It’s the season of love, and once again, despite a gap in posts on Got Midlife, I felt inspired to post something amidst the barrage of flowers, chocolates and all things hearts. My source of inspiration? A colleague of mine who read last year’s post on “Ho-hum…Just Another Valentine’s Day” asked me if things had changed since then. Indeed, they had, so I thought it worthwhile to provide an “update.”
Over the year, my status as a single midlifer has remained the same: single. And the journey has also remained as amusing and interesting to me as ever…but not everyone finds singlehood as intriguing. In fact, for many single midlifers this status serves as a source of stigma, depression and isolation. And for those who have the experience of a recent breakup, the transition to singlehood feels doubly tough.
Many of us hurl ourselves back into the dating world, coupling with people we probably wouldn’t have were it not for the fact that going back to being single seems so much harder…and lonelier. Speaking for myself, it’s taken several years to get that ‘ol feeling back – that “I know who I am now and I’m totally okay with being single again.” I make no apologies for not having a boyfriend/ husband and I have to admit that it makes me smile deep down inside when people seem baffled that I could be as happy without a partner.So, what insight did I gain over the year to bring me to a better state of mind? A couple of things…
LESSON 1 – Know the difference between “loneliness” and “solitude"
I’ve been mulling this dichotomy over for a number of months now – loneliness versus solitude – what’s the difference? I’ve realized that it comes down to how we choose to live.
“Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.” 1
Essentially, loneliness reflects the negative qualities to being solo – a sense of isolation, the feeling like something’s missing. Solitude on the other hand is more positive – it’s about being alone but with a state of mind where one feels contentment either with others or by yourself.
The key here is connection: to yourself and to others. People who live in solitude have a life rich with relationships – not necessarily intimate ones, but instead deeply emotionally connected ones. They give love and receive love by the people in their lives. They are emotionally nourished. Over the past year, I have come to understand and embrace solitude, and thus, seldom feel “alone.”
LESSON 2: Be in it for the right reasons…The feelings of loneliness can sometimes urge us to do things that aren’t necessarily good for us. For example, trying to make a relationship work even though you know deep down, this is not going last; or tolerating bad behavior when you know you should leave.
For whatever the reason, when we’ve been single for too long we tend to put on our rosy-colored glasses and pretend that everything is okay when it's not. We might overlook some troublesome statements or behavior. But most of all, we tend to convince ourselves maybe it’s better to be in something than nothing at all. Whatever the rationale, the truth is we’re in that relationship because of fear, not love.
Over the years, I’ve learned how my fear of being alone has served as a strong catalyst to making me tolerate all sorts of bad relationships. But over the year, I’ve finally understood its nature… and I’ve worked harder to not only take my power back, but to give myself permission to wait for the right relationship – to not settle on someone due to fear, but to wait…to wait for love.
LESSON 3: Know yourself better...
Because I’m clearer now about who I am, I am also clearer about the type of partnership that I want. This has had, of course, a chilling effect on my dating pool, lol - not because there aren’t good guys out there to date. It’s just that who they are and who I am isn’t necessarily a good fit. And that’s really okay for me.
As a midlifer, I have perspective now – and if you’re a midlifer reading this, you know what I mean by that. I’m no longer interested in repeating my past mistakes. Time has given me the gift of reflection, so I’ve been able to use that as a way of knowing me. I’ve done more soul searching and understand what it is I bring to a relationship and what I need to work on. I've gained insight about what's worked and what didn't work in my previous relationships.
The point is when we understand ourselves, we change the way we do relationships. We can avoid repeating unhealthy relationship patterns of the past, and foster strong and loving bonds with our partners. But that's only possible when you are the best expert on you.
LESSON 4: Find your soul mate… in you.
One of the things that happens when you choose solitude is that you also start to devote more energy to developing you – yes, me, myself and I. And as I started doing more things to get reacquainted with myself, I discovered things about myself that I liked…and loved!
It is essential for us to have a loving relationship with our selves. What I mean here is that we show loving kindness towards ourselves just as we would towards an intimate partner. Likewise that we forgive ourselves whenever we make mistakes. These qualities are also known as self-compassion and it should come as no surprise that people with high levels of self-compassion experience life more positively, they are indeed happier.2
So what does this mean? As Dr. Brene Brown has so astutely observed, “you can’t love others more than you love yourself.” 3 For me, it’s made me rethink my definitions for soul mates and true love - that’s there’s a sense of inner love required here as well. I used to wish on the first evening stars and shooting stars and say I wish for “true love.” The day that I finally realized that true love was me was the day that I realized that my wish had been fulfilled.
All in all, the year has been plentiful with love and connection... I guess I've been celebrating Valentine's Day all along?
P.S. - Thank you DocLo for rebooting the conversation on this
3. Dr. Brene Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability”
yvonneberenguer (c) 2014