets? Yes, please!
  2. You get seated faster at restaurants. It’s much easier for hosts to seat a single person at a table for one than to seat a group. And the extra bonus? You can read a book while eating, and it’s not even rude.
  3. Your cell phone rarely interrupts you with phone calls or text messages. In fact, hardly anyone sends you text messages or responds to yours. You could probably cancel your cell phone service, and you wouldn’t miss anything important.
  4. You can schedule your free time however you want. Feel like working out at 5am some days, but 5pm other days? Want to be impulsive and take a day trip to the seashore, or cancel plans to attend one of those group Meetup events you signed up for? No problem! Your time is yours, and you can do whatever you feel like doing without disappointing or inconveniencing anyone else.
  5. You can take long runs while listening to your favorite music, or take long walks while listening to great audiobooks. No need to try and hold conversations while panting for breath.
  6. You can Netflix-binge all you want, and you don’t even have to wait for other people to be ready before going to the next episode.
  7. You never have to be afraid that someone you care about will be cruel to you, or be secretly annoyed and wish you’d just go away, or will leave you. You can wake up every day knowing that you are fully loved and accepted by someone who will always be there for you — yourself.
  8. You can be fairly confident that your ideas and opinions are truly your own, as you are less likely to be influenced by groupthink.

Fewer social obligations means more free time to explore hobbies, workout, discover interesting new places around town, find new music and books, meditate, try out recipes, sleep…Of course, being a total loner can suck sometimes. Especially when you have exciting news to share, or crave human connection — another person’s opinion, or perspective, or fist bump when your favorite team just scored a goal. Even the most dedicated loner can occasionally get lonely, with no one to turn to. When that happens, I look for healthy outlets, like Twitter or blogging, or I escape through exercising or storywriting or playing The Sims.

Of course, being a total loner can suck sometimes. Especially when you have exciting news to share, or crave human connection — another person’s opinion, or perspective, or fist bump when your favorite team just scored a goal. Even the most dedicated loner can occasionally get lonely, with no one to turn to. When that happens, I look for healthy outlets, like Twitter or blogging, or I escape through exercising or storywriting or playing The Sims.

Being part of an intimate relationship or group can suck, too. Honestly, I’ll take the sting of loneliness over the anxiety of wondering if today is the day that the axe will drop, and your friend or romantic partner will abandon you, and the never-ending pain that you’re left with afterward. In fact, I’m starting to forget what exactly was so good about having a friend or a boyfriend. Those good memories have been almost entirely swallowed up by the suffering of after.

I choose to continue focusing on that which is within my control. Being a loner means complete freedom to be oneself, to pursue one’s own goals, to be free of meaningful criticism of one’s life choices, freedom to choose, rather than the prison of being subject to the choices of another person.

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The Many Flavors of Love (a Valentines Day Love List)

I love the sound of rain drumming against the roof, splashing against the pavement, trickling down the windowpane while I watch, warm and cozy indoors.

I love the way a good book transports me far away from the world I know, inserting me, like a fly on the wall, into the lives of other characters, in other places and times.

I love my three teens, who are now 14, 17, and 19. I love spending time with them, sharing laughter, traveling to new places, enjoying meals. My middle daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school soon, and head off to university. Then I’ll have three years left before my nest is empty.

I love trying new foods, and incorporating recipes from around the globe into my daily repertoire. In our house, vegetarian curries and Asian soups are just as common as spaghetti.

I love my sister and her kids. We talk surprisingly little for sisters who actually get along (She doesn’t respond to texts or phone calls often). But on rare occasions we do manage to connect, it’s pretty positive. She began her family much later than I did, so she and her husband have three very young daughters. Two of them have finally reached an age of comfort with being away from their mom and dad, so now we are beginning to have Auntie outings. Since my own kids are nearly grown, it’s really nice to be able to hang out with my young nieces. The next best thing to being a Grandma.

Fun outing with my daughter (right) and two of my young nieces (center)

I love my ex-boyfriend, who I refer to as “Z.” (The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever date or fall in love with). Yes, it’s been more than a year and a half since we were together. But that means nothing to my heart. I hate that he is gone from my life. I love remembering the wonderful, though brief, relationship we had, how kind he was, and how happy we both were together.

Z and me perfect date San Francisco Japanese tea garden
“Z” and me on a couple of unforgettable dates during a weekend together in my favorite city.

I love my career. I love what I get to wake up and do every day. I work in IT, designing and building software systems that revolutionize business for many people. It’s very fulfilling (and pays well, too).

I love that feeling of euphoria I get at the end of a really intense workout or a long weekend run. Runner’s high is not a myth! Now if only we could experience that in the middle of the run, instead of the burning lungs and aching muscles…

I love writing. I especially love to write stories for other people to enjoy. If you read my stories and find yourself transported into another time and place, like a fly on the wall in some character’s life, then my job was well done.

I love a perfect cup of coffee (Decaf dark roast with cream and Splenda), or a perfect cup of tea (earl gray or chai, splash of milk, plus Splenda). Especially with a good book. Long ago, when I had friends, then sharing a perfect cup of tea or coffee while spending time with a good friend was pretty much nirvana.

Hot cup of tea

I love that this list is actually far longer, filled with music, and flowers, and candles, and soccer, and great movies, like Amelie, or Pride & Prejudice (2005), or Shakespeare in Love. I also love how this list continues to grow throughout my life, as I travel more, try new activities, and grow. Ideally, much of this list would be people-based, since really, things and experiences, while worthy of loving and enjoying, can’t love you back. (But then, I have grown quite used to not being loved back. That has never before stopped me from loving).

Whoever, or whatever you love, may you love them fully today, and every day. What’s more, I wish for you what I have always lacked most in life — that you feel fully, completely, and unquestionably loved in return.

Raise Your Glass! (aka: Beat the Year)

Guess what, everybody? According the Under Armour, the company who makes my favorite running app, Map My Run, I beat the year! Hooray, me! *Cheers, sets off fireworks*

What does that mean, beat the year? Well, I’m not exactly sure. Last April, I signed up for a fitness challenge to see how many kilometers I could run during 2018. My grand total was 1,019 Kilometers. I’m not sure how far that is, exactly, since we Americans generally don’t speak metric without the help of Google or Alexa. But it sounds pretty good to me!

Now, this whole “Beat the Year” thing might be even more impressive if my opponent had, say, a set amount of kilometers I was actually competing to beat. I’m pretty sure the year was just lying on the couch, watching the rest of us run like rabbits and laughing her head off.

“Look at you!” the Year says to the slowpoke who ran like, two whole kilometers throughout the whole year. “You beat me! How about that?”

Still, despite my cynicism, I feel like a winner. Why? Because I did stuff. I made an effort. I challenged myself to grow. And in my interpretation, that is what it means to “Beat the Year.”

Each new year in our lives is like a big ol’ champagne glass, minus the bubbly stuff. Our goal is to fill that glass with as much bubbly stuff as possible before it’s time for the final toast at the end of the year. (Champagne, soda, sparkling water, take your pick).

champagne bubbly New Year

Everything you do, for yourself or for others, earns you a splash of bubbly in your glass. For every choice you make to the detriment of yourself or others, you pour a splash down the drain. Help a family member move to a new town? Increased your workout routine? Ate a lot more green, healthy stuff? Fill your glass just a little bit more. Wasted money on stupid stuff? Ate a lot of fast food? Spread negative gossip about your coworkers? Dump your hard-earned bubbly into the sink.

In 2018, I:

  • Maintained my almost-daily workout schedule.
  • Ran so much, that I rewarded myself with my first-ever 20-miler race (How many kilos is that, Alexa?).
  • Volunteered a few times in our community, side-by-side with my teens.
  • Drove to SoCal with a couple of the kiddos and one of their friends, and had an AMAZING time together at Disneyland and our favorite beach.
  • Landed a role as the technical lead on a very important, prestigious statewide project at work.
  • Read a lot of books.
  • Learned to step outside of my comfy cubicle and initiate conversations and walks to the coffee shop with coworkers.
  • Stood right next to the stage at an Imagine Dragons rock concert and sang my heart out.

I mean, what an AWESOME year! True, I still walk a pretty lonesome path with only my teens to keep me company. And somewhere out there, somebody else accomplished way more, or had way more fun, or learned way more great things along the way. But so what? My glass is so full right now, on this last day of the year, that it is overflowing with bubbly stuff.

The final countdown for 2018 has begun, dear readers. It’s already next year in Australia. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your stage of this life’s journey, and whoever you walk beside (even if it’s only you), I hope that your glass is full. I raise mine to you. May we beat the pants off 2019.

Cheers!

Archery in the rain (yes, I’m a curly girl 🙂 )

Be the Sunshine (aka: Self-Reflections on Life Purpose)

Which hat shall I wear for today’s blog? Poet hat? Single mom hat? Clueless adult hat? Goofy humor hat? Ah, I know… *Puts on TED Talk speaker hat* Time to dive in deep, readers. Ready?

Over on MakeItUltra’s blog, I came across these great questions to encourage self-reflection. For me, it is easy to be goal oriented, and to take steps toward achieving those goals. But it’s like making any other to-do list. Check! Check! Check! Look what I did! I feel successful, like I’ve accomplished something. Another gold star for Tiare!

It’s an entirely different matter to pause and self-reflect on the deeper, more important facets of life. What is the point of achieving a goal if it doesn’t bring me happiness? Lead to greater fulfillment? Have lasting meaning? Whatever our building blocks to success, they must begin with a solid foundation based on our core values, and reflect our passions.

Self Reflection

Questions for Self-Reflection:

What are my values?

When am I happiest?

What do I find meaningful?

What am I passionate about?

What was I put on this earth to do?

What emotions do I feel most of the time?

When do I feel most comfortable in my skin?

What are my values?

I value family. Which sounds odd for someone so disconnected from most of her family, with the exception of my children. In an ideal world, I would be deeply connected with my parents, siblings, and extended family, attending family parties and barbecues, and helping out where needed. I hope that my strong relationship with my kids will continue as they head out into the world soon, and that they will give me grandchildren to love and spoil someday. Next, I value the pursuit of personal excellence; of that which helps each of us become better human beings, contributing to one another’s growth, and making the world better in our own small ways.

When am I happiest?

I am happiest sharing moments — big and small — with people I love. I love long belly laughs, singing together, silly dancing around the house, hiking through nature, watching the ocean waves roll in, rooting for a sports team, listening to live music, and eating good food. These things are enjoyable alone. But when shared with the right people, they are filled with so, so much happiness.

What do I find meaningful?

Those same moments that bring me the greatest happiness. Also, being able to contribute in some positive way to someone else’s happiness. To know that I did something to lift the spirits of another human being, or help to make their day a little brighter, or their lives a little better, that to me is meaningful.

What am I passionate about?

Writing. I am passionate about writing stories that other people will (hopefully) enjoy reading. There are one million strange little worlds and lives living inside me, and I can’t wait to share them with the world. Currently, I am also passionate about the work I do, creating Salesforce systems to make other people’s work experiences so much better. These two passions keep me fueled every day, and make it exciting to jump out of bed and face the day.

What was I put on this earth to do?

Write and share stories. Love my kids. Be the sunshine for everyone I can. Love, love, love with my whole heart, even when it hurts.

What emotions do I feel most of the time?

None. I am an emotionless robot. Okay, kidding. I am actually quite sensitive and have learned to rein that in a little too well, I think. When I actually allow myself to just feel something other than my exterior bubbly cheerfulness…well…I hate to admit this. I feel loss. I feel sadness. I feel loneliness. And I just want to stuff that all away and focus on being happy. There is a different between being happy all the time and feeling happy all the time. Sometimes the feelings follow the attitude.

When do I feel most comfortable in my skin?

When I am in a position of leadership or team encouragement. When I am being a goofball with little kids, singing zany songs and reading stories aloud with lots of expression. When I am baking cookies and singing along to 80s songs or Red Hot Chili Peppers. When I am hanging out with people who know me and get me (a very rare treat).

I would love to hear some of your answers, readers! Please feel free to answer in the comments.

The LOOK (aka: Journeymom)

appreciation

2-4-6-8! Who do we appreciate?

Moms, that’s who!

Well, only since 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be a day to honor mothers. Before then, I guess mothers had to appreciate themselves. But now, we get to spend one dedicated day every year taking our mothers out for waffles and coffee, surprising them with bouquets of fresh flowers, and showing them how much we love and appreciate them.

Mother’s Day is not an easy day for everyone to celebrate. Many people no longer have their mothers in their lives. Some of us have tense, rocky relationships with our mothers, and finding things to appreciate about them is, well, a struggle. But even those of us who are lacking can use this holiday to be grateful for what positive lessons we once learned from our mothers, and to reflect on our own parenting choices.

As a mom to three teens, I kind of feel like I’ve reached the journeyman — er, journeymom phase of mothering. Instead of washing sticky handprints from the walls, or singing the Barney clean-up song to get them to put away their toys, I have mastered the LOOK. All moms know the LOOK. Just the right tilt of the head, just the right narrowing of the eyes, and those teenagers drop their cell phones and start scrubbing the house.

Okay fine, not really. But they’re supposed to.

Maybe I should go back to singing the Barney clean-up song. It would probably be more effective, since they hate the song so much and will do anything to get me to stop singing.

At this phase of mothering, I have to strike just the right balance between being my kids’ friend, one they’ll want to talk to and hang out with, and being the enforcer. The one who has to make sure they get their homework done, and stop tossing his dirty laundry on his brother’s bed, and finish all of the dishes, or else I’ll give them the LOOK. (Seriously, I need to come up with a better tool).

The other thing about this phase of parenting is this growing sensation that we are running out of time together. My baby birds have grown so big. They are testing their wings, finding their own worms. In four years, an alarm clock will ring, and my nest will be empty. I can only hope that they will return from time to time, to bring me flowers and take me out for waffles and coffee. I would really appreciate that.

Mothers Day Flowers

 

 

Tenebrae (a poem)

Tenebrae

Tenebrae candles church

Tenebrae

at noontide, in an unfamiliar church

I sat in polished wooden pews, beneath smooth arches

tiny colored lights dancing through window pictures

amber glow of candles

beneath the cross.

I listened for God

as readers shared the holy scriptures

piece by piece, the stories to remind us of that Friday so long ago.

I listened for God

in the hymns we sang

still so familiar to my tongue

which once recited the words, caressed the Truth, tasted

His presence.

I have not heard God

since those golden days when we

were a thrown-together family in His name.

Remember how we gathered, holding hands, sharing spirits?

Remember how we preached

to each other

knew

the importance of

loving our neighbor as we loved ourselves

clothing the naked, feeding the hungry

shining lights, a beacon on a hill, the salt of the earth?

 

You knew.

You knew, all of you.

Yet you did nothing.

 

When I was always smiling

doors open for group socials and happy games

you were there (and so was God).

When I stood certain, a rock in my faith, inner light

glowing like a Good Friday candelabra, shining bright

you were there (and so was God).

I saw you all around me

and heard God

felt God

in the old hymns, in the new songs.

We clapped our hands

held each others’ babies as we prayed together

our own private city, Christian club

example to the world

of forgiveness

of love.

 

But when times

grew heavy, when I could

no longer carry my own load, back breaking

drowning in a salt water sea, I lifted my hands out

to you, to all of you.

Remember

my cries? Help me! I can’t…

Remember my long, gray silence

as my candles were snuffed out, one by one?

I curled there in that tomb, searching my way out of darkness

grasping like the blind at every flicker of light.

Where were you then, brothers

and sisters?

 

You were in your homes

raising your children, clocking in

walking dogs, sharing recipes, happy online photos.

I saw it all from a distance

like staring through

a locked window.

 

Where were you, brothers and sisters?

 

You,

the medicine for my pain,

stayed far away, like suffering was contagious

like my crumbling life was too much

for your pampered

sensibilities.

 

You,

fellow followers of Christ

were too busy on your knees, absorbed

in prayer, consumed with your own Quiet Times

wrapped in your hectic schedules of church, and small groups, and

planned events.

My life was messy, in those days.

I did not fit into

your lives.

 

But I was among the naked, in need of clothes.

and I was the hungry

and I was the sick

and the thirsty

and the cold.

The hurting person on the side of the road

as you traveled home to Samaria.

I was lost

I was in darkness

So

WHERE WERE YOU?

 

If I were Martin Luther

I would nail these angry words on your doors,

oh church

for your corrupt culture

your holy huddles, worshipping at the altars

of political outrage, of perfect families, of appearances

instead of following the most important

of all the commandments –

to love.

 

I did not hear God today

as the Tenebrae candles were snuffed

one by one.

Too filled with corked up emotions

released as I reflected on

what it’s all supposed

to mean

but does not.

My faith was a rock

chipped away by too many

years of solitude, apart from those

who once claimed to be

One.

 

I never cry out anymore.

Unsinkable: Snapshots of a Failed Marriage

sinking shipThere was once a carefree little girl who spent half her time happily devouring books, and the other half watching Nickelodeon and trading Garbage Pail Kids. Then suddenly, without warning, life picked her up and threw her into adolescence – splash!

Unfortunately, no adult in her life had cared enough to give her swim lessons. But luckily, she was strong. After the initial icy shock, she managed to teach herself to swim.

Fast forward a few years

The day after her 19th birthday, at a university Christian group event, she met the man who would later become her husband. Her journal is filled with happy expressions and tiny hearts. She made a new friend. A nice guy. A Christian who is crazy about God, just like her. No, they don’t really like the same music. He doesn’t read. He’s not into sports. Only average intelligence. But who cares? He’s nice, and he’s into her, and he’s reasonably attractive. One day, he asks her to be his girlfriend. She is super excited. Her first college boyfriend!

Sometimes, her journal is filled with worry. They spent a summer working at different camps, and he didn’t write her even one letter. And afterward, she begins to realize something – they never go out on dates. Sometimes, if she really pushes, and pays his way, he will go to see a movie with her. But he does not ever initiate anything. He does not call her; she calls him. She gives, he takes. But still, he says that he loves her…

“Why do you love me?” she asks him.

“Because you love God,” he replies.

But lots of people love God, she thinks.

Four months after her 21st birthday, they are married. She wears a white gown with a long train and feels like a princess. Everyone has come to celebrate the union. They have built a big ship together – an unsinkable ship, they are convinced, and they have set sail. It is a perfect day.

They are both virgins. They are both excited about finally exploring sex together. But sex turns out to be very painful and difficult for her.

“I’m sure it will get better with practice,” she says.

It doesn’t.

One year later, she still hates sex. It is awful all the time, but he wants it all the time. She gives in, like a good wife. It hurts.

She works full time at her job, supporting him while he finishes university. She is exhausted when she returns home. The house is messy, dishes unwashed, bed unmade. He is playing computer games. She straightens up the mess and cooks dinner for the both of them. She asks him to help clean the house and wash laundry, but he doesn’t know how. She does it all, because she hates to nag a grown man. She resents it. There are holes in the ship that they did not notice before.

One day, she takes a bus to visit relatives in Seattle, and attends a job interview there. They want to hire her. Her husband says no. He doesn’t want to leave California. She considers going without him. In the end, she stays.

Two years later, they buy a house, and their first son is born, followed by their daughter, and then another son. She is so, so happy to be a mother. She stops working and becomes a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and raising babies. She loves every moment of it. Her husband is now the one to work all day, and she takes pride in doing everything else so that he doesn’t have to. She also runs a home business, which brings in extra money to help make ends meet.

Her husband still spends every moment of his free time playing video games. But she doesn’t mind. Her time and energy is spent raising children. She still hates sex, but she tolerates it to keep the peace. They attend church as a family, go to social events, and take family trips, which she carefully plans. The holes are still there, but they patch them. Most of them. The ship still slowly fills with water, but she tries to ignore it.

When her youngest child is in grade school, she returns to work as a teacher.

“Good,” says her husband. “Now you can pay the mortgage, and I can spend my extra money on whatever I want.”

“Don’t you mean our extra money?”

“I earn it. So it’s mine.”

Despite the extra income, money seems to disappear before the bills are paid. He accuses her of overspending. She accuses him of the same thing. They fight. A lot. He accuses her of abandoning the children by going to work each day and not being there to pick them up after school.

“They are your children, too,” she reminds him.

The husband dominates the conversation. He talks on and on about the lack of sex. He wants the counselor to explain what he needs to do to make his wife have sex more. He keeps trying to get the counselor to side with him.

She quietly answers the counselor’s questions. She tries not to cry.

“There is a lack of coupleness about the two of you,” says the marriage counselor. “A failure to connect.”

She is depressed and lonely. The holes in the ship have grown too big to patch. Her husband has been hospitalized twice for psychosis caused by mental illness. She has no friends, no support network. She stops going to church.

“You don’t love me,” she tells her husband in a matter-of-fact way. “You don’t even know me.”

“Of course I know you,” he says. “I know you better than anyone.”

“Okay,” she says. “Then what’s my favorite song? One of my top five favorite bands, books, or movies? One of my top ten? Favorite sports teams? My favorite food? Favorite flower? Any of my life goals?”

He does not know any of these, even though most of the answers were on her Facebook page for anyone to see. They have been married for nearly fifteen years.

Although they have sex 2-3 times per week, he begins to seek out prostitutes. The first time he did, it was her birthday.

She is not even jealous. She is disgusted, but in a strange way, relieved. Now she has an excuse not to have sex with him anymore.

“You have to have sex with me,” he said. “It’s a biblical requirement. God says so.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “And fuck your god, too.”

He beats her for those words. He begins to punish her for her lack of interest in sex. He accosts her during random moments. He calls her names and makes false accusations. Although he is the main wage-earner, he refuses to provide money for groceries, clothes, or bills. She is forced to use credit cards to pay for the family’s necessities. The bills begin to mount.

He attacks her verbally every day. He follows her around town, certain that she is having an affair. He makes threats. She feels unsafe, and moves into their daughter’s bedroom. She hates using their children as a shield. She wants to leave, but does not know how. He forces her into positions in which she must defend herself, mentally and physically, then tells anyone who will listen – even the police, that he is her victim.

The ship has already sunk. She realizes that she has been treading water all this time, and so have the children. By staying with this man, she is putting them all at risk of drowning. It is time to become their life preserver.

Once upon a time, there was a strong, independent woman who learned to build her own ship. She put her three children in it, and they sailed away toward safety, toward a hopeful future, toward happiness. She left behind the man who was once her husband and does not miss him or their life together at all.

She returns to college to work toward a more fulfilling and lucrative career. Her children are healthy, joyful, and thriving. Although she still yearns for good friends, she realizes that, for the first time in many years, she is mostly happy and content with her life and her choices. No ship is unsinkable, she has learned. But that doesn’t mean she has to sink with it.