“All of Me: what I’ve learned from marriage and live-in relationships,” by guest writer Sharon Ballinger – Who but You? living alone series

Photo credit:  http://andreasnotebook.com/200-quick-crochet-tutorials/
Photo credit:  http://andreasnotebook.com/200-quick-crochet-tutorials/

Why live alone?
I live alone now because it has finally dawned on me that I give too much of myself away to whomever I’m living with.

I love this time now
ALONE:  I can choose to listen to my favorite radio station all day instead of the constant noise of the mindless TV reality shows and endless reruns.

ALONE:  I can have many one-sided conversations with myself.

ALONE:  I can get lost for hours in a good book or spend a few days in my craft room, letting my creativity run free.

ALONE:  I can spend a few days to a couple weeks visiting friends and family.  (Because there’s no one making demands on my time.)

ALONE:  I can cook what I want for dinner or just have ice cream and popcorn.  (Don’t tell me you never have!)

ALONE:  I can watch my favorite old movies all day and cry over the sad scenes without being made fun of.

Sunset in Coarsegold, CA, my previous home with my fourth husband.  Photo credit:  Sharon Ballinger
Sunset in Coarsegold, CA — my previous home with my fourth husband.  Photo credit:  Sharon Ballinger

What I’m learning
It took me a while to figure out why I couldn’t find that magical combination that makes for happy relationships.  I discovered:

  • I am, at heart, a caretaker.  I enjoy helping people, making sure they’re OK & happy. But I lose myself in the process.  I would defer to my spouse or boyfriend most of the time on everything from what to fix for dinner, which TV programs to watch, social activities, to what temperature to set the air conditioner.  I just have a hard time saying, “No, I’m sorry.  I can’t help this time.”
  • Being in a relationship doesn’t guarantee companionship, emotional or financial support, or a fulfilled life.  I could feel more alone in a relationship than when I was living alone.
  • I would feel resentful toward my partners for neglecting me when I tried so hard to make them happy.  I should have been working just as hard to make myself happy and not depend on someone else to do that for me.
  • The Marriage & Family theme of the 1950’s & 60’s wasn’t in my DNA.  But I tried because that’s what I was brought up to believe in.  It somehow seemed wrong to me to be so happy being single & so unhappy being married.  So I kept trying.
  • I’m completely capable of taking care of me.  I am strong, resourceful and independent. But I can only be all of these things when I live alone!
Photo taken from my driveway in Coarsegold, CA.  Photo credit:  Sharon Ballinger
Photo taken from my driveway in Coarsegold, CA.  Photo credit: Sharon Ballinger

My story
Over the past 56 years, I’ve been married four times and I lived with a boyfriend once.  In between, I lived alone.  But, honestly, I never felt more alone as I did when I lived with someone.  I envied my married friends and family who seemed to have great relationships, caring & helpful husbands.  What was I doing wrong?  To say the least, my choices in partners were not very well thought out.  I must have been a slow learner because I kept on trying, hoping I would “get it right this time.”

My first try at “Happily Ever After” started with a high school romance.  I got pregnant and married way too young.  I had two babies within two years and I grew up rather quickly. He didn’t.  So we divorced when my second baby was only six months old.  The bad part:  I had to move back to my parents’ home & find a job.  The good part: my first two children.

I met my second husband six months later at work and we married six months after that — mostly because I desperately wanted to get out of my parents’ house.  Big mistake!  He was an alcoholic, controlling and mentally & physically abusive.  For the next 14 years, he had me convinced it was all my fault.  I managed to get out alive.  Best part: my third child.

My best friend helped me get a good job making enough money to support my children and me.  I had no intention of ever getting married again.  I stayed single for the next eight years.

But, during that time I met my soul mate and the love of my life.  We lived together for four mostly happy years.  Unfortunately, my newfound independence and “I don’t need anyone” attitude and his previous years as a singleton worked against us.  I needed more time to discover who I actually was.  I regret I couldn’t do that while maintaining our relationship.  It wasn’t easy to let go.  He still has a piece of my heart.

Photo credit:  http://www.buzzle.com/articles/two-step-dance-instructions.html
Photo credit:  http://www.buzzle.com/articles/two-step-dance-instructions.html

A little before I turned 40, Country & Western music became popular.  I would go dancing with friends once or twice a week.  I made new friends and had so much fun.  I also met my third husband.  He was so good looking in his Wranglers, cowboy boots and hat.  He was also an excellent dancer & eventually two-stepped me off the dance floor and into marriage.  But, he was a mama’s boy and turned whinny and pouty when he didn’t get his way.  I’m surprised I lasted two years with him.  The good part:  my new friends told me of a job opportunity with their current employer, a top Fortune 500 company.  The pay and benefits were excellent and I worked there for 20 years.

I stayed single for the next seven years.  I had a 401K, a savings account, and my car was paid for.  I went on vacation every year and attended concerts, parties and picnics and ball games with friends.  I would babysit my grandchildren for a weekend and spend holidays with family.  I was happy, independent and confident and I loved living alone.

So why, I ask myself, did I feel the need (at the age of 51) to get married AGAIN, for the fourth time!?

Photo credit:  http://www.gophotoevents.com/event-locations/event-venues-torrance/
Torrance, California.  Photo credit:  http://www.gophotoevents.com/event-locations/event-venues-torrance/

Yes, I did it.  My inability to say NO & possibly hurt someone’s feelings, the pressure from family and my ignoring of my woman’s instinct — I entered into my last marriage.  For the next 20 years, not a week went by that I did not ask myself “Why?”  It slowly fell apart the last 10 years & we gradually stopped doing anything together.  I was having medical problems that resulted in lots of doctors’ visits and eventually led to three surgeries the last year we were together.  He reluctantly helped me through all this and after I had completely recovered, we sold the house and I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, close to my daughter.

It’s been a year and a half since we split and for the most part, we are still on friendly terms.  I immediately embraced living alone again and I’m enjoying my freedom.  I compare it to having a great weight being lifted off me.

ALONE: I have control of my life back.

–Sharon Ballinger
May 2015

Sharon Ballinger lives in Las Vegas, Nevada — alone but in the same city as her daughter.  She was born in Seattle, Washingto, moved to Los Angeles with her parents when she was 5 years old, then later to Torrance, California.  Sharon lived within a 50-mile radius of her parents for most of her life.  Between the mid-1970’s and ‘80’s, she took several college classes – from computers to business to paralegal studies.  Sharon enjoyed an active life through to 50 years of age – water skiing, dancing, camping, aerobics, and playing with her three children.  After her 60th birthday, she was diagnosed with osteoporosis, arthritis, and degenerative joint disease.  Three surgeries later, she’s limited to more sedentary activities.  She currently enjoys making hand crafted greeting cards for her family and friends, reading mysteries and biographies, baking, and crocheting.  It’s a hard fact to face that, as we grow older, some of our family and friends leave us.  But, no one ever expects to outlive his or her children. Between 2007 and 2010, Sharon lost both of her sons.  Life is too short.

NOTE FROM KIM:  Laughter, road trips, and spectacular fights made up my relationship with Tony.  He was my first sweetheart, from 1987 to 1996.  Sharon Ballinger was my unofficial mom-in-law, and between the two of us, we watched Tony’s immense kindness often curl into tight fists of fury and alcoholism.  By 2010, despite relationships with other caring women, counseling, and repeated attempts to save himself, he gave up, taking his own life before he turned 40.  Sharon and I reconnected after his death and we continued where we’d left off, feeling a sense of family from the past and through the loss but also enjoying a friendship rich in encouragement.  Thank you, Sharon, for your smiling friendship and for contributing your “Who but You?” story.  –ka

The author.  Photo credit:  a friend.
The author, Sharon Ballinger.  Photo credit:  J.B.

This is part of the Who but You? living alone series.  Check out the other posts!  They are published most Tuesdays.

Join the Who but You? project:  e-mail your story, prose, poetry, art and/or photos about living alone to powerofpaperzines@gmail.com for consideration.  All ages, all countries/cities, all solo living situations – from temporary & despised, to permanent & treasured – would be appreciated.  In addition to your story/art, please include:

  • a brief Bio with an associated profile photo (this may be an actual photo of you, or a more anonymous photo of something you believe represents you as a person)
  • 1–4 photos additional photos with photo credits
  • your fake (pen) name or real name

For more information:  https://whobutyouproject.wordpress.com/who-but-you-series/.

❤ Thank you for taking the time to view the works of independent storytellers, poets and artists. ❤

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jean says:

    Sharon, I think there’s a lot of pressure on us not to admit that we are happier single and living alone than married. When I was doing research on the lives of single women 20 years ago, I asked the women I interviewed what the phrase “happily married” meant to them. All had a quick response; although some were skeptical about whether it was really possible to be “happily married,” they could all describe an ideal of what that meant. I followed up by asking them what the phrase “happily single” meant to them, and the responses were dropped jaws and blank stares. Some felt the phrase was an oxymoron, but others, after a moment’s reflection, broke into broad smiles and said, “I’ve never heard that before — but, yes, that’s what I am!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. K. Adonna says:

      Jean, I appreciate this comment very much. I never felt pressure within my family to seek relationships, to marry, or to have kids (raised by a divorced mom who threw herself into her work). However, as a teen who always had her nose in a crappy romance book or magazine, I do believe our culture did a number on me: “happily single” was a phrase I was just never presented with — unless it was accompanied by loads of casual sex following happy hour at a NYC bar, and an investment in the perfect figure & expensive preening (I am thinking of Cosmopolitan magazine). Lo and behold, I couldn’t relate to any of that! I look forward to continuing to learn about the research you did. Thank you again, Jean.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sharon I applaud your resilience, courage and frankness, and I louded out loud in a crowded airport gate reading “popcorn and ice cream”. Ha! And Kim thanks for the post script. What a precious piece, and precious relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. K. Adonna says:

      Thank you for your comment, dear Susana. I will pass it on to the author (if she hasn’t seen it already)!!!!


  3. I laughed out loud, not louded out loud (although I’ve done that too!) 🙂


    1. K. Adonna says:

      I love to transform “errors” into new things! Perhaps you also laughed out laugh. 🙂


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