The rapid succession of time never ceases to amaze me. The days and weeks and months and years stack upon one another in fiery, relentless pursuit of this very moment. And suddenly, you find yourself staring down the barrel of a new day…and sometimes, that new day is a milestone of sorts. For me, this day came when I realized I was facing a particularly significant passage of time: 18 months single. One and a half years unattached. Uncharted territory for me, the former serial girlfriend.
I sat back and started assessing. At 26 years old (dangerously close to the big 2-7) and 18 months single and so far away from the place I always thought I’d be residing at this point in my life, what did I have to say for myself? Am I smarter and stronger? Am I more mature and wise in my decision making? Am I a loser? Am I a failure? Have I learned anything from this experience? Sipping coffee one sickeningly humid July morning and suddenly distracted by this line of thought, I began furiously jotting notes. It turns out, I had a lot to say. It turns out, I’ve learned more than I ever realized.
And so, I present the top 18 things I’ve learned during 18 months of living single. Part I.
1. Single is stigma. If I had a dollar for every person who spoke the words, “Don’t worry, you’ll find somebody…” I’d be filthy fucking rich by now. As if I spend my days woefully scouring the earth for the man who simply must rescue me from this hellish singledom. And I don’t like it. Something in me stirs at the idea of ‘wholeness’ being attached with finding a mate. At what point did we, as a mostly progressive society, decide a relationship is necessary for happiness? Or even normalcy? I’d imagine most of the people reading this who currently dwell in a happy relationship feel a pang of pity, and that’s entirely understandable. I used to blissfully camp alongside the ‘taken’ people, resting peacefully in a couple-approved society. I spent many months feeling insecure in my single skin…I felt half human. When I embraced single in all of it’s stigmatized glory, I flourished. And I started to fall in love. With me. With the world. With possibility. Maybe I’ll stumble upon somebody someday, maybe I won’t. But I do know one thing…single feels damn good. Stigma unnecessary.
2. Popcorn and Perrier is a perfectly acceptable dinner. I go through periods of cooking grandiose, meticulously planned meals with exotic ingredients and hours of preparation. I have developed a deep love of cooking. There are very few things I find as serene as putting on a record and bopping about my kitchen while I attempt a new recipe. But sometimes, for whatever reason, for a few days or even a few weeks, I lose interest and my refrigerator runs bare. And sometimes during a cooking hiatus, I come home from work, pop a bag of popcorn, snag a bottle of Perrier, and climb in bed with my latest book. I fall asleep by 7 pm. In those moments, I love having the freedom of popcorn and fizzy water and the lack of worry associated with living alone.
3. Literature is the love of my life. There is no if, and, or but. I remember sitting next to my mom on the couch when I was five years old…a stack of Dr. Seuss to my left. I’ve been a reader ever since and I can’t actually remember a time when I wasn’t in the middle of a book. But it wasn’t until I became single that I stopped reading shit. Don’t get me wrong, fictitious crime novels still hold a special place in my heart and when Patricia Cornwell drops a new Kay Scarpetta, I’m one of the first in line. But when I became single, I started reading for real. I started reading purposefully with the specific intent of personal growth. I’ve collected the most delicious compilation of memoirs, classics, essays, and focused literature. My mind is blown every single day. I didn’t know this realm existed until I started devouring the likes of Thich Nhat Hanh and Elizabeth Gilbert and David Foster Wallace. The floodgates opened to podcasts and blogs and ‘recommended reading lists’ and more books and more podcasts and more blogs and more love in a community of my peers. I stopped reading shit. And I found the love of my life.
4. I f*cked up. A lot. I remember once (probably not once) I got drunk and cried to a friend on her back porch. I spilled my shameful cheating secrets and sobbed at the idea of living out my days in this small suburb, five miles from where I was born, with a man I loved and respected deeply…but I simply wasn’t happy. I just couldn’t accept the idea that this was all my life had to offer. That night happened at least a year before we broke up. Cheating was a fuck up. Staying in that relationship was a fuck up. Lying was a fuck up. Attempting to mold myself into what I thought everyone else wanted was a fuck up. Neglecting my health, body, and soul for years and years was a fuck up. He deserved better. I deserved better. I so desperately wanted it to work…I loved so much about him and my lack of happiness had nothing to do with who he was. But ultimately, it just wasn’t right. I wasn’t right. I wasn’t on the right path, in the right career, occupying the right space, or living the kind of life I wanted to live. And I knew all of those things long before it ended. And I should have had the balls. And in that way, too, I fucked up.
Coming to terms with my colossal collection of ‘fuck ups’ was jarring and heartbreaking and invigorating. A young woman by the name of Jenna Galbut said it best with the following:
“I find it extremely liberating to see that I was the cause of all my problems. With this realization, I have also learned that I am my own solution. This is the great big gift of personal accountability. When we stop blaming external forces and own up to our responsibility, we become the ultimate creators of our destiny.”
I now know there is something to be said for sometimes dropping the existential and simply admitting you screwed up. In my case: often and repeatedly. And while not ideal, it’s all okay. It’s back there now. Behind me. Before this Brittany. No longer part of my story and no longer a definitive component in my life.
5. ‘No’ is a complete sentence. “I’m not coming to your wedding” was undoubtedly one of the most difficult No’s I’ve had to hand out since becoming single. It was also astonishingly powerful. The truth was, my heart couldn’t handle the anxiety of being in the same room as many of the people who vanished from my life 17 months earlier, ex included. Thinking about that date looming ahead was nauseating. I’d always planned on attending. I even RSVPed. For months I’d sort of fantasized about the big day…a scene straight out of a 1990s rom-com: I imagined showing up looking like a knockout: tanned, skinny, donning a perfectly sexy summer dress…possible hottie on my arm, a veritable ‘Eat your heart out!’ moment. I don’t know who I was kidding. I’d be willing to bet even my subconscious giggled at that one. It was a few weeks before the one-month drop date (I knew I couldn’t drop out much later than that without seeming like a complete asshole). I wasn’t where I wanted to be physically, mentally, or emotionally and I was exhausted from agonizing over the decision. I finally admitted to myself that ANYTHING with the power to drum up such a physiologically negative response was an unequivocal No. So that was my answer. And it worked out just fine.
I’ve learned it’s important to say no. Regularly. For your own sanity and for your own personal growth. I practice saying no at work to projects I have no time to pursue. I say no to plans that will inhibit my ability to make the most of my free time. I say no to men who don’t make me happy, don’t interest me, or contact me primarily at 2:30 A.M. after knocking back too many beers. No is a complete sentence and your No does not require an explanation. No is liberation.
6. It’s hard. It just is. Being single is really, really hard sometimes. Despite loving so much about single life, it’d be an unfair representation of the past 18 months if I didn’t give a nod to the things that kind of suck. So here is brief and assuredly incomplete list of what’s been hard about being single.
- Carrying groceries up three flights of stairs by yourself blows. ‘One trip’ rarely happens anymore.
- Not being able to share the responsibility of bills and household chores sucks. My personal hell: lugging bags of garbage to the dumpster.
- Plus one? Nope. Probably not. And that is terrifying territory for someone so used to always having a date to any formal function.
- Losing approximately 90% of your former social circle (and social life) sucks. Given enough time, you realize it’s not much of a loss. But it’s still a difficult adjustment.
- *Wakes up to hellacious noise at 3:00 a.m.* : you’re screwed and you’re the only person headed out of the bedroom to meet what you’ve now convinced yourself is an untimely and gruesome doom. I don’t think much about it now, but I was scared shitless my first first months living solo.
- Living in the same town (please dear god temporarily) is ROUGH. If you’re single and still bumming around the same town as your ex…you can’t help but purposefully avoid certain stores, restaurants, and locations. Yeah, yeah..maybe I shouldn’t care after 18 months, but running into my ex and his girlfriend at a farmer’s market is legitimately one of my worst nightmares.
- Lovey dovey ooey gooey vomit-inducing displays of affection and physical contact…and lack thereof. It’s rare, but every now and then, I’m hit with a pang of ‘ughhhh’ and longing at the thought of snuggling the hell out of a man who simply doesn’t exist.
It’s hard. It sucks. It’s difficult. Sometimes. And only sometimes. And usually, the ‘hard’ results in a mere few moments of discomfort. That’s all. Those moments pass without fail and eventually, it’s just life as you know it. It gets easier and the ‘hard’ doesn’t hold a candle to the amazing.
7. I love t-shirts and boy shorts. Okay, so maybe this isn’t something exclusive to single living, but I know it is unequivocally one of my favorite things about coming home to an empty house. I immediately toss my office-appropriate garb for an oversized t-shirt and a pair of boy shorts. So. damn. comfortable. I scrub off my makeup, toss my hair into a messy bun, and get down to business at hand: cooking, cleaning, writing, painting, reading, or lounging…all in my underwear. It is pure joy. I’ve also discovered that while there is a time and a place (and more times and more places whilst in a relationship) for thongs, I hate them. My collection of thongs has shrunk to probably less than fifteen (gasp)…and I couldn’t care less. I recently ran this bit of information by one of my funniest guy friends, who replied, “lol gross.” So I suppose, I’ll up the anty again someday when there’s someone around to admire the goods…but for now, I will happily enjoy my ass sans dental floss. Sorry fellas.
8. Shifting jealousy to admiration is life changing. I am guilty, guilty, guilty when it comes to coveting what others have accomplished and I’m almost always wishing my life looked like ‘his’ or my body looked like ‘hers’ or I had friends like ‘them.’ Want, want, wish, wish, life isn’t fair, I’m jealous. It’s exhausting. And then I read something that changed my whole damn life. It’s possible to shift jealousy into admiration, which in turn, becomes something attainable. I am particularly jealous of women who seem to have it all together: job, body, habits, home, style, family, men, vacations, etc. We all know them. Their Instagram appears as if commissioned by Vogue and I’m immediately transported to a place of jealousy and angst.
In those moments, I try (not always successfully, but I try) to turn whatever the root of that jealousy into admiration and take a moment to understand what steps they took to accomplish the ‘thing.’ For example, I harbor exceptional envy for people who have managed to move away from their hometown in order to live somewhere extraordinary. How did they pull it off? I’m sure a few of them had a mommy and daddy to foot the bill, but not most. So how did they do it? They took the leap. They made a plan and stuck to it. They chose courage and adventure over comfort. They managed their finances to make a move possible. It didn’t just happen to them, just as a bangin’ bod doesn’t just happen to 90% of the people rockin’ bangin’ bods. Jealousy is futile; admiration is motivating; the mental shift from one to the other is life changing.
9. It all takes longer than you thought it would. If someone told me 18 months ago, immediately after my breakup, that I’d still be living in Grand Blanc, still working in financial planning, and still struggling to stick with so many goals…I would have probably found the closest, tallest, building and flung myself from the roof. I wouldn’t have been able to stare down that road of empty space and know not all of it was going to change drastically and immediately. I wanted a bright and shiny new life. In some ways, I have that. In many ways, I do not. Time is a cruel and fickle bitch. The last year and half has both flown by and crawled at an impossibly slow speed. I’ve grown so much, with an infinite amount of work still ahead. I’m on the right path a lot of the time…I fall off the right path frequently. I’ve learned this is the very nature of the human condition. Life is two steps ahead, one step back. Little by little; inch by inch. And while it’s all taking far longer than I thought it would, I have never once lost faith in my big bright shiny future.
To be continued…