Everyone has a story that they would feel uncomfortable publicly writing about.
It’s uncomfortable, but I’m going to do it any way. Not because I'm under an illusion that people care more than they do, but because I only know a few things to be 100% truth. One of those truths? It’s important to share stories. The world needs less people who say, “It’s going to work out! You’ll be okay!” and more people who will settle into your pain with you and honestly, authentically say, “I have been in this ugly, ugly thing, stood where you are standing, and now I’m somehow on the other side. And that is how I know you will, too.”
I used to be so scared of the word single. I was scared because I had yet to realize this: You’re single. I'm single. Everyone is single. Maybe you’re married or dating, and you think you’re not single, but you are. Sure, you can feasibly plan a future with someone. And when the Chinese food delivery guy comes to the door, you don’t have to yell “Hey guys, get out the plates!” to an empty room so Delivery Guy won’t realize you’re sitting alone in your old band shirt, with no pants on and very, very hairy legs watching your favorite movie again. Again.
We are each individual human beings. Whole beings. Galaxies. Entireties within ourselves. It’s really not romantic. Not when the media pushes obsession as love and when Christians push the “becoming one” idea. But now, having been single, I am so thankful for it.
Not because I can flirt with whomever I want, hang out with my girlfriends whenever I want, or wear/think/do whatever I want without the input of another. I mean, I can do those things and I like those things, but those things don’t make a relationship-girl happy to be alone. (So, if you have a friend who is going through a break up, please, don’t use those as reasons for her/him to be happy about it.)
I am so thoroughly pleased with being single because I have lived through, experienced, embodied this truth:
With divine presence inside of me, I have the ability within myself to heal, regenerate, and renew myself when I’m wounded or anxious or scared. I have the ability to make my ambitions reality. I have the ability to determine what I need in any moment and give it to myself, especially when there’s no one else around to do so.
You have this ability, too.
You and I, we don’t need another person or outside party to do these things. Outside parties are good. Outside parties are healthy and fun. You can find companionship with an outside party, confide in an outside party, make out with an outside party. It’s great. But, except for community, you do, in fact, have everything you need within the galaxy that is you.
During the five years wherein I was always in a relationship, I would have hated reading this. I would have said that everything written above was heartless and cold and the author had obviously never been in love before. Because, back then, I was the permeable membrane. Permeable freaking membrane. Let my favorite author (and close, personal friend) Elizabeth Gilbert, explain. This was me:
“I have boundary issues with men. Or maybe that’s not fair to say. To have issues with boundaries, one must have boundaries in the first place, right? But I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time—everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else. I do not relay these facts about myself with pride, but this is how it’s always been.”
Remember when Chandler and Monica have their engagement pictures taken, and Chandler makes this cringing face the whole time? Yeah, that’s the face I make when I read that. Because when I read that, it feels like I’m slipping on an old skin; and even though it was shed and it doesn’t really fit tight or right any more, it still feels like an old dream. Dark, confusing, and familiar.
But of course I acted that way. (And if you feel like you have acted similarly, let me just say, of course you acted that way!) If being with someone is all you’ve ever known in your teenage and adult life, of course. If you haven’t had the experience to realize that you can stand on your own (and that you’re actually kind of bad ass at it), then of course you would lean too heavily on the person next to you.
Let me just take this time to say: forgive your past self. She/He was learning. She/He doesn’t know what you know now. Forgive your past self.
Hyperaware of this fact this fact even back then I thought, well, frick, Elisabeth, how are you going to stop doing this? An obvious answer was to try out being single; but that really wasn’t sounding like any fun so I didn’t, until that was no longer my decision.
My life suddenly looked nothing like I had envisioned it.
I suddenly looked nothing like I had envisioned me. Not only because I wasn’t dating anyone, but I just didn’t like myself, period. As much as people don’t want to date a permeable membrane, the permeable membrane doesn’t want to be the permeable membrane. And I had a hunch that being a permeable membrane with nothing/one to permeate would make me just loathe myself even more.
So, I decided to stop being the pellicle that holds cells together and, instead, be a woman. More specifically, I decided to be Elisabeth as a woman, and figuring out who she was has been my favorite part of my human experience.
That’s exactly what being single has been for me: absorbing me and my human experience and everything, good and bad, in which that entails.
After I got back from my time in Guatemala, I started reading books again; I spent all of my money traveling and then got it all back again; I got a dog; I got certified to teach yoga; I watched all the series on Netflix that I wanted. It’s amazing what you can get done when you’re alone. And I actually felt like a complete person for the first time.
I no longer lived in my fairy tale world. I was in the real world, baby; and out here you adapt or die. (There was a day last summer when I actually said, yes to myself because that’s what you do when you’re alone, “Elisabeth, if you stay in this sorrow and hopelessness, you might as well be dead.” I didn’t want to be dead.)
No one can die by emotional wounds inflicted by another human being. One can only die while forgetting that they are more than the pain.
So I adapted. Any time I felt lonely, I sat there and felt lonely. No running, no trying to escape it. I wanted to figure it out. Any time I felt pissed, I sat there pissed. But no matter how slighted I felt (and I felt freaking slighted), I always used my emotions as a vessel to carry me forward and eventually back into peace. Any time I got anxious, 100% sure I was going to die alone, I made a map of my feelings and talked to myself the way I would compassionately talk to a friend: “Wow, you some kind of big shot? You are in no way smart enough to know what your future will hold. You actually sound really dumb right now. Take a breath.” Any feeling that I used to ignore or try to put out, I felt. And I learned. And I welcomed into my human existence.
“Hi loneliness, anger. Oh hey, anxiety. So glad you guys could make it. Listen, you all obviously think your jobs are super important, so I won’t keep you from your tasks for long. I tried to shake you for years, but now I have no one to hide behind. So, I’m gonna let you tag a long on all of my adventures from now on, but let’s just get one thing crystal clear. You guys will not dictate who I am or how I behave. I have places to go, things to accomplish, people to see – and I intend to remain my truest, greatest self through all of it. This means, I’ll carefully consider your input, but I am the human and I will make the decisions. Alright? Solid.”
I don’t know what parts of my story are beneficial to others, if any are at all. But the purpose of my sharing is so that I can settle in with someone wherever they are, share in their vulnerability and say with credibility:
When you decide to choose yourself as one of your own soul mates, when you decide to never again use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings or fears, when you view the parts of you that are breaking as opportunity to let light into who you are– you step into your truest, greatest self.