There was something unsettling that occurred after my divorce. My confidence took a major blow. Not my confidence in myself as a person of value, but in my confidence to know what I wanted in a relationship. I wouldn’t have gotten married in the first place unless I thought I knew what I wanted, but then when it didn’t work out it forced me to question whether I really knew what I wanted, or whether I really knew what will make me happy. I certainly don’t want to make the same mistake twice, but how best to avoid it?
My nineness makes this especially difficult. I’m very accommodating, I can get along with almost anyone if I have to, and I’m good at recognizing their needs and meeting them. But what about mine? I’m not as good at standing up for my own needs, or even knowing what they are.
So given all that, I’m in no rush to get married again. I decided somewhere in the aftermath that I should instead focus on building my own life, alone. I missed that stage of life when I was younger. I got married while I was still in college, and hadn’t really defined myself as an individual at that point. Part of my identity was wrapped up in my relationship with my girlfriend-fiance-wife.
After that part of my identity was gone, I felt like there were some gaps to fill. It was tempting to immediately fill them with other relationships, and I have dated several people. But I think there’s huge value in shifting focus away from pursuing relationships to pursuing ourselves. In fact, I think it will ultimately solve the riddle of what relationship is right for me.
There’s a line of thinking in our culture that those who are single are missing something. That we can’t really be whole or happy without being attached to someone else. That to have a happy ending to the movie, the boy must ultimately get the girl. While I do believe that we are social creatures and, if nothing else, there’s an instinctual drive toward mating in us, I don’t buy this idea that single people are to be pitied, or that their lives are fundamentally incomplete without a mate.
So I’ve got a bit of a hypothesis, and my thinking goes something like this: I get to build whatever life I want for myself, so I’m going to make it awesome. I’m going to set up my own living space how I want it, where I want it, travel where I want to travel, eat what I want to eat, hang out with whoever I want to hang out with. I’m going to take advantage of the fact that there’s only one opinion I have to consider when making decisions.
My recent trip to Japan was the first major trip I’ve done solo, and I had been putting it off for a while because I felt like that was the type of experience that was better shared. But what I discovered when I decided to go alone was that I liked being alone. There were no debates about what to do, no complaints about this or that, and the pace was mine to set. I’m sure that many of the locals I met probably wouldn’t have engaged with me if I was there with someone else. I could sit in a Buddhist temple for over an hour in silence and nobody was there saying “I’m bored, lets do something!” The beauty of being single and independent is that there is no compromise. It was liberating.
So the better I can build this life, and the stronger my own identity is, the less important a relationship becomes. It means I don’t have to settle for whoever comes along, because I don’t need them to be happy.
It means that whoever comes along and is worth giving up my independence will have to be someone really special.
That, I believe, is the answer to the confidence problem. If you really are happy on your own, the person who makes you want to give it up is probably a good bet. Forget liking the same TV shows or matching up on eHarmony quizzes, this is the ultimate test.
There is, of course, a chance that person never comes along, but I think that’s ok too. I’m building a life that I can be proud of, which suits me, so if the movie ends without a weeping widow, there’s no shame in that.
Time will be the test of my hypothesis, but I’m optimistic about the results.