When One is Not the Loneliest Number


Yesterday, I had a conversation with a dear friend who is in the throes of a failing relationship. I don’t write much about relationships of the romantic ilk, because I’m not very good at them. As I approach my 13th wedding anniversary, I can still state this without being disingenuous.

The relationship roulette that I played finally had me landing on someone who doesn’t scare easily, whose self-knowledge was only superseded by his compassion for others and who simply stood still as I thrashed about uncomfortably, waiting for me to tire myself out.

It took me a good thirty plus years to reach a point where I accepted that I could be loved and that hey, wasn’t it cool that despite my moodiness and insecurities, he didn’t run away screaming? Part of me feels like I earned it, which is wrong – completely, completely wrong. If we had to earn the love we got, the orphanages would be full and you’d have to buy marriage licenses in bulk.

For a good couple of decades, I struggled as a single woman to support myself, get an education and figure out the meaning of life (still unsolved to date). I dated or did something that looked similar to dating. I spent many hours agonizing over one shitty relationship or another. I went through long periods of being alone – some of them filled with longing, other times with contentment.

The worst moments were those when I realized that all the excitement and passion had been put down on the wrong horse. Those first few months, when everything is new and shiny and possibilities bloom where none had been before – it’s a mixture of euphoria and slight craziness. And then you run into exes or his drinking starts to look like a problem or you realize, without acknowledging it, that you don’t really like him.

This happens in the middle of the euphoria, so you ignore the warning flags or emergency sirens in favor of hope. I’d play a gender card here, but I’ve met enough men who also ignore the male friend who seems to be over far too often or jibes about their jobs or hobbies. Usually it’s because she’s really, really pretty. But we’ll call it holding on in favor of hope, regardless.

I could write about the need for self-esteem and confidence and being secure with one’s self, but I’m writing about the time between creeping doubt, that shadow you see out of the corner of your eye, and the time when you’ll be playing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on repeat until one of your friends accidentally scratches the CD with a machete.

I found it gut-wrenching and miserable. Some of my friends would blithely move on from relationships, but I was always late to the game. Giving up hope and accepting that the euphoria is over only came after regurgitating every monotonous detail to friends – reminding myself over and over of those things that gave me hope in the first place.

There is nothing lonelier than being with someone, knowing somewhere in your mind that they’re not really with you. It is the loneliest time, these moments between euphoria and the death of hope. Ah, the wild, irreconcilable hope. Imagining the phone ringing or him showing up at the front door loaded with flowers and abject apologies.  Visions of a life shared becoming distant and blurry.

I had a lot of good advice to give my friend. In my 20s, I would have talked smack about men and joked about horrible things to do to their cars or laundry. I’ve never been a vengeful type, but I was self-injurious – staying up all night, composing godawful love letters, eating horribly, smoking and drinking too much. So my advice to the heartbroken is now – please take care of yourself.

Be kind, let your grief be yours, sleep properly, write it all out, go for a walk. It all hurts like hell, I know. And these moments of hope crop up over and over again. And each time you have to remind yourself of the things that killed hope. Until one day, it doesn’t matter as much anymore. Until you have a happy moment or two or three and you managed it alone.

Talk to your friends, but limit the gruesome re-tellings. I was fortunate to have very patient friends who years later would recite my obsession with some drunken womanizer and how relieved they were when I finally stopped talking about it. Patience seems to be the quality that the people in my life exemplify.

Perhaps it’s too easy to give this advice. I’m not alone at the moment. But it took a lot of time alone to get here and I know life changes on a dime. Be patient. Take care of yourself. Know that this is going to take a little time. And that being alone is not the flip side of love and euphoria. Being alone is being comforted by the company you know and trust best.

45 thoughts on “When One is Not the Loneliest Number

  1. I loved your final line on being alone. ‘Being alone is being comforted by the company you know and trust best’.
    It’s odd, all my relationships have begun after I was friends with someone first. I never had the fear I wouldn’t like them. But then back when I was with him my ex changed, and he didn’t become a very nice person. I was alone for a while after him, and at times I would feel very lonely. I still don’t know if that’s because I lost my boyfriend, or if its because I lost my best friend at the same time.
    Me and my current partner were friends first too, when we first met despite liking each other it wasn’t the right time for either of us to be in a relationship. I don’t feel lonely any more. I can’t help but wonder though, if I put myself in a worse position or a better one – by my best friend being the one I love. I think its worth it for the kind of relationship you get…but its a vulnerable position to be in as well.
    Either way, that whole big ramble was an ‘I agree’. I just meant I think its interesting what being friends first can do to the dynamic of a relationship. You still get the euphoria and honeymoon period and all that jazz…but for me, I don’t worry so much about rose tinted glasses…as I’ve seen them as a normal human being too?


    1. There’s a thousand different ways that relationships start. I think if we went into the world seeking out friends, then many romantic relationships would start off on the right foot. It doesn’t work that way for many of us who treated romance like it was a contact sport, either conquering or being conquered. I didn’t start out with a healthy view of relationships, hence the many catastrophes on the way to finding someone that fit with me.


      1. Very true. It’s good you came through all of that and found that person though.
        With me being the young whippersnapper that I am, I was particularly shy when I was younger so I never really looked for anything more than friendship – even if I had a skyscraper sized crush on said friend. If I ever got more I’d usually be pretty astonished! I think that view can cause you to lose out too though. I guess there’s no real perfect way to do it!


        1. Definitely no perfect route and for some people, they’re not even on the right path. Some people are engineered to be solitary or non-monogamous or whatever. The key is figuring out what works for you – I did it the hard way, as do many people I know.


  2. I have had a penchant for picking the wrong men. If you stick to the theory that here I am, in no relationship ( for a long time), so I must have picked the wrong men. But then, they were very good until they weren’t. The relationships, I mean. My last relationship lasted a very long time — 18 years. I knew he had the capacity to break my heart but I was powerless to stop myself from falling in love with him. Or even to avoid him all together. In the end I left him and he has never gotten over it. I can’t explain it, but even though it ended, I will never regret our relationship. I don’t know if I will ever feel about anyone, the way I felt about him; or share what we shared. And I am glad I have had it. But I had to smile when you talked about how you tortured your friends going through every detail over and over again. I am surprised, and grateful, I still have my friends! Your advice to your friend is very sound. She is lucky to have you. And as someone who isn’t in a relationship, I can attest to just how true your last sentence is.


    1. The only regrets I have for ended relationships was the damage I did to myself or allowed someone else to do to me. On balance, I’ve not had a healthy idea about relationships. I’ve been with my husband for 14 years and am still learning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience kindness and respect and friendship and joy, no matter how many times I’ve gotten it wrong.

      In terms of being alone – there is real joy for me in solitude as well. When you mentioned sipping coffee and reading The New York Times on your patio in your post today – that’s my ideal of being alone!


      1. Your husband sounds like a great guy. I mean that. Patient and confident and true. And until I find one like that, which isn’t easy, I love nothing more than the New York Times and a cup of coffee on a patio. Makes me very happy and content.


  3. And it’s funny how important it is to be alone after you’ve found a partner, a family, etc…I realize after it’s too late when I really need some alone-time. Lots to explore with that, and why we need it. Thanks for the nice post. I liked the title and the photo too. It’s fun to read a great writer; like getting on a ride and just sitting back and relaxing, while you show us the views…thanks. – Bill


    1. It is our tendency to always want what we have less of! I am pretty fierce about getting time to myself. I’m juggling too many things not to have time to center a bit.
      Thanks for the writing compliment, Bill. I worry about getting a bit long-winded for a blog post!


  4. This is my history as well – years of the *wrong* relationship until I got it, really got it, how not to do it. My dear wonderful husband went through the same thing. Years of practicing how not to do it. By the time we came together at 48 and 56 we each had a blueprint of how not to do it – we just flipped it over. If we knew all the things not to do we could know what to do to have a healthy functional loving respectful relationship. It’s taken 13 years of practice together and it’s still on going, and we get better and better at it all the time. What a huge blessing. We are both still surprised that we managed to work out how to have a successful long-term relationship, and profoundly grateful. It came, ironically, at a time when when we’d both completely given up on ever wanting a relationship ever again. Ever.


    1. Unfortunately the “process of elimination” is a time-honored painful method of figuring things out. Isn’t it lovely when something happens that you’d given up on? I think I was at that point when I met my husband. He surprised me and in turn, I surprised myself. That’s part of the magic equation when two people end up being better people together than they were apart. Some people bring out the absolute worst in us, while the right ones make us want to be something better.


      1. What a lovely way of putting it – the right ones make us want to be something better. I’d never thought of it that way. It brought tears to my eyes as I realised that is true for us. Don makes me want to be a better person, and me him. What a blessing. And may your friend be blessed with all she needs for the evolution of her soul through this gut wrenching time. And all the hugs she can handle.


  5. The first thought that popped into my head was how great it was that I could comment freely since it would show up on your blog and not mine, so my wife wouldn’t see anything I’d written. Then I stopped and thought about it further, and now I think I need to think more about my thoughts and not necessarily write them here or anywhere else for the moment.

    There’s simply nothing simple anymore.


    1. Yes, the fine line between blabbing personal business and writing authentically. My husband never reads this blog, but I try very hard not to betray his trust – hence no posts about how I might kill him in his sleep if he leaves one more dirty dish for me to pick up. Such a very, very fine line!


      1. My wife reads my blog occasionally, though as you know, my topics are generally innocuous attempts at humor and are therefore “safe”. Still, at this point in history, my view on marriage and family and life in general is not exactly a beacon of positivity.


        1. My view depends on the day, like most things we humans face. We’re also heading into that period of time where the parts are costing more than a new model, but getting a new model seems like it would require too much work. I’m so proud that I have worked automotive and military euphemisms into a conversation about relationships. Yep, my husband got a real romantic in me.


  6. Great post! I used to think an adversarial approach was the most effective way of cutting to the chase, so to speak, of a relationship. Thank goodness I’ve outgrown that…sort of. HA!


    1. Thanks, Honie. Combat relationships are fraught with landmines. I’m laughing at my own humor now, so I’ll stop with the military terminology. I’m still fairly adversarial about some things, but not the stuff the really matters when it comes to being partners and parents. Then, we have discussions, not arguments. Tomato, tomahto…


  7. While my best friend didn’t echo your thoughts verbatim the other day,
    ” how relieved they were when I finally stopped talking about it.” she did say how glad she was that I was happy and content with my husband of four years.

    I had the distinct impression as I hung up the phone that my relationship woes must have been as mentally exhausting for her as they were emotionally for me.

    Great post!


    1. I feel a little embarrassed at how much I must have imposed on my friends’ goodwill during relationship recovery times. Some of them, however, are paying me back in full, although at this age, I’m often much less patient.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  8. Hmm like studentlondon, I’ve always been the type who feels that friends-first was my way to go.

    Maybe it’s because all the friends I made in the past and currently have told me that they had negative first impressions of me and only afterwards when they got to know me were they glad they didn’t run away haha. Maybe some of that explains why people who’ve expressed interest in me tended to be people whom I got to know online,

    For a long time I walled myself away believing I was unlovable and told myself I don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy — kind of true. But being in a good one makes me aware that by walling myself away, I’ve missed out on many meaningful connections with others as friends or otherwise.


    1. So many people think they are unlovable that they either sabotage relationships, pick unlikely partners (this was my modus operandi) or hide away. It’s a tough road – getting to that point where you appreciate yourself enough to know what will make you happy, instead of always operating from a defensive position. Connections are important, with or without romantic leanings, but again, the same esteem issue applies to making friends. I’m glad you’ve found something/someone who you can be happy with – there can never be too many of those relationships in the world!


      1. That’s always the way. Still, your advice is right on target. Especially, at least for me, the writing part. I haven’t had relationship troubles in a long time, but whatever the other problems I’ve had, well, writing has helped enormously.


    1. Glad that it could be of use to you, though sorry you are experiencing anything that would make it useful. It is a fairly universal experience, especially, if like me, you have to learn things the hard way. Hope your spirits are lifted soon!


  9. What a fantastic, honest post. I’m at the age where most of my friends are either married and starting a family, or still looking for “the right one”. My heart aches for my friends that are single, while I watch them bounce from date to date constantly being let down. I always try to search for the right words to explain to them how to get through these hard times, but I come up at a loss. This post perfectly explains how and why to get through these times. Thank you!


    1. There are so many cliches that get said when people go through this. I will likely strangle the person who says “there are plenty of fish in the sea”. While statistically true on a universal level, it may not be true with your lifestyle or relationship habits. The only way to lessen the sense of loss is not to let yourself go to hell. And if I could just stop one person from humiliating themselves on the scale that I have in the past, I will feel a sense of accomplishment!

      Thanks for reading and for your kind comments!


  10. Isn’t it amazing how time and age gives you a better perspective on these things? I lived this line…”Be kind, let your grief be yours, sleep properly, write it all out, go for a walk. It all hurts like hell, I know.” It’s so true.


Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.