How Do You Spend a Lonely Life?

Wanted:

Someone who breathes from the diaphragm.
Compassionate. Balanced.
With a strong inner ear.

Must love reading
The sun as it shines through the windows,
Stretching, dancing, laughing, telling stories,
Making breakfast.

Someone who feels music with their whole body.
Who wants to grow things,
and decompose things,
and grow things again.

Someone who puts their hand on my lower back as we cross the street,
and their arm around my shoulders when I am cold,
and their fingers through my hair before we fall asleep.

Someone who is strong in ways that I am not.
Who stands on all four corners of their feet
Someone who listens for understanding.
Who weathers a storm.
Someone who chooses me.

I’ve been single for nine years. It hasn’t felt like a choice, but looking back, it probably was. They say in numerology that energies move in nine-year cycles. Last year, was a 9 year (2 + 0 + 1 + 6 = 9), which represents the end of a cycle. This year is a 1 year (2 + 0 + 1+ 7 = 10, then 1 + 0 reduces to 1), which is the year of starting over. The year of my last break-up was 2008 (2 +8 = 10 = 1), also a 1 year.

I’m not big into numerology; I just found that interesting. Normally, we think of the beginning and ending of a thing—a relationship, an event—but this hasn’t been so much a thing as the lack of a thing. While I’ve watched many friends start and grow their families, I’ve spent the last nine-year cycle in a relationship with myself. As with any relationship, I’ve learned a lot about the other person.

For example, I’ve learned that, left to my own devices, I can eat an alarming number of chips. (After all, chips are my favorite food.) I also will watch a wide variety of shows on the old Netflix, sometimes following whims that I’m sure another person would find annoying.

That’s the beauty of being alone; no one to argue with. Not that I ever have been much of an arguer. All my relationships have been very polite, which is probably another reason I don’t mind some solitude. As a people pleaser, I often will give up my own wishes to avoid confrontation, or because I just don’t care enough to fight about it, and all that compromise leaves me feeling drained.

When I’m alone, I can feel whatever I need to feel, process it however I need to, recharge, hide out. I can put myself back together in peace, without the pressure of anyone else’s gaze. I’ve often thought you must have to be brave to be a parent—to know that your children always are watching you and learning even the things you don’t intend to teach.

I asked my friend DeAnna what it’s like to have her children and husband always around. I think I said something like, “You must feel like you have no place all your own.” Her reply had never occurred to me. She said, “Well they can’t get in your mind, Cara.”

DeAnna’s such a cool mom. She really treats her kids like whole people. For example, as she lists the children’s activities in her holiday letter, she says things like “he seemed to enjoy it,” or “she appeared to have a good time.” Even while her children are young, she doesn’t presume to know what their inner lives are like. She also knows that if she’s not happy, her kids are not going to be happy so she continues to pursue her own passions. It doesn’t hurt that she has a supportive husband who seems to take his role as a father equally seriously.

These are the kinds of things I think about as I try out some new farro-kale salad recipe for dinner and end up watching a show called The Fantastical World of Hormones.

The first couple years after my break-up, I really didn’t think I would be single much longer. I held onto the hopeful notion that my new life, my new self was just around the corner. But as the years have gone on, I’ve grown less hopeful, and I’ve had to grapple with the idea that I might not ever be married, or have children. That’s been a tough one to swallow. I’ve had to ask the question: What is my life worth if I am single? Does it still have value, even without a husband or kids?

What Do You Do With Eternity?

According to fan sites, Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) spends 12,403 days, or about 34 years, living the same day over and over again in the movie Groundhog Day. He goes through stages of disbelief, anger, fear, ecstasy, hopelessness. He indulges every sin without consequences. But even with total freedom and power to do whatever he wants, Phil grows bored. He gets depressed. He tries to kill himself. Yet every day he wakes up stuck in the same place, at the same time, like a needle stuck in a groove on a record.

Eventually, after trying every self-serving thing he can imagine, Phil gets the radical idea to turn his time to helping others. At the same time, he starts to pursue his own passions, a little bit every day. Time begins to have meaning and purpose. He learns to love others, to be loved by them, and to feel the pleasure of mastery. He becomes a musician, a sculptor, a doctor, an intellectual. And that is when he really falls in love with another person, and when she really falls in love with him.

I like to think that I’ve spent my last nine years in a similar process. While I haven’t achieved much mastery, I have put in a lot of effort to get to know myself. And I’ve stripped away a lot of layers, dealt with a lot of pain, uncovered a lot of hidden wounds, grudges, arrogance. One thing’s for sure: when you’re alone with yourself, you find out how imperfect you really are.

It’s like the mirror of truth at the Southern Oracle in The Neverending Story. Atreyu is told that when he looks in the mirror he will see his true self. Even great warriors have fallen at the realization—kind men discover they are cruel; brave men find that they are cowards. When I am alone, I have no one else to blame, or deflect my anger to. There are no scapegoats. Just me. If there are dirty dishes in the sink, it’s because I left them there.

I have chosen to stay single because I haven’t felt the right way about anyone, and they haven’t felt the right way about me. It’s not that no one has been worthy; I just haven’t been in the right headspace for dating and also, the older I get, the fewer people I am attracted to. (Maybe it has something to do with hormones. I should watch that documentary again.)

When I was young, I was constantly, deeply, hopelessly in love. The object of my love changed periodically, but the feeling always was there, that obsessive, possessive need to be wanted by another person. I thrived on romance like a drug.

Over the last three years, I’ve pretty much stopped dating all together. Again, it’s not that there haven’t been worthy candidates, or that I haven’t tried at all, but it doesn’t feel the same. I can’t play the games anymore. I want something deeper than drama, something more consequential than sex, something more balanced and sustainable. I want a whole relationship with another whole person.

I don’t know what the next nine years look like, or whether I ever will get married or be a mom of any kind, but I can tell you one thing: If I am still single nine years from now, I’m going to be a hell of a guitar player and a much better cook.