People often say, when you’re in the midst of a romantic quandary, that you need some time to be single. That maybe some time away from the pursuit of someone’s affections might do you some good. It’s an easy lesson to ignore, I mean, it sounds so boring. You mean I have to actually sit alone with myself in a room? With me, of all people? I’m awful. I don’t want to spend time with me. It doesn’t sound like the most rock and roll advice ever, but like most things in life that’re helpful, it’s not about how great it sounds. It’s about what you need to do. I found myself single after a very serious 7 year relationship and learning to be alone with myself in a room was a strange kind of mental anguish, for a while.
The hardest things to give up were creature comforts. The little things. She would sprawl on the sofa and I’d sit on the floor in front of her. Sometimes I’d play with her toes – simply as a comfort, and she sat there and quietly enjoyed it. In the mornings, I made breakfast. I’m a terrible cook and making bacon and pancakes was all I could do, but it was a small pleasure for me to produce a tray of food for her in the mornings. She would say thank you in a sleepy, groggy tone and squeeze one of my fingers tight. And on some mornings when I wasn’t awake before her, I’d just roll over, and she would be there, We’d embrace sleepily together, drifting in and out of sleep, often waking up multiple times like emerging from a coma, our arms and legs all tangled up with each other. Those are the things that really hurt to let go of. That and Mario Kart.
It hurt to be alone for a while. Of course, I pined for the attention of anyone who would give it to me. It made me insecure and hapless. But there’s another side to the coin, though, and where I sacrificed those small moments of perfect intimacy, I gained some level of autonomy, some semblance of being my own person in the world which, again, manifests itself in the little things. I take little walks to the coffee shop nearby and I’m nice to all the staff, and they’re nice back. I sit and listen to my music in the sun and sip my iced coffee. At night, I sometimes light some incense and drown out bickering neighbours and distant traffic with some music of my own.
In those moments alone, in those brief, peaceful slices of me-time, I feel an intimacy with myself. A satisfaction I never felt before. Silences used to be filled with squeezing each other’s hands, or a plaintive rub of the shoulder as we passed. In a way, I’m still doing that, but I’m giving myself the intimate reassurances. This is a nice moment, I think. I don’t want this to end. I’ve found joy in being by myself again where for so long after the breakup, I wanted cheap reassurances. I wanted a short-sighted plaster across my wounded confidence. I often didn’t get it. It left me wondering why don’t they like me. Now, however, I don’t look for this mysterious they. I look for myself.
The danger is that I could be enjoying my alone time too much. Dating apps have been exorcized from my phone. Invitations out from the opposite sex, as rare as that is, mind you, will fall in deaf ears. I often have my days and evenings planned out and as arrogant as it is to say it, the plans I have are much better than what’s being suggested to me. I would rather catch up with old friends and records I’ve missed out on. Not only am I enjoying pursuing other things outside of feeding my own worthlessness, I simply haven’t been engaged or interested in dating or being with someone. Why spoil this peacefulness? It feels good. It’s almost too good.
There’s the risk that I could become too armoured. Sometimes, the walls we build around ourselves become a self-imposed exile. A prison built out of fear – I’d like to think I’m not motivated by fear and more out of wanting to give myself an emotional break, but who knows? I can only imagine that if someone special comes along and the right mixture of chemistry hits at just the right time it’ll cause a spark that’ll put those emotional guardrails to rest for a while but the important thing is if that doesn’t happen, it’s no problem. My best friend is myself and right now, hanging out with me is absolutely killer.
I realized that the intimate moments I missed, all those little shreds of two people being together, the squeezing of the finger, the sleepy Sunday naps – they’re things you can enjoy with anyone. I realized I never really missed her. I just missed being cared about, and you don’t need to be in a relationship to have that. I had neglected my friendships over the years. Lost contact with people I cared about. I realized I needed to invest more in the people that are still here rather than nurse the hangover of someone who already left. I missed myself, too. I was a ghost, a phantom, flitting in between people I knew and never really standing out. I didn’t really love myself enough because I wanted a mother figure to come along and do it for me. To pull out my hidden personality that under usual circumstances I was too terrified to show anyone.
So that brings me back to the advice I used to hear but would dismiss. I needed to be alone. In a situation where I was forced to be alone, and through a lot of miserable lonely nights, a lot of self-reflection and anguish, somehow I managed to claw my way out of the mud. Loneliness forced me to like spending time with myself.