At the risk of getting personal, I am a 38-year-old mother of two. My ex-husband and I separated almost nine years ago and divorced shortly thereafter. When completing forms, I prefer to check the “single” box rather than the “divorced” box because divorced feels more like I am defining myself by what I am not as opposed to what I am – which is single. My daughters are incredible individuals (it’s fact – I’m not just saying that because I’m their mother) who lead incredibly active lives. Forget it taking a village to raise them; it takes a village to carpool them everywhere. I work more than full-time at a career that I am deeply passionate and excited about 99.9999% of the time. I volunteer in my community. It would also take an endless number of hands to count the number of times that people have told me I need to find someone and not be alone.
Last Christmas, a dear friend that I work with gave me what was one of my favorite presents. Earlier in the year we had been chatting about being single and I commented that I wasn’t single, I was just “mastering my aloneness.” In the end, it is all about perspective right? In any case, for Christmas I received a “Mastering Your Aloneness” gift bag that has brought be immense joy. It included a single beautiful wine glass, a stunning bookmark, a CD, a decorative scorpion to remind me of our trip to Mexico, and a rubber chicken that you squeeze and a nasty looking egg pops out of its bottom. (I love freaking out my kids with the chicken!) To some, it all may have seemed sad. For me, there is little I love more at the end of a long day (or days) than sipping a glass of wine while reading a great book and listening to music. It was perfect.
People constantly comment on my being single. Constantly. Dare I say, up to once a week? If I’m being generous, I could say once every two weeks. Point is – a lot. The irony is, that when we hear about relationships that have gone horribly awry and are unhealthy, those same opinionated people will be the first to say, “Why is she still in that relationship? Why is she so afraid to be alone?”
In a recent staff meeting, one of the counselor advocates talked about some of the dynamics that she has been witnessing. During these summer months, she has been meeting with some younger college-age women and has heard some atrocious stories about violence in dating relationships. One bright young woman was contemplating calling her ex-boyfriend again to reconnect. He had violently held her dangerously close to a fourth floor window and threatened to throw her out. When the counselor asked her why she was considering calling him, the response was, “because I am afraid of being alone.” Have we really created a culture where being alone is more frightening than being thrown out of a window?
I felt pretty clever about my idea about “mastering my aloneness,” until I Googled the phrase and found out that Lauren Mackler is the author of Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life. Like so many other bright ideas I’ve had – potential money-making opportunity missed. I was happy to find that the little bit I found about Mackler’s book made sense to me.
According to Chapter 2 of Mackler’s book, “today, in one of four American households, someone is living alone.” For the first time in history, “fewer than half of all American households consisted of married couples,” and “more American women were living without a spouse than with one.” Despite the fact that lots of people are doing it, aloneness is still seen as a negative state. Mackler wisely points out that many parents are anxious to schedule lots of play dates for their young children, teens are often measured by the number of friends that they have, and adults are measured by whether or not they are happily married or at least in a committed relationship. Many see aloneness as a bad thing. We certainly talk about the dangers of being alone much more than we do the dangers of being thrown out of a window.
I love Mackler’s definition of Mastering the Art of Aloneness. “It means creating and living a life in which you feel whole and content as an individual on your own; a life in which you can take care of yourself emotionally and financially. It involves developing the self-awareness, life skills, and emotional intelligence you need to share healthy relationships – and to live a rich, full, gratifying life whether you’re living it alone or with someone else.”
To those who continue to ask, I am single and I am mastering the art of aloneness. I will continue to grow and develop and enjoy a rich, full, and gratifying life, whether I am living it alone or with someone else. I encourage everyone to become Masters in the Art of Aloneness so that they can be healthier and stronger and more loving in their relationships with others. To all young people – but I speak particularly as one woman to other women and girls – being thrown out of a window is much scarier than being alone. There is nothing to fear. Embrace yourself and master the art of aloneness.
Ifeoma Aduba, AWP Associate Director