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At 52, I am not just single—I am solitary.
Over the past 10 years or so, it’s as if I have been shedding relationships and human connections of all kinds.
I ended a toxic relationship, gave up my meaningful-turned-stressful job, cut off an unhealthy relationship with my mother, and moved away from my city, family, and friends to a quiet rural place where I know few people.
Some new connections formed in the process. I was in a relationship, briefly, and found new friends who appeared to be what I needed, but as I grew, these too fell off rather quickly. I tried to be part of a community but quickly moved to the fringe to be alone.
Gradually, the urge to run away from myself and find people to be with has also quieted down. More and more, solitude is becoming my chosen way to be.
And I am surprised at how happy I am. How peaceful. I was told all my life that romantic love would make me happy. Having lots of cool friends would make me happy. And it is not as if I would not like to have meaningful connections, but the truth is I have never been happier in all my 52 years of life than I am now.
With years of observation, I have found a few reasons why:
It’s just a lot less work: Relationships, even healthy ones, require a lot of effort. Especially if you are a woman, a disproportionate amount of emotional labour comes to your share. And if you are in toxic relationships, as I had been most of my life, it can be depleting to the extreme. It is simply nice to not have to do all that work for a change—to have only myself to care for and to be able to turn my focus entirely on my wants and needs.
I enjoy utter, pure freedom: I can wake up at 4 a.m. or 4 p.m. without anyone asking me why. I can walk in nature all day, or stay up the whole night watching Netflix without anyone offering praise or blame. I can let my house get messy, experiment with new things and fail miserably, make mistakes, let go of old interests, and try new things. In short, I can do whatever I like without other people’s anxieties, opinions, and judgments getting in my way.
I can take time for self-connection: Without constantly engaging with other people’s needs, opinions, woundings, and drama, I have the space and freedom to come back to what I feel and need. I have space to work on healing my childhood trauma without it setting off someone else. I can turn inward and take the time to listen deeply to the hurts my various parts are carrying. The more I do this, the more I heal and the more I feel centered and peaceful and grounded. And paradoxically, the more I heal, the less I need others to regulate my emotions—and the more pleasant my solitude becomes.
I eat according to my needs: Food, the most basic need in life, was a contentious subject when I was with others. I was cooking, and also eating, to please family and friends, constantly worried about dinner-table meltdowns, not just from children but from adult men. I was choosing safe rather than inspiring options. Being alone, I am eating healthier foods, experimenting with new ingredients, cooking in large batches, and eating leftovers instead of slaving over three hot meals a day. My body is happier, cooking is more of a joy than a chore, and I have more time for other things.
I engage with my body differently: The male gaze and societal gaze do not dictate my relationship with my body anymore. I don’t worry about whether I am looking attractive enough, thin enough, or presentable enough. Instead, I listen to my body’s genuine needs and focus on meeting them. I have stopped investing in make-up completely. I am less concerned with whether I have perky boobs than with whether I am getting enough exercise and rest. I buy fewer clothes and accessories, and those I do buy are for my delight, not for social approval. And you know what? At the end of it all when I look in the mirror, I see a beautiful woman I never saw before: happy, calm, well-rested, and satisfied.
I have no one to blame but me: This has been the best reward of solitude. If I overshoot my budget, I am accountable and the consequences are mine. If I am emotionally upset one day, I have to look within and figure out what is up instead of blaming someone else. Being solely responsible for my well-being has been a great adulting experience for me. I make choices more mindfully and clean up my messes without fuss. And I have found that when something is my fault, or at least I can see where I contributed to an uncomfortable situation, it is much easier for me change the outcome. I correct my own behavior, which makes me feel more empowered and in control of my life, and helps me respect myself more.
To be clear, I don’t think solitude is the only ideal state for a human being to be in. Meaningful connections and solitude both play a vital role in our well-being. But I do also see that as a culture we tend to stigmatize being alone and glorify being with other people.
After a hectic lifetime of being exposed to an overwhelming amount of connections without boundaries, accountability, or respect, it is infinitely enriching for me to be in solitude, just to balance things out. One day, I hope to be able to balance meaningful connections at all levels with meaningful and joyful solitude. But I also know it will mean a lot of demand on my energy.
Every now and then, I ask myself if I’m ready for that? So far, the answer has been no.
For now, I am happy to just stay in and love myself till I do.