Three months after moving out of the home I had lived in with my ex, B., for the biggest part of 18 years, I’m finding that, even at 54, I can learn a new way of life. Does this surprise me? Yes, it does. What I’m finding, after spending 18 years with someone who told me quite often that we should live apart and arguing with him about it, is that he was right. He wanted his space and I didn’t want mine. We actually separated a few times and got back together because we missed each other. We had become each other’s best friend and so, when we separated, we’d end up talking to each other, until we had convinced ourselves that the separation was a mistake and moved back in together. Now, three months out, we’ve done things differently this time and, thanks to my ex, I’m finding out that he was right all along. I’m learning how to live the single’s life again and I have to say, it’s more fun than I thought it would be! What I’ve found is that there are a few rules you have to make for yourself after a separation that can help ease the loneliness, boredom, and depression that can follow the break-up. I share them with you now.
The first rule I had to make, which was not made by me, rather by my ex, was do not rely on your old relationship to fill the gaps. I thought B. and I would always be friends. Even though we didn’t always live peacefully together, I felt we respected one another and loved each other. We are two very different people and as the years went by, we grew in different directions. I had told him that I needed to go dancing (preferably with him) and to still go out occasionally and do the cultural things we used to do in the early part of our relationship. He had told me he was tired after working and just wanted to stay home all the time because working was all he could handle. We don’t have any kids together, although we each have two from previous relationships, so without sharing common activities, we really didn’t share anything. So, when we split, despite the statements we had made that we would always be friends, he insisted that we not even talk to each other. I hated that rule, was hurt by it, and didn’t think it would work. However, what I’ve found is that not relying on the old relationship has forced me to find new avenues of companionship and support. I recently heard the saying: “Holding onto what you were will prevent you from becoming what you were meant to be.” Every time I start missing B. and feel tempted to call him, I replay that saying in my head and realize that only reaching out to the future will release me from the past.
Now, some people who are becoming exes are not just separating. They are divorcing and will have to work together, hopefully amicably, to get through the settlement. For them, I would hope that, especially where there are kids involved, the two parties will remain civil and work together in order to make sure the kids are well taken care of and both parties are fairly treated. But, once the divorce is over, I’d suggest at least a period of learning to live without the other’s support, emotional or otherwise. You’ll need to learn to get to know yourself before you start any other kind of relationship and, most importantly, you have probably had a few rough times with your ex, and have heard things about how fat, unfair, ugly, mean, or whatever negative thing you are, and you really need to find out that you are wonderful again. Hanging out with the ex will only remind you that they believe you aren’t a treasure to adored. You don’t need that as you head out on your own!
The next rule I have set for myself, which has taken a lot of arguing with myself is to say “yes” to what I love. As I said, I love dancing. Yet, during my first marriage and then my second long-term relationship, I gave up dancing. Somehow, neither I tied myself to men who didn’t like dancing. Considering I started dancing when I was two and found ways to learn and perform until my first marriage, I’m not sure how I got hooked up with two guys who didn’t want to dance! Even more, they didn’t want me to dance. B. always told me I could dance, but his first wife had left him for a younger man and whenever I started any socializing, he would start becoming suspicious that I was after some guy or other. I didn’t want him to experience the pain that accompanies jealousy, so I just stopped doing anything that would take me away from the house for any amount of time. Since we lived out in the boonies, that meant no dancing. Besides, who do women dance with? Men. I knew if I went dancing, it wouldn’t be long before he thought I was cheating on him. So, I just didn’t dance.
When I became single again, with my new resolve to say “yes” to what I loved, I realized I had to incorporate dancing into my life again. I had been part of a Polynesian dance group and felt hula would not only be fun to restart, but it would be great exercise, so I’ve been ordering videos done by a great Kumu hula (hula teacher) in Hawaii and have started over. The first few tastes of dancing were like water after a long day in the scorching sun! I’ve also got videos on belly dancing, hip hop, and ballet and though I haven’t set up a committed schedule of practice, which I want to do, I’ve been having the time of my life. Then, last week, a friend of mine invited me to a square dancing class. Now, I haven’t square danced since the fourth grade (45 years ago), but because of my rule, I made myself say okay. The day of the class came and I didn’t really want to go. I had been working all day and was tired. But, I have my rules and I have them for a reason: To live a happy single’s life. So, I went and have to say that it was a night of sheer joy! Being and older person, for whom the hormone levels are no longer pushing me to find a mate, I just danced for the fun of it and enjoyed every partner I had. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at once! Actually, that night is what motivated me to write this article. If everyone can say “yes” to what they love, there will be a lot more happy, older singles, and so much less loneliness in the world.
The third rule I’ve made is a little harder for me to uphold. Being single and also being an empty-nester, I realized that I can’t blame my decisions on anyone but myself now. So, when I hear someone talking about going to school, I can’t patronize myself by saying, “You can’t go to school until the kids are grown” or “B can’t take care of things by himself, so you’ll have to keep putting off school.” You see, getting a Bachelor Degree was one of my goals before I got married the first time, and the fact that I didn’t has always been a thorn in my side. I did go back and get my Associate Degree when I was 48, but then I gave up because too many people needed me and it was just too hard to carry so many loads.
So, my third rule became “Finish your bucket list.” Everything I’ve ever felt a passion for, I’ve set goals for. I’m just like that. But, I’ve also given up on hundreds of plans because I wanted to be a devoted mom or daughter or wife or life partner. I kept putting off my goals because I thought it would win me the admiration and love of my kids, mom, and significant others. Guess what…It didn’t. I’m not that close to my kids, as it turns out, probably because I made them my all and feel they have to separate to be individuals. Neither of my significant others admired me. My first husband beat the crap out of me and my second SO finally decided he couldn’t love me because I was too fat. After becoming single this time, I took a long, hard look at the reasons I lived my life the way I have and what the return on my investment has been. I have friends and I have family I love and who love me, but that’s the total of my returns. Before you think it, let me just acknowledge that yes, friends and family are incredibly important. But, if you don’t have a sense of accomplishment and joy in your life and if those friends and family have lives of their own, as a single, you are going to end up sitting alone a lot, wondering where your life has gone. If you have made the rule to finish your bucket list, you can still enjoy your loved ones, but you’ll have very little time to just sit and be bored or lonely.
What are some of the things you said you wanted to do before you die when you were just a kid? I’ve known people who wanted to travel through Europe, hike across the United States, act on stage, fly a plane, and a whole lot of other varied activities. If you make the rule that you are going to complete your bucket list you’ll start seeing a lot of reasons why you can’t. That happened to me too, but because I had made it a rule for myself, I am refusing to be passive about it. If I see a reason I can’t do something, I ask people for ideas on how I could accomplish what I’m trying to do. If you ask enough people, you’ll always find an answer.
Staying out of my ex’s life, saying “yes” to the things I love, and working on my bucket list has made this singlehood different from any I’ve ever experienced before. Yes, I still occasionally get lonely and I miss my ex a lot, but during those times, I always have something looming in the near future, which helps me to deal with it. Because I’m not relying on another person to fill my emotional needs, and because I’m being proactive about working on more accomplishments, depression has not been a problem for me. There’s always something coming up or just passed that makes me smile.
These rules might not work exactly the same for you, but at least think about giving them a try. Part of what I have come to realize in working on these three rules is that there is an underlying belief that I had let go a long time ago: The belief that I know what’s best for me. Believing in yourself and being responsible for your own decisions can take you to places you never thought you could go. For instance, two weekends ago, one decision I made put me in the position of having breakfast with Chaske Spencer, Daniel Cudmore, and Charlie Bewley, starts of the Twilight series. Breakfast with three movie stars? Me? Who would have thought? I challenge you to try these rules in your new singleness and see where they take you.