If I’m hospitalized or incapacitated from a car accident or emergency health problem, my ex-wife will be the first person anyone calls.
That’s because, even four years after our divorce, she’s still my emergency contact.
In a reverse-scenario, I’m probably the fourth person to get an emergency call about her. Yes, I’m aware of how pathetic that sounds.
On a night where she might go out for dinner, drinks and whatever else with her boyfriend if our son wasn’t at home with her, I’ll sit alone in my kitchen writing things for a client after grabbing a takeout dinner on the drive home later.
I have no way to prove I’m not just writing this in some lame attempt to sound cool or tough, but I have exactly ZERO problems with my Valentine’s Day plans today.
I want to talk about why, because I think the things that make people feel lonely on Valentine’s Day are the same things that compel people to marry someone before they’re ready, or to ignore their partner’s behavioral red flags, or jump into a relationship super-fast after a breakup or divorce and ultimately suffer for that choice.
I remember when it wasn’t this way.
I remember how excruciating it is when your body is still learning how to operate with entire pieces of your insides missing. Crying, even though you never cry. Unable to breathe, even though you’re always breathing.
Because Valentine’s Day is hard for a lot of people. We like to associate that feeling with single people and maybe feel sorry for them as if they’re all alone because no one will ever like them or find them worthy.
To be sure, many divorced people will be afraid of that. I was afraid of that. Maybe still am.
But I don’t think single people are the loneliest people. I think people in broken marriages, or people who are the givers in one-way relationships that just haven’t broken yet, are the loneliest people.
Being married or carrying the “In a Relationship” label DOES NOT prevent loneliness.
Connectivity to others prevents loneliness, regardless of whether you share an address or exchange bodily fluids with them.
Self-love (self-compassion and respect, not narcissism) and self-acceptance prevents loneliness.
And something else does, too: Getting used to being alone.
The Reason I’m Single
Save it, dicks. Of course not everyone finds me attractive. Of course not everyone likes me.
But that’s not why I’m single.
I’m intentionally single today in a way I wasn’t four years ago, and I want you to understand why because it matters.
I am divorced primarily because I spent years taking my wife for granted, leaning on her to do most of the heavy lifting of Life and household management, including paying our bills, coordinating our social calendars, planning holidays, developing a caretaking system for our newborn, and executing the day-to-day management of everything required of working adults with a child and a mortgage in the 21st century.
I can’t speak for other guys. Just me.
I grew up in a small Ohio town. When we were all together for large holiday gatherings, or when I visited friends’ houses, or just my experience with my mom at home, I almost exclusively watched wives and mothers doing things like cooking, clearing the table afterward, broom-sweeping the floor, washing dishes, changing baby diapers, folding laundry, vacuuming carpet, cleaning bathrooms, etc.
I’ve heard so many men call this stuff “women’s work” and seen so many men retreat to the living-room recliner after dinner to let their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters take care of the cleanup, that I felt OFFENDED by my wife wanting me to do more housework.
I’ve had four years to think about this, and finally see it for what it is.
First, I was a baby and small child, and everyone did everything for me.
Then, I was in grade school and high school, and all I had to do was show up, get decent grades, and have fun with my friends the rest of the time. My parents did all of the heavy lifting.
Then, I was in college where even the super-rare chores were things I was doing with my best friends, usually while drinking beer or after sharing a joint.
Then, I was with my girlfriend. The same one who, 16 years later, would be my Life-emergency contact despite being divorced for four years.
In other words, every second of my existence from my earliest memory until the moment my wife walked out the door and never came back consisted of me having almost no life responsibilities other than staying alive, and a constant support system INSIDE the walls of wherever I called home.
Later, I either had my best friend or my wife under the same roof. An adult I could count on to back me up, and trust with everything I have including my favorite little human on Earth. Someone I could talk to. A living, breathing human being exchanging stories, ideas, hugs, kisses, comfort.
Then the only vinyl record I’d ever heard, the same one spinning for 33 years straight, screeched to a halt, and all that shit drove away in a white SUV with a woman I used to know behind the wheel, and the other half of my entire world sitting in the backseat.
Some of you remember.
So when people are having a hard time on Valentine’s Day, I’m not inclined to tell them to suck it up because breaking on the inside feels so much worse than breaking on the outside and I learned the hard way that’s not something you can know until you, just, know.
I Vowed I’d Never Do That Again
Not to my son.
Not to my partner.
Not to myself.
Because it does feel scary sometimes. I can’t hitch my wagon to someone who I’m not EXTREMELY confident I could potentially have a life-long marriage with.
No settling. NONE.
But someone else isn’t what scares me.
I scare me. Must be this tall to ride.
I won’t be with someone just because I want something from them, including the comfort of not being alone.
So, here’s the task I’ve given myself: Get comfortable alone. Get comfortable taking care of yourself. Get self-sufficient in all of the areas you spent your life relying on others.
Because my biggest relationship failing was that. Relying on others to take care of things for me.
And that’s not okay. Life is hard enough. We can’t expect others to carry all of our things too.
And that’s where I am today. Right now.
That’s where many single people are. They’re not unlovable or unsexable rejects. They’re not all a bunch of emotional charity cases.
They’re just walking the path for the first time without a trail guide and learning to find their own way.
Maybe all of that changes tomorrow. Or maybe in three years. Or maybe never.
In the meantime, I must arrive at a place where I have complete and total faith in myself, and where I demonstrate a strong capacity for self-care and self-sustainability.
THEN. Then I can be a good partner to someone else in a way I wasn’t in my marriage. Maybe other people are that way too.
I don’t think we can NEED someone else.
That’s a bad power dynamic, and frankly, unattractive—so we’ll have a hard time finding viable partners like that anyway.
But we can be whole all on our own.
We MUST be whole on our own.
Because I think when we’re whole all on our own, we’ll be ready to deliver on the things we talk about around here.
How to Get Comfortable With Change
We have a tendency to resist all kinds of changes because change is uncomfortable.
We struggle with loss because life changes dramatically, and it’s uncomfortable.
We feel uncomfortable behind the wheel of a strange car, or sleeping in a strange bed, or moving to a new town, or starting a new job.
But, inevitably, if we stay alive long enough, the new things become familiar.
The new things become the new normal.
And we get comfortable.
Step 1 – Breathe.
Step 2 – Do your best at whatever you’re doing.
Step 3 – Repeat.
We all want painkillers or life hacks or magic fast-forward buttons to zip us past the shit storms, and we so rarely stop to feel grateful for the opportunity to gradually adjust to things in a sustainable way. No one would ever succeed at, or be comfortable with ANYTHING if we always hit the “Easy” button every time things got hard.
And things do get hard.
Because tomorrow comes. Just by breathing.
You start the journey crying in your kitchen alone wondering when the journey will end and someone will save you.
But after enough steps, you realize the journey NEVER ends.
And that it’s you who has to save yourself.
And that you can’t save others. You can only encourage them to save themselves.
Not with heroics or anything dramatic, but by doing the simplest thing we do absent-mindedly more than 20,000 times per day and 8 million times per year.
Just breathe. Everything’s going to be okay.
Happy Valentine’s Day.