Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learning to Be Alone


Now that I've been stably in a relationship for nearly two years, I've gone back and read some of those pieces aimed specifically at single people that I couldn't palate the while I was single. Most of the time, I am usually dismayed that I was not able to arrive at the level of sheer self-contentment that the articles recommend. Happily partnered and not desirous of single status, though intellectually feeling that this time around, I could handle it, I wondered how much of my partnership was just for the sake of not being alone. I began to wonder if I would keep looking if I had arrived at a place where I was as content with solitude as these pieces recommend single people to be.

One of the pieces of advice that these articles often cite is that one needs to learn how to be alone, in general. Not just be single, but learn how to be content with one's own company.

And I thought about how bad I was at doing that even while still single. It wasn't that I was constantly yearning for a significant other to fill a space. But my space was constantly filled--with phone calls to my family and friends and visits from friends. The time that I actually spent alone was very meticulously filled with necessary studying while I was in school and writing projects or casual reading when I had free time. I usually exercised alone as well. But I didn't think I enjoyed this time alone--it was just a matter of course.

I enjoy hot showers after sweaty workouts, for example, but showering is something that one necessarily does alone the grand majority of times--I assume this is true even for married women.

But then, it happened. After a week of staycation and getting my life in my apartment organized for the first time since the first few months that I had moved in, I was organized enough to seek out samba class. I found one that I wanted to check out, finished my rotation duties and headed over to the class. I had a good dance and workout, walked home, cooled down and then jumped into the shower to wash the paint off of my feet (I danced barefoot on a raggedy, painted dance floor in a small cultural center in the International District) and in general enjoy the hot spray on my body.

Then, lotioned and deodorized, I sat on my futon and adjusted the temperature in my place by placing the window fan in the window, turning on the only lamp that survived the move from Boston in the corner, and settling down to write a little.

And I probably let one of those this-is-the-life sighs escape my lips before I realized...

Here I am, alone, in my own space, completely content with being alone right now, with the trajectory of the day, with how I plan to conclude my evening, with the fact that I can sit down and write.

It took me two years of a stable relationship to learn to be alone.

When my apartment was filled with papers that needed organizing, laundry to be sorted and washed and put away, dishes caked in grease that didn't come off with one round of dishwashing (but always with a clean bathroom!), I did not enjoy my time here. I spent most of the time in my bed, the only relatively clear spot in my place, with the blinds drawn because...if I have a night shift, I sometimes sleep during the day, so the goal of the bedroom is darkness. I spent most of my days at my SO's place, because he has a house, actually, and is a minimalist so has very little clutter. My house became a cluttered sleeping den with a refrigerator I was afraid to open.

Now, with all of my educational papers organized into binders and files, all of the junk mail that I had let accumulate over two years shreaded and recycled, the kitchen clean and ready for the next meal, my dining room apetizing, my reading corner restored with my papasan chair open and inviting...I have no need to be anywhere else. My space is less than 600 square feet, but I now can do almost everything I want in here. I can practice my samba moves in the living room with my small stereo system with sub woofer. I can experiment with different recipes and eat them at my dining room table or my now pristine bar area at the sink. I can curl up with a good book or medical journal and read in my reading corner. I can take a nap on my futon.

Or, like now, I can sit with my legs crossed and my laptop on my lap and write whatever comes to mind.

And my room, small and functional, can be reserved for what I always meant it to be for: sleep! Fresh sheets, organized closet and dresser drawers, dusted nightstand with my Qur'an, alarm clock and personal effects there at the side. It's back to being my bedroom again, and not a glorified dorm room of yore.

In med school more than in college, my dorm room bed was a place to eat, study, watch television, read and sleep. And repeat. And sometimes cry.

And there are so many other things that I occasionally do when I'm here, like long hair-care days. I recently spent 9 hours twisting my hair, and could spend a similar amount of time doing my next henna rinse and deep conditioning routine. And of course, there's the singing and the documentary-watching.

And this is just inside of my apartment! There's a whole world of things outside of the apartment that I enjoy doing solo - my samba classes, my workouts, shopping, eating what I want without being policed.

Not that I don't love doing things with my SO. Not at all. But there are definitely things that I did when my time was all my own that I miss now because I'm trying to balance a busy work schedule with future family time, so to speak.

That's when I wondered whether these self-help blurbs for singles are written by people who are happily partnered. Because it sounds a lot like my happily married mother's advice when I was a young, yearning girl. "One day, you'll look back at this time and be repentant," is the only thing missing from the learn to be alone injunction. 

Because that's what I wish I could tell my single self now and what I'll know in the future. This time that you're spending doing whatever the hell you want is priceless. Don't sell it short for the sake of a relationship. Enjoy it. Soak in it. You may not have it again.

Especially since I have baby fever at all times, I don't feel like I'm going to get to enjoy too much of my future married life non-pregnant or mothering, insha'Allah.

So if I don't take advantage of the last of my alone time now, gone could be the days of my concurrent samba dancing, jazz club singing (!!), personal training, exercising, hair henna glossing, two strand twisting, journal writing, MPB singing all the while doctoring self.

Ahhh...I get it.

But I did not arrive at this place when I was perpetually single. I didn't know what it was like to divide my time. I had time to do all of those things but I also had time to be lonely, devastated and disillusioned. That space is now filled and is overflowing into my alone time.

So now, I know how to be alone. Yes. Great.

No, but actually, great! It just gives me hope that my success in a relationship was not dependent on my being completely happy single. In fact, part of the impetus that keeps any two of us together as disparate human beings is anything from a preference against to a fear of being alone. So that's okay.

But I didn't need to have the single thing perfect before leaving that stage of my life.

...and the fact still remains, if nothing much is going on, I'm going to end up calling my mother, preferentially, anyway.

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