I found myself sitting in a walk-in clinic in Toronto and wondering if the cute doctor was working. A few years ago, I was anemic and had been visiting the clinic regularly for blood tests and there was one particular doctor who was just a lovely human (and pretty cute). And as I sat there, memories from back then came flooding back.

I remember becoming a little obsessed with him. I looked for him on Facebook. I remember wondering if he was single. When I figured out that he had a girlfriend, I creeped her photos. As I think of this today, I can’t believe I did it. But then I thought about how I felt back then. Where was I emotionally? Why would I do that?

Because I was so lonely.

And with this loneliness comes the fear that there is no one out there for us. We feel that no matter how many people we meet or date, either we won’t be interested or we will be but they won’t like us back.

And then I met this doctor. Ahhh… and my focus shifted from my sadness to this new possibility. He was like a lighthouse that my romantic imagination just went crazy with. But of course, it was all just fantasy… and in the end I don’t think it was a healthy one.

The Fall to Bottom

It seems that in order to solve the loneliness problem, we resort to doing a number of things.

We either date people and simply settle for anyone we find “good enough” to simply alleviate our loneliness, or we begin a plummet into real despair. We totally give up hope.

As this descent happens, all kinds of thoughts and fears build on themselves. We repeat experiences wondering what we did wrong. We question our worth. Sometimes we get mad at everyone – deciding that all men or women are just losers and all the “good ones” are taken. We may also turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain (because it really is painful – it’s not just “in our head”).

And then at some point, we hit bottom. “Something” happens and we fall into a dark night of the soul and we just don’t know what to think.

This is where we make a really important decision. We either continue looking outside of ourselves for someone to alleviate our loneliness or we turn inward, look in the mirror and decide that we will be the one to alleviate our own loneliness.

The Spinster Turn-around

For me, it was waking up New Year’s day alone after sitting on the phone with a friend all New Year’s Eve. And then the book “Spinster” caught my eye. A friend had lent it to me. But up until this point, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to read it. Although technically I wasn’t a spinster since I had been married, the stigma and fear attached to the word still meant I was odd, unwanted and unchosen.

But, after much inner turmoil, I opened it up… and my whole world changed.

I realized that women had fought hard for the right to be independent and have the very freedom that I was suffering from. Spinsters worked in the wool factories and lived in rooming houses together. In fact, they were the only women who were financially independent in a time when women not only couldn’t work, they couldn’t vote and had no rights.

Spinsters prized their freedom and had no interest in entering into a marriage contract where women didn’t have too many rights or freedoms and whose primary job was to have babies and to “keep a man happy”. Once having tasted freedom and independence, these ladies weren’t ready to give that up if they didn’t have to.

On reading this, something radical shifted inside of me.

I realized that there was no reason for me to be lonely. I had friends that I wasn’t reaching out to. I had family that I could be talking to. There were groups that I could join. There were classes that I could take. Just because there wasn’t a significant man in my life didn’t mean that I had to be alone or lonely.

Becoming A Party

It reminded me of a good friend who had been single and dating for about 15 years. Then one day, he realized that he had a belief that he couldn’t have fun or be happy until he found a partner.

So, instead of needing someone else to “create a party” with, he decided to become a party that someone else would like to join and that he would want to invite them to. He completely gave up dating and started pursuing his own interests. He travelled. He took courses. He played more music. He truly started loving his life.

And then one day, he decided to load the dating app “Tinder” on his phone. On he went and after swiping for a little while found a woman who he was quite struck by. They began chatting, met and are now happily married. (Ironically, she is the one who much later lent me the Spinster book!)

Truly Becoming Happy

There is something really important about developing our own personal life according to our true loves and passions. If the only thing that will make us happy is finding someone to be with, then we will not actually be happy. We will be conditionally happy because we are only happy as long as they are with us. We are only happy as long as they fit what we are looking for. We will live with the constant fear that we will lose them. We may become clingy, controlling or co-dependent. We have no personal happiness. Just conditional happiness on another.

And this doesn’t work in the long run… or even really in the short run.

And it isn’t like we need to give up the desire for wonderful company. This is a very natural and healthy desire. But there is something about when we have extended time alone. What is in there for us to learn? Are we being given this time to grow in some way? In a way that won’t happen if we are focusing on another? Is there something we need to heal?

And then there are the Philosophers…

I have always been drawn to the philosophers who speak about solitude.

“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.” ~ Edward Gibbon

When we cannot bear to be alone, it means we do not properly value the only companion we will have from birth to death—ourselves.” ~ Eda LeShan

“To have passed through life and never experienced solitude is to have never known oneself. To have never known oneself is to have never known anyone.” ~ Joseph Krutch

“Find a day for yourself—better yet, late at night. Go to the forest or to the field, or lock yourself in a room … You will meet solitude there. There you will be able to listen attentively to the noise of the wind first, to birds singing, to see wonderful nature and to notice yourself in it … and to come back to harmonic connection with the world and its Creator.” Rabbi Nahman

In no way do I believe that they are saying that we should be alone for our lives. Being in love and being with people is a wonderful part of life. But I think that they have some interesting points to ponder.

To truly come to a place where we love our own company.

To really come to inner peace alone.

To understand that this truly is our own journey whether there is someone with us or not.

To really love being alive… and then to invite someone to come enjoy it with us.

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