I have lived alone for all of my adult life. Yes, there were times I had roommates, but those times were few and far between, and far lonelier in many ways than actually living alone, as anyone who has had an incompatible roommate or partner can attest. There was one boyfriend who was going to live with me in the mid-eighties, but he confessed he was screwing his ex behind my back forty-eight hours before he was scheduled to move in; he said I didn’t need him the way she did. I said well, you’re not air or water or shelter, Bill. Or food. He said he knew I would eventually cheat on him. Whatever, although he was not the first or last man I was involved with to say that, to make that claim – each one of whom cheated on me as a kind of preemptive strike, I guess was their thinking? I have never cheated on a partner, it’s just not in me to do so, but – all’s fair in love and war, or so I’ve heard.

In my twenties and thirties, I suffered living alone, and being partner-less (though I much prefer the term ‘partner-free’) while all around me people, men and women, were constantly seeking to pair up, were pairing up and getting engaged, getting married, including numerous friends and acquaintances who divorced and paired up again, and so on. During those decades I was not a happy camper generally, but I definitely suffered from deep loneliness, as well as depression, neither directly caused by the other but as two lanes running parallel to one another. I dreaded the holidays spent alone, and dreaded holidays even more spent with my ‘nuclear’ family, where I felt misunderstood, judged, unloved, and more alone than when I was alone. Oh, the joy of getting back to NYC after a Christmas or Thanksgiving spent with my family of origin, especially if I went straight to Studio 54, where I could lose myself and all of my troubles, big or small, in the music, on the dance floor, surrounded by others doing the same. 

Creating my own family was an option, but I didn’t want to parent, felt no need as so many women and men seem to do, to have and raise children. Plus, I was afraid of the parent I might be: too angry, too much pain stored inside waiting to come out like that creature in the film Alien. I was cautious, too much so, perhaps, scared to try, and dated too many assholes, eliminating them as potential co-parents one by one. I also knew single parenting wasn’t for me, believing that children deserve both parents on their side, especially as one parent (me) might be annihilating or nuts like my mother. No thanks. I knew women who married men or partnered with men they didn’t really love, to make children they very much wanted. Some of them stayed with these men regardless of the disconnect, regardless of no or bad sex, or barely concealed contempt. Others divorced and railed against their exes for not understanding they were glorified sperm donors: how dare he demand half, half of my apartment, my money, half of my child’s time. How dare he. 

And men I could’ve created families with were always, always in relationships with other women, even if I became involved with them not knowing this initially, because men lie like dogs all the damned time, and the mess, the mess, the stupidity, the dishonesty, the rationalizations – it was all too much. It probably didn’t help matters that during those decades I had peeping tom after peeping tom, was constantly harassed and flashed on the street, was being stalked, and was – until I was almost forty – thinking about killing myself daily. I remember two men I was involved with running out the door the moment I spoke honestly of my mother, and how much I hated her, hated her, and loved her, and loved her, and hated her. They were probably very wise to run, but it seemed I was being punished for my honesty, and that didn’t inspire a sense of being safe to share anything about the life I had led and was leading. 

I hired therapist after therapist, did drumming circles, and a past life regression, had my tarot cards and astrological chart read, took risks I should not have taken, and prayed for divine intervention I didn’t ever believe would come from a deity I thought was pure bullshit. In my twenties I read about and tried to believe in reincarnation (how wrong can a jillion Hindis, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs be?!), if only out of the hope that I would get another chance, a second, third, and fourth chance, at living a better, happier life – a different life. I participated in sweat lodge and during one I was sure I was going to die, and welcomed it, until I realized I had never lived, or had lived my entire life to that point under a dark cloud, or, more apt, a slab of granite, and that it was up to me – and me alone – to change that. I was thirty-eight, and was only then able to envision a life where I might be happy, truly happy – yet, always, the imaginings were of me on my own, alone. 

Having a sense of humor helps, more than helps: it kept me alive. Surviving is key. I knew women who created from pain, created family, fought for it, and some of them did well, many of them. I could not, perhaps because I am so goddamned stubborn, and my standards are so fucking high, which is another way of saying I built a wall so impenetrable no one could get over it, around it, under it – in. And I struggle, still, to ask for what I need, because for almost forty years I had no needs, other than to survive that day, that hour, that moment of life. Air and water. Shelter, food. And sure, a fella if he wants along on this ride, mostly on my terms, because I know like I know like I know that my independent streak, which is wider and deeper and broader still than any wall ever built, runs me ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time: ‘Oh, give me land, lots of land under sunny skies above, don’t fence me in!’ 

Perhaps if I had allowed myself to love and be loved by that boy from high school, the one who I dreamt of recently, a dream in which we were both old, as we are now, and lay in one another’s arms naked and old and kind to one another, as we never were in life. Who knows. We were both surviving families that were rife with pain and shame in a small town, a place where preserving the public illusion of happy family often felt like all I (I cannot speak for him) had to hold onto. For my part, there was simply no way I would expose him to my family, my mother, by bringing him into the fold, into the house, my lived experience. I regret this. Bessel van der Kolk wrote of the healing power of love while the brain is still developing, as a teenager, in his 2014 work The Body Keeps Score, a book I wish had been written when I needed most to read it, but that’s the way it goes, eh? 

I have friends who live surrounded by family, including a beloved friend who is also in business and vacations annually with her husband’s family. I shudder at the thought of all that, although I acknowledge how well it works – for her. Everyone must find their own way, their own comfort, their own level; we are all like water. Spending holidays alone can be rough unless you love your own company, which I would argue is important every single day, and hour, regardless of holiday status, and – somewhere around forty, I found myself loving it, loving myself, finally, loving and giggling at my stupidities, my quirks and false starts, my life-saving humor, my ass-hole-ery, my fears and tears, my inconsistency, my humanity. 

Expectations – and convention – being what they are (an oppressive force that is very hard to overcome), it isn’t necessarily easy to live alone, to live single and child-free, yet all paths – every one – have rocks and twists and turns, compromises, rationalizations, swamps, bogs, periods of loss and despair. Anyone who tells you their marriage is perfect is lying, and – in my experience – most likely of all the couples you know to be on the direct route to divorce, and soon, although stasis, fear of change, are as powerful as convention. Anyone who tells you raising kids is or was a breeze is also lying. I have found that, for me, living alone is a great gift, and it means I have to do the work of reaching out and making plans possibly more than others do – and, I know too, now that I’m in my seventh decade (holy fuck, how did that happen?) that if I have a bunch of social engagements in a twenty-four hour span, and by bunch I mean two, I must have a day, or more, of recovery. Must. Yes, introversion and introverts are real, and I’m one of ‘em. 

Deep breaths. Gratitude, and curiosity about what’s next. All these are important while the vast mass of peeps celebrate whatever TF holiday it is. Because no one, no one person, has a perfect, trouble-free life, and loving what you have right now- whatever that is – is a muscle, a skill that needs work. For me, for me, for me. I try, I truly try to undertake to do that work joyfully, to do the hard work. Whatever I do, I also try not to suffer over my occasional suffering, the familiar scar and pain of loneliness; I observe it, acknowledging the sometime throbbing scar, and let it go. And so, while others parade and grill, I write, and then write some more, and read, and call friends, maybe, and dig in the dirt, and attempt stillness for a least five minutes, and walk – repeatedly – my miniature pony-sized dog.