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Bring In the Cats!
Falling in love is what happens while you are busy loving your own life.
Sometimes being a single woman feels like an emergency. It feels as urgent as Code Red when my married friends ask if I am seeing anybody special and my answer is "No" for the eighth month in a row. It feels like Code Red when my grandmother scowls and scolds, "You girls today want too much. You don't know anything about making a marriage work. You need to learn how to compromise." It feels like Code Red when I begin doing the math and figure that if I want to be pregnant by one particular age, and if I want to spend a few years traveling the world with my husband before we have children, and if I simply want to date him for a few years before we get engaged, then I should have met him fifteen months ago.
Fifteen months ago! Code Red!
Emergency! We have a spinster in the making here, a young maid on the verge of becoming an old one, a lonely lady, a mistress without a man, a hag. Send her away to a rickety old shack. Bring in the cats.
It is not easy to be a single woman, and sometimes I wonder if it is even possible to be a woman without a man, because with no man a woman is just a W and an O and together those letters sound like whoa. Whoa like a horse out of control. Whoa like pulling back hard on the reigns, trying to calm her down, trying to stop her. Whoa there girl! Don't run that way. Don't buck. Don't throw your head back and holler nay. Nay! Nope! No way! Never! A woman without a man? Not possible.
Woe is me then, and woe is us. Woe to the women who live alone and long for love. Woe to the women who are scared of alone and so settle for men who make them only moderately happy. Woe to us with holes in our hearts that seem impossible to fill. Woe to us who are lonely by ourselves and to us who are lonely in the company of others. It is nothing but woe trying to keep bellies flat, rear ends toned, fingernails trimmed, hairs plucked, in hopes that these things will bring us some male attention. And woe is the only thing that can be said on those days when our breath comes in sighs, those days when our hearts beat prayers of longing: Help me, help me, help me.
Wait! Take a deep breath! Calm down!
Relax! Don't worry! It's just a false alarm. All this talk of romantic relationships being the only place to find fulfillment in life, all this talk of love being scarce—it's Chicken Little chatter making us frantic for no reason at all.
Being a single woman is not easy, but it is not an emergency either.
Being single is the natural state of life.
Think of it: We are each born single, born solo, born uniquely our own individual. Even twins enter this world one at a time.
I am not saying that romantic relationships are an unworthy pursuit. The desire to share your life with another person is real and as natural as being born in the buff. We must search tirelessly for love. We must keep our hearts open and ready to relate, for relationships help us expand beyond the narrow confines of our own existence. Relationships help us grow. They help us become kinder, softer, more compassionate to the people around us. Relationships offer security and comfort and can help to quiet those existential worries that wail like banshees in our minds. These are beautiful treasures and all worth a grand quest.
But do not be so intent on finding another that you forgot to see yourself. Do not be one of those foolish women who think that the love they give themselves is less important and less fulfilling than the love they get from men. Believe that it is just as important for you to get to know yourself as it is for you to get to know your lover. Believe that the love you offer yourself is essential and divine. Believe that the most important relationship you will ever have in your life is the one that you have with yourself. Believe it down to your bones: The search for another person must never preclude the search for yourself.
Of course, belief alone does not make the endeavor easy.
Love is never easy, and self-love is the most difficult love of all.
I have said it before and I will say it again.
Being a single woman is not easy.
I know a woman who wants nothing more than a husband. Every time a man crosses her path she sprints toward him with her arms jetting forward, her hands spread ready to make the grab. With each man she shouts, "This is it. He is the one. I am in love. In love I tell you. In love!" He never is the one, however.
All the men run away. Of course they do. Nobody likes to be smothered, not even when the smothering comes backed by good intentions.
I know a woman who is waiting for a man to bring her to life. She has not cultivated a passionate interest, a deep friendship, or a fulfilling career. It seems that there is nothing to know about her except that she wants to be loved by a man. She talks incessantly about her dates and rarely about more. When I am with her I wonder if there is anything else in this wide world that brings her joy. Does she like to read? Does she listen to music? Does she take walks and notice the birds? Does she have any desires other than sex? When I imagine how she spends her time when she is home alone all I see is her sitting on the couch staring out the window with the television on in the background, waiting. This woman's relationships never last long. Although it may seem like a romantic ideal to be everything to another person, in reality such a relationship quickly reveals itself as the codependency it truly is and ends up feeling like a heavy burden for at least one person.
I know a woman who longs to love and be loved so deeply that she never utters the word. She is like a superstitious child carefully guarding her birthday wish for fear that it will never come true if she shares it with the world. Vulnerability is her enemy, and so this woman masks her anguish by smiling confidently and telling cliché jokes about the incompetence of the entire male species. If Cupid himself pulled back his bow at this very moment and penetrated her chest with an arrow, she would not feel it. She holds herself too tightly.
I know a woman who says she loves her boyfriend too much to let him go. She says that she cannot imagine finding another as wonderful as him. But he does not kiss her in the way she would like him to, and so she often finds herself wondering what it would be like to press her lips to those of another man. Since she will not fully commit to her boyfriend nor fully commit to leaving him, she lives in a state of limbo and says she will probably cheat. I am amazed when she tells me that she is amazed by the dissatisfaction she often feels in her relationship. What is the big surprise? Partial devotion is never fulfilling.
The time has come to put aside your commitment issues and say your vows. No more ambivalence. No more doubting. Pull a pair of wool socks over those cold feet. Warm up. Jump in. Say yes. Create an existence that is full of joy regardless of your relationship status. Vow to enter a lifelong love affair with yourself. This is the first priority.
Love has nothing to do with another person. Love is a state of being. It is the way in which you interact with life. Make this your mantra: Love has nothing to do with another person, but is the condition of my own heart. Say it. Mean it. Memorize it. Repeat it. Live it. Love has nothing to do with another person, but is the condition of my own heart.
My college creative writing professor often told us that in order to become successful writers we could not depend on inspiration alone. While it will certainly offer a few brilliant sentences now and again and possibly even complete a story once or twice, inspiration is much too fickle of a friend to sustain an entire career. Writing requires focused work, it requires routine, it requires commitment. Beautiful, publishable, profitable stories do not jump effortlessly onto the page the minute an author sits down to write. Great writing is crafted during weeks and months and years of careful attention.
"You must make yourself a vessel worthy of the muses to enter," my creative writing professor used to say. "Perspiration breeds inspiration." She meant we had to work first and reap the rewards second. She meant we had to write and write and write and keep writing even when we had nothing more to say. She meant that the muses are breathtaking creatures who would not be caught dead helping half-assed wannabes who spend all their time talking about becoming writers, but never actually make the commitment to sit down at their desks and write.
Creating a joyful life is a lot like writing. It requires the same steadfast dedication and thoughtful awareness needed to entice the muses. Fulfillment does not grace the hearts of those who laze around or complain or wallow in jealousy and self-pity. Fulfillment and joy come only to those who continually strive to know and love themselves.
Get off your derrière and get to work. Go inward and be relentless in your search. Discover what it is that you must do to bring joy into your own life. Educate yourself. Read about Jesus. Read about Buddha. Discover feminism and philosophy and psychology and poetry. Open up. But remember that emotional growth is not easy. You will see some ugly things lurking inside yourself, and you will have to work very hard to clean that gunk and transform it into something clear and life affirming. If you do it right, it will hurt. If you do it right you will probably cry. You will probably scream. You will probably feel like it is hopeless at times, but really it is worth it. Oh yes, Sweet Friend, the work is worth it.
A Chain Is Only as Strong as Its Weakest Link
It is a basic fact of life that in order to be truly happy and fulfilled with another person, you must be truly happy and fulfilled on your own first. A good relationship can enhance life for sure, but it cannot take what is only moderately satisfying and turn it into perfection.
I once lived with a man. I once wore a diamond on my left ring finger. I once had a wedding in a garden with blooming flowers, glowing bridesmaids, and a groom whose eyes filled with tears as we exchanged our vows. My eyes did not fill with tears on that day, however. Instead I cried for the entire week before our wedding. I guess this should have been the first sign that things between Evan and I were not right: Tears too early and for all the wrong reasons.
My sobs began again on the day Evan and I returned from our honeymoon and continued for the next year and half. I cried the hardest on the day that I visited a girlfriend from college at her new apartment. My friend owned a white couch that she decorated with large red and pink velvet throw pillows. I had always dreamed of owning a couch like that, but Evan detested white furnishings and turned his nose up at the combination of red and pink. On the day Evan and I went furniture shopping, I swallowed my dream and settled for beige.
I told myself it was just a couch. I said it was superficial to place so much value on the color scheme of my living room. I reminded myself that marriage needed compromise. I tried to convince myself that the color of the couch was not so bad, that it was a nice, neutral tone and certainly more practical than bright white. But way down, in the deepest, most secret recesses of my heart, I knew I could not spend my life sitting on beige.
I have no desire to make decisions based on practicality alone. I want to live in color. I want to live a dream. Evan saw these desires of mine as flighty, unrealistic, and utterly annoying, while I found his level headedness lifeless and bland. I guess it is no surprise that our marriage ended. When a husband and wife can be nothing but negative while discussing each other's way of acting in the world, love and understanding certainly will not thrive.
Evan and I were twenty-two when we got married, so it will probably come as no surprise to you when I say that I had not spent enough time alone fulfilling my own dreams before I became a wife. When we were engaged, women often looked at the ring on my finger and gasped, "Oh no! You are too young." I ignored them. The lure of marriage was too strong. I wanted a man and I wanted stability. Of course I did. While growing up I had neither. I was raised by a single mother with a stereotypical deadbeat dad looming in the shadows. He appeared once in a while when I was very young, but mostly he stayed hidden. This story is not unique, so again it will probably come as no surprise when I say that I married Evan partly because he was the father I never had. Evan was honest, hardworking, handsome, and dependable. When he said he would pick me up at six, he picked me up at six, and to me that was nearly everything.
Maybe one of the places we ought to look when trying to make sense of ourselves is toward our fathers.
Whether they were present or absent, loving or abusive, quiet or loud, or some combination thereof, our fathers have played a role in shaping the women we are today.
The beige couch did not cause Evan and me to separate, but it was a big, heavy symbol of the fact that I was not ready to be married. Every small compromise I made felt like a death inside me. I knew that my relationship with Evan needed to end the moment I began imagining myself encouraging my own daughters not to marry young as I had. "Travel the world," I saw myself telling my girls. "Live alone, discover yourself, date many, many men."
Evan and I parted ways not in anger, but in love. We knew that the relationship we had created no longer worked. We knew that in order to grow, we had to say good-bye. We knew that before either one of us could be part of a strong couple, we had to become strong individuals. Because isn't it true when they say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link?
We are lucky these days. We can live for one hundred years. We can do it all. We be can be single and we can be part of a couple. In our adult lives we will most likely have a shot at both.
What good fortune! We get a shot at both. This means we must not view our single moments of life as time to search frantically for a new relationship. Enjoy your single time while you have it, because most likely it will not last forever. When it is gone you might be surprised to find yourself missing it.
My friend Erika has a boyfriend. They began dating four months ago, and that deliciously nauseating high that accompanies new love is beginning to fade as their life together stabilizes. Now they share a couple's routine. They make dinner. They cuddle on the couch. They chat on the phone. Erika, however, is missing her old routine. "I haven't written a word in weeks," she told me. "I haven't picked up my guitar, either. I spend all my time navigating the life I share with my boyfriend. I think of myself as an artist, but right now I don't feel anything like an artist. I'm in girlfriend mode and frankly I'm sort of tired of it."
My friend Georgia has a man and children whom she adores. Her husband is handsome, trustworthy, caring. The two of them prepare meals together and go dancing together. Her children often say, "I love you," and when they do it is obvious that they mean it. She has hobbies, a fit body, and a convertible to drive around the city. This woman lives a life that most women live only in their dreams. She is grateful for all of it, yet someplace deep inside her there is a sadness that she cannot articulate. She feels terrible about this. She scolds herself, she tries to stomp it down, to ignore it, but she cannot, and so Georgia wonders what to call her sadness. Is it a chemical imbalance? Is it God's punishment for a childhood transgression? Is it simply the case of a middle-class American woman who has everything and still cannot be satisfied? She is unable to figure it out, and in the end it remains with her, a longing that cannot be named.
Thus we have life with its constant longing and uncertainty.
Emotional struggle is a necessary part of the human condition. Heartache is unavoidable. Individuals who are single worry. Individuals who are part of a committed relationship worry.
We all worry about whether or not we are getting the most from life.
It is not easy to be a single woman, nor is it easy to be a woman in a relationship. Being a woman is not easy, and for that matter, neither is being a man. Being alive, doing your best, making the most of your time on this planet is very, very difficult.
It has been years since Evan and I separated, and if I am to be totally, completely honest, I must say that I am so afraid of living with a man again that when I think of it, my breath stops. I am equally scared, however, of never living with a man again, and my breath stops just the same when I imagine myself living alone from now until I die.
Fear inhabits both positions.
My mind cannot stop wondering, "What if? What if? What if?" What will I miss if I get married again? What will I miss if I remain single?
When did I start holding my breath? Was it after my divorce or long before? And what about clenching my jaw? And walking around with my shoulders so tight and so high that I can nearly wear them as earrings? When did tension become so usual, such a constant companion?
Excerpted from Kiss Me, I'm Single by Amanda Ford. Copyright © 2007 Amanda Ford. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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one: Bring In the Cats!
two: A Chain Is Only as Strong as Its Weakest Link
three: Getting Cozy with Quiet
four: Gazpacho with Crème Fraîche and Gratitude
five: Love, Unlike Money, Does Grow On Trees
six: He Loves Me, I Love Him Not. I Love Him, He Loves Me Not.
seven: Every Day She Did the Impossible
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