Saturday, September 29, 2012

Strong On Our Own


The world is made for couples. Double-occupancy hotel rooms, restaurant tables set up for an even number of patrons, even invitations to single people politely add on, "and guest." We grow up in this paradigm that makes lifetime couple ship the goal, complete with the assumptive future that carries us into our old age and "death do us part."
When circumstances change beyond our control, the expectation of partnership puts negative labels on us like "widowed" or "divorced" if we fall off the standard. If you choose to go through life alone, there's an unspoken social stigma attached to people who opt to go solo. Just a generation ago, women were labeled "spinsters" or "old maids" if they never married. Men who are single for long periods of time conjure the belief that "there's a reason he's been single for so long."
In the grief recovery work we're doing, the most difficult concept we're trying to get across is getting people to see themselves as happy, whole, complete and thriving on their own. People can understand logical concepts like things will get better over time and grieving is a natural part of love but seeing themselves as strong and capable on their own is like seeing themselves as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly.
Since high school, I've never had an extended period of time without a wife or a girlfriend or at least a "person of interest" until now. I've always considered myself to be at my best in a partnership (and I still do) and felt less than complete without an active partner in my life. But when I made the decision to work in grief recovery as a profession, I began to see that the fundamental blockade in bringing people back to life after the catastrophic loss of their partner is trying to overcome a lifetime of conditioning that we need to be in coupleship to feel complete and viable.
That realization got me looking inward to re-examine how much of my life was truly a reflection of my own thinking and beliefs and how much of it was largely affected by my partner at the time. It was a stark awakening to find that I really didn't know because I've never had to perceive life through just my own eyes since I was in high school. It's been a year since my last serious relationship and a wonderful time for self-discovery because I don't have to worry about being judged, ridiculed, opposed or laughed at (of course I don't get to experience the love, support and encouragement that comes from a great partner). Life is very different when you don't have to "consider" anyone's opinion about anything you think or do.
I found out that I like listening to live classical music. I like to dance so my preferred mode of exercise is Zumba. I don't enjoy golf as much as I enjoy the camaraderie of brothers so I stopped keeping score. Though I enjoy social situations, I get a lot more these days from just sitting quietly alone and letting my mind focus on what I'm thankful for. Most of the relationships I've had put a lot of focus on food and sex, but now the "Big O" is more about being organic than having a mind-blowing orgasm. Left to my own devices, I found out that I'm more of nerd than I thought and I can actually function on very little. It's taken awhile, but I'm coming to a point where I'm OK with who I am and where I've landed in life.
I don't think we were put on this world to be alone, but I think we can function just fine if we see ourselves as complete on our own and start looking at our partnerships as something we want but not something we need. The reality of every relationship is that it will end, someone will leave or someone will die, there's no getting around that. Love and grief are actually a package deal. It's a fact of life that the person that brings you the greatest joy, is the same person that will bring you the greatest sadness. It happens this way because we believe a relationship is what we need to be complete as a person.
Chances are very good (especially if you're a woman) that you will end your life without a partner. Women seem to do much better at it than men (the average age of an American widow today is 56 and two-thirds of all women are widowed by age 75) because they tend to have closer relationships with their children, friends and family. Most men don't function as well on their own and need the companionship of a woman to feel safe and secure emotionally.

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