“It is better to be alone, than to wish that you were.”
These words of wisdom with honest, gritty staying power were shared with me by my former colleague Sandy (may she rest in peace) as I was wading through a path of post-divorce rubble about ten years ago. They have carried me through days of doubt and angst and loneliness, and in a way, have been a guidepost for my new-but-not-so-new life. ‘Tis true, Ms. Sandy, it is better. Thanks to you, I won’t forget.
On the heels of “Singles Awareness Day” which is otherwise known as “Valentine’s Day,” I find it is near impossible to avoid reflecting on my current state. Sure, I am single and I have been now for a good long while. And sure, I’ve grown accustomed to it over the years. I long ago let go of the fact that I won’t be able to wear a dress that buttons up the back (like I ever would) and that there is no division of household labor when you live alone (but guess what, you can hire people to do pretty much anything). I’ve settled in and I’ve found my way, but I’ve done a whole lot more than that. Just shy of full-on embracing it, I’ve acknowledged that I’m really good alone. Really, really good.
I think part of the reason I’m so good alone is that there is no one here to fuss with. I have long believed that it is the minutia in a relationship that has the greatest chance of killing it. People joke about the age-old annoyances of the toilet seat being left up or the toothpaste in the sink, but it’s true…if you let these things bother you (and many of us in the human species do) resentment can seep in and create cracks which turn into fissures and then huge, gaping canyons. It happens all the time, and most people can’t find their way back from that.
I heard a story recently that was the greatest and saddest example of this I had heard in a long time. A friend of a friend of a friend (or something like that) was in a long-term relationship and had been living with her boyfriend for several years. Recent word had come about that they were breaking up, and then this story was revealed. More than five years ago, the two had an argument that was reportedly the beginning of the end. The argument was not about politics or religion or your mom is so rude to me or why did you have to flirt with the waitress like that. It wasn’t even about I can’t believe you depleted our savings account at the casino or what do you mean you accidentally slept with your ex-girlfriend. No, no, no. The argument was about who was going to put the linens on the bed.
So five years ago, neither of them wants to make the bed and so neither of them does. Each of them is secretly resenting the other for not making the bed and holding their ground that I will not be the one to make the goddamn bed. One holds their ground and sleeps on the couch, and the other holds their ground and sleeps in the recliner. Day after day this goes on and and then before you know it, five years have passed and no one has made the bed and probably no one has had a good night’s sleep in half a decade and now here they are breaking up. And still, to this day, the bed remains unmade. Five years of this! Unbelievable.
Now, it is pretty clear that the unmade bed is the symptom of the problem and not the actual problem. I don’t even know what the actual problem was, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t it. In fact, they probably didn’t have just one problem, they probably had a whole lot of them. But what if it really did start right there, with a set of clean linens and a six minute task standing in the way of this couple and their happiness? The problems had to start somewhere. Maybe it started there.
And so, my point is this: Whatever your relationship status is at the moment, you have a choice. Believe it or not, you can always choose happiness. If you are alone like me, love the fact that the only mess in the house is yours and that you can have peaceful, joyful solitude every minute you are home. If you are in a relationship, take stock in the fact that you have someone to ask how your day was and snuggle with you while you watch Dexter. The truth is that every situation has something that can make your heart sing, and every situation has the potential to incite the screaming in your head. You get to pick if you feed the singing or the screaming.
There’s an old saying: You made your bed, now you must lie in it. Or in this case, you didn’t make your bed, now you have to sleep uncomfortably in a recliner. Please, I am begging you, don’t be that person. Be the hero in your relationship. Or if you are single like me, be the hero in your own life.