When I was married, my husband was heavily into remodeling projects and we shared our home with two busy indoor-outdoor cats. Things were never really fully clean or tidy, and I had no space of my own for recharging. I adopted the garden and poured myself into it, but became frustrated by the weeds and watering and constant attention it needed when I wanted to be off experiencing the world and day dreaming. My job was demanding, and home felt more like another busy place to take care of — not the sanctuary I needed. Over the years, I began fantasizing about having a home of my own, a beautiful, quiet place where I could retreat from all the things in the outside world that I could not control. I was intimidated, however, by the fear of facing the world alone and by memories of my emotional fragility living alone in my early 20’s.
After finally deciding to leave my 10-year relationship, I had a short timeline to find an apartment and got lucky on one I could afford in a neighborhood near my job. When I first toured it, I knew it was the nest I needed for the difficult transition I was about to face. While waiting for my application to clear, I dreamed of it every night, envisioned how I would arrange my furniture, and actually cried publicly when the landlord tried to move me to another unit. It was perfect and I never remember wanting anything so badly in my adult life. When I finally got the lease, moved in, and assembled my furniture, I felt such a flood of joy. The first morning making toast in my own kitchen was bliss. I remember just sitting in the evenings on the couch for hours, staring at the walls, finally feeling relaxed, and being filled with the me-ness that was all around.
I realized I was not an angry person. I was just enough of an introvert that being in constant contact with people had completely drained me. Caring for a husband and cats and garden first, being on their schedules, and adapting to their routines had completely isolated myself from my own dreams and internal rhythm. I had myself back, and over the course of the past two years continue to revel in the simple joys of choosing when to clean up after myself, making a huge mess in the kitchen cooking five things at the same time, taking as long as I want in the bathroom, plastering the walls with my own art, and knowing it will all be there lovingly waiting for me when I need it, with no expectations.
Connecting and grounding
I miss my old garden sometimes, and thoroughly miss my kitties, and have certainly had my share of tearful drive-bys to check-up on my old neighborhood, but I have no desire now for more than a few house plants. What energy I have left after work is all for me, and I cherish having far more downtime than most of my peers. I do get lonely sometimes, but it is a pure kind of loneliness. It is not as deeply painful as feeling lonely around others who are unable to complement or soothe or care for me the way I need. I have become my own friend and parent. I talk to myself when I am sad, I talk to my apartment when I come and go, and I feel such gratitude for feeling so thoroughly loved in a way I have never experienced before.
Holidays have been hard for me, since they are the only times I feel the pain of not having a family. I miss the feasting and the joy of my older brother and sister coming home to visit, and it reminds me of the pain of my own family splintering after my mom died and the awkward celebrations with my in-laws who were so different from me. Community and belonging are so important to me, and during the holidays when these take the form of a traditional family, I resent being in my mid-30’s not having found the right partner and not wanting children. Then I remind myself I have done the best I can with the circumstances that have come my way, and I create a holiday-free space in my home where I can pretend things are the same as any other time of year.
The rest of the time, I enjoy a rich network of affectionate friends for play-time and deep sharing both individually and in groups. Many of them also live alone, have no children, have unusual jobs, or are otherwise out of the mainstream in a way that feels validating and enriching. I dance weekly and the upside of having experienced a decline in my health is that I get regular body work through chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy. I have also started enjoying solo road trips to get out and explore and feel my own power.
When I need love right away, several friends who are accessible on the phone and Facebook make me feel immediately connected. A long walk while muttering to myself followed by a hot bath, warm meal, and/or a heating pad on my chest with a favorite stuffed animal on top can often get me through until I can get a hug and some reassurance. More and more often, I find some quality time alone is all I need, and I return to my friendships full and ready to engage in whatever comes up. It is empowering to have become a master at caring for myself.
Choosing this now
I am happiest when in an affectionate and secure intimate partnership, experiencing the physical and emotional depth of a romance. But I am choosing not to look right now, because loving myself is most important. Learning to do that well will enable me to break the patterns that have kept me out of fulfilling relationships in the past, and I am excited to be able to try new things and to keep returning to myself for nurturing when I do share my life with a partner.
When that time comes, I would like to continue living alone for quite some time to maintain my own balance. If I do live with a partner, having my own room to play in and sleep in when needed will be necessary for me. I would also consider sharing a home with other people and cats, especially as I age, but would need a quiet, harmonious space. Living alone has been key to coming to know and love myself, and I suspect I will continue to see a nest of my own as a crucial ingredient in a life that enables me to be my best self.
April 19, 2015
Nancy grew up in southern California and became an only child at age 11 after her brother and sister moved away to college. She found solace in her mother’s garden and with the family cat, and lived in fear of living on her own. Determined to face that fear, she moved away for college at 17 and lived abroad three times in Italy, Cyprus, and Scotland before reaching the age of 22. After settling in Portland, Oregon hungry for security, she committed to a 10-year relationship with one husband, one house, two cats, two cars, and vacations at the beach before realizing this lifestyle required her to sacrifice the things she loved most about myself. Leaving her marriage enabled her to become the person she always wanted to be loved by, willing to do whatever it took to keep her spirit alive.
Nancy now enjoys a thriving nonprofit career within a large network of agencies and professionals. In her downtime, she can be found writing and performing poetry; creating collages; dancing; hiking; being healed by trees, rivers, and mountains; learning all she can about the marine and cosmic worlds; and connecting with grounded, zany, out-of-the-box thinkers who hold a compassionate and spiritual worldview.
This is part of the Who but You? living alone series. Check out the other posts! They are published every Monday.
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