Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Party of One.

Put your hands up?  

She wants us to what?

When Beyonce sung her battle anthem “All the single ladies put your hands up” I couldn’t help but think she was crazy.

I don’t want to.

Put my hands up? What, acknowledge to myself and to the world that I am single? Why? Everyone else already knows. Take one look at my facebook page and you can tell. My doctor knows. My car loan company knows. Shoot. The IRS knows.

My grandma knows too but she probably wants to forget.

Singleness.

Why oh why am I even bringing this up? 

I am not sure. Perhaps I will find out as I go.

I am in dangerous territory here.

Writings about singleness come in many different forms: the whiny, the hopeful, the how to date, the how to love yourself while you are waiting, and the how to avoid getting pregnant. (and certain kind of positions…) 

Mostly, it is advice on how to get out of it.

And who doesn’t? Want to get out of it I mean.

We all know that in our culture and in most hearts being in a pair is preferred.

And why wouldn’t it be? We long to be in intimate loving full relationships with people. To be known.

And let’s face it. Sex is an awesome thing. Combine the two… wow! 

That's what we want. And it shows. 

Coupling is everyone. TV. Ads. Movies. Fairytales. Restaurants. Holidays.

Hallmark doesn’t do a singleness day. Maybe the closest thing now is a Halloween and since I have no desire to dress like a slutty bus driver perhaps I am out of luck.

Singleness. Freedom or a modern second class citizenship?

I should pause here before I start to sound like a Sex in the City voiceover and start again.

Deep breath.

I am dreading to write about singleness because if I were really REALLY honest, to write about it would mean that I have to confront the shame surrounding it.  The shame I sometimes feel myself.

And to acknowledge the shame, we need to acknowledge the stigma.

And we singles know (especially us older singles know) the stigma exists. 

Boy do we ever. 

Every time we check that box. We feel it. 

Singleness, like marriage, isn’t easy. And while there are mountains of books and classes on how to have a better marriage, the sections about living your best life as a party of one are a lot more sparse.

There is a lot of suffering in silence.

I know a lot of wonderful beautiful people who struggle with singleness. Some embrace it valiantly.  Some wrestle with it. Most of us do both.  

I started to think about these wonderful people and how they live their lives. These people who are some of the most loving, best looking, most humble, most selfless people I know.

I got a little angry. And here is why.

We don’t talk about singleness. We just try and fix it.

And you know what? These wonderful, beautiful people don’t need to be fixed. They need to be heard. They need to be understood. They need someone to walk alongside them as they are treading through this world.

Sometimes all alone.

I want to try and put some words to that aloneness. 

And if you want to roll your eyes and be frustrated with me as I describe, that's fine.

Call me bitter and whiny. I understand. 

Want to know a secret? A part of me in my darkest days agrees. 

Why am I doing this?

Singleness. 

I want to explain some of the struggles I have heard from so many of my friends who are single or were single for a long time. (Things I have felt myself. ) Because maybe if we all share our struggles, perhaps we will find we have a lot more in common than we think.

And we can understand each other a little bit better. 

And then connect. 

Make us all feel a little less alone.

So here it goes, in all its raw form.  

Singleness means… 

Dreading every time you go to any social event. Not only because you go and leave alone, but because you know you will be asked really personal questions by people with no business asking.  (I swear, every time someone asks me if I am seeing anybody I want to fire back, “No, how is your sex life going?)

Smiling through many well intentioned but painful remarks. The following are all direct quotes: “You are alone, aren’t you?” “ I don’t understand what you are going through because I went straight from my father’s house to my husband's.” “You are going to have to marry down.” “God is your husband.” “ You must be the single one.”

Getting unsolicited advice from people about dating. And it usually involves the person having the solution to your problem in whatever way worked for them. “When I stopped looking it happened.” “You have to really put yourself out there.” “He wasn’t what I was expecting.” “I had just given up.” On and on it goes.

Listening to unsolicited stories describing older singles who lived good lives, followed by stories of people who got married just shy of a nursing home, followed by a slap on the back or a rub of the shoulder with, “It will happen someday.”

Feeling awkward when friends try to set you up and you don’t want to go out with so and so, or you do and it doesn’t work out.

The “You are so picky” speech. Or the “you aren’t getting any younger” speech. And the looks and snide remarks you get about maturity. “When are you going to grow up and settle down?”

Begging and bribing someone to take you to the airport.

Being the default hang out buddy. If a spouse is unavailable, you get the phone call. “Oh, I have time tonight, spouse is busy, want to hang out?” I.E My first choice is unavailable.

Being strategic about who you tell what too. You don’t have a designated person, so you play divide and conquer.

You are no ones number one. In the event of a life crisis or the zombie apocalypse, the best you can do is hope to be in someone’s top five when you need support.  (Btw, if this hypothetical is true, most of those crazy run arounds in World War Z had E-harmony accounts.)

Embarrassing when your close friends and relatives ask if there is someone special in your life and you have to answer no.

Feeling even worse when they stop asking.

Holidays can be painful. And I mean the whole Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day block. (Did I mention in a cruel twist of fate my birthday is on New Years Eve?...)

Wanting to shoot the next person who suggests you try online dating. 

Hating the way you look because you have to have that perfect online profile. Swipe right or left.

The milk and meat expire because they go bad before you can finish all of it.

Your heart feels like it is going through a shredder as it rises and falls with every hope and disappointment.

Feeling frustrated when people complain about their spouses for doing something small while casually mentioning something amazing they did. 

People wondering or flat out asking if you are gay. 

Home Depot trips are interesting.

You hate Facebook. 

Being jealous of those coupled folks who walk around being cared for, loved and appreciated on a daily basis and have had it so long they don’t even notice it anymore.

Being dismissed by married friends when you are expressing your hardships with the, “marriage is hard, you don’t know how good you have it.”

The painful process of putting yourself out there, over and over again.

Looking at the future and being terrified of going through it alone.

Watching others have a child, than another, than another. Babies. Babies everywhere.

Wondering if you will ever have children. And watching the door close a little every passing year.

What is family time?

Prudish or sluttish. Certainly not human.

Crying in your car.

Watching every couple walk by holding hands. They hold hands everywhere. In restaurants, parking lots, gyms, ball games, Target, church.

Being depressed after you sit for several minutes in the doctors office trying to decide which friend would be the most practical emergency contact.

Psyching yourself up for weddings with the Rocky theme beforehand and alcohol or ice cream afterwards.

Tight budgets. If you want two incomes you need to work two jobs.

Feeling like a 35 year old in a quinceanera dress.

The sense that the train left the station, it's too late, the clock already struck midnight, the prince/princess didn’t show up. 

Being told you don’t need a will because you really don’t have anyone to leave your possessions to anyway. (True Story)

Worrying about retirement and if you will have enough. And being more terrified that if you don’t you wonder, "who is going to take care of me?"

Not celebrated. No showers, no rings, no veils, no anniversaries. We don’t celebrate your promotion. Only your birthday, that you have to plan.

Crying yourself to sleep sometimes.

Deciding not to cry sometimes because you know you don’t have the energy to both break down and pull yourself back up again.

Going to bed alone.

Waking up alone.

Envy. Guilt. Repeat.

Carrying burdens you don’t even know you are carrying.

Wanting to be hopeful and succumbing to bitterness more times than you want to admit.

Feeling all alone in a crowded room full of friends.   

A broken heart. 

Going days without having any physical contact with another human being.

Singleness can be hard.

And really really lonely.

I should pause here because I understand that married people can be very lonely too.

The only thing worse than an absent partner may be the presence of one.

But the stigma persists.

For better or for worse.

And I think there is a reason why. 

No one wants you. 

You didn’t get picked. 

If you are not in a relationship you are haunted by something.

Something everyone is thinking (or you think everyone is thinking) but no one wants to say out loud.

Why are you still single?

What the question is really asking is this:

What is wrong with you? 

And if I were really honest that question haunted me for a long time. I think because I was asking myself.

What is wrong with me? 

It took me too many years of wrong answers before I came up with the right one. And if I can speak into the stigma and shorten those years for anyone else right now I will. 

I guess that is why I am writing this.  

What was the question? 

Oh, yeah. What is wrong with me? 

What is wrong with us? 

The short answer?

Nothing. 

The long answer?

Well… many things. But as I look around at my married friends, I don’t really see a difference.

So how do we break the stigma, or, at least live in spite of it?

Me personally? I used to do one of two things.

Hide away and hope no one would see me.

Or say screw it. I don’t need relationships or being vulnerable or (gasp) to be dependent on anyone. I dreamed up a fantasy clothing line. One with a low cut t-shirt with the word spinster across the chest and tight pants with the words Old and Maid.

One for each cheek. 

Hiding or defiant.

But lately there is a third way. 

For those that can relate and for those that need hope. Here is where I am landing.

After many (too many) years of living in the shadow of my married friends. Of struggling with the big questions. I finally decided to come to the end of mine.

Am I worth it?

Am I really truly worth it?

And I don’t mean of love, that is a huge part of it, but more than that.

Does my inherent worth depend on my relationship status?

No.

No.

No.

Am I worth it?

Yes.

Yes.

Yes. 

I had to answer that question over and over before it started to sink in.

I had to dig deep to get there.

And I had to do with a lot of messages flying in my face telling me the opposite. Some of those faces were even my most familiar. 

Say it with me. 

Say it again and always singletons.

I am worth it. 

It feels good. 

Alright Ms. B. I will put my hands up. Sometimes with smiles, sometimes with tears, sometimes asking for a hug.  

Hopefully, always with truth.

We are worth it.

As we are. 

I am worth it.

As I am. 

And instead of looking for someone to try and convince me of that, I am waiting for someone who agrees with me.

Is he out there?

I honestly don’t know.

But I am going to be okay either way.

Either way I will do my best to live a life of worth. 

Full, rich, loving, sexy, adventurous.

Free.

Stigma free.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Wandering in the Desert

The man wanders aimlessly in the desert. He crawls and claws for hours, days even, searching for water. His face is cracked and red. His clothes are tattered and falling off his body. And then, off in the distance, he sees a beautiful oasis. He gathers his strength and rushes over. Elated. Yearning for that cool relief. He cups his hands in the pool and lifts them up to his lips.

And eats a mouthful of sand.

It was a mirage. An illusion.

He is not in an oasis. He still is in the middle of the desert. Back on the journey he goes.

The hot desert sun baking on his back. He continues the crawl.

I ate sand the other day.

Not actual sand. But it almost felt like it.

I had been wandering in the desert for awhile, well, crawling actually. Clawing and crawling. Hoping for some relief. Some sign of life. Water.

Peace really.

The months had been long. The answers few. The wait excruciating.

The relief? Nowhere to be found.

And then, there it was. An oasis. A beautiful distraction. A few week solace and suspension of reality.

Life seemed to be normal. My gait returned. So did my laugh. Friends and I did what friends do. I started to take deep breaths.

I put on my old face again.

It still fit.

Until it didn't. 

I first started noticing it in larger groups of people.

I was fidgeting. A lot. After a few moments I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Tear out of there. Wherever there was.

Be alone. Not wanting to explain what I couldn’t explain to myself. 

I was still crawling in the sand after all.

But I didn’t want this desert. I needed water. So I kept searching.

And I thought I found it. I really did. I could hear the rush of the river in the distance.  

And then reality.

It just took one look.

The mirage disappeared.

I was left by myself. Coughing up sand.

For any one of us in a desert season the search for “water” can start off well-intentioned and quickly take a turn.

And since desperate times call for desperate measures, we do what we can to feel relief.

And it is so easy to be seduced by quick fixes, momentary pleasures.

Temptations. Some blatantly obvious and some boring and subtle.

You get giddy. You get sidetracked. You think things are looking up.

And then you look down and see sand.

So the search becomes more desperate.

Now you will do whatever it takes to forget you haven’t had water for days and it is completely hot and you want to scream.

Here out in the middle of nowhere, only familiar phrases seem to stick with you.

“I just want this to be over,” “I just want to know,” “I am just so tired,” “When are things going to get better?,” and the most popular “Get me out of here.”

Wherever here is.

So, you keep crawling. With sand in your eyes and the searing heat in-between your toes.

You start to take some crazy pride in the journey, you might even welcome suffering. 

You cling to that “I don’t need help and I am okay” mask for dear life, even though it is becoming harder and harder to stay on.

The sweat makes the adhesive void.

It’s lonely in the desert.

And in our loneliness we convince ourselves we are okay when we are not. We see Vegas and we go for it. Walk right up to the Bellagio fountain, strip down (it is Vegas after all) and jump in.

But the relief doesn’t come. It is another mirage.

You are still in the desert.

Out here walks turn into rambles that turn into drifts that turn into crawls.

Crawling. Trying to escape where you are and get to where you want to go.

When I ate my fist full of sand I was not sure which one I wanted more. To escape or to arrive.

I knew I was ticked off. Angry mirages seemed to be my only friends.

Or were they?

Are they?

I see colors in the distance. Upon closer inspection I am astonished to find flowers.

No mirages here.

Beautiful, glorious, colorful desert flowers.

And they are everywhere. Well, not EVERYWHERE, but certainly a lot more than I was expecting.

This is what happens in the desert when you stop resisting it.

When you stop cursing and start saying thank you.

When you stop crawling for awhile and take a look around.

Flowers.

And at night, stars. Some of the best skies you have ever seen.

Yes, I want to be out of the desert. Yes, I want answers. But I am beginning to realize that if I rush the process I will miss it. 

What is to be missed?

People for one, my favorite kind of flowers.

In the past few months I have been floored, astonished and amazed at my beautiful desert flower friends.

Friends that cry with me. Laugh with me.

They can’t stand masks.

They fail to comprehend my insistence that I am all right.

They hate mirages too. And they call me out of mine.

These amazing people found me out in the desert.

These beautiful wonderful gifts go so far beyond what I could have asked for or imagined.

In their hugs, concerns and conversations I am finding my true oasis.

Turns out, you can’t survive alone in the desert.

You can’t.

You need flowers.

And the ones that bloom out here are the ones to keep.

I love their sweet scent.

And in this season of lose and desolation, there is also gaining. I have discovered new species of flowers. Five actually. Five beautiful souls that if I was still insisting on keeping my head in the sand I would have missed them.  (Shout out to S. K. D. E. J.)

Turns out I didn’t need water after all.

There are other surprises out here.

Once I stopped crawling and started surrendering I noticed something else.

They crept up on me as I tried to crawl away from them.

Lessons that can only be learned in the desert.

Endurance, patience, grit, worth, hope.

What better place to learn about hope than the desert?

You know what you are made of out here. You have to decide to survive. You have to decide to show up. You have to decide where your mind goes. You have to decide to give up or keep going. You have to decide if you really believe what you believe or if that is a mirage too. 

No pansy flowers out here.

When I look around at all the beauty, I feel like Scherezade for a moment. 

The Giver gives what you need not what you want.

For those that are crawling take heart, there is a reason for these lessons.

Desert seasons proceed seasons of purpose. Of meaning. Of life. 

Think on it. How many epic quests began in the desert?

And you won’t be able to enjoy it until you learn the lessons that the desert teaches you.

Hope- the kind you need to survive. It’s not an option out here.

Love- the kind that stands by you no matter what.

Grit- the sheer gumption it takes to simply hang on

Trust- The moment you come to the end of yourself because you no longer have energy for yourself.  When you collapse on the sand and are so tired you just want to give up. When all you can do is stare at the brilliant sky. You get to finally let go.

Let the stars guide you instead.

And they do.

Right where you need to go.

And the least expected lesson?

I didn’t expect to feel gratitude.

But I do.

So much.