The holidays are upon us…or, at least creeping up, and it seems natural to want to have that special someone to share them with. Those yearly invitations are showing up already, and we must RSVP for ourselves and our guest. I always RSVP with a grin, “I’m coming, and maybe, if the planets align, I will bring someone.” I go alone or with my dear friends. I do think that people would fall over in a fit if I ever showed up with a “someone.”
It is just such festive notifications that put me in mind of something I wrote several years ago during a conference. I actually saw these people, but I invented their relationship and conversation.
Tears. Mutterings and awkward hand holding. He is clearly breaking up with her. She is the kind of girl boys break up with. Especially when the boys in question are 20 and shallow and lack forethought. Her hair is not brown neither blonde nor red – an indeterminate color and her eyes are pale and washed with the pain of never yet being the dumper – always the dumpee. It is not a fun place to be for her. In fairness, he is not comfortable, either. Trying to stroke her hand and bring comfort to a place he just made ultimately uncomfortable. Did she give her virginity to him? He to her? Has he realized that she is too self-centered or too controlling or too interested in marriage? Maybe she realized those same things about him long ago and chose to overlook them in favor of being with someone rather than being alone. She looks away, wipes her eyes, willing the tears to flow or to stop. He looks at the ground, shifts restlessly, and glances at his phone, checking the time or the text message that he would really like to get but hasn’t yet.
We have all been there. We have begged someone whom we knew not to be the right person to stay with us. Why? Because being with someone – even a sub-par someone is better than being alone. In this culture of couples – it is hard to have the resolve to be alone. Alone. Not lonely. Just alone. There’s a difference. I was dumped at 20 – at 17, too. And, again at 23. I’m sure there are other times – we all can mark a few of them. We shed the tears or we created the tears. Or a little of both. We have been uncomfortably waiting for the text that never comes. We have gone home to our dog, our childhood blanket, or a pint of Rocky Road. We have drunk one too many shots of whiskey and almost called. Or we did call. Or we texted. And it wasn’t good.
I know, I know that little story wasn’t exactly heart-warming. And, yes, sure, fairytales happen. They populate my newsfeed in the form of 25 year anniversaries or my friends who unironically call each other “beloved” or the engagement announcements of my former students.
We do live in a culture of twos. Pairs. Couples. And if we are not one of two, we are expected to be searching for our other half. If we are singular and not on a couple of dating websites, something is amiss.
A few months ago I got a call from one of those sweepstakes things you fill out at the annual home and garden show. The kind where you get a 4 night-5 day stay somewhere fabulous as long as you agree to hear the sales pitch and fill out some questionnaires. They are good deals, if you have no money to invest or the willpower to say “No, thanks.” After a few preliminary questions, the gentleman with a lisp on the other end of the line asked me who I might bring with me on such an excursion. I said, “Hmm. Maybe my son.” He then proceeded to ask me if I were married, if I lived with someone, or if I had a partner. No. No. No. He said this offer was only for those in relationships. He promised to call back with a different promotion for singles. I don’t expect to hear from him.
In a culture that smacks of marriage-worship, it can be hard to be alone, especially at the Christmas party – especially on vacation – especially in a restaurant – especially, especially, especially… And, when you’re young and you haven’t yet had your first job, bought your first house, or had your first child, and you’re ever so slightly afraid of really living by yourself, it’s even harder to be singular. I sympathize with the girl from my story – even if she knew he was all wrong for her. And I sympathize with that boy – even if he had a new girl lined up.
It is not easy to be alone, but my hope is that everyone can embrace the peace that is found in solitude in order to find the meaning in their relationships.
In the end, we might all remember that life is about multiple relationships – friends, family, lovers, neighbors, pets, colleagues. Perhaps, just perhaps, we want to take a few moments to enjoy all of the loves of our lives?