It is better to be alone than to be with people who make you feel alone. ~ Robin Williams
The last repost was when a reader wrote to me about going to new things alone when she had been part of a couple for so long.
I wrote this a while ago and hope it helps all the above and anyone else who has to deal with this.
So many parts of uncoupling are scary and sad. Part of the grief felt after a breakup is the idea of being alone during social events. You are ALONE and everyone can see that.
The world seems different when we are newly broken up and face the first few social events alone.
We get ready alone, and drive to a place alone and walk in alone, and our brain screams “I AM ALONE AND EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT ME!!!”
The realization is part of the grief…part of the thing we have lost. The couple that we were a part of, for good or for bad, is no more. And while it might have been a grind or a drama in the privacy of our homes, we were able to put on a semblence of happy coupledom, for the most part, when we were out and about. Or maybe we thought we were happy and the person just up and vanished…leaving us reeling…
Either way our coupledom is gone and we go about the business of recovering…and finally we are looking better and feeling better and then dum dum dum dum…an invitation comes to a formal event and we are confronted once again with the reality that we …..are……………….alone.
When I was part of a couple in my twenties, we went places together and no matter how much of a “front” it was, it still said “I belong to a couple.” A dysfunctional and pretty crazy couple, but a couple all the same.
When we broke up I was facing a world that was geared to couples. Or so I thought. To me, that is how I viewed the world: a coupled world full of happy couples. It was not reality but that is what existed in my head. I talk about this in GBOT and how you have GOT to get that notion out of your head before you can truly be discerning and discriminating toward new people. It’s a MUST. You’ve got to figure out that a lot of couples are not happy and being part of one doesn’t mean you will be.
It was hard for me, for the first time in my life, to show up to things by myself. I thought I was supposed to be “with” someone. It seemed like even my best friends who were previously uncoupled were suddenly in love with someone. It kept smacking me in the face.
Then I crossed a bridge, figuratively and literally.
About 8 months after my separation, my work group won an award. The prize included going away to Cape Cod for the weekend to a pretty swanky place and each of us got our own condo. I had never won anything quite so elaborate and I was really looking forward to it. I could not believe that my company was paying for us to go up and giving us a big special dinner and two nights in our own fully furnished and equipped condominium.
Cape Cod Was “Our” Place
The only issue for me was that one of the places that was special for me and my ex was Cape Cod. He refused to fly and we didn’t have a lot of money so we spent one or two long weekends a year on Cape Cod. That was it. That was the extent of our vacations, but they were always wonderful. We went at least once a year and, out of all the things we did together, those times were very special. The ocean, the little shops, the restaurants, the whale watches we did with Greenpeace before so many commercial for-profit companies got into them. We always saw so many whales and I still have the photos of those humpback whales breaching right in front of our boat. They were amazing times where we never argued and just laughed and had amazing times even if it was only one or two weekends a year. On the way back we always stopped and shopped in little stores on the Cape. Our house was full of whales and dolphins and seals (bronze and ceramic ones, not real ones. 🙂 )
So as the time drew near I began to dread going. That day I was an emotional wreck. I drove across the Bourne Bridge, which is somewhat of the “Welcome to the Cape!” mile marker. I crossed it, for the first time ever, alone. As soon as my car was on the bridge, I started crying. That bridge was always our cue that our fabulous vacation – the one we waited for ALL YEAR was about to start. It had always been WONDERFUL to go over the Bourne Bridge and now I was going by myself.
As I drove over, I remembered all our vacations. It didn’t matter that those vacations only came one weekend a year and that the rest of the year was kinda crappy. Those vacations were really quite special. I was an emotional basket case. It was getting to be late fall and I think that the time of year, pre-holidays, added to my melancholy.
When I arrived, I found that they had assigned me a corner condo right on the ocean. I was amazed at the great location…it was probably the best one in the entire compound. I was on the corner so I had both forward facing and side facing ocean views. Not just views but my little walkway went right down to the ocean. I was practically on the water’s edge. The condo was brand new and beautiful. Fully furnished with homey quilts and high-end appliances and a jacuzzi tub for two.
It seemed so romantic and so special…and I was alone. There was no one to run into the condo with and say “Can you believe this???? Look at this big brass bed! Look at this tub! Look at these views from every window! Look at this beautiful little porch…this is so cool!!!”
So I sucked in all my raging emotions about the place, dropped off my bags and set off to find the rest of my colleagues.
We met in the welcome center and a group of us went down to the beach. As we walked along some people joked and commented on how great this outing was going to be. I tried to smile and laugh too, but I was still feeling down.
In the late afternoon, it was time to shower and dress for the first night’s dinner. I felt so alone but dinner was relaxed and fun. We had a big day on Saturday followed by our Saturday night awards dinner so we all went in early. I returned to the condo alone and slept fitfully. My bedroom had a skylight and the stars were shining brightly. I could hear the crash of the ocean waves outside. It was one of the most magical settings I’d ever been in…and it was all so depressing. I tossed and turned and a few tears made their way down my cheek. I hated life.
In the morning, we gathered for breakfast and then went back to one of our co-workers condos. We planned to have a pre-dinner party and just hang out. I realized that I was avoiding my great condo all day…wherever there was a mention of a gathering, I was there, because my great condo with its great views and jacuzzi tub screamed “YOU HAVE NO ONE TO SHARE THIS WITH!” What a waste. I truly had the BEST condo in the entire place and all I wanted to do was escape it. It was horrible.
But through the day I realized that most of us were alone, and that one of the few couples that were there happened to be arguing. Another person, involved in a recent breakup with someone else in the group who couldn’t care less, was drunk and crying on the beach threatening to throw herself into the swelling surf. While the recent ex looked on with pity and frustration at the public spectacle she was making of herself (and inadvertently him) and seemed minutes from pushing her into the surf himself.
A Blast (and not a good one) From The Past
We ran to rescue her and bring her back. A few of us grabbed her as she was about to dive into an angry sea and we took her arms and convinced her to turn around and walk with us. She was a tearful, wobbly, runny-nosed mess. I thought that if I was drinking I could very well be in the same state. It was a bad mirror image. Her ex – a very close friend of all of ours – was standing on the periphery shaking his head. He was an intensely private person (who did date multiple women all the time so no idea how the two managed to go together) who was walking a bit ahead of us, shaking his head and looking back every now and again, shaking his head even harder.
We all knew they were in a breakup, but none of us talked about it as she wailed loudly that she wanted to die…and why were we being so mean as to rescue her? Why? She was drama on acid. It took everything I had not to shake her and scream at her to pull it together because this was RIDICULOUS. But another part of me felt her pain myself…I was going through a lot of the same thing but wasn’t going to make any of it public…not for a second. Besides, I thought, some of this spectacle was to get HIM to notice her pain and, again, he couldn’t care less. This public display was only having the effect of pushing him further away.
Not that anyone knew what I was thinking or feeling, but seeing her in such a state made me realize that the only difference between my angst and hers was that hers had too much to drink. I blanched at what a mess she seemed. Was this a reflection of what I was really like on the inside? Ick.
So there she was….licking her breakup wounds in an intensely public way that made the rest of us…professional colleagues…very uncomfortable. Then there were the other strange goings-on. Some people were hooking up with people from other groups. This seemed insane as well. I wanted to get a tee shirt that said, “I have self control!!!” In the wake of how insane I felt and seemed the last few months of my marriage, this seemed like a HUGE accomplishment.
Maybe I was doing a few things right. I wasn’t drinking and threatening to throw myself in the ocean and I wasn’t seeking out temporary hookups with a professional colleague. I was in pain, but for this weekend I was not making a fool of myself.
I had not yet mastered the trick of seeing the good in things but I think that I was understanding that therapy and support groups were having some effect. I was avoiding self-destructive acts and sitting with my pain. I supposed that was a good thing. I had never really navigated the world alone so it was good to see that I was handling it….at least on the outside. It was a good litmus test.
Later that afternoon I walked along the path to my condo so I could shower and dress for the evening’s festivities. As I walked along in the dusk, everything seemed quiet as the lights were coming on in the various condos.
Though I couldn’t see inside of the other residences, I imagined them as warm and happy in contrast to how empty it was outside.
I was overcome with an incredible feeling of aloneness. It was a cold, gray late afternoon on Cape Cod and, looking at the ocean, I felt the chill to my bones. This was not a picturesque setting. This was a cold, unfeeling world that didn’t care about me or the emotional distress I was in. Stupid ocean. Stupid New England. Stupid nice place for a social event.
After I dressed I thought I looked nice, but felt alone because no one was there to compliment me. Of course it had been years since my ex had actually complimented me, so I was pretty much making things up as I went along.
Grief and aloneness skews your perspective of “how things were.”
I felt even more alone as I made my way back along the path again to the reception area. I met up with some of my colleagues and they said I looked nice. It made me smile a bit.
I had very low expectations but the dinner and award presentations were actually fun, and I started to relax and really have a good time. As soon as the getting was good (our supervisors were feeling no pain), we all moved to someone’s condo for an after party. We hung out, put on music and were singing and doing silly dances. The one couple continued to argue and the guy who was part of our group was obviously embarrassed as the rest of us tried to act as their sniping wasn’t actually happening in front of us.
For the first time I was able to see unhappiness in couples…and for the first time I was glad, that night, that I wasn’t part of a couple. I spent the night hearing really good music and laughing a lot. Some people drank too much and made idiots of themselves but for the most part, I had a really terrific time.
A Turn of Events
About 5 am I went back to my condo. Walking along the path didn’t seem particularly lonely to me this time. I was recalling some of the fun we had had at dinner and at the party and was chuckling to myself. I was suddenly not feeling fear or dread or sadness.
In fact I felt pretty GOOD!
When I got back to the condo it seemed too late to go to sleep so I made a pot of coffee. Then I went out to the screened-in porch where there was wicker furniture and a nice glass table. It was chilly so I went upstairs and took one of the large homemade quilts off the bed.
When the coffee was ready I brought my cup out to the porch, wrapped myself in the quilt and sat looking out at the ocean. It didn’t seem cold and lonely now. It was magnificent. The ocean was mighty and vast and I was in awe of its power.
My coffee cup warmed my hands and I brought it close to me and watched the sun come up over the mighty, immense ocean. It was a very peaceful yet powerful moment because I knew that something had changed. I had not only weathered my first big social outing alone, but it was on the Cape and I hadn’t thrown myself off the Bourne Bridge. I not only persevered, I wound up ENJOYING it!
As the sun came up and rose higher in the sky, I knew I was going to be okay. I realized it was not only good that I was alone, but that it was ONLY in being alone that I was able to enjoy this as I had. Who knows what would have happened had my ex been with me? It would have been a whole different thing. And not a particularly BETTER thing either. Wow. What a concept. I might have just had a better time ALONE than I ever would have had WITH someone.
I am also grateful that even though we were working in technical support and had computers in case one of our customers needed us, we were not required to turn them on and I didn’t. I’m so glad there were no smart phones or Facebook or Twitter. I was able to bask in and enjoy the aloneness. Today I am the type of person who would leave my phone off because I appreciate the moments in life when I’ve had the joy of unplugged solitude. And this was one of those times. Even if you HAVE your phone, don’t use it as a crutch. Learn to depend on you and enjoy the sights and sounds of the EARTH in all its glory and your place in it.
I honestly can keep my phone in the car or even AT HOME when I’m out because of all the times that FORCING myself to be IN my skin and to have my head where my feet are actually HELPED me HEAL. If I had a phone I would have been sending S.O.S.es to support group friends back home. I would have been FLIPPING OUT. By being FORCED to be there and be there and FACE my ALONENESS, I HEALED.
Avoid the phone. Force yourself to JUST BE.
I don’t know what it would have been like had I had someone that weekend. It might have been very good or very bad, but I know one thing…I would NOT have seen that sunrise. He didn’t do “all nighters” and would not have tolerated staying up all night and not even going to bed for a few hours. I would have missed it completely.
He would have completely overpowered me socially at the dinner and the party. He was a strong singer and the type who “worked the room” with stories and jokes. People doubled over with laughter at his jokes…he had impeccable timing and even if you heard the joke before (many would ask him to repeat them) you would laugh out loud. He was larger than life and so animated and people thought that being married to him must have been a laugh a minute when it was the exact opposite.
I always wound up sitting alone not quite knowing what to do…if I went off to another group that would have been wrong…if I tried to join him that would have been interrupting…so I just sat there smiling but feeling alone and out of place while he enthralled everyone. As soon as we got home, he would be raging at me over something I had done wrong that night or what I was thinking (he was always wrong) or some slight I made toward him during the night. It was always the same post-party. The laughter and song did not continue on the way home. Home was punishment time. For what? It was always news to me. “You’re thinking I…..” No, I’m not thinking that…YES YOU ARE! Don’t lie to me!!! When he was the liar. I learned later – much later – about “frames of reference” and how liars always accuse you of lying because that is what they do…but in those days…after all those parties and social gatherings…I had no idea…and the arguments would rage and I would defend…it was horrible.
This time I was alone and actually able to joke around and sing…I had fun and was able to see the advantages of not being with him at this event.
In fact I felt less alone being alone than being with someone who wanted to work the room. Wow. That was truly a revelation.
It was glorious and I loved it….I had turned a corner. And driving back home that night, I crossed back over the Bourne Bridge without a tear. Turned a corner and crossed a bridge! It was a bonus kind of weekend.
It is not that I never felt lonely again or never wished to be part of a couple when I wasn’t, but never again did it feel like a death sentence or that anything would be better than being alone. No, there was really a benefit to being alone.
I also learned that not every couple is happy and that sometimes it’s a big hassle (and embarrassing!) when you take someone along to your work event.
Once I jumped the hurdle of the first social event, it was a matter of first this and that.
It is absolutely imperative to learn to enjoy good times alone…whether truly alone or just in a situation where you are used to being a couple.
Today that weekend is one of my nicest memories. Not just post breakup life but in my entire life. My workgroup broke up a few years later and even my closest friends from that group eventually faded away and out of my life.
The music we played that weekend seems “old” now but I still like it (I remember us dancing to and singing loudly and goofily to “Would I Lie To You?” by the Eurythmics and I always smile when I hear that song). My company, once an amazing place to work and a Fortune 100 company, went out of business and that was a tough loss almost 8 years later.
So much that I couldn’t see was to happen after that weekend. I was glad that I had managed to find some appreciation for that weekend when I was actually there.
Life took a lot of strange turns after that…looking back that weekend was actually quite fun and nice and I learned to come back across that bridge and cross that bridge quite handily.
Public uncoupling is never fun and never easy but if you look at it, examine it and think about it, you can find the positive side to things and the positive things about you.
You can see the sun rise and come back across the bridge stronger and better than ever.
You can do this!!!
Copyright © Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author
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