Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Secret to Being Single & Happy

When I was a teenager my biggest fear in life was being alone someday.  Thinking about not getting married used to give me so much angst.  I worried about it all the time.  When I finally did realize that wasn't going to happen, that in fact it seemed more than a few boys wanted to marry me, I started to relax about that whole deal.  And then later I kind of regretted how much anxious fretting I did in regards to the whole thing.  I mean once I recognized the fear was totally unfounded, the years I spent worrying about that seemed like such a big fat waste of time.  Time I could have been doing a lot of other things instead, but which I kind of fretted away in delusional paranoia.

I am not sure that I could accurately articulate to you all the reasons I worried about it.  Partly because within my culture getting married had such a premium attached to it, that not getting married seemed like the worst thing that could happen to a person.  Along with that the fact that most of my peers would get married young and anyone not married and approaching 25 was definitely in "old maid" territory as far as my teenage brain was concerned.  Add in the fact that I had some other psychological issues around abandonment at play and a general lack of self-esteem and it was pretty much a toxic brew.

I currently have a lot of single friends.  For lots of different reasons.  Some never did get married.  Some are divorced.  There is a widow or two as well.

The truth is the majority of the people you know will be single for some portion of their lives.  We don't tend to think about how this really works.  None of the women I know who are divorced planned on being divorced.  No one thinks that when they get married.  Neither of the two young widows I know thought that was something they would be dealing with.  And most of the women who never got married imagined that maybe someday they still would (some of them still do - and they might be right about that, but you can't know).

I've never really blogged about my divorce and I probably never really will.  I don't think that's really a good topic for public consumption.  But it probably needs to be said in light of this particular blog post that it was the last thing I ever wanted to happen and maybe even my worst fear and I was quite happily married.  (and even three years of therapy later I stand by this - I was happily married, and I still think the guy I was married to was a great choice for a husband - sometimes things just go awry).

I think when some of us imagine being single someday (when we are married) and we picture ourselves as little old ladies who are widows and we really have this secret hope that even that stage will be super short - our husbands and us have roughly the same life span is what we like to imagine.  This is the kind of thought process I used to have a least.  Because you know you can't plan it but you have this wish at least.

I guess what I'm trying to say is not only did I worry about being single when I was single when I was a teenager, but I also worried about it while being happily married and wondering when my husband would die.  Singleness was a FEAR I had.

And now I'm single.

So now what?

Well for one thing right away I noticed that many of the other single friends I have are still worrying about being single much like I did during junior high and high school.  It is one of their biggest pre-occupations.

It occurs to me that I have spent so much energy on this fear - on this pursuit during my lifetime and all for what?  For nothing.  The fear did not protect me from the reality.  The anxiety did nothing.

That's not true - it did something.  It made me far less happy than I could have been a various stages of my life.

Somehow, about a year after my break up with my husband I realized something that only slowly worked its way into my brain.

I'm happy.

I think my worst fear happened, I survived and now here I am on the other side of it...strangely happy.

Here is what I'm trying to say.  I'm not happy about being divorced.  And I'm not saying people should necessarily be happy about being a widow or be happy about never having gotten married when they actually wanted to.  But what I am saying is that happiness doesn't have to depend on your dating or marital status.

What I'm saying is that this idea - that your happiness should and does depend on that - is a really really unhealthy one.  It isn't a reliable way to build happiness.

Relationships are nice.  I think love is fantastic.  There's nothing better really than love in all it's various permutations from new love to old love to just plain old intense physical attraction or vanilla companionship.  It's all good!

But relationship doesn't = happy.  I promise.

Sometimes when I talk about this with my single friends they look at me so weird.  They either refuse to believe I'm really happy or they refuse to believe what I'm telling them about finding their happiness from within.  Or they have absolutely no idea how to do that. But most of the time I get the idea from them that they don't believe me that I understand their fear/worry/anxiety about being single.

There is this well of happiness that has nothing to do with other people in your life.  The source of it is actually only you.  This is has always been true and will forever be true.  And I promise if you can tap into that well, you'll never have to worry about a relationship to tell you whether you're happy or not ever again.

And here's another secret that I know is true:  the happiest marriages, the happiest relationships and the most attractive people on the planet are people who already know this.  This is the biggest and best secret anyone will ever share with you.

So the question is HOW does a person go about doing this?  Well here are my tips

1.  What story are you telling yourself about  your life?  If your "story" is that you'll live happily ever after once you find a relationship, that's not a good story.  Because in that story you spend a lot of time waiting - and let's be honest, waiting for something that might not happen.  And at the very least waiting for something that probably can't make you as happy as you've led yourself to believe.  What if your happy ending is about something else?  Make a list of all the good things in your life.  No matter how small.  Then think about whether it's just possible to see your life as a happy one without the relationship you wanted.  Life isn't so much one big story as chapters of short stories.  Concentrate on the chapter you're in.  I bet you there are happy ways to end this chapter even if there are other chapters you'll be living in the future.  Maybe some of those include a relationship, maybe they don't.  Try to quit focusing on that as your "ending".

2.  What can you do to build your own self-esteem?  Because I can guarantee that's the real issue.  Make a list of all the things you like about yourself.  Then think about ways you'd like to change or improve your life.  Maybe you always wanted to learn to paint, or quilt, or throw pottery.  Maybe you always wanted to be the sort of person who visited the art museum on a regular basis but somehow you never got around to that.  Maybe you would love doing a specific type of volunteer work.  Maybe you need a career change but it's going to require some additional education.  Maybe you just want to paint your bedroom hot pink but you never dared.  Learn to meditate and do yoga.  There are an endless list of things that can actually make your life happier and build self-esteem at the same time.

3.  Do you hate to spend time alone?  Spend more time alone.  Seriously.  Go to the movies alone.  Go to dinner alone.  Go to the park alone.  Go to the library and sit alone and read.  Take a weekend out of town alone.  This fear of being alone is one of the biggest reasons people are scared to not be in a relationship.  As soon as you realize spending time alone - even doing things you normally would have done with other people - is not that bad, and that in fact it might even be relaxing and fun, your view of being alone will substantially change.

4.  Perform service of some sort.  You need to figure out a way to provide service which feels organic to you.  Some way that you contribute that feels good but is something you can do with relative ease.  I say that because you don't want to set yourself up for failure by doing something too hard.  But something that will get you thinking more about other people than about yourself.

5.  Don't isolate yourself from your friends. As important as it is to spend time alone, it's also important to keep in place, and add any additional friendships you might need to feel like you have a lot of support.  Maybe lots of your friends are married.  That's fine.  It really doesn't matter.  Make plans, go to lunch or dinner, buy tickets to something you want to do and buy an extra for a friend, if you think about it I bet there are a lot of people who you like but who you may never have even tried to do something with before.  One day I went to lunch with someone I barely knew, but it was totally great and we learned we had tons in common.  Sometimes when people are single they imagine that married couples don't want to spend time with a single person.  I really think for the most part this isn't very true.  It may be that you don't do the exact same types of things you would have done if you were still part of a couple (I admit, I do miss a lot of the couples "dates" I used to go on - but honestly, it is still possible to stay friends with a couple even when you're single).  I have gone to dinner with a couple who a really like as a single.  What does it really matter?  If you're still friends with both people don't you think they would still like to eat dinner with you just as much as they would have before?

6.  Get involved.   Maybe you avoided taking on extra responsibilities with volunteer activities, professional organizations, or church because as a married person it was hard to spend that much time away from your spouse.  Well, now is your chance to do those things guilt free.

7.  Look for the good things.  I promise you there are good things in being single.  Even if you really miss being in a relationship and have a hard time not being wistful about that - think about what you gained.  Things I gained:  less laundry, no one cares what time I go to bed, I get the tv control all the myself!!! (this is huge), I get to pick out all the movies I see, only I got to pick the car I bought, the closet is all mine, I never have to justify why I bought those shoes/jewelry/clothes I get the idea.  These are small things, sure.  But they are things you can enjoy.  They are things to be happy about at least for now.

8.  I was in a good marriage - so I can't really look back on my marriage and say "wow, that was unhappy, I'm glad that's over", but lots of people I know who are divorced were in a terrible marriage.  There was fighting and unhappiness on a regular basis.  Sometimes it's important to look at the peace you now have and just breathe deeply.  Sometimes, some of these same friends will be sad that since they never did have a good marriage - they desperately want to find one.  I can understand that.  But at the same time I could say that it's a matter of perspective.  When you look at what you lack you can be sad about that.  But when you look at what you've gained, it's a whole different thing.  I could look at what I lack - having been in a happy marriage, and be devastated.  I choose not to do that.  Think about all the little good things - or big things - you've gained.  Don't think about how your life compares to some perfect ideal.

9.  Date without expectation.  When and if you do date  - don't look at these people as potential fixes for your problems.  Date with the idea in mind that you have a happy and good life already, and dating is part of that happy and good life.  Not a means to obtaining a happy and good life.  See the difference?

10.  Just breathe.  Celebrate your successes.  Look for 3 things that will make you happy or grateful every day and write them down.  Journal.  Persevere.  If you do all these things you will find happiness.  I promise.


Cynthia said...

That is lovely . . . really!

Rae's World said...

You are so awesome and I love you so much!

Rae's World said...

It is Rachel Echols btw. Was not sure how my name was going to post. :)

Kim said...

You have a knack for writing. I could read your material on a regular basis. I did not marry until almost 30, old by "culture standard". I feel the best thing I learned in my 20's was how to be independently happy. It not only made my single life easier, it has also made my married life easier.

Bandanamom said...

Thanks for the nice comments guys.

Marie King said...

I love this! Such a great post! I was married young and it didn't last, so unfortunately I had to learn how to be independently happy. It wasn't an easy road but one day it hit me, that I didn't need SOMEONE to make me happy, I already had myself to do that. I absolutely love being single now! I enjoy having the freedom to be spontaneous, meet new people, date who I want when I want, and knowing that strings don't have to be attached. There's a book called "The Club Rules" by Johnny Mac, that my girlfriend got me and it helped get me out of my "Oh no, I'm single and alone" phase. It's a really fun book and was a great book to shake off that rut and start enjoying going out and meeting people again. He has a website too, Thanks for the awesome post; you do a wonderful job of reminding us that we have the ability to make ourselves happy!

Suzanne Barker said...

I learned to be happy single a long time ago. Which is why I am now rather fearful of ever being married. I am concerned it will complicate and mess up my happiness!


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