A child of the sixties, I grew up just assuming that I would get married one day - and preferably sooner rather than later. It was a given. There was never any question in my mind about it. Getting hitched to my handsome high school sweetheart right after college at the ripe old age of 21, I succeeded in fulfilling my expectation.
While the pressure to marry young has relaxed, there's still a pervasive expectation in our society for people to couple. When someone isn't part of a twosome, it's often presumed that something is wrong or they're lonely and looking.
Having stayed married to that high school sweetheart for 18 years, having been divorced for a decade, and completely relationship free for seven years, I can attest to this. Well meaning friends often want to set me up with a nice guy they know. People who care about me pray for me to find someone. I get countless "Hey, Cutie!" messages on Facebook. (Does that really ever work BTW?)
There are many benefits to being part of a couple. Countless studies have shown that married people are healthier, live longer, have lower blood pressure and better mental health, and survive cancer more frequently. The list goes on.
However, marriage isn't a guarantee that you won't be lonely. Many people are terribly lonely in a marriage. I was.
It wasn't until I had gotten divorced and had a brain injury after which my kids went to live with their Dad in a different state, that I learned to embrace solitude and be happy by myself. Now, I'm not going to tell you that it was an easy transition. It was pure, gut-wrenching hell. In the years after the injury, for the first time ever in my life, I was completely alone. No kids. No man. Nada.
My first instinct was to try to fill the void with people, TV, emails to the kids, and any other general busy-ness to avoid facing the big empty chasm. Sleeping became a favorite pastime. Because of the brain injury, I couldn't not sleep, and also because when I was asleep, I didn't have to think, feel, or be alone.
While walking the dog around the lake near my house, I remember seeing geese grazing on the grassy bank. Have you ever noticed how geese always seem to be in pairs? Boy, I did, and I was actually jealous of the birds. "Why do they get to have a mate and I don't? Even if he does honk annoyingly and poops green slime all over the place," I fumed.
With time - and I mean years, I grew to appreciate and even like my solitude and in retrospect, being alone was vital to healing from the brain injury and emotional wounds that had accumulated over the years from the divorce and just life itself.
Being alone allowed me to focus on and put energy into myself. something I had never done before. Previously, a man or the kids had always been at the top of my priority list. I came in somewhere near the bottom after the dog.
Being by myself also forced me to learn independence and decide who I was. When the heat konked out in the middle of the night and it was ten degrees outside, I had to decide what to do about it right then by myself. I also had to determine who I was without hiding behind the roles I played in life or by trying to be what I thought some man wanted me to be. All of that was gone.
In her book Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, Caroline Myss writes that the fear of being alone lies at the core of many people's inability to heal. Not healing allows people to lean on others for assistance and play on their guilt to keep them around. There's a certain power over others in not healing, emotionally and physically.
My singular existence allowed me to heal, become self-sufficient, and learn to like my own company. I have found that I even prefer solitude. Besides not having to compromise on what to watch on Netflix, playing the music as loud as I want with no one complaining, and being able to eat raw veggies for dinner for five nights in a row, my singular existence is much less stressful and allows more free time for things for things like exercise and meditation.
Seems I'm not alone (pun intended). According to the U.S.Census Bureau more Americans are living alone than ever before. The proportion of one-person households increased from 17 percent to 27 percent between 1970 and 2012.