I love people. I love to watch them, talk to them, be among them, and create relationships with them. I have always been pretty extroverted, and I typically gain energy from being around other human beings. I have a wide and varied group of incredible friends. I have enjoyed lasting romantic relationships and various amorous encounters. I have worked jobs that required me to deal with vast cross-sections of society and once quit an office job back in my twenties because I hated sitting in my office alone doing bookkeeping. I am, most definitely, a people person. But there’s something I learned in my forties that has changed me at a fundamental level: the ability to be alone – and to like it – has been a surprising discovery.
I used to think my happiness depended on my relationships and how others saw me. I put a lot of stock in staying busy and filling a social calendar. I was on auto-pilot for years when my kids were little, and I didn’t realize it because I was busy being a wife and mother. I thought I was fulfilled and happy because there was very little free time in my life, and I was constantly “doing.” I made many great connections and friendships during that time, and so many of those people are still a wonderful, supportive part of my life. It wasn’t until my divorce that I had to face the fact that perhaps my “busy” life wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d thought it was.
What I learned was that the only person I can really count on in this life is myself. I cannot control what anyone else does, or how anyone else sees me, or how long they stick around in my life. I can only be the best version of myself at any given moment. I thought I’d never recover from my ex’s affair and our subsequent divorce. I thought it made me less of a woman because I was now (gasp!) ALONE.
I learned that “being” is just as important – maybe more so – as “doing.”
Solitude forced me to re-evaluate what was important just to me. It opened the door to independent decision-making that I hadn’t had in two decades. It forced me to get to know myself again and figure out what it was I wanted as an individual. I had to get real with Kristi and get to know her again. It was scary and lonely and excruciating. It was also pretty amazing once I got past the heartache that precipitated it.
I quit drinking. I slept diagonally on the bed and didn’t worry about infringing on anyone else’s space. I read with the light on well past midnight if I wanted to. I hogged the bathroom sink and drank gallons of coffee and laughed as loud as I wanted. I danced with my kids and told stupid jokes and cried when I needed to. I gave myself hugs and pep talks and wrote a ton. I beat myself up for mistakes I’d made, and then I made peace with myself for most of them because I’d really just been doing the best I could at the time. I instituted “extreme self-care” and took my vitamins, drank my water, ate well, exercised, meditated, lit my sage, and played with my tarot. I did it all without worrying what anyone thought or had to say. I did it because it was what I wanted to do.
I healed; I’m still healing.
I learned to spend time with myself and enjoy it. And as I got more comfortable being alone, I realized that I was pretty ok. I’d always known it; I’d just lost sight of it. That time of getting to know myself again was invaluable. It prepared me for this second act of my life. It reminded me that love and friendship are things you should really give yourself before you attempt to share them with anyone else.
Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a great book on meditation called Wherever You Go, There You Are. It’s nice to know that wherever I go, I’ll like the company.