Saturday, April 08, 2006

Solitude

Neil posted about --and I admit I did not read in entirety--the subject of women who feel like they are somehow incomplete without a mate of sorts.

I could rant like a madwoman about this.

I didn't marry till I was 31. I dated for very nearly 15 years. I had a very active dating life. I dated every variety of male, with a huge and awesome ethnic diversity cross-section...from Peruvians to Indians to Chinese and a bevy of Jewish men... and on from there.

The most important thing I learned was how to be single. Being single is for many people a very abnormal way to live, for others its just life. For the latter group, good for you.

The hours. When a person is single, there is much more time in life to fill. When I would come home from work, I had this block of time from 5 or so on to about 11 that just was there every night. Sometimes calling a friend everynight would generally seem almost desparate, sometimes one doesnt want to call someone. Going places like movie theaters alone can be troublesome...weekend nights--perhaps I should have had a million friends to occupy those nights, but I moved every six months for nearly 5 years so most of my friends were a long ways away, living their own single lives. I learned to fill the hours.

Folks the one thing each person is is ALONE. I mention this to Suley and he comments on how dark this whole notion seems. But the truth is that we are each of us a Spanish Galleon of solitude. And possibly the best thing we can do for ourselves is to just accept that.

I see people who try to cling desperately to things to avoid that acknowledgement of solitude. The most popular thing to cling to is the opposite sex. After all, if sex wasn't so pleasurable than half the internet wouldn't cater to the service of it.

But sex, ironically, never alleviates solitude. It seems to me that it does distract a person from feeling solitude though. Marraige dampens the sense of solitude considerably. But to my mind, it's important to remember that solitude.

Those who actually read my posts, know that I am a follower of the teachings of Christ. But in the times that my solitude has been most acute, having a Lord in heaven somewhere rarely helped me, so feeble is my faith.

It's not just women who find their worth in the opposite (or maybe the same) sex. Everyone does this. But I guess I just have that little confidence in humanity, no person, no matter how substantial that person was, could ever convince me that they were somehow less mortal, less fallible, less frail, less vulnerable and most of all, less solitary that I was. We would just be two very delicate ceramic jars next to each other, rather than alone. And that never alleviated solitude.

I never found anything till Adeline (a child I very much wanted, now have and who will some day leave me to have her own life) and the responsibility to my husband. By responsibility, I mean I can't just pick up and go to Guatemala when there is a sweet deal to get me down there and back for cheap because I have to consider both of us.

But while I was single, I did manage to learn to cope with my solitude. And in my times of struggle, I learned how to cope with problems without reliance on another. And would you believe that all it boiled down to was the distraction of activity.

I was talking to Jeff last night about the zen of cooking, tongue in cheek, but it actually made a little sense to me. In order to know what a tomato is going to do in the frying pan, you have to understand the tomato. In order to really know how to cook, one has to understand their cheese, their noodles, their oils and spices and also understand the methods of cooking or otherwise altering these foods...and how they might taste together...Am I getting too far out here?

My point is that there is a quality to activities like cooking or photography or dancing or ceramics (and many others no doubt) that allow one to really become incredibly involved in the process of trying to do them well. Somehow in the process of throwing a pot, framing an image, writing something, learning a new step, and a gamut of other things, I was able to get away from that solitude.

In these pursuits I learned how to be happy without another body occupying my life. These things, whether I did them well or not, allowed me to improve. These things stretched my mind to understand things like how bodies communicate with movement, how dough works, depth in images or contrasts of shapes or colors, or even capturing solitude in an image. I didn't care really anymore if there was a person there to tell me what they thought, because I figured out what I liked. To the extent that another person just didn't seem like an imperative to have in my life. I was ok with learning how to paint, thinking about walking a marathon, make candles or learn to draw...

And there were enough friends so that I was not in solitary confinement. But by the time I married, I was ok with that solitude. I started to wonder if I really even wanted to share the bed and blankets.

Folks who derive a sense of self worth from a close relationship with another are kind of missing out on themselves. Single-ness/solitude is a very selfish time. No one to tell you where to eat, what to play on the stereo or to clean the bathroom. But it's good to have that, it makes there be more YOU to fall in love with.

This post is dedcated to my friend J. S., who I hope will at some point kinda come to where solitude is an acceptable thing in life, not a deficit of something.

6 comments:

jane said...

YES!!

it is *so* rare to find people who think that way about solitude and being single. american culture seems to place such a value on couple-hood that when you're single, you almost feel like you're doing something wrong, like you need to get out there right quick and find yourself a partner.

when i first moved to san diego, i didn't know anyone there at all. i got used to entertaining myself - going to the movies, taking long walks, going to Balboa Park and the museums...

then a weird thing happened. guys started falling out of the sky and asking me out. (i say this is weird, because seriously, prior to san diego, getting asked out on a date was a rare thing in my world). i kept thinking "well, i'm not doing anything else with my time, i might as well, he doesn't seem like a bad guy..." and none of them were bad guys, but with each one, i ended up feeling like i would rather be by myself, and i was always thinking things like, "why is he always *here*?"

that was when i realized that i didn't need to have a dude in my life in order to be happy. (this isn't to say that i didn't fall in love six months after that revelation, only to later have my heart broken, but that's a story for another day!)

i enjoy my solitude (after all, i'm gonna be a hermit!) and it's good to see that there are other people out there who value it too.

Neil said...

Great post. I think it is definitely important to embrace your own solitude. I also think it makes you a better partner, because there is trouble ahead in any relationship when you become too dependent on the other for your self-esteem and mental health.

Megan said...

I don't think you realize how much I needed to read this. This spoke volumes to me (and fortunately it was in a language I understand).

I think more than most people I know, I'm comfortable with being single. I long for my solitude. I've embraced so many things alone that it helped me to learn so much about myself. At the age of 30, I can say I really understand who I am (although I'm always changing, thankfully).

I moved back to my hometown two years ago. I do have a lot of family here (I moved for my parents), but not so many friends. I've done so many adventurous things alone, but for some reason, reacquainting myself with my hometown hasn't felt like one. Reading this made me realize that this is why I've felt unhappy lately. I'm so satisfied with my life in most ways, but only recently have I felt like something was missing (i.e. a man). I need to utilize my solitude better. I'm going to explore my town more. I've been saying for ages that I should take a class somewhere, something fun.

Thank you for reminding me of all this.

(Please don't be weirded out if you check your stats on this blog and see that I've returned to this post many times in the future. I might need these words again.)

Fitèna said...

I cannot relate to this post simply because I've never been in a relationship. But I would tend to disagree with the Single=Solitude thesis.

I embrace my solitude and seek it at times.

Maybe I would have considered myself single if I were living alone but am not. And sometimes I wish the houyse were mine alone to bask in my solitude.

I find this very strange aout mysel ometimes, since am such a social person....

Fitèna

RunningWheel said...

I totally agree with your perspective on singlehood: being single does not change a person's worth, and until a person realizes this, couplehood will be a very unsteady ride. Some will be single their whole life, but this doesn't change their ability to be happy, healthy, and wise.

However, I agree with Fitena: single does not equal solitude. There is a big difference between someone that has no family or friends, and someone that does. People are built to bond with others, and life would be alot different if we all walked around on our own deserted island. Western culture has become too independent, very selfish. Eastern cultures are much more community based, and I would imagine that there is less of a feeling of solitude there. Elders are well cared for and probably don't face death alone.

Think about this: if you are faced with a really bad day, do you have to face it alone or do you have friends and family to vent/grieve/work through it with? If lost, knowing that your husband will stop at nothing to find you most likely would make the experience a lot less frightening. People are not built to go through life alone. Unfortunately, many feel like this means that if they are single they are living a life that is less than complete.

Tremendous growth occurs during singlehood. I love my alone time, my drives to work, my long bike rides, my long runs. It is a time to reflect on life and think things out. I need those times, and would be frazzled without them. But I also grow as I interact with others, as I bounce ideas off of friends and close ones. Both situations can result in growth, and both produce different types of growth.

atpanda said...

See, and I had to LEARN to be alone. I've never ever been alone. I went from my parents' house, to a dorm with a roommate, to an apartment with roommates, to living with my husband. When Ryan started as a firefighter, I found myself ALONE. I was miserable at first, but then I figured out that the only way I wasn't going to be miserable is if I just went out there and did stuff on my own. And now there's days when I crave being alone and invisible at a coffee house. Good post