Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Pitfalls and Victories of Singlehood

I’m going to be honest here and admit that in the grand scheme of things, I don’t have a ton of experience being single.  I was single until I was 19 years old, having never gone on more than one date in my life.  While that guy was lovely and intriguing, he never qualified as a boyfriend.  I started dating the man who would eventually become my husband 5 days before I turned 19, and the next ten years or so of my life were spent in that relationship.  

Once my marriage dissolved like sands through the hourglass  (so are the days of our lives!?!), I was single for 4-5 months before I began dating someone new.  Yup, that was fast.  It wasn’t something I intended, it just happened, and my ex-H pushed me into M’s arms, telling me that since he couldn’t give me what I needed, to be with someone who could.  Okey dokey.  I subsequently spent the next 13 months in that relationship.

When that one ended, I set a new personal (but dubious) record for myself by beginning a new relationship with my current ex within that same month.  Oof.  As noted previously, that relationship lasted just short of two years (hooray for the passage of the nonaversary yesterday!).  If you’re keeping track, that means that I’ve now been single again for about 2 weeks.  

So I’m not going to lie and pretend I am some professional singleton with years of experience under my belt.  Instead, I seem to be more of a relationship junkie, and I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life in one or another.  Each of my relationships had their good times and bad times, some more than others, but the one constant I had throughout the duration of each?  Companionship.  Even when other parts of the machine weren’t clicking so well, I always had someone around.  I got used to it.  Spoiled by it.  

It’s always interesting to re-adjust to being on my own.  And by interesting, I mean that it sucks.  Yes, I can survive on my own.  Learned that one the hard way when my marriage went kaput and I was suddenly on my own for the first time in my adult life.  I realized how shockingly out of touch I was with the day to day operations of life, and I was embarrassed to face the realities created by that ignorance.  I had only limited awareness of our financial situation.  I rarely paid the bills myself.  I’d never taken care of car insurance or taxes on my own, nor even things like car inspections and registration.  I was lost.

I had to learn on the go, trying to subvert my shame over my ignorance and instead focusing on doing better.  I figured out where the finances stood.  I started paying my own bills.  I got my car insurance in only my name, and bought a car on my own, too.  Just my name on that registration, thank you.  Just my credit there to get the deal done.  I learned to deal with the every day things in life that I’d never had to before, and it was good for me.  I began to feel strong and competent instead of just being a passenger in my own life.  

Those things were easy enough to figure out once I realized I had to do it.  I’ve always been good at the practicalities, the things I can list out and cross off as I’m done.  I’m super organized and methodical, and this suited my new responsibilities well.  It was the rest of it that took time to get used to.

The rest of what?  Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’ve suffered from debilitating migraines since I was very young.  They’ve plagued me for as long as I can remember, and I’ve tried many different drugs as well as acupuncture to get them under control.  I get fewer of them now, and am more aware of my triggers and the best treatments, but the reality is that they are a part of who I am, and something I will deal with for the rest of my life.

The point of that disclosure is this:  A migraine attack, when suffered alone?  Pretty damn awful.  Sometimes it hurts so badly that the idea of moving, even shifting position in bed or on the couch, is unfathomable.  The light hurts my eyes.  Sounds become magnified, and the silence is never heavy enough.  I need my migraine pill, I need ice packs, sometimes I need a hot shower or bath, or a cold cloth on my head.  

When no one else is there, I have to take care of myself even though every fiber of my being is screaming at me to stay put.  I have to get up and fight the nausea and throbbing pain.  And beyond just self-care, I have to take care of my dog and cats.  My migraine doesn’t stop them from being hungry, and it doesn’t stop the dog from needing to go outside for a bathroom break.  I end up staggering outside looking like hell, covering my eyes, keeping them cast downward, trying not to be sick, trying not to make contact with anyone.  

The guilt of ignoring the animals and giving them only the bare minimum of attention is just another weight on my shoulders, a new reason for the already seizing pain in my neck to worsen.  I am a bad animal mom when I have those headaches, and there is not a single thing I can do except apologize to them for my lacking.

I try hard not to feel sorry for myself, but it’s difficult.  I have too many memories of my exes helping me out, taking care of me, taking care of my animals.  Boyfriends who walked my dog for me when I couldn’t, fed them when I couldn’t.  The ones who would cater to me like the best Dr. in the world, bringing me meds when I needed them, food or drink when I needed it, making me eat or drink even if I didn’t want to.  Turning the lights off for me, staying with me if I needed it, but leaving if I didn’t.  Drawing me baths, warming towels for me for when I got out.  Covering me with blankets, folding me into the arms of someone who gives a damn.

At home now when I’m feeling sick, or tired, or suffering from a migraine, there are no warm towels.  There is just me, doing the best I can for myself, and my animals, doing the best they can to either cheer me up or be near me when I’m uncheerable.  I am eternally grateful for their presence in those bad times and in the good.  I can’t say enough how much they boost me when I’m down, and comfort me in general.

That’s the major downfall of singlehood for me.  There are others, of course-there’s never a nice dinner waiting for me when I get home after a long day.  There are no surprise flowers at my office, no one to bring me a coffee or something I like from the store on a whim.  There’s no one to run an errand for me when I can’t do it, no one to let the dog out if I’m not there.  But in comparison, I guess these things just pale to the rest.  Small potatoes, I suppose.

Don’t get me wrong, I do recognize that there are perks to flying solo, too.  If I don’t feel like cooking a real dinner, I don’t have to.  I can have cereal, or popcorn, or leftovers.  If I just want chicken, chicken it is.  No sense of obligation to prepare a starch and a veggie if I don’t want it.  And the messes are just mine.  No rinsed dishes in the sink instead of the dishwasher unless I give in to such laziness.  No hair from a razor in my bathroom sink.  I can watch whatever garbage TV I want and there is no one there to give me grief for it.  

These are all good things.  These are all things I take note of when I am single, things I remind myself of when I’m feeling blue.  I don’t have any desire to spend vast quantities of time feeling sorry for myself.  Things are what they are, and I am perfectly capable of surviving on my own, even for periods longer than a month or four.  

Say what you want about singlehood, but the few times I have been there, I’ve felt really good about myself.  I feel independent, self-sufficient and strong.  I am reminded of how awesome I really am, when sometimes I’ve forgotten, especially when a relationship is in a slow spiral downwards.  It’s too easy to lose that sense of self and feel directionless.  Being on my own always corrects my path, and each time I do it, I think I become a bit of a better person for it.  

I may be a relationship junkie.  This is true, and I can’t even try to deny it.  I do believe I am built for commitment, I thrive in it, and I have so much to give that I truly feel like I am amazing at it.  Maybe my track record doesn’t indicate it, but I don’t really feel like my three relationships speak of any failure on my part.  They didn’t work out for whatever reason, but the one true thing is that I’ve come out of every single one of them knowing that I did everything I could to make it work, and that I gave 110%.  

However, all that being said, the best relationship I have, the most longstanding one to date (save for my acupuncturist, whom I recently told a friend is my current longest relationship!) is the one I have with me.  I may slack on taking care of myself sometimes.  I may shortchange the attention deserved, or get pulled off track every now and again.  I may be overly critical, I may willfully disregard all of my own best logic.  But at the end of the day, I am the one who is always, always there for me.  

I pick myself up and dust myself off after life’s little letdowns, and it’s big ones.  I put the pieces back together after a breakup.  I learn through trial and error what’s good for me and what isn’t, and I allow myself those mistakes along the way without beating myself up for it.  I take care of me.  

Sure, it would be nice to have someone to take care of me when I’m sick, or to walk the dog when I’m exhausted.  I would be lying if I denied that.  Support and companionship is invaluable in life, and things are better when you have it.  Yet that doesn’t change the fact that even when the chips are down, the waters are muddied, the clouds are heavy, and all those other life cliches, I do what I need to do.  It may hurt while I do it, it may feel like the most amazing burden to carry, but the next day, when the chips are in play again, the waters have cleared and the clouds have parted, it feels really damn good to know I got through it.

Single or not, I am me... hear me roar.  :-)

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