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.

Just a Typical Sunday (a Spoken Word poem)

Just a Typical Sunday

They say it’s Father’s Day

a time to celebrate

the man who raised you

praised you

taught you to be strong

and right from wrong

but they’ve got it all wrong

because to me it’s

just a typical Sunday.

Who were you?

A man with my name

once married to my mother

obsessed with my brother

I was a nobody

quiet, a girl, too smart

for her own self

too smart for you

saw right through

your lazy intentions

and useless inventions

and get-rich schemes

chasing money like a dog

after a car

but it slipped through your fingers

like water

while your daughter

did her own thing

no need for a king

no need for anything.

I learned to survive

in a state of starvation

isolation

no need for attention

so used to desertion.

You ignored my good grades

my sports and school plays

didn’t subscribe to my life

Abused wife?

You took his side

‘cause I must have earned it.

After all

I was nothing

too quiet, a girl

with my own mind

which you never tried to know

and so

nothing I say has value.

Now you lie

in your nursing home bed

stroke-damaged head

and it’s said

that I owe you

attention

my love and affection

long conversations.

But Daddy

when you live your life

in starvation

how do you feed

another?

I never know what to say

or the new rules to this game

you and I just aren’t the same

a shame.

I don’t know who you are

and you only know that I’m

quiet, a girl

not as good as her brother

whatever else you see

through your closed eyes

so don’t be surprised

if my visits are brief

a card, maybe

quick kiss on the cheek

and maybe we’ll speak.

Then I’ll be on my way

not much to celebrate

‘cause what good are fathers anyway?

Father’s Day

is just a typical Sunday.

And Now, For the Complete Opposite (aka: Vent)

Vent time.

Because honestly, I am too cheerful and positive to do much venting. I tend to keep it in my own head until the lightning dissipates. But, I feel that this must be expressed.

So the thing is, I do not date. At all. Zero dates. Zero romantic interest. Zero flirting with anyone. Period. I am single, but permanently unavailable.

There are two big reasons for this. The first is that two years ago, when I was healthy and happy and in love with myself and in love with my life, I ventured into the dating zone. And it happened. I ended up in a relationship with the man of my dreams. No exaggerating. He was ideal for me, and we were compatible in every possible way. He assured me that he was not looking for something temporary, or just for sex, and I believed him. I allowed myself to be open and vulnerable, and I fell in love with him.

Then, he left.

But here I am, two years later, and I still love him. And I know without a doubt that there is no other man on this earth who could come close to being as compatible with me as he was. And even if someone could come close, he would not be him. So there’s no point in trying.

Reason two — when he left my life, the pain was unbearable. In fact, it is still unbearable. I still cry, sometimes, to think of his absence. It still dampens good experiences to know that he is not there to share them with me, nor can I even tell him about it. I hate that I ever got so close to him, or allowed him to matter to me, because now I have this painful, horrible lack of him.

Lesson learned: Do not ever allow myself to get close to anyone or allow them to matter to me. I know how that story ends, and it is not happy.

I will never date again. That is a part of my life that is over. Done. Behind me. In the past. No romance. No relationships. And absolutely no sex.

Now for the vent. It bothers me, like really bothers me when people tell me that I need to keep an open mind. Be flexible about this — the one thing that I am not at all flexible about. Keep an open mind, because one day you may meet someone who… (Fill in the blanks).

Imagine if I went running in a high-crime neighborhood at night, because everyone else said it was the thing to do. Yes it’s risky, but so what? It’s fun and special and makes life exciting! Now imagine I got assaulted while out running, and beaten almost to death. When the broken bones were healed, and most of the lacerations faded to scars, let’s see…should I go running in a high-crime neighborhood at night again, especially knowing now what I did not know then? Should I keep my mind open to the idea, because I might not be assaulted the next time?

Of course not! I’m not crazy!

And say I were to go mountain climbing, because everyone else believed that it was the best experience of their lives. Imagine I climbed up high, and was amazed by the view. Wow! Hooked on mountain climbing. Best experience ever.

But then, my rope snapped without warning.

Down I fell, head slamming against the rocks, the fall breaking my ribs, nearly crushing my lungs. Now imagine that months later, when I can walk again and breathe on my own, and life is back to a new, though chronically painful version of normal, people were to say, “You should keep your mind open to climbing the mountain again. It can be a healing experience, to get back up there.”

Hell no.

Seriously…WTF? Oh, because the fall maimed me but didn’t kill me, I should be willing to put my life at risk again, because hey, the next rope may not snap, and I’ll reach the summit?

Forget that! Who needs a summit? I will never go near another mountain. Never touch another rope. I may read about mountain climbing from the safety of my room, but I wouldn’t climb a mountain again if someone were to pay me ten million dollars to do it.

And that is how I feel about dating.

Bend, Don’t Break (aka: Flexibility)

Every athlete knows the importance of stretching. During training or before the big game, you have to take the time to do slow, gentle stretches. You do it to stay flexible. You do it to avoid injury. A tight, rigid muscle is a muscle that may tear.

It’s a pretty natural concept. You see it all the time in nature, too. A palm tree’s flexible trunk can sway with strong winds and stay intact. But put a rigid oak tree in its place, and the same wind storm may snap its branches, or uproot it from the ground.

Palm trees bending in the windBroken oak treeFlexible bends. Rigid breaks.

Really, we can apply the need to be flexible to nearly every part of life. In our careers, for example, it’s important to keep learning, keep pushing ourselves to grow and to expand our skills. The jobs we do today may change in the future. Our ability to perform our jobs may change, too. But if we stay flexible, if we keep our minds open to how we may best adapt when changes come, then we will be more prepared to handle it.

Switch directions

Years ago, I used to be a public school teacher of young children. But then, changes came. I outgrew the work I was doing. I also outgrew the paltry salary it paid. And state budget reductions caused my job, along with many others in my field, to be slashed. I was jobless. I was also overqualified for similar, even lower-paying teaching jobs in the private sector.

Luckily, I was flexible. I had a backup plan — a career field I had been thinking of switching to for years. In my mid 30s, with no work experience in that field, I went back to school, got an internship, and made the jump. Today, I am established in a career that I adore, doing things that challenge and stretch me, and earning a decent salary, too.

Being flexible means being willing to change direction, and considering a new plan when the old plan fails. Your oven breaks just before you’re due to cook Thanksgiving dinner? Fine. You buy a catered meal this year. Or borrow a neighbor’s oven. Or take the family out to a restaurant. Bend, don’t break. Rain interrupts the holiday barbecue plans? Bring it indoors. Turn it into a board game or sports-viewing party. Pull together a taco bar instead of grilled burgers. Bend, don’t break.

Flat eartg

Of course, it’s not possible to be flexible in all things. While it’s healthy to keep our minds open to other possibilities in many things, it’s just as healthy to stand firm in our convictions in some things. Believe in God or don’t believe in God. Feel strongly about your political views. Fight for causes you know inside to be right and just. However, if you just learned that the earth is actually a globe, and that science has proven it in many different ways, you may just want to reconsider your uh…worldview. While you could choose to hang on to those old beliefs you grew up with about the earth being flat, why would you when evidence to the contrary is staring you right in the face? Not all beliefs are worth breaking for. Just saying.

Stay flexible, peeps.

Three Little Letters (aka: it’s Better to Know)

It’s time for us to talk about something with three little letters. Something you’ve all heard of, but many people are afraid to talk about.

No, not sex. *Rolling my eyes* Believe me, I am the last person you’d want to discuss sex with. It’s really not one of my strengths.

But it is related to sex. And the three little letters are an acronym. Today’s topic is HIV.

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. In the U.S. alone, more than 1 million people are infected with HIV. And 15% aren’t even aware that they are infected. That’s 1 in 7 of you who are walking around with no idea that they are carrying a potentially lethal virus. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/statistics

Don’t you think it’s better to know?

HIV used to mean a death sentence. Not even that long ago, up to half of those diagnosed with HIV would go on to contract AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Today, if HIV is diagnosed in time, those living with the virus can be treated with ART drugs (anti-retrovirals) to suppress the virus and help you to live a longer, healthier life.

HIV never even used to cross my mind. It just wasn’t something that had anything to do with me. In my entire life, I have had only 3 sexual partners. The first was my husband of 17 years. I naively thought that STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) don’t apply to married couples. I was totally safe. Protected.

Until my ex-husband began cheating with prostitutes.

The moment I learned about his misdeeds, I did two things. 1 — I stopped having sex with him forever. And 2 — I had my gynecologist test me for everything.

Because it’s better to know.

Note: HIV can be spread through semen and vaginal fluids, through oral sex, or blood, such as during a blood transfusion or by an infected needle.

My second sexual partner was an acquaintance of mine. We had a sexual relationship that lasted for months, and was, to the best of my knowledge, monogamous. We also used condoms. But still, after it was over, I got tested for STIs.

Because it’s better to know.

My third sexual partner was a man I met on eHarmony, whom I nickname “Z” on this blog. (He is also my final sexual partner, as I will never again have sex with another person). We lived in different cities, but we dated for a few months by telephone and text, as well as in person. I enjoyed every aspect of our relationship very much — including sex, which was surprising to me, given my past negative experiences.

After he broke up with me, it took me more than a year and a half before I worked up the courage to get tested. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was afraid, that there was even the slightest chance that he hadn’t been honest with me about his HIV-negative status.

But knowing your own status, I realized in the end, isn’t about your partner. It isn’t about how much you love him, or how much you trust her. It’s about your own personal health, and the ability to make wise decisions.

There are a number of ways to get tested for HIV. You can ask your primary physician, or your gynecologist for a test. (Remember — they are not there to judge your lifestyle!). You can visit a walk-in testing clinic. You can use a home sample-collecting kit, which you mail in for results. Or you can do as I recently did — use an over-the-counter oral testing kit called OraQuick, which costs around $40 and is available at Walgreens drugstores. Be sure to test at least 3 months after having sex, as there is a false-negative window if you test sooner than that.

If you are sexually active don’t know your HIV status, then it may time for you to test and get some peace of mind for you and your partner or future partners. Or for yourself, even if you are celibate, like me.

It’s better to know.

Constant (a poem)

Constant

Dawn rises, and I think of you.

The spray of the shower caresses my skin, and I think of you

In the crowded train, I think of you

Beneath the drifting clouds, I think of you

your name as constant as breath.

With every pounding step against pavement

in every crooning song

with the roar of the crowd

and the lowering of theater lights

in the hush that falls

as night paints the sky with stars

you, you, you…

Pluck! Pluck! (aka: Swimming Against the Current)

While shopping at the mall, I came across a gorgeous bracelet, strung with polished stones in varying hues of grays, blue-grays, and green-grays.

“That is so you,” my daughter said. “You have to buy it.”

Ten minutes later, the bracelet was paid for and dangling from my wrist. It really was a perfect piece of jewelry for me, because more than half of my wardrobe is gray. Gray sweaters. Gray dresses. Gray flats and tights and t-shirts. I even own a gray overcoat and a gray faux-leather jacket. Such a smooth, sophisticated color. Neutral enough to be a blank palette, but far cooler than beige, and softer than black. Ambiguous. A mystery.

My love of all things gray doesn’t end there. I find comfort in gray, cloudy skies. Our living room furniture is mostly gray. My car is gray. In fact, I even identify as a heteromantic graysexual, or gray-asexual.

Which is what makes this little problem so ironic.

Sometime during the past several years, a tiny sprig of gray appeared among my off-black locks of hair. When I first discovered it, my heart sank. Oh my god. Here it is. The first official sign that summer has come to an end.

But then, I plucked it out, and all was right with the world again.

A year later, the sprig had multiplied. I had two — count them — two strands of gray hair. Pluck and pluck.

Now, at the age of 43, I have counted as many as six tiny sprigs of gray among my curls. Possibly more, hidden in the back. This has officially become an invasion. A takeover. I can still pluck the little suckers, but they come back with friends. And they’re so unruly! Not at all as well-behaved as my other soft, springy curls. The little gray punks like to poke out from my head in unpredictable directions, making their appearance super obvious.

It’s silly and vain of me to care so much, I know.

I’m middle-aged. The appearance of crepey skin and gray hair is perfectly normal. Although I’ve often been told that I look quite young for my age, I couldn’t expect that to last forever. The other silly thing is that gray hair on other people doesn’t bother me in the least. Never do I look at another person’s salt and pepper tresses and feel the temptation to start plucking. So why does the appearance of gray in my own hair freak me out so much?

Maybe because it is a reminder of my own mortality. Youth is not eternal. Life does not last forever. Like a tree, we blossom, then bear fruit, and then the leaves, like our hair, begins to change color. And we all know what that means.

Winter is coming.

Unlike a tree, we don’t lose our leaves and vibrancy only to have them return again, green and new, in the spring. For us, once the lively browns and blacks and reds and yellows that graced our heads throughout our lifetimes have faded, that’s it. They’re gone. Nature’s not going to give us brand-new hair.

Something about knowing that something good is only going to be in my life for a limited time makes me want to savor it. Capture it. Hold onto it for as long as possible. Change is inevitable, of course. Nothing lasts forever (except maybe the diamonds in my old wedding ring, which still sits around, useless, in a box somewhere). But if that means I have to always go with the flow, to accept it as it comes, to age gracefully, then I have one thing to say.

Screw that.

I think that Dylan Thomas said it best:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I will not accept that beauty is chained to youthful age. I refuse to lie back and float along with the current that will eventually dump us each into the sea. I will not go gentle into that good night. Instead, I plan to keep struggling, keep swimming hard against the current until my body is too old and too sick and too tired to take another stroke.

Last week, my cousin died of breast cancer. She and I were around the same age. Both single moms, though her children are mostly younger than mine. Since our teen years, she was the cousin I went to get my “hair did.” Thanks to her skill and deft fingers, I went through hair phases of long, braided extensions and sleek, straight, flat-ironed styles. When I wanted to try a new color, I sat in her salon chair, and we gabbed about family members, raising children, and TV shows as she worked her magic, transforming my ordinary black hair into a honey-streaked marvel. She snipped and shampooed and braided and styled so many women, and made so many of us feel beautiful.

Cancer robbed my cousin of her own hair, her beauty, her youth, her life. Far too soon. If not for cancer, I’m sure that she would have continued to help women in our struggle to look and feel our loveliest, no matter our age. Gray hair? Why settle for bland, unruly gray hair? Why not dye it auburn, raven, or gold? Why not curl it or straighten it or try something new? Why not try new makeups that decrease our wrinkles or bring out the shade of our eyes, or wear clothes that make us feel sexy, or cute, or strong, or alive? Why should we settle for frumpy, dumpy, and bland, just because we’ve arrived in middle age?

I love the color gray. But I do not love the gray hairs reminding me of the end we must each face. So I reject the idea that fighting them is vain or silly. Instead, I choose to make myself look as young and alive on the outside as I feel on the inside. If my cousin were still here, I would ask her to highlight my hair to hide the gray intruders. Hair dye — such a fun and simple way of raging against the dying of the light. I wonder how I’d look as a blonde?