Being single has a few clear and obvious disadvantages. For starters, when I have a tough day, there’s no one to lean on. There’s only me, standing tall or falling down all by myself. As a single parent, the disadvantages are immediate. All the weight of being a parent falls on me, and even the beautiful, wonderful aspects of parenting aren’t something that I share with someone else while they’re happening.
But I think we often forget that there are innumerable benefits to being single, and one of these perks is often overlooked.
It’s easy to see how it could be overlooked when coupled people assume they don’t need it or don’t want it, and many single people either take it for granted or overlook it on the hunt to become part of a couple. It’s not a thing that most people find is an adequate replacement for a relationship, and yet it shouldn’t be altogether discounted either.
The first time I discovered a true feeling of self-possession I was day-tripping in the nearby town of Macon, Georgia. When I have free time, I like to pick a point of interest and go check it out. It doesn’t need to be a tourist destination, although I like those, too. It just needs to have a special draw. I had aimed myself at Juliette, Georgia, the home of the town where Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed and where you can still find the Whistle Stop Cafe. I didn’t know that the town itself didn’t even open until nearly lunchtime so I made my way over to Macon and ended up at a historic cemetery in town.
If you think a cemetery is an odd spot to stumble over one’s self-possession, you’re not wrong. But I like out of the way places and scenic spots. It overlooks a river, and there are all kinds of old stairs and walls and walkways that just call out to me. Figuratively, of course. Besides, I enjoy a nice, long walk. So off I went walking on a beautiful sunny day with nothing but a picnic blanket I keep in my car and my latest acquisition from the local library. I spent the morning walking, reading, and finding out of the way places just to sit and soak in the surroundings.
I was content. I felt wholly at peace, happy with my life even though it was nothing like what I had planned. The ink had barely dried on my final divorce decree, and I still was parenting two small babies alone, who at that moment were spending a weekend with their dad. I had already had a new relationship, one that I wanted very much, crash and burn, and I was finding nothing but annoyances in the dating world. But at that moment, with the blue sky above and the wind in my hair, I was perfectly content in the life I was living. I knew that things would keep improving for me because I had set myself on the kind of path where that would naturally follow.
To feel deeply that one belongs to oneself is a strange and powerful experience. You would think we would have some sense of this since birth, but we often don’t. As children and teenagers, we feel our lives are controlled by parents, by teachers, and by our schedules. We have so little control. As adults, we often are so busy working and striving that we forget about it entirely. As parents, we’re often too exhausted at times to think of ourselves at all.
But being single has the benefit of clearing out some of life’s clutter. There’s only us. We don’t have the constant negotiations of living with a partner. Since we’re the ones in charge, we are responsible for all the decisions, but that also means that we have more control than people who are coupled often have. We don’t have to debate our plans or put what we want aside for someone else’s happiness. Even as parents, we make the parenting decisions- both the ones we enjoy and the disciplinary ones we don’t.
Leaning deeply into the experience of belonging to ourselves is a great way to remember our own value. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to recognize that being single isn’t some kind of curse that needs to be lifted by a kiss from a handsome prince or princess. We don’t actually need to be saved. When we find ourselves wholly belonging to ourselves and happy with it, we can relax into the freedoms that come with our relationship status without adding up all that we’re missing by marking single rather than married or in a relationship.
We are, in fact, in a relationship. With ourselves. And most of us have had a deeply abusive relationship with ourselves in the past. We’ve put ourselves down or sidelined the things we want for the sake of someone else. We’ve failed to take care of ourselves adequately and have often withheld forgiveness for our mistakes, even the ones we’re sorry for and have tried to fix.
When we come to a point of self-possession, we begin to have a healthy relationship with ourselves. We learn how to practice self-care and how to enjoy the freedoms that we have by virtue of our lack of a partner. We begin to celebrate ourselves and choose the kind of lives we want to lead. If we want to travel, we make that happen. If we feel like taking a random class just for fun, we do that. We begin to shape our lives as if we are a priority — — because we are and always have been, but we’ve just been letting everyone and everything else push us to the side.
We’ll have so many people tell us that the best thing we can ever do is be in a relationship, but I see so many people in them who aren’t remotely self-possessed. They’re too busy being enmeshed with the other person, sharing social media accounts and having all the exact same interests and friends. They’ve worked their entire lives around the relationship, to the point that sometimes they don’t know who they are outside of it. Just as it’s not healthy to have a destructive relationship with ourselves, it’s not healthy to be a part of a couple and not have the faintest clue who we are or feel like we belong to ourselves.
We think belonging to ourselves is something we give up when we’re coupled, like turning in the keys of the car we rented when we make it to our destination. But that’s assuming our destination is being coupled when our destination should be the journey of living a truly remarkable life. I don’t mean remarkable in that ego-driven way of standing out and being better than others. I mean, a life that is authentic, happy, and lived deeply. I’m talking about the kind of life where we live it to the absolute fullest because we can’t bear to let the days go by in a humdrum existence, with our time running out faster than we can stand it.
Self-possession gets overlooked so often. We don’t think it’s important, but I can tell you that from the day it settled softly on my shoulders that it is an incredibly powerful experience. I didn’t want to be there with someone else. I was happy to be there with just me. I was glad to be who I was, where I was, and it made me happy to know that I was beginning to live exactly the kind of life I had dreamed of. It wasn’t perfect, not by any means, but it was wholly mine.
As I was wholly mine.
They tell us that being coupled is better. They tell us that one day everything will happen for us, too, and the implication is that it will only happen when our lives become joined with another’s. But I think there’s something beautiful about learning to belong to ourselves, even if we’re already deep in a relationship.
I think it’s important that we begin to figure out who we are and what we want and to make a few promises to ourselves rather than to someone else. I think that if we truly own our self-possession and feel it deep in our souls, we’ll be less likely to walk away from that just because someone has their hands out, waiting for us to drop those keys into them. We’ll want to hold on to this feeling for the rest of our lives.