The end of my last relationship felt like utter freefall, and also marked the end of what I often refer to as my reign as the serial monogamist. Until late last year I had spent the best part of a decade coupled up, to varying degrees of success; with some of my relationships acting as a badly applied plaster in aid of my internal list of unresolved issues, a barometer from which to gauge my success as a functioning adult.
There is something quite humbling about packing your life into a duffle bag. Of course, I say this in retrospect – at the time it was utterly humiliating and inconvenient. The grief I experienced was all-consuming. The physical manifestation lingered long after all was said and done.
Moving my life back into my childhood bedroom was disorientating. Was l not meant to be progressing to some higher state of accomplishment by this point in my mid-twenties? Sleepwalking through a series of long-term relationships without a moment to pause had seemed considered and efficient at the time. Now, at 25 and with hindsight inescapably present, it looked utterly foolish.
“I think we have to be honest about just how awful the end of a relationship can be, regardless of the instigator and the series of events preceding it. […] I came to the rather literal realisation that I was a singular entity. Of course I always had been, but I now had to learn how to shift my thinking and make decisions for and by myself.”
I found the mornings to be the most jarring. The nauseating reality of my situation hit me like a double decker bus. Just like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day I was consumed by a longing for normal service to resume, and driven by a strong urge to bypass the very powerful and painful set of emotions that had become my constant companions.
I’ve been told that time is a healer more times that I care to count. While this may be true, I think it is how one chooses to spend this time that determines the effectiveness of the healing. Finding myself single after years of romantic attachments was terrifying. On the whole, I think as women we do ourselves a disservice to sugarcoat the end of a relationship as a necessary period for reflection, self-growth and discovery.
While these affirmations often come from a pure and well-intentioned place, driven by a desire to soothe the pain of others and mask our own turmoil, I think we have to be honest about just how awful the end of a relationship can be, regardless of the instigator and the series of events preceding it. In time, the opportunity for self-reflection presented itself, but in the wake of my most recent breakup, the only place I occupied was that of a holding space — an existential limbo.
In those first few weeks of being totally and actually single, I came to the rather literal realisation that I was a singular entity. Of course I always had been, but I now had to learn how to shift my thinking and make decisions for and by myself. Now that a significant amount of time has passed, I can fully appreciate the luxury of my singularity.
“We so easily overlook the importance and necessity of nurturing these bonds (with family, friends and colleagues), because of the societal weight placed on pursuing romantic love – the most unreliable of them all.”
I have always naturally fallen into care-giving roles. I take great satisfaction in being needed and being the person that others can rely and lean upon; I believe that this may ring true for many women. Even when sacrificing ourselves has a detrimental impact on our own wellbeing we are often still compelled to prioritise our partners’ needs, feelings and desires above our own.
Being single has woken me up to the reality that looking after number one is not selfish. It is of fundamental importance. In the same vein, relationships with our family, friends and colleagues are constant, a reliable source of companionship and security. Yet, we so easily overlook the importance and necessity of nurturing these bonds because of the societal weight placed on pursuing romantic love – the most unreliable of them all.
Towards the end of my last relationship I struggled with anxiety, and while I have always been predisposed to this, I can now see that this particular bout was not caused by my life-long affliction for people pleasing, it was simply a by-product of a relationship in which I could not fully express myself or be the person I really wanted to be. That is the true beauty of hindsight and unexpected singularity. Whilst being single can be incredibly lonely, I am guilty of staying too long in relationships for fear of being alone and without purpose. The greatest irony is that an unhappy and unfulfilling relationship can be the loneliest place of all.
“In the absence of a romantic entanglement, I have been forced to confront how I truly feel about myself. Without constant validation, I have had to face the fact that for one reason or another I had been harbouring and nurturing a rather low opinion of myself.”
This past year I have found the confidence to travel alone, go for dinner on my own and attend gigs by myself. I can’t help but pine after the time I have lost in not pursuing my own passions. Equally, returning to myself and the pastimes I love has given me a fresh perspective on how I tend to behave and show up in my relationships.
In the absence of a romantic entanglement, I have been forced to confront how I truly feel about myself. Without constant validation, I have had to face the fact that for one reason or another I had been harbouring and nurturing a rather low opinion of myself.
Galvanised by the sudden end of my relationship, I felt compelled to create a list of everything that I liked about myself. It may sound contrite if not a little basic and while I sometimes refer back to this set of affirmations with mild embarrassment, it reminds me that I should never have measured my worth by someone else’s standards. Romantic love is messy and it is fickle, to use it as a benchmark for measuring our worth and value is short-sighted and places too much emphasis on the need for romantic attachment.
“I finally let go of control because in the end it was never mine to hold on to. I feel free. I think this takes a certain type of courage that one can only gain when they have nothing left to lose.”
I promise I am not intoxicated on Eat, Pray, Love as I write this, but the end of my serial monogamist days led me to realise that whilst I was extremely fortunate to have experienced such raw and unconditional love, behind all of this, I really did not like myself. My self-esteem was so closely tied to and dependent upon other people’s perceptions of me that I was constantly shapeshifting; I was an imposter in every sense of the word. Losing yourself in that way over and over again feels hollow.
Having poured my heart out to anyone that will listen, and by collecting the stories of friends and family who have too experienced heartbreak, I would say that being single provides the opportunity to come back to ourselves.
Only now am I reclaiming the parts of my personality that I surrendered because I feared that they made me unattractive. In reality they made me human. I finally let go of control because in the end it was never mine to hold on to. I feel free. I think this takes a certain type of courage that one can only gain when they have nothing left to lose.
I’ve realised that it’s okay to withhold certain parts of myself, but to also be unashamed and celebrate my idiosyncrasies, my foibles and my mistakes because in the future, anyone genuinely worthy of my time and love will welcome it all.