I am not dating. I’ve been divorced for 10 years now, and I’m not in a relationship. I’m not looking to be in one, either. Oh, yeah, there have been a few boyfriends — a couple more serious than the others, some purely physical. But right now, and for the past few years, I’ve been absolutely, completely, 100% unattached.
And I’m totally fine with this. So why does it bother some people?
Everything I read about divorce seems to have a message: If you are divorced, you need to date. Pronto. Fresh divorcees fret about it, as though there is a deadline for finding new love, a relationship version of the old biological clock that is ticking ominously in the background. That their lives will not be complete until they have someone on the other side of the bed every single night. To this day, people still ask me, “Why aren’t you dating?” or “You shouldn’t be alone!” or my favorite, “You and the kids need a man around the house.”
There are plenty of things I need: I need to work. I need to parent my brood. I need to do laundry and get groceries and walk my dog. Do I need to be in a relationship?
I don’t think so.
There is something very freeing in being single. I have perfected the art of being alone, but not being lonely. I feel as though this is one of the parting gifts of divorce, one that took me a long time to discover and even longer to appreciate.
The gift of learning how to be by yourself.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t spend all of my free time alone. I have four kids, a needy dog, and a bunch of amazing friends. I could be out doing something every single night of the week if I really wanted to. But every once in a while, I find myself with nobody but me. And I kind of like it.
Before the divorce, I hadn’t ever lived alone. I’d lived with my parents, and then with roommates, and then with a boyfriend who became a husband. And of course, technically speaking, I am not living alone right now — there’s a kid or two or three home at any given moment. But now, for the first time in my adult life, I’m single and not looking.
Part of it may be me guarding myself, my heart. My ex did a major number on me when he left. I’m not naïve enough to think that there wasn’t some damage done, but I am smart enough to know that it wasn’t permanent. Me not actively seeking love right now isn’t a matter of not wanting to be vulnerable, nor is it a matter of not trusting men (or my choices in men). A small part of it may be plain old-fashioned insecurity. If you find yourself failing at marriage once, it’s hard to imagine trying it once more. Who’s to say I won’t invest another 15 years of my life in another person only to wind up hurt again?
It might be that, yes. But I’d like to think that my steadfast-singleness is an education of sorts. I’m learning, you see. Learning to enjoy my own company, which when you think about it, is laying some pretty good groundwork for any future relationship I may find myself in. Personally, I think it takes some courage to face life solo. Some days, I do feel brave. I’m learning how to weather life’s storms on my own, which is something I think all women should know how to do.
Now, don’t think I’m dissing those of you who have jumped right back into the thick of things. I have friends who found new and better loves before the ink on their divorce decrees was dry. And that is awesome. We all have our very own ways of doing things, of growing and recovering and living. Truth be told, there are some moments when I feel some envy. I see them with their boyfriends or husbands, and it reminds me of all the good things that come with couplehood. The companionship, the comfort, the warm, strong arm draped over your shoulders on a cold walk to the car. The security one feels when there’s a trustworthy partner snoring next to you in bed.
But then I see friends who have gone through a virtual parade of boyfriends, watched them fall in and out of love or something that kinda/sorta feels like it. They’ve introduced their kids to some of them, brought them to parties and gatherings, and then one day, they show up alone — or with a new guy. I’ve comforted them when things go bad, when they realize that this wasn’t Mr. Right, it was Mr. That’ll Do for Now. There’s a lot to be said for their sheer determination to find someone, and I commend them for that. It always makes me wonder though: Are they doing it because they really want to find that one special person, or because they feel like it’s what they’re supposed to be doing?
I was talking to another single friend the other night — she joined this club by way of widowhood. I told her that I was writing about “embracing your singleness,” and she plopped down next to me on her couch and told me her side of it: “People were asking me about dating within a week of my husband dying,” she started. “I mean, look…” she held up her left hand, her beautiful wedding band shining brightly on her ring finger. “I took this off for about a week. I had been lifting weights, and it was bothering me,” she continued. “And right away, I noticed raised eyebrows and the ‘you go, girl’ comments started.” My friend motioned toward the kitchen, where her kids were laughing and messing around with their friends. “Those people in there? That’s my focus right now. That’s my job. I’ll figure out the dating thing later on.”
My widowed friend and I may have found ourselves in this spot via very different paths, but we both landed on the same page. Love is something we both want, both look forward to, but front and center in our lives are our lives. Being moms, running households, nurturing friendships. Taking care of ourselves. Finding our sea legs in order to ride out the rest of this crazy voyage.
When you’re a parent, and you’re single, there will be people in your life who will insist that you owe it to yourself to be in a relationship. Or you owe it to your kids to show them a healthy romantic relationship up-close. Or that it’s not natural for someone to not be coupled up — that just because you’re a parent, it doesn’t mean you have to be a martyr or a nun.
Here’s the deal: The only thing you owe yourself and your kids is to be the best version of you. Sometimes that means Mommy goes on dates or is in love, sometimes it doesn’t. You do what works for you. Oh, and the nun thing? The last time I checked, there was no rule that says you have to be dating or in a relationship in order to have a sex life. Moms get shit done, including themselves if they want. We’re resourceful that way.
Who knows, I’ve heard that love will find you whether or not you’re looking. And if that happens? Great. I haven’t sworn off men and dating or even marriage. I’ve just decided that right here and right now, it’s not my No. 1 priority. I may meet my Prince Charming while grocery shopping or out on the trails while walking my dog. I may give in to my younger co-worker’s pleas to download some of the dating apps (the one where you are matched via the things you hate sounds interesting). Or I may not.
Either way, it’s fine with me. And that should be fine with everyone else too.