Years ago in my 20s, after too many relationships in too short a period of time, I was emotionally tired. I wanted someone to love and to love me, to cook meals and laugh with at the end of the day, someone to have children with and grow old. What I secretly wanted was to get married. I wanted to create a better version of the family I’d grown up in.
There was an unease that came from two little worries, which I wasn’t even conscious of at the time: one, that I might be unlovable or at the very least unworthy of it, and two, that every few minutes another amazing guy was getting married and removed from the dating pool, leaving all of the rest of us…leftovers.
Never mind that both were untrue. Turns out fear and scarcity are not the best motivators or lenses for finding a mate.
A little over a decade later after achieving my goal of getting married I became single again. (What? How could that have happened when I was so solid?!) And I found myself with that same familiar desire for a partner. But I now had three sons who were my focus, which of course was a satisfying place to direct my affections. It was a relief to be distracted from that other want in me for togetherness, since I now distrusted my ability to choose well.
But it simmered beneath the surface, that not wanting to be alone forever, while knowing that as a mid-30s woman “package deal” with children, I wasn’t going to be at the top of anyone’s list. I could understand that; I certainly wasn’t excited to add anyone else’s children to my already harried life either. And I was at the point after the painful dissolution of my own marriage and watching other marriages unravel that I’d rather be single than try to make a wrong relationship right.
Which made things interesting when I suddenly found myself alone on nights when my sons were with their dad. I began accepting invitations, going out with friends, and inevitably, meeting single men. It became rather comic and predictable, conversing with a guy, feeling that mutual spark of interest, then watching their eyes dart nervously around the room for an exit after mentioning that I have kids. Yes, that was plural. No, not two. Three of them. Boys.
Nice to meet you too. (Eye roll.)
While I could have found bed buddies, it turns out this rejection was my salvation, because it allowed me to get my head straight and find my way to the most important place; a self that was genuinely OK being alone.
My journal (because journals can be horrifically embarrassing and why not share it with thousands on the internet?) revealed these truths:
Curiously, my belief in that last statement set me free. Because it allowed me to simultaneously acknowledge my desire and let it be. Which led to a question that woke me up: If I was no longer hoping for someone to appear, then what would a happy life look like?
This question boggled me; this implication that I could take responsibility for my own happiness without waiting for someone else to become a part of the script and write the happy ending with me. I honestly had no idea what that would look like.
What followed was a subtle but powerful shift in my life. I got outside more, traveled a bit and appreciated my friends more than ever. I became a better daughter. I stopped seeing my family as something broken that needed to be fixed or changed. I sometimes even went to movies alone and enjoyed seeing whatever the hell I wanted.
You might guess how this story ends. Less than a year later I met someone, felt a surprising spark and waited for him to find an exit after I coughed up that I had three sons. Except he didn’t. He told me he’d like to see me again and asked if he could have my number. Fourteen years later I’m still waking up next to that guy.
I still feel guilty about how I entered my first marriage. Because marriage shouldn’t be the primary goal in a relationship and my belief that it would fix my life was misguided. Loving someone and being good to them every single day, being a positive in their lives while you support them in becoming their own best self, should be the goal. Sometimes marriage is the natural consequence of that, sometimes it’s not.
But the irony of being ready to love someone and be good to them every day is that you should also be OK alone, knowing that you’re already complete. Whether the status change you’d like happens or not it’s a win because you’ve embraced the life you have. And I’ve gotta think that’s pretty attractive.
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