the art of loving the single life
In my life, I have been single more often than not. And in my long-term relationship with Singledom, there are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me embrace and enjoy the solitude. They are things that I wish I could share with every teenager, or twenty-something girl, who finds herself feeling a little “less than” just because she has no one to tell her she’s beautiful every day or to call her every night before bed. So, for starters, let me be the one to remind you today: you are beautiful. With or without a hand to hold.
The first myth I need to debunk about single life is that just because I am alone means I am lonely. And immediately following, the second myth I need to debunk is the notion that I never get lonely.
While I am extremely comfortable being independent and on my own, occasionally I get caught up in wanting what others have: someone to stand by my side when it feels like the world is against me, someone to laugh at my jokes when no one else thinks they're funny, someone to play with my hair while cuddling and binge watching episodes of Parks and Rec . . . you get the idea.
So, what happens when you want to embrace your single status, but the loneliness starts to creep in? I have implemented a few tricks that I came up with after a heart-wrenching breakup, and they’ve helped me become a master at celebrating my singleness.
This particular breakup was down-to-the-soul crushing, and I had to find ways to encourage myself daily to focus on other aspects of my life. The aspects of my life that would be there for me regardless of my relationship status.
I realized quickly that, just as John Mayer sings about in “Dreaming With A Broken Heart,” the waking up truly is the hardest part. So I made a plan to help get myself out of bed and start each day with much needed positive energy.
On an index card, I wrote down three of my goals, with the one caveat being that those goals could have nothing to do with another person. These were things that I, and only I, could control. My goals for my life. Then, on the other side of the card, I wrote three things that I like about myself that have nothing to do with being in a relationship.
Every night I would place this index card on my cell phone. When my alarm went off in the morning, I had to look at it in order to turn off the alarm. It was a daily reminder that I have things I am working towards, and that I have a worth that is not contingent on another person being able to see it. I have a future ahead of me and if I want to bring that future into fruition, I had better drag my butt out of bed.
It got me through the hardest part of the breakup, and it’s something I still occasionally use today (usually when yet another friend asks to set me up on a blind date, or another family member asks if I’m seeing anyone special). Yes, I am actually. It’s me. I’m the someone special. See, it’s even written on this index card as proof: an insurance policy for my own happiness and a reminder of my own significance, despite my lack of a significant other.
Another key that I’ve found to loving the single life is surrounding myself with copious amounts of non-romantic love. I may not currently be in love, but I never feel void of it. I spent Valentine’s weekend with two of my closest girl friends, as well as my family. I got to squeeze my niece and nephew, and I got to be around people who love me unconditionally. I felt loved, and I loved in return. I may not have gotten chocolates, but that’s actually a good thing because I gave up candy for Lent anyway. (There is always a silver lining, even in the life of a Singleton).
And then there is what I consider the most important thing on my list of why it’s OK to be single and loving it: an absolute refusal to settle. I’m gonna repeat that statement for dramatic effect:
Refusal. To. Settle.
I have a lot of goals and dreams, and I am terrified that a relationship will deter me from the path to those goals. I have an intense fear of distraction, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t found the right person yet.
I believe a healthy relationship will help you achieve your goals and will inspire you to be the best version of yourself. So until I find the person who truly makes me better, it’s just me and my guitars forever and ever, amen.
I am obsessed with the idea of bettering myself, which means I need to be with someone who is as into self-improvement as I am. I despise complacency, both in myself and in a potential partner.
I was in a past relationship where me being myself made the guy feel bad about himself, and it took me way too long to realize that that wasn’t my problem. I had tried to make myself smaller (not physically, although he did comment on my weight more than once) in order to try and help him feel better about himself, but I only ended up losing myself in the process. It also led to my resenting the relationship and ceasing to pursue my own goals. At the end of the day, he needed to work on his own self worth, and I needed to stop feeling bad about myself just because he couldn’t appreciate all of who I am.
There are a lot of aspects to my person that men find intimidating, but I can’t change who I am in order to appease someone else’s ego. I want to be with someone who is proud of me, not someone who feels the need to cut and tear me down in order to make himself feel better. I will continue to try and become better in every aspect of my life, and I need to be with someone who admires that rather than fears it. I also need to be with someone who is simultaneously trying to be the best version of himself.
So, until I find that mythical person, I am bound to a life of having no “plus one” at weddings. But the things I’ve mentioned in this post help me daily to enjoy my single status, and I’ve officially ceased fearing Spinsterhood. I very well may be single for an inordinately long time, but I don’t think that makes me less of an awesome person.
Being single doesn’t make me feel unworthy of love. It doesn’t make me feel unattractive or unwanted. In contrast, it makes me feel empowered because I am focusing on my future. A future that will eventually include the right person and be reflective of two individuals with adequate self worth and individual paths who have chosen to walk through life hand in hand as true partners. Him helping me achieve my goals, and me helping him achieve his in return. Mutual respect, mutual support, and neither party’s accomplishments detracting from the other’s sense of self pride or worth.
There is a song called “Stand Beside Me” by Jo Dee Messina (one of the female vocal powerhouses that I grew up listening to), and when this song was released, I was just a seven year old kid with curly hair belting it out in my dad’s red Jeep Grand Cherokee, completely unaware that 18 years later, the chorus to that song would become my motto in love: “I want a man to stand beside me; not in front of or behind me.” That’s what I want. And I am content to wait as long as it takes to find him.
So, my advice to anyone who finds themselves perpetually labelled “the single friend” is this: don’t worry about it. Focus on you. Love you. Because you are the longest term relationship you will ever have. Do. Not. Settle. One day you will find someone who accepts and loves all parts of your being and inspires you to be better. Wait for that person.
In the meantime, love yourself fiercely and unconditionally. Because you are beautiful, smart, funny, talented, and worthy of love. Especially your own. And there is nothing wrong with admitting that.
PS – here’s the link for “Stand Beside Me” if you’re interested in giving it a listen: Stand Beside Me by Jo Dee Messina
cattiness & competition
There are few things I find more intimidating than a group of girls standing together talking. And although I’m pretty sure I share this fear with every twelve year old boy in America, mine is for a very different reason.
I am not afraid because I am at my first middle school dance trying to figure out how to ask my crush if she wants to awkwardly sway back and forth with me while standing ten inches apart and barely touching (the sixth grade version of slow dancing). Rather, I am a grown woman, anxious because I know what we all know: that unfortunately, women are harshest to their own gender.
It is universally known that girls can be catty, which is why so many women have their guard up the first time they meet another woman. I know I am extremely guilty of this. I have a natural wall that comes up when meeting another female. Upon reflection, I can trace the cause to years of being bullied, followed by a history of betrayals and falling-outs from and with close female friends.
Though I’ve since met and maintained strong friendships with beautiful, strong, incredible women, those scars are still there. And they still cause me to be instinctively suspicious around new female acquaintances. Whether it be instant or gradual, my wall only dissipates when I feel safe and can sense a mutual connection.
But I know I am not the only one who experiences this meeting-new-women-phobia. I recently met someone who, in her late thirties, had to leave a job she loved and had worked at for years. The reason she left? Because six female co-workers were bullying her day in and day out. Those are grown women, ganging up on another grown woman. She is now, quite understandably, nervous around females.
And it’s almost unavoidable when you think about how society shapes us. We are taught from a young age that, as women, we are in a constant on-going competition with one another. We are compared to, and pegged against, each other in almost every circumstance, and it ultimately affects how we see other women . . . and ourselves.
For some reason, we see another woman’s beauty and we start to feel ugly. We hear of another woman’s intelligence and we immediately feel stupid. Or we witness another woman’s humor and we feel boring in comparison. We start to feel like we’re losing the competition and so, in order to compensate and gain a competitive edge, we tear apart the other woman in an effort to elevate our own status.
But putting down another isn’t actually a sign of superiority. It is really just a way of covering up subconscious feelings about one’s own self. We cast all of the hidden hatred we have towards our own flaws onto others, trying to use other people as scapegoats for our insecurities. We have this twisted hope that if we point out another woman’s imperfections, it will somehow make people forget that we, too, have imperfections.
In the moment we think it will make us feel better, but it actually does the opposite. The whole reason we are speaking negatively about another girl is because we feel negatively about ourselves. Then, the more we speak negatively about her, the worse we end up feeling about ourselves. So not only do we hurt the other person, but we also hurt ourselves and start a horrible self-destructive cycle.
Instead of trying to be happy with who we are, and allowing others the freedom to be happy the way they are, we don’t feel like we’re good enough. So, we try to find ways to prove that others aren’t good enough either.
But true self-acceptance comes from acknowledging and embracing the fact that we are all flawed, and it comes from realizing that having flaws does not make us, or anyone else, less worthy of love. It comes from being able to see other people’s flaws and not point them out, but rather understand how they make the person even more beautiful.
And most importantly, self-acceptance comes from the ability to say and believe: “I am human. I am flawed. But, I am still good. I am no better and no worse than anyone else.”
We don’t get to choose our deck of cards, but we do get to choose how we view them. There will always be someone who seems to be “better off”: pretty, athletic, smart, whatever the trait. They have some, or several, characteristics that you want for yourself.
But, that’s their deck. Instead of trying to take cards away from them, we need to start looking at our own hand and seeing the unique beauty that lies within the cards we hold.
Maybe then women wouldn’t be so afraid of each other. And maybe then the fear of girls standing together in a group will only exist in the hearts of those twelve year old boys, anxiously pacing back and forth in their poorly decorated middle school gymnasium.
overcoming the expectations and disappointments of Valentine's Day
The first time I ever remember feeling uncomfortable on Valentine’s Day was in the 5th grade. A boy in my class had developed a crush on me and decided to reveal his love by baking me a chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a heart. He handed it to me before school started that day and I remember staring at it feeling really confused.
To give you some perspective as to why I was overwhelmed with confusion, I should probably describe my 5th grade self:
A huge tomboy, I was always dressed in giant baggy jeans and large hand-me-down t-shirts I had received from one of my older brothers. My hair was in a ponytail every single day and I don’t think I even owned a pair of shoes that weren’t sneakers. At that age there were many things I prided myself on being good at: sports, belching on command, arm-wrestling and spitting contests. I think it goes without saying that being considered desirable by the opposite sex was not something I ever would have thought deserved a spot on the list.
So, when I was handed that heart shaped cookie, I simply did not know how to react. Partly due to the confusion I felt, but mostly due to the sheer embarrassment of our classmates staring at us, I awkwardly told him that the feelings weren’t mutual. And then I ate the cookie.
Up until that point, Valentine’s Day had always been a fun day where you got to eat a lot of candy and wear red. You’d come home from school with a bag full of cardboard Power Rangers Valentines from classmates asking you to “Be Mine,” and a slight sugar high.
But sitting there at my desk in my 5th grade classroom on the morning of February 14th, eating a cookie made for me by a boy whose ten year old heart I had just broken, everything changed. All of a sudden Valentine’s Day was no longer an innocent day of friends exchanging cards and candy, but rather one centered around romance and its pursuit. This was all brand new territory for me, and I didn’t like it one bit.
The only actual thing I remember learning in school that day was a life-lesson on expectations and disappointment: Namely, that where there is expectation, there is inevitably always going to be disappointment. The boy in my class had expected that in return for the cookie I would agree to be his girlfriend. Instead, I disappointed him by taking the cookie and turning him down. His level of disappointment was directly related to the height of the expectations he had placed on the day.
I think that’s why so many people end up hating Valentine’s Day. It’s not so much the pressure to spend the day with someone, and it’s not even the over-commercialization of love. It’s the unfulfilled expectations.
Boys are expected to invest in some kind of gift and girls are expected to be the recipient of that gift. If you have no one to buy something for or receive something from, you are made to feel like there’s something wrong with you. And because no one likes feeling that way, the disappointed feelings are then channeled as anger towards the day itself. Down with love and down with Valentine’s Day!
But why do we have to hate the day? Why do we feel this ridiculous pressure on and around the fourteenth of February? It’s because we have all of these crazy expectations.
As women, we need to stop placing so many unrealistic expectations on men. As much as we wish they could, men can’t read minds. If you want your significant other to get you something and he doesn’t, don’t be angry or hold it against him. Maybe he just honestly didn’t know you wanted anything. Men and women operate so differently, so just tell him what you want instead of being disappointed when he doesn’t surprise you with what he never even knew you wanted in the first place.
And men, you need to stop placing unfair expectations on women. I know a girl whose boyfriend one year bought her a box of condoms for Valentine’s Day. It’s a really good thing that didn’t happen to me because I probably would have broken the guy’s nose. Newsflash, men: girls are not obligated to sleep with you just because you’ve bought them a box of chocolates. Actually, girls are not obligated to sleep with you ever. Start appreciating the woman in front of you for her heart, not her body. The purpose of the day should be about celebrating love, not getting laid.
Every person is unique, which means every relationship is unique. As a couple, you shouldn’t make your plans based on what the couples around you are doing because what works for them might not for you. Decide amongst yourselves what kind of celebration matches your personalities and where you are at in your relationship.
And now, moving on to those who always have, and always will, maintain a special place in my heart: the ones who are single on Valentine’s Day. I have spent the majority of my Valentine’s Days single, and I have loved them all. There’s something about witnessing other people being in love that gives me a sense of hope and warmth. It should never lead to resentment.
If seeing another woman receive flowers from her boyfriend makes you jealous, that’s a pretty strong indicator that you’re not emotionally ready for a relationship, as being jealous essentially means you’re not content with your life.
But there’s no reason that you should let being alone make you unhappy! Learn to embrace your situation and use the day to make yourself feel special. You can’t receive from someone else what you don’t give to yourself, which means no mortal person is going to be able to make you happy until you can learn to be happy on your own.
No matter who you are or what your status is, Valentine’s Day should be seen for what it is: a day of love. But it shouldn’t be limited to romantic love.
Take time during the day to reflect on all of your loved ones: family, friends and all of the people you can’t imagine your life without. If you’re really ambitious you can even write them little notes telling them how much you love them and why. It’s hard to be sad on Valentine’s Day, or any day really, when you start counting your blessings instead of focussing on what you wish you had.
Having no outside expectations to live up to gives you the freedom to actually enjoy the day. You should never let February 14th make you feel pressured, inferior or unwanted.
You are wanted, and you don’t need another person, a box of chocolates or a rose to prove it. Prove it to yourself by choosing to think positively and keeping the negative emotions in check. Treat yourself to a day that’s devoted to love and all of the ways it is reflected in your life. And don’t resent anyone else’s situation.
Love other people, love the day, and love yourself.
I hope you have a very happy, very expectation-free, Valentine’s Day!