One of the saddest parts of society is how the norm becomes expectations and how the expectations become looming goals we’re not even sure we want to live up to and how the looming goals become fears.  One of the most common of these is marriage.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like the thought of marriage.  I daresay it was a goal of mine long before the expectation began to loom.  I’m also terrified by it, but that’s something I’ve covered ad nauseum.  I live in a marriage and family focused community (city and church) and so I’ve grown up knowing that marriage and kids were my goals.  I fully admit to being a product of my society, but that’s not really what I want to talk about either.  No, what I want to talk about is that primal fear of being alone that somehow gets magnified and warped into a complex by these expectations we have as a society to graduate, get married, and have a family.  And the feeling of inadequacy that occasionally comes when you don’t get there right away.

Let me first start by saying my title might be misleading.  I am PETRIFIED of being alone in perpetuity.  What I am not afraid of is being alone right now.  When my roommate from my first year of college turned 40 (the age gap in that house was 17 years and moving in was very possibly the best decision I made my first year of college), I remember calling her and wishing her a happy birthday.  Then, I remember asking her how she did it.  You see, Pookie (I misses you) is one of the bravest women I know.  She has waited to find the right guy and even though there have been opportunities aplenty for a good man, she’s waited it out for the right man.  When she turned forty, I had been getting the, “Well, when are you going to get married?” questions and the , “Well, don’t you want to get married?” questions for about a year.  One girl, when I was still twenty, asked me, “Well, aren’t you EVER going to get married?”  I hate those questions more than anything, and I had no idea how Pookie had put up with a decade or two of this.  I remember feeling foolish asking her how to handle it as I got older, as I had only been dealing with these well-meaning, but hurtful questions for a year.  But Pookie, being the awesome friend and roommate that she is, had a good talk with me about what I could do and say to temper these people and pressures.  We talked about being happy alone and we talked about life for a little bit (I am still going to come out for pie festival one of these years, I promise!) and then hung up.

By the time that conversation happened, I had been trying to learn how to be happy alone for a couple years.  After the ex-fiancé and I broke up, I had to build myself back from the ground up.  I had thrown every dream and goal away for the sake of making the future work.  In doing so, I had thrown myself away.  One of the things I did as I began building was take myself out to dinner once a week.  Alone.  Sit down, bring a book or some homework, and just spend a quiet hour or two smiling at the waiters when they came by and learning to be happy by myself.

Those first few dinners were miserable.

But, I kept doing it.  I liked the food, I liked treating myself, but mostly I knew that I needed the alone time more than anything.  Re-grouping was not going to happen without a core something to group to and I was still in the process of finding that something.  Those dinners taught me how to be alone with myself and enjoy the lack of company.  To enjoy me.  Now a days, I do this ritual monthly instead of weekly, but those dinners are still vitally important.  They remind me why I love myself. Because, though it took a long time, I do indeed love being me.

It’s this love that makes it easier to be alone (and never let anyone tell you that being alone is or should be easy).  More importantly, that love makes it easier to be alone for an extended period of time.  I have known brilliant, vibrant women who settle for an okay (and in one case, downright awful) marriage because they are afraid of being alone.  It’s not that they think themselves worthless without a man or children, it’s that our society has become so involved that many of us grow up not knowing what it is to be alone.  At home we have moms and dads and sometimes siblings, at school we have friends who–in some cases–know us better than our own families, at college (and sometimes after) we have roommates, and all these people know us perhaps more intimately than we might like.

So when we start adult lives, we’ve spent something like twenty years NEVER BEING ALONE.  For some people, they can’t face the fear of that unknown world by themselves.  Some people are lucky enough to find the right person before that fear reaches them (and I’m not judging those who do, I think it’s wonderful you found them).  Some find the right someone in spite of that fear.  Some find themselves when they’re alone (and I’m not saying you can’t find yourself when with someone).  And some settle because they can’t face the fear.

I believe that was the role my ex-fiancé played for each other.  We were so afraid of the sometime crushing loneliness of being single that we rushed into something.  That is not to say we didn’t love each other, we just didn’t love each other for the right reasons.  I know that fear was one of the main reasons I dated a couple of my college boyfriends.  And I’m done.  As I look back on those relationships, many of them were destructive and none of them were healthy.  A few years ago, I finally learned what it was to not fear being alone, but to fear being with the wrong someone.  In many ways, it’s made my dating life much more decisive.  It doesn’t take me long to discover the person isn’t right for me these days (um, sorry to those of you I didn’t treat delicately).

So, I’m not afraid of being alone.  Not in the short term.  The long term possibility still scares me, so I try to take dating on a very day-by-day basis.  This is not to say I never waver.  A few days ago, I very nearly called a man who I KNOW adores me and would be willing to do so on a more permanent basis if I were to invite him to.  But I don’t adore him.  And I know that if I were to give that invitation, there would be other consequences than a relationship that was based off the wrong reasons.  That day was a bad day.  But I am doing better today and will in the coming days.  Because while being alone in the long-term is scary, it’s scarier to think I might invite a much more difficult long-term if I can’t continue to love being with just me in the short time.