March 5, 2018

My Coming Out Letter—for everyone who thinks I should be Married by Now.

I have chosen to live my life alone.

Isn’t that something? A woman spending her life being completely on her own?

My money, my sex, my time, my flirtations, and my relationships: they are all mine. It’s okay, you know, to choose to be single.

You may not know that because we’re not told that—as women, as people. We’re not told that there is an alternative to what Disney, teen magazines, and Reese Witherspoon sold us:

It’s okay to not be in, wanting, or looking for a relationship.

I didn’t know this. For a very long time, I’ve actively undermined what my heart and body must have always known. I doubted myself, mistrusted myself, was constantly praying for love, and was constantly confused and frustrated when I would get what I thought I wanted—and then feel trapped. But I wasn’t praying for love. I’d been praying for what I thought was love: an easy button, an escape from the work of being alive.

I bought what I’d been sold and was convinced that a man would bring me the satisfaction I found to be lacking in my life.

And the universe loves to give us that which we ask for, so time and time again, I’d be gifted with beautiful opportunities for sex and intimacy and romantic coupledom.

But always, I’d find ways to wriggle out of them—either through sabotage, or just by looking for the nearest exit. At least this way, people thought I was normal, that I was trying, and I felt relief in that (though I couldn’t quite explain why at that point).

I should have known something wasn’t right, that the relief I felt each time something ended was a sign. Every time, after I’d dealt with the regret of what felt like misleading another person and the guilt of not being what others wanted me to be, then came the exhalation. The breath I didn’t know I was holding would come, and at last I’d return to normal and feel like myself again.

It’s always the same, the feeling of having to give too much of myself. The giving and losing of my energy to beautiful men who, for some reason, choose me—but it was never enough. At this point, perfect wouldn’t be enough—because I simply was not prepared to share myself, my time, and my energy with another.

I felt like a selfish woman.

But, I am not meant for it right now. And I didn’t know that remaining single was an option. I have been chasing this vision of a “perfect relationship,” and being so hard on myself for never feeling satisfied when I thought I’d found it. And all this time, it never even occurred to me that there was an alternative.

I can think of no role model who was ever celebrated for living her life alone. All women who have done so, that I know of, have been called crazy, or spinster, or cat lady. There’s a perceived lack of femininity, womanhood, and value when someone chooses the single life. Not many would believe that it was, indeed, a choice. It’s an assumed shortcoming on your part to not have, be able to keep, or be chosen by a man.

I ended it with someone recently, and now the fear is leading me to believe it was a mistake.

It’s scary. It’s damn scary—to leave something that is still working because it feels like your breathing has become too shallow, because you haven’t written in days. To have nobody waiting at home for you. It means walking into the wilderness without a lantern and knowing that while you chose this for yourself, you could just not go and wait to be rescued. Because what is more feminine than awaiting rescue?

But of course, I see that I am the wilderness. The dark recesses of myself are unexplored and unfamiliar. And I can accept that and choose to dwell in that; or I can call on a lover and use them as a safeguard against experiencing my own aloneness, against finally seeing what it is I am afraid to come face-to-face with. For me, that’s what most of my relationships have been—a buffer between me and myself.

I have found that the best part about being with someone is being able to tether yourself to another person. It’s confirmation and affirmation of your own existence. I think that’s why we so often stay in bad relationships—because we forget what it’s like to be on our own; we are too out of practice. It’s also why we are too afraid to sit still without distraction. Silence is just a little too infinite, a little too vast to not be fearsome.

I am a woman alone, a woman assumed to be lonely.

And maybe I am. Maybe that’s what fuels my writing, my art, and my productivity. I get soft when I find myself in a relationship. And I’ve got too much left to do yet, too much to still become to be taken down by complacency. I find that I put the onus of my happiness and satisfaction on my partner when coupled up. I stop working on myself, and owning my own experience, and I grow lazy.

But there are times that I worry I cannot be trusted. How is it everyone seems to know this one thing that I don’t? Surely everyone is confused by my choices, and everyone looks at me with pity. You went on another trip alone? You spent another holiday alone? Everyone tells me, “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” when something ends. Surely they must know something that I don’t.

But then I remember:

I know there are plenty of fish in the sea. I could cast a net and draw in three right now. I can’t get away from all the damn fish. I am, every other week, caught up in a new entanglement. And as soon as I’ve wormed myself away from one relationship, another one has found me.

Partly, I know I’m still doing this in order to appease the masses—those who think that at 30, it’s high time to settle down and start a family. And maybe this is my “coming out” letter, letting them know that I may not ever.

I see the questions in people’s eyes: “Why can’t she keep a man…?” The answer, I have to think, is because at some point, it always starts to feel like I am the one who is being kept.

I am exactly what the masses think that I am: lonely.

But only because I am alive. Only because I am human, and no more or less so than when I am in a relationship. No more than when I have a partner’s arms wrapped around me at night. The dark side of lonely comes only when we deny our aloneness. When we think there is some other alternative. That maybe if we own or are owned by another, that if we get enough of a certain kind of love, or have achieved a certain kind of body, a certain level of bank balance, that then we will be something other than how we came into this world and how we will leave it.

There is something deeply satisfying about living my life this way, even with the sadness that goes along with it—which is likely still there for those in duos, only less obviously. Yes, it is nice being tethered to someone. Gauging your existence and your life by that of another’s. There is something grounding and reassuring to it. Something concrete that I’ll admit is sometimes lacking in my life.

But for me, this is the honest choice.

If I had nine lives, I would devote eight of them to committed, romantic relationships, but this is the only one I can feel truthful about pursuing right now.

This lack of a tether, of a concrete point of reference—it feels like floating, and it’s a delicate balance between letting yourself trust that you’re okay and letting your fear take over. The extremes of the spectrum, of being alone intentionally, are on the one side, feeling like you are falling down an elevator shaft, or on the other, feeling like you are cliff-diving (the only difference being one gives you a sense of control).

There is one other sensation to living your life alone, and it’s rare, but every so often, it’ll feel like you’re flying.


Author: Pam Stewart
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Travis May

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