Even before I got sick and my whole life turned upside down, my dad would tell me not to bother with relationships and love. From a young age he told me to concentrate on school and work, that I didn’t need to worry about the complications of romance. Despite my contradictory feeling on this matter, I think it really affected me subconsciously throughout the years. we are our parents children, right? Despite our feelings on how we swore to not be like our parents, to not make the same mistakes, we do, don’t we?
My parents divorced when I was very young. My mom raised me primarily, and I saw my dad every other weekend while we lived in the US, until my mom moved us to New Zealand when I was 10. Despite my dad’s feelings on the subject, I didn’t like spending time with him when I was young because he was so strict, and at times cold. Its no surprise to anyone that really knows me that my dad and I have not often seen eye to eye. He has always voiced his opinion on how I was raised, how he felt my mom kept me from him, and his general dislike of the situation after the divorce. No matter how many times I’ve told him I was the one that didn’t like spending time with him when I was little, and that I would beg my mom to not let me go to his house. He “forgets” every time I try to stand up for my mom and set the story straight, and remind him of who left whom. He left. Not us.
I think a lot of my fear of him when I was growing up was how much his “advice” felt like insults and put downs. To this day, he will always stand by his word that he was being parental, and voicing concerns. But when you’re 13 and your dad asks if you’re pregnant and pokes at your belly, that barely extends from your hips, well you tend to fear the comments and advice. To be clear, I was NOT pregnant, I was growing into my body as any teenage girl would.
When I reached my mid-teens was when the “you don’t need a boyfriend” comments began. I was not to be deterred, and was as boy crazy as any hormonal girl of my age. But, when it came to the time of liking someone, I found myself to be quite commitment phobic. This went on long into my early twenties, and even gave me problems in my first long-term relationships. For years I believed that I wasn’t phobic of relationships, that I was just being sensible in not attaching myself to someone. It wasn’t until I found a really good therapist that helped me primarily in dealing with my disease, that I started to understand what had happened.
Subconsciously, I was following my dad’s advice for years, decades even. When I started working in my early twenties, the comments changed from “you don’t need a boyfriend” to “you don’t need to worry about marriage”. Now, I will never really understand why he said these things to me. I don’t know if he truly feels that relationships are a waste of time (he’s in his second marriage, so I can’t see that being an anti-commitment comment), or rather that he thinks I just shouldn’t waste my time. Or maybe he thinks I’m incapable of dealing with them, or that there are more important things I should be concerned with. Which may make more sense now that I’m sick, but these comments have been made since I was 10…
My point is, despite my feelings that I always wanted relationships and eventually marriage, I think his comments subconsciously deterred me from having them. Or rather, having healthy relationships.
Now, I am 35. I suffer from several chronic illnesses, one of which will eventually lead to my demise. And I am alone.
With my illness comes the desire to not suffer alone, and I wonder if I’ve lost my chance to find someone. Days pass into weeks that pass into months, and the loneliness sometimes feels unbearable. Yet now, instead of that incessant nagging feeling that I shouldn’t worry about relationships and marriage, I now incessantly worry that I shouldn’t bother with them due to my shortened life expectancy. Is it fair to engage in love with someone when I can’t give them forever?
I have no one to blame but myself. I listened to the wrong advice for a long time, and now that I’m sick, I worry that I lost my chance to enjoy something I’ve always craved, but never let myself truly have. I can’t get over the feeling that it might be unfair to want a lasting love, if that love might only last five to ten years depending on my hypothesized life expectancy.
These are all what ifs and maybes. But sometimes I wonder if my life would have been different if I didn’t grow up with the whisper in my ear that relationships shouldn’t matter to me. Everyone deserves love, even if they are lead not to believe it is so. Both of my sisters have both married, and here I am dying of a disease that leaves me feeling more alone that anyone can imagine. Sometimes I wonder why my dad told me I shouldn’t bother with romance. Was romance to be avoided by everyone, or just me? And why was I undeserving?
I know a lot of people who have a problem with being alone. I don’t just mean relationships, as in they have to be in one always, though that is correct for quite a few of them. I mean generally they have issues with being alone in life. They don’t like spending time on their own, preferring a constant stream of people and activities to keep them occupied. The idea of going to a movie theater or a show without a companion is a preposterous idea, something to not even be considered. They even get antsy if their weekends aren’t filled with a myriad of activities, involving friends, family, and generally a crowd.
I think this is a really unhealthy behavior or mindset to have. I believe that it’s important to know how to be by ourselves, and are even comfortable doing so. A wise friend of mine once told me ‘if I can’t be happy when I’m on my own, how can I expect to be happy with other people?’ And she is right. Where is that fear coming from? What makes people so afraid to be alone, to be on their own?
Well in my case, I’m not. I think it stems from being the only child of my parents. Early on I had to learn to be happy on my own, to be able to entertain myself. I think this is also how I came to have such a vivid and creative imagination. Then later as a child of divorce, being ferried between two parents (including one who moved a lot), entertainments had to be created when playmates were few and far between.
To this day, as an adult, I still enjoy time spent alone. I love going to movies on my own and never having to deal with an annoying movie chatter (a companion who talks throughout a movie, especially during important dialogue), I enjoy shopping on my own as I only have to go into the stores I like (never getting caught in a snobby shoe store for hours on end), and I adore going to the beach on my own ( I can leave whenever I want, which is usually early on because I get bored). I’m comfortable in my own skin. It doesn’t bother me if I have no plans on a weekend. I’m ok with staying in on weeknights with a good book or my artwork. I’m not filled with anxiety if an entire day is spent on my own, with no other companions but my two kitty cats, who can be quite entertaining to watch as it is.
Now, don’t confuse me with being a hermit, or recluse. While I enjoy time alone, I also love being around people. In fact I’m a real people person. I make friends easily. I’m very comfortable starting a conversation with strangers at Starbucks, or the couple standing in line behind me at the local gelato shop. I have no problem asking for directions, chatting with the old biddies in the produce section at the grocery store, or striking up a conversation with the handsome guy sitting two seats down from me in the theatre. I like people. And I like alone time. I’m versatile like that.
But I still don’t understand why others are so afraid, and why there seems to be a negative stigma around people who are alone. There’s nothing wrong with being by yourself. And if I were on the street and saw another person walking on their own, I wouldn’t jump to a conclusion about them. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen though. In fact it happened to me last night and I’m still puzzling over it. I just can’t grasp why the sight of me on my own seemed to be such an issue.
After a lovely evening at the season opening of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, that I attended with a companion, I arrived home and decided I wasn’t quite ready to turn in. In fact, my sweet tooth was nagging at me, telling me to end my night with a treat. Unfortunately, my fridge and cupboards left me with nothing to be desired and I realized I’d have to go out in search of dessert. Luckily, I live in a great cosmopolitan area with many shops, restaurants, and a fantastic new gelato shop, all within a short walking distance. I grabbed my wallet, my keys, and my whistle (cosmopolitan as it may be, I never go out at night without my rape whistle, there’s no such thing as being too careful).
I walked the three blocks up to a gelato shop that I hadn’t yet visited, but had heard rave reviews about. Local and homemade gelato in interesting flavors. Even at 10:15 on a Saturday night there was a line, and the shops tables were all filled with hungry people devouring waffle cones piled high with gelato, and hot espresso drinks. It was drizzling outside and I was praying that customers might leave by the time I had ordered so that I could sit inside with my dessert and not get wet.
Luckily, my wish came true, and once I was armed with a small cup of Earl Grey gelato (divine!!) I sat at a large square table where two other pairs were seated. To my right were two girls eating huge waffle cones and sharing what sounded like a very funny story about a mutual friend. They looked to be in their early 20s, maybe college students, and they smiled at me as I sat down, in between loud laughter and boisterous musings at their story. To my left were two other women, in their early 30’s, immaculately dressed to the nines in tight dresses and high high heels, full faces of makeup, and carefully done hair, sharing a kids cup of gelato. I smiled at them as I sat down, a courteous gesture since we were all sharing a space. I did not receive a smile back, if anything, it almost seemed like a look of distaste. Well, I’d be upset too if I had to share a tiny cup of gelato….
As I ate my gelato, and pinned on my Pinterest app on my phone, I became aware of their not-so-whispered conversation. It was loud in the shop, so the fact that they were attempting to whisper caught my attention I guess. Except I could hear them pretty clearly. They were talking about how embarrassing it must be for someone to be alone at this time of night. And how silly this person was for publicly announcing that they didn’t have friends or a date, by coming to a gelato shop on their own. I snorted at the stupidity of their conversation and looked around to see who they were insulting, and then realized it was me. They smirked at me with their painted lips and perfectly plucked eyebrows like how dare I be in their presence. And why insult me? Because I’m by myself? Since when is it a crime to get ice cream at night time? I was struck by their audacity to judge me when they didn’t even know me. And the entire premise was that I was alone. That I had no companion, and how “embarrassing” that must be for me.
I finished my gelato and got up to throw away my cup, aware of their eyes on me, their rude giggles following me out the door. I puzzled over it, the entire walk home, short as it was. Is this really what has become of society? The mocking of people on their own? And I know it had nothing to do with me personally. Those two women were just like many people that I know, who just cannot fathom doing things by themselves. In fact would prefer to stay home than be seen in public alone. And why? Why is that seen as an embarrassment? What is so wrong about being by yourself? Has this turned into the latest faux pas? Be alone and be ridiculed?
The whole scenario didn’t upset me. I won’t be put down by childish behavior and rudeness. It saddens me that there are people out there that feel joy by judging and ridiculing others. I feel sad for them. They only mock what they do not understand. What they can’t understand. Grabbing a cup of ice cream by myself at night isn’t a sign that I have no friends am alone in the world. It just means I wanted some ice creAm so I went and got some. End of story. I walk alone. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
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