Think to yourself of the couples you know who are really happy. Hopefully there are quite a few. You can probably also come up with many that are together yet miserable. Some don’t have any interests in common, others are in two different emotional universes, and some seem to have the chemistry of a brother and sister. An outsider can never know all the nuances of a complex relationship, but from the ongoing complaints of close friends you can piece together when things are far from complete.
There are many reasons people stay in these scenarios. Maybe they are older and think their age will make it very difficult to find someone new. Maybe their appearance is not what it used to be, and they fear that it will deter them in their quest for new love. Perhaps they live in a town of 100, and potential dating prospects are few and far between. Being financially dependent also makes it difficult. Finally, perhaps they came to the US from another country with their significant other, and leaving would mean facing a foreign culture all on their own.
Whatever the reason, the common factor above is FEAR, and mainly that of being alone.
In my single days, I met a very carefree man. Some would have called him commitment-phobic, immature or irresponsible because at the age of 37 he did not want a wife, he did not want children; he just wanted to be alone. I remember when he told me, “I’m just not that good at relationships, and I really enjoy being single. I stick to what I’m good at.”
Upon hearing this, immense judgment welled up inside of me. I remember thinking he should go to therapy so that he can handle “being good” with another person. I also thought he was selfish and taking the easy way out since everyone knows relationships are work.
Then I thought more about it. I had been in relationship after relationship since I was 15 years old. There hadn’t been a span of time for more than six months that I was single and alone. Not being with a significant other was the most terrifying feeling in the world to me. I didn’t even know why. It was as if I was hopping around the treetops like a monkey grabbing at branches. Each branch represented a new relationship and prevented me from falling onto the forest floor where I would be all alone. At 31 years old I had ended a six year relationship and was looking desperately for another branch.
As was my habit, I met someone new two days after my long and draining relationship ended. A few months in, this man sensed I was only in it to have someone by my side. He broke it off as I stared at him with disbelief. I started to reflect, and realized he was right. It was time to learn how to be alone.
At first I felt like I would die, especially since I was living in a new city without many friends or family. As part of the process, I went out to eat and to the movies by myself. I met many new friends and had great experiences. I went to Italy with girlfriends and flirted. Of course there were nights I cried from being lonely, but I also didn’t have the drama filled fights of being with the wrong person. I didn’t have someone to answer to asking me where I was going and telling me what I couldn’t do. I certainly didn’t shrivel up and cease to exist. In fact, I was really enjoying myself.
After this journey, I started to reevaluate my beliefs. Deep down, I know I am one of those “relationship people.” I prefer spending life with someone by my side; but only if they are the right one. There may be people who just have a different preference, and who am I to judge them for it? My carefree friend happened to be one of those people. I developed a new-found respect for those who refuse to settle or jump into something just to have someone there. I also gained more respect for people who are happy just as they are, all on their own.
I wanted to share this with anyone who is stuck. Everyone who has been grabbing onto branches, or staying up in the wrong tree should experience a fall down to the ground. It hurts like hell when you land, but as you walk around the forest you discover things you had no idea existed. Who knows, you may never want to go up in the trees again. Or you will only climb if the right tree comes across your path.