December has been hard, in a lot of ways. It’s the month when I re-live every painful moment in the hospital with Shawn, it’s the month when I’m supposed to be happy but sometimes just can’t be, and it’s the month when I remember that yes, it all really happened. This life I’m living is really true, not just some terrible nightmare.
I was running the other day with my friend Purva, because we are not deterred by freezing temperatures and darkness, and she asked me how I was feeling about my life. I’d just finished telling her about a guy I liked who had recently told me he didn’t want to be involved with me and I was feeling down about it (that’s a story for another time, dear readers.) Anyway, Purva said to me, “how are you feeling about dating overall?”
“I mean, it’s kinda terrible,” I said. “I’m looking for a guy who has everything – good looks, intelligence, kindness and a dynamic personality – and those guys are uncommon. I knew that Shawn was special, even when he was alive, but now it’s even more apparent how rare he was. I meet guys who often have 2 or 3 of the characteristics, but all 4? That seems impossible.”
She was understanding, and didn’t say something annoying like, “you’ll meet someone like that when you least expect it!”
We ran for a while uphill. “But you know what?” I said, eventually, “I’m starting to make peace with the idea that I may never find someone else. I’m not saying I’ll be forever celibate, but I may never find another long-term partner. It just might not happen for me. And for the first time in almost two years, I feel okay about that. I mean, I’d much rather fall in love again and feel that dizzy perfection of a new flame. But if it doesn’t happen for me, I think I’ll be okay. I have my kids and my work and my dad and my friends and my extended family, ya know?”
Purva smiled. “I love how you are talking about this,” she said. “You sound so much more okay with how things are. It’s such a far cry from last spring when you were trying out ‘radical acceptance.’ Remember that?”
I did. I actually went back and dug up an old blog post on this topic, which I’ll excerpt here. It’s from March 25th of this year, and I was writing about how I was trying to make myself “feel better”:
I started reading everything I could get my hands on about grief and sorrow, including some interesting online articles about the idea of “radical acceptance.” Basically, the idea with radical acceptance is that you have to accept the reality in front of you in order to really move forward.
So, I took out a post-it note one morning. On it I wrote 3 lines:
You are alone. Accept that. Carry on.
I put it in my pocket and went to drop off Tommy at my friend Purva’s house. “I’m trying radical acceptance,” I told her, and showed her the note.
“That’s one way to do it,” she said, “but I think the future is probably brighter for you than that.”
But I couldn’t see it. All I could see – especially in the middle of the night – was a sad future where I was totally alone in the world.
I’d forgotten that I’d written about the idea of radical acceptance before, but with a totally different perspective. Back in March, I’d just ended my first (and only) post-Shawn relationship. I was crushed, partially because of my ego and partially because of the hope I’d pinned on this one person to save me from forever being alone. I had been desperate to find someone new, to “move forward” with a man who could fill the massive hole that Shawn’s death left in my life.
But radical acceptance in March made me miserable. It made me miserable because I felt like things would never improve. I just kept saying over and over, “You are alone. Accept that. Carry on,” which sounds like it could have been helpful but just made me feel despondent. I accepted that I was alone, but the idea that I’d be alone forever was terrifying. I didn’t know how to be alone. I only knew I didn’t like it and that it filled me with anxiety.
Now, things are different, though it’s hard to pinpoint why. Yes, I’m living again through another terrible (and cold) month. And yes, I’m realizing again that I may be alone for the rest of my life.
But I feel different about this aloneness now.
I’m not in a perfect place. I still wish I could meet a man who could check all the boxes. I still feel lonely sometimes at night. I am not a perfect singleton who is writing blog posts about how wonderful it is to be single and how I could never marry anyone else after being married to Shawn.
But I feel better than I once did about being alone in this world. Maybe it’s because time has gone by, and I realize that I’m still able to feel joy at many points during the day. Or maybe it’s because I’ve dug into the DC dating pool, and while I’ve met some interesting people, I’ve realized that I don’t want to settle for someone who is just a mediocre match for me.
Or maybe it’s because I’ve actually been able to take stock of my life – almost two years after losing Shawn – and realize that I’m doing okay. Yes, I’d love a long-term partner someday. But I don’t need one anymore.
It’s a place I wish I could have been a year ago. But I had to live through the pain of being alone first, before I could be comfortable in my own skin as a single woman.
A single woman. Maybe just for now. Or maybe forever.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.