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On Being Single

Philip and me, right before we decided to split up, when I was not single

Is it weird to post a photograph of the ex and me? I've decided it's not.

Before Hank and I split up, we attended a pool party where my ex-tyrant-boss' yellowed toenails hung over his mass produced sandals, shaded by a significant naked belly, even larger than when it was covered by one of the gaping starched shirts he wore as he leaned back in his office chair and sexually harassed some of us. Before he, um, resigned, he slept with the depressed girl who wore dark green and had sallow skin, forcing us to visualize their unappealing sexual logistics.

Back then, photos had to be developed, so there was often a long lead time between when one was taken and when it could be seen. Months after the party, the host handed me a few of my ex and me from the day. Appalled, I asked her why she thought it was a good idea to re-open a still oozing wound. She replied, in her New York accent "What? Are you pretending it didn't happen?" She had a point. My reason for using the above, the other being I wanted to show off talented neighbor Nick Nixon's photographs, taken during COVID. He also took a one of my feet, printing me a huge copy, which I love.

My sexy feet, according to Nick

Anyways, as my daughter would say to drive me crazy, I was chatting with a friend who has recently found herself alone following years of looking after others. She is now able to choose her furniture, control the clicker and have an IPA for dinner if she feels like it. Delighted as a toddler on Christmas morning at the freedom from deferring to the preferences of others, she recently found herself with nothing to do, which was disorienting. While aloneness can be a choice, loneliness can seep in and take over. I'm often asking myself which I am and continue to try and break down the beliefs I've picked up that haven't served me well.

Me, alone

Why is it not OK to talk about loneliness? Is it too scary? Shouldn't it be part of the "remove the stigma of mental health challenges" conversation? Like mental health challenges, it's my belief that there's a feeling of shame behind the discomfort. It's easy to talk to friends about being angry, bored, sad, lethargic, sick, unshowered, but not lonely. Perhaps there's an unspoken assumption that the listener has to fix it by being my constant companion? That's certainly not what I'm after, rather a real conversation, maybe comparing lonelinesses, when it happens, how it feels and how it manifests. I know we all have it and employ different methods of chasing it away. And is it even a good idea to chase away? As my therapist used to say "get comfortable with discomfort"

From an early age, there was always a pressure whose heaviness I didn't understand I carried, to "find a man" so that I was "headed in the right direction", i.e., married, dog, kids and two cars in the driveway . My father wanted me to be an international airline stewardess, as they were called back then, so that I could meet a successful man. He advised me to wear my hair long. At Freshman Parents Weekend, my friend's mother, who I had never previously met, asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I said "No", she said "Well you better get to it, it's much more important than your education". As a 17-year old, it's hard to not take comments like that to heart.

When I was in an early relationship that thrilled and fulfilled me, I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I don't remember much about it but a house painter who sleeps with his client and finds it illogical that she would expect any kind of fidelity in exchange for their shared sexual act. I found this idea earthshakingly liberating and sensible. It seemed so right to not be tied after a few minutes spent with another person arousing a certain good feeling, yet when I thought about the direct implications to my life, I was much too scared to adopt it as a way of living.

As young single women, my friends and I compromised without limit, trying to get that trophy of our "other half" and marriage. We'd talk to men we weren't remotely interested in at nasty bars on Newbury St., or clubs in Cozumel or Boulder because, "you never know". Late to the party, I'm just now watching Sex in the City, and am delighted at some of the issues the show deals with while being appalled at the machinations three of them go through to get men. Why would single, otherwise intelligent women compromise their values so often and so blatantly, if not because of the pressure they feel to not be alone? Ugh. Why are we taught it's so bad?

I did have one friend who was more like Samantha; loved sex and wasn't looking for a commitment. When she joined me at the Filene's Basement bridal sale, I got a dress for wedding #1 for $99, plus $300 in alternations because I was the only bride in history who gained weight before getting married. My friend found one she liked and contemplated buying it to pull out after sex, asking her partner if he liked it, should he become too clingy.

Recently, I closed an Executive Director search for Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly, a nonprofit that brings college students together with elders in public housing. They do this work because they understand the loneliness epidemic facing all of us since COVID, aware of the serious physical and mental ramifications. The students provide tech assistance, do crafts and generally socialize, but the service is as much for them, as they become more and more trapped in their online bubbles.

So, can we just make it a normal thing we can talk about? Loneliness from being alone isn't so bad. And if I really don't like how I feel, I can change it by planning things with people I enjoy being with. And I've noticed that sometimes loneliness, like boredom, can lead to insight, even changed behavior. I vastly prefer this kind of loneliness to the kind I was too scared to talk about when I was married. AND I can have pink sheets without a fuss. Oh, the fuss there would have been...


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