Q I am in my late 20s, single and generally extroverted. Before the quarantine I had a full life — I often went dancing, hiking, paddleboarding and kayaking. I regularly went to exercise classes, volunteered and checked out new museum exhibits. I spent a lot of time with friends and gave myself alone time when I needed it.
But I was always kind of bummed that I was single. I got out of a long relationship three years ago and haven’t met anyone significant since, despite online dating, blind dates and “putting myself out there.” The quarantine has really intensified this sadness.
I’m working on accepting my feelings and drowning out messaging that I must not love myself enough to be happy alone. I do love myself! I think I’m great, actually! It would just be nice to love someone else romantically — and have it reciprocated.
I know there’s nothing much I can do now, but what about when we all reenter society? Is there a way to make myself fully happy with my single life? Is there another way to prioritize meeting someone? Do I just have to resign myself to oscillating between a little bummed out and super-sad, maybe forever?
I’ve been to therapy, and there’s nothing glaringly wrong with me, but I wish there was something I could’ve fixed so I’d now be safe/stuck at home with a (maybe grumpy) partner instead of my grumpy roommates. — Single and Stuck
A A wise friend reminded me recently, as I was chafing at home and grieving a lost whatever, that it’s our pain that teaches us, not our contentment.
The pandemic is teaching all of us — all who will listen — that any say in our lives is never complete.
And therefore, if we want to be “fully happy” — with single life or anything else — then we need to recognize that dancing, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking, exercise classes, volunteering, museum exhibits, friend time, alone time, dating, putting ourselves out there, therapy and even having a partner, are all wonderful things with significant value (at this writing, I miss about nine of these to the point of tears), but they’re also external. So they’re impermanent, ever subject to change.
We could talk plenty about the concept of “fully happy,” too, but that’s on the outcome side. I think the education worth pushing yourself toward now is on the input side, where you learn to focus not on the next thing — the mate, the “something” to “fix” — but on the idea that you are your next thing. Always and only.
I won’t minimize meaningful, enduring love, or its place in a well-lived life.
But marriage is just one potential source of that.
Meanwhile, spouses (or partners) also change, disappoint, grow stale, cheat, leave, bow to addictions, die too soon — not always, but enough that your most valuable ally before, during and after is still you.
And the quality of that trust in yourself will influence the quality of every bond you form with others.
You graze this idea with “love myself enough to be happy,” but even that has a surface element to it — implying you need a certain yay-me spirit about yourself. Not so. (Though it, too, is wonderful to have.)
I’m talking about a baseline acceptance that you’re what you’ve got, and everything else — everything — is not only unpredictable, but also optional.
It’s a paradigm shift, a hard one. It also doesn’t shield you from pain when things go badly or don’t come true. But it can break you of the life-consuming habit of thinking X will be great if only Y. Instead, there is only this, only today, only you. Scary, but also as freeing as you let it be.
Q How does one trust their partner won’t cheat on them? There aren’t any signs they have or would, but simply letting go and trusting is very difficult. — Anonymous
A You bet it is.
In part because you can’t trust anyone not to cheat, not to a certainty.
Nor can you trust anyone to do or not do, be or not be, say or not say, anything — not 100 percent.
That truth is built into every relationship between two people. You control you, they control themselves.
If you’re in the mood for maximum self- and other-awareness, our ability to control and trust ourselves isn’t even 100 percent.
So every moment of letting go, of trust, of intimacy with somebody else requires upfront your willingness to be vulnerable.
Your comfort with doing that isn’t entirely about the other person’s trustworthiness, either. It’s actually an extension of the preceding answer in this column: It’s more about how much you trust yourself.
How much do you trust your judgment in choosing people?
And even more important, how much do you trust your ability to manage and rebound if things go wrong?
Rough estimate, it’s inversely proportional to your fear of getting hurt — and a direct result of accepting yourself as-is.