“It started with a package, arrived the day before, carefully wrapped in pastel pink and smelling of rosemary and sage, odors of my homeland. I burned the smudge and gave myself a facial before sleep because Catarina from @pele.e.alma had also sent a frankincense & ylang-ylang oil for me to try. So I slept feeling divine.
On the day itself, I made a cat-eye, grabbed the ice-skates + headphones, and headed to the nearest canal with my favorite playlist on.
Upon returning home there was no cold water because the pipes that don’t get heat got frozen. Filling up the bathtub it was, and waiting for the water to cool down for me to get in. There were candles, music, poetry, and foam. A serendipitous bath after the ice.
Then it occurred to me that I had the perfect dress for the occasion sitting in a drawer: a vintage red dress I once bought for a musical performance and only ever wore on stage. My friend Dina cooked for me that night, and after the feast, she gave me a home haircut with the trimmer I lent from my upstairs neighbor.
By the time I burned the smudge again, before bed, it dawned on me: this was the best Valentines’ Day I had in a long long time. Perhaps the best I ever had.” – This was what I wrote about 2021’s Valentine’s.
I like celebrations. I like excuses to celebrate. I’m invested in birthdays, and Christmasses, and New Year’s, and January 10, which is the day I arrived in Amsterdam to stay. I take genuine pleasure in picking a special outfit and marking the day with some small pleasantry. I can always opt it out, but I usually don’t. I like rituals, – I like celebrating old ones and creating new, – and these dates help me make sense of the time passing. I also make each date radically mine. Birthdays are for a big party whenever possible; Christmasses are spent with my mother and friends; last New Year’s Eve was all about sipping beer in my best celebratory garments (on my own;) and I always have a toast on January 10 although this year my memory got the best of me. Valentine’s is no exception.
It occurred to me, back in 2016, that I wanted to write a piece about singledom. Being uncoupled was not a threat, I wished everyone to know: it was self-discovery. There was so much freedom to be found in it, possibilities to be explored, as long as people dared to get out of their comfort zones. “In Defense Of Single Life” would be the title. Looking back, I think that what I wanted to write was a piece about living adventurously, which is not necessarily the same as singledom. Was I really living the single life? Perhaps on paper, 2016 and 2017 were solo years for me, but, most of the time, my mind was occupied with all things romance, which I’ll spare you from dissecting here. Let’s just say that the male gaze played an important role in my life and that I could not stop myself from having affairs, even when, deep inside, I didn’t want them.
Despite my best intentions, romance had become a coping mechanism. When your mind is colonized by the idea of a relationship as a sign of “success,” were you ever truly single?
We typically think of singledom as an in-between state: a no-man’s land that works as a bridge, from our previous relationship to the next. “You will find someone soon,” we console our single friends, sending them the subliminal message that they are not fully okay as they are. Or: “work on yourself and that special someone will show up,” as if the ultimate goal of self-care and self-reflection were attracting a romantic partner that can *complete* us. We wish our single life away in favor of relationships, whether because we don’t like to be alone, we must “form a family,” or simply because “our time is coming to an end.” Folks in their mid-30’s, early 40’s, get in a frenzy of “finding the one,” as if people were a pre-packaged meal with an expiry date. I once had that lingering anxiety too. If I want to ever have my own family, now is “the time.” I’m not even going to mention the pressure that it puts on any relationship. The mindset of “I NEED the relationship to succeed because I won’t have another opportunity like this” is… UGH. It’s. just. false.
My notion of bliss was being in a *happy* relationship. Even if my past -self enjoyed being uncoupled at times, she was also permanently scouting the horizon for possible partners. Rather than actually turning inwards, I was “working on myself” with the (unspoken) goal of finding the “next big opportunity.” Because, what can be more life-enhancing than having an attractive, smart, and charming partner ready to *settle* with you? What idea is more mind-soothing than a happily-ever-after of two (or more, if the family got extended)? In a way, it made sense. The times I’d been the happiest were when I was sharing life with a man I loved and who loved me back. I screamed out loud that I trusted love, that love is unconditional, that loves outlasts the relationship, all things I still believe in. Life had given me the gift of generous, aligned love(s). But 2018 gave me a different perspective. Relationships can also feel like you’re screaming into the void. That you’re living inside a Babel tower where everyone uses a different dictionary. They can also be soul-sucking.
Being in a partnership = being happier is a fallacy most of us buy into. Hence the parade of congratulatory remarks when we announce to the world that we aren’t solo anymore. Yey, we were once lost, but now we’ve been found. 2018 was also the year I found myself thinking “Wait a minute, I already had a life before *all this*” (waving hands in the air.) And my life actually felt aligned back then.” Not all relationships make the ones involved happy. Not all relationships exist for the benefit of both parties. Not all relationships are worth the time, the trouble, the energy they take from you. Sure, maintaining a relationship requires dedication, intentionality, and renewed efforts at better communication, but it shouldn’t feel like a daily emotional marathon. Therapist Lindsay Gibson wrote, “Good relationships should feel like a well-designed house, so easy to live in that you don’t notice the architecture or planning that went into it.”
The prospect of leaving an unfulfilling partnership confronts you with terrifying questions. Who are you without this person by our side? Who do you live for? What drives you? That’s what you (can) find out when you’re single.
Singledom can be so much more than racing to meet the (next) one. Or the only one that ever was: your *soulmate* (that notion makes everything even more problematic.) Being single is a big deal. It’s a moment that ought to be met with, at least, the same degree of solemnity and investment as the forming of a couple. The reality is: even if you have a sense of doom that tells you otherwise, you’re not going to be on your own forever. And when you find yourself coupled again, regardless of how content you may be, you’ll regret not having explored your-self, mindfully, with tranquility enough to actually listen. Who am I? – the question still lingering, unanswered, attaching itself completely to this new person because you gave yourself no chance to exist without the external validation. If what you bring to the table of a relationship is YOUrself, wouldn’t it be important to be intimate with that person first? To investigate what drives you, what makes you lose a sense of time, what moves you, what pushes your buttons, what brings you joy in the first place?
Imagine being open to solitude the same way you’re eager to be with someone else. Just give yourself the grace of visualizing, for a moment, what a day would look like that made you interested in living it. What would you do? Imagine that you’d rise earlier to surprise this person (you), just as you would with a significant other. Ponder: what would they prefer? Would they appreciate breakfast in bed? Or a table set with fresh flowers, coffee, and croissants? Is brunch on the balcony an option? What about cycling to the park first thing in the morning, and having a picnic? Suppose that you’d put the same effort into cooking a meal for yourself that you put in preparing it for a loved one. How would you indulge? Assume that you are as thoughtful in buying yourself a gift as you are on your beloved’s birthday: What do they need right now? What would be useful? What would delight them? Think of how they might evolve if they read X book, watch Y show, have Z experience. Watch them, talk to them and, above all, listen. Practice setting judgment aside and listening to your thoughts, impulses, and desires.
I used to assume I knew myself so well. I had done so much self-reflection. I had gone to therapy. I had traveled alone, gone on endless coffee dates with myself, I had obsessed about who I was. But self-exploration is different from trying to fix yourself.
Or from navel-gazing, or from obsessing about the parts of your personality you feel uncomfortable with. Self-inquiry implies dropping preconceived notions of who you are and leaving room for surprise. Because we’re permanently changing, even when that’s not immediately obvious. There is no such thing as being pinned to one only identity. Ideally, we are a bit malleable too, and let parts of ourselves evolve with time and new experiences. Like other animals, we self-actualize by shedding skin. Allow yourself to soften and start asking questions instead of imposing answers. Singledom is an opportunity for becoming a more adaptative, self-cognizant, and well-rounded human-being. To learn who you’ve become and where you’d rather go from here.
I have no idea who needs to read this right now. I know I did, back in the day. My point is reframing single life as a stage with the same status and degree of importance as a relationship. Next month I’ll be celebrating one year on my own, and it has been one of the most wonderful twelvemonths of my existence. I remembered how spontaneous joy and playfulness are important for me, and that creation is a principle I live by. I found a love for growing plants and for taking care of my home. I deepened the bonds with those who were in my life already. I realized that I love my own lightness, and that if I’m to couple, it needs to feel light too.
If you just entered singledom, CONGRATULATIONS, you’re in for a treat. Relish in this time. This is a window of opportunity to finally realize that your life is, on its own, worth living. And there’s no one, no matter how virtuous or loving, who can fix your existential anguish, your feelings of worthlessness, or simply fill you up. Nothing substitutes a relationship with yourself because, it’s not that you can opt-out. So date yourself. Really. Your future person will be an addition to an already wholesome life.
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