Partner or no partner?

The expectations in our society that we will all eventually be in an emotionally committed relationship with another person is quite ingrained.  Many of us will have unthinkingly started a sentence with, ‘One day when you grow up and get married…’ when speaking to a child in our vicinity.  The pressure of this seemingly harmless expectation starts very early in life and only grows with time.

It should come as no surprise when I say that some people don’t just ‘fall’ (easily) into a relationship.  With so many (seemingly millions) of stories out there that communicate the serendipity of someone meeting the love of their lives in the supermarket checkout, a waiting room, a party, or even during a tragedy, it can seem like entering a loving relationship must be as easy as falling off a cliff. 

Sometimes we are in the ‘looking for a partner’ space.  We may feel a whole range of emotions while in this space – anywhere from desperate to calm.  Those of us on the calmer end of the continuum might have arrived there quite directly or may have travelled in a zig-zag, up and down, round-about manner that involved long pauses at ‘Desperation’, ‘There’ll Be Someone Out There For Me’ and ‘I Actually Prefer To Be On My Own’.  The fact remains that there is a definite place in society for those who’ve found themselves living alone – and have realised that this can be a choice.  Deliberately owned.

Once that choice has been made, it may or may not shift and evolve into something different, but it is certainly no-one’s place to make a negative judgement on that decision.  It is a valuable conclusion that may have been made with a great deal of thoughtfulness and reflection.  And it’s a valid life choice – whether it ends up being for a lifetime or a brief time or somewhere in between.

Importantly, being alone is not always the same as being lonely.  Being alone is just another way of being.  It can include feeling lonely but it is not inevitable that people living alone always feel an unbearable loneliness.  Nor should loneliness, if it is experienced, be viewed only as something unbearable; something to escape. 

Loneliness, like most other emotional states, can come… and go.  Like sadness, guilt and anger, loneliness comes for a reason.  Loneliness might be letting you know that it’s time to reach out and make connections – which will require taking action.  It takes thoughtful effort to structure a life that has a reassuring mixture of social connection and peaceful solitude but it has been achieved by many who’ve learned to own their lives in just such a personally empowered way.

Or you might just be willing to notice that lonely is how you feel right now – and that it’s okay to sit with it.  Also, like sadness, guilt and anger, offering curiosity and acceptance to the loneliness might allow for its intensity and duration to ease sooner. Feeling lonely is not reserved only for those who are living single.  Many people in long-term relationships can confirm that they often feel lonely there too.  I’ve spoken with people who’ve seen lonely as a sort of disease or character flaw – something to be avoided or eliminated at all costs, even the extremely high cost of entering a terrible relationship – and staying there.  Being alone has just this kind of bad reputation that we’ll choose to stay in damaging relationships rather than catch ourselves being alone.  Even if it’s actually alone and safe or alone and at peace, or alone and free.