The cognitive dissonance in our culture is strong. We say one thing and yet we do another. Whether it’s climate change, racism or interpersonal relationships, we struggle with uncomfortable truths and instead cling to immature hopes and dreams, because the vast majority of us have never been taught to face life as it is and to take that reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is and work for something better.
Today’s post is a departure from my usual fare because I am grappling with some issues and, as a writer, the only way to work things out is to write.
It’s been a little over two years now since I left my husband. It was not a dramatic ending—simply two people who, despite loving each other, were simply not meant to be life partners. Instead we now soar as friends, coparents and business partners. To say that we confuse people is an understatement but we found the courage to accept that love is not enough and that we are simply too different to be life/romantic partners. The differences that endear our friends to us can make for many uncomfortable moments in a marriage.
Ours is a culture that lives for love and too often the endings of relationships are seen as a sadness rather than the end of a single chapter (or a few chapters…or several) in the book of our lives. Too many of us run from relationship to relationship looking for our next hit of love because it’s what is expected.
For cis-gendered, heterosexual women, the pressure to be paired up starts early on in life. I was raised in a family where women were expected to marry. All your achievements are great but a husband and kids is the crowning achievement. I learned that lesson early and married at 18 and again at 24. While many women today don’t marry as early in life as I did, for many of us, marriage or a life partner is our end goal and anything less than that feels like failure.
In the two years since the former spousal unit and I split up, there are a few questions that have become so normal, I know when to expect them. Have I met anyone else and has he met anyone else? In other words, have we moved on? I thought when I left the family home, I had moved on but apparently, one must have a new partner to truly move on.
When we first split up, I knew that I wanted to spend some time alone figuring out my life. After all, it took getting into my 40s to finally be alone and standing on my own two feet sans a man. The reality is that I didn’t even spend a full year alone (if memory serves it was about 11 months) before meeting someone. It was a complicated and brief affair that served to solidify a few things for me. I am not interested in marriage, living with anyone or additional kids. In fact, those are my three non-negotiables and I am not interested in wasting anyone’s time.
Since that relationship ended early this year, I have vacillated back and forth about whether or not to date again or to simply make peace with being alone. The truth is it’s a hard decision. I am a woman with needs and frankly, it would be lovely to have a companion to attend events with (including my own work events, which is another layer of complication) and just to have a special person in my life. On the other hand, my life is full. I have one kiddo still at home, my son and his family including my grandson, and a host of friends and colleagues. My professional life is full and I am filled with goals that only now am I in the place to work on.
My latest adventure in dating has left such a bad taste in my mouth that now more than ever, I am questioning whether I have the intestinal fortitude to even deal with the madness of dating in a swipe right or left world. It’s also making me examine why being alone, especially at middle age, feels so challenging. Is it because no matter what we say, we judge the unpartnered? We have created a world that assumes one is partnered and when they aren’t, it feels wrong even though we never question why it seems wrong.
This past summer, I took a mini-vacation alone and it felt like such a huge leap to experience pleasure alone and yet in the end, I had a fun and relaxing time by myself. Too often, though, such moments are viewed as an exception and not the rule.
How often do women feel incomplete without a partner? How often do we send the message that a woman is incomplete without a partner? Why have we created the narrative that essentially tells us that our real life begins when we settle down with someone rather than seeing that what we are living is our real life whether we are partnered or not?
More importantly, how often does the societal expectation creep in and affect us in unconscious ways?
I wish that I could say that I have the answers to these questions but instead I am trying to figure them out myself. In the meantime, I am working on learning to love and cherish my solitude and make peace with my life in this moment. To see that being alone is not a curse but actually a blessing as it allows me the time to pursue the things that are important to me.
If you are over 40 and unpartnered, I would love to hear from you. How do you fight the societal expectation to be a duo act instead of a solo act?
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