Whenever your heart is banged-up, one of the first things you notice about the world around you is: there are a lot of fucking love songs on the radio. It’s gotta be like on average — what, two out of three are love songs? That’s even true for throwback hip-hop stations. (You know you’re sad when Busta Rhymes and Mariah almost bring a tear to your eye. Okay, bring a tear to your eye, whatever, that was all Mariah.) No joke, a car radio is like an air-conditioned torture device. There you are cruising around with a bruised heart and every other song is a sonic dagger. I should know better but I needed to put some road under me. My friends had decided we should discuss the worst question to answer when you’re single. It doesn’t matter where they place the emphasis – it’s always a fucked-up question:
Why are you still alone?
Why: If the emphasis is on the “why,” it suggests that you know the reason(s) and are either too dumb to do anything about it or sorta stuck and doomed to be you, forever alone.
Are: If the emphasis is on “are,” somehow, then it implies it’s your fault. It’s like you just refuse to play along with the game of love. (Silly you, don’t you see how great love is?)
You: When the emphasis is on “you,” this seems like a compliment, but it’s not. They’ll act like it’s surprising that “you” could still be on the market. But it’s like you’re that house for sale where there was a triple murder back in the early ‘00s. It’s like there must be some horrible secret that keeps any and all buyers from snatching you off the market.
Still: If the emphasis is placed on “still,” then it’s like a comment on your age and how long you’ve been single. I think we all agree those are supercool stats to mix together!
Alone: Then there’s our last option of where to place the emphasis … “alone.” Which is really what all the fuss is about. You are alone. (Bad choice, bro.)
Somehow, it makes other people sad, confused and angry. If you’re really lucky, like me, it makes lots and lots of people around you get emotional one way or another, and then they want to talk about it. Some may wanna game-plan some strategies to change it. Others want to set you up with other singles they know. And then there are the ones who want to get divorced and start dating you. (Um, whoa!) But always, always, always, the underlying message is the same: you’re alone and that is so fucked-up.
I don’t mean to sound sensitive, but you have to understand, I get asked this question all the time by friends, family, neighbors and my dental hygienist. I want to tell them, “Look, I have no fucking idea – so stop asking me.” But like I said, I don’t mean to sound sensitive and they all mean well. So instead, I say, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s the rise of British boy bands. Those yabos fucked up a lot of… no, that’s probably not it.” That way they have an answer and a pretty good idea of why I’m still alone.
If you get asked, “Why are you still alone?” Then you know. Oh, you know. I was asked again recently. Ironically, it was only moments after I’d received an email from a woman whom I adore. You see, she’d written to explain why, although she also adores me, we can plan no future together. It’s because she needs to be alone. I get that she needs to do her own thing. We all do from time to time. I’m sure she’ll be one of hell of a butterfly whenever she emerges from her cocoon of self.
Trouble for me is, I’d made it perfectly clear that I was prepared to consider the couple thing. In all fairness, she’s really smart not to make any plans for our future. (No point in waiting on the “old her” because she’ll be a new and different person. I guess I will be, too.) Who knows how she’ll feel and where anyone will be once she’s grown her wings? The future is always unknown. For now, she knows she needs to be by herself. That’s all there is to it.
This is a perfect example of why I am still alone. And why I still have no good answer when anyone asks me. What do you say? I’m alone because someone else needs to be alone, I guess.
When your well-meaning friends raise the question, “Why are you still alone?” they usually see your solitude as something of a tragedy. They don’t mean to hurt you, of course. But if they see your life as tragic, the subtext cuts you, sight unseen. It’s like how some people will point out that you being alone is a damn shame because, “you would be such a good mother/father.” Ah, yes. Thank you for pointing that out. Very kind of you. It almost makes up for the fact that what you’re actually pointing out is what else I don’t have. Thanks for that. You will be. One day. In the future. You start to hear patterns in people’s assessments of you, your promise, and all the reasons they worry and how they handle their worries about the fact you are still alone.
But I think, you and I, we both know that we live in the Eternal Now. All we have is now. As others tell us how great our future will be one day … we know we must slog through today, the rest of the present day. Still alone.
That’s not to say that you or anyone needs a partner. There is nothing wrong with being alone. Hell, I’m getting pretty good at it. Perhaps, at this moment, you should be alone. Perhaps, you don’t need or want a partner. There ain’t nothing wrong with thinking that. If that’s truly how you feel. (It’s important to occasionally question your feelings. Poke ‘em a little to make sure they’re real.) Perhaps, some of us need to spend time with ourselves; take one of those journeys of the self like the woman I adore, who’s doing her caterpillar⇒butterfly thing.
Recognizing that you need to spend time with yourself, alone, is a vital decision. It can be vastly rewarding, life-changing. What does it really mean to be alone? And what does it mean if, like me, you were rejected, and now, that’s the cause of your solitude? Nothing. It means nothing. Because it can mean whatever you want it to mean. You assign all meaning in your life, and in this case, to your solitude. Tell yourself whatever story you want. There are at least 8 billion ways to be alone. Choose one.
I would counsel you, as I’m presently counseling myself: Do not feel rejected. Do not fall into the trap of self-pity. If you wish to pity anyone, pity them for missing out on you. I’m serious. It’s important you keep your confidence and place well and smartly your pity. You need to keep a tight grip on your perspective, lest you be overwhelmed by sadness.
Keep in mind, if you’re riding on the low road like me, what appears to be your loss, what looks like your shitty misfortune, may actually be fresh manure covering the seeds of something better. You just can’t see it yet because of all the shit in the way. Use a farmer’s eyes and see that pile of shit as great fertilizer.
One thing’s for certain, if you are alone you are always free to find a new fate. Chances are 50/50 it gets better. That’s not bad odds when you think of it that way. Who knows what interesting stranger you might meet this week? (If you want to hold onto that shred of hope, yes, perhaps, they will come back. This is unwise to count on because it ties you to the past.) But please do whatever feels best for you because one ever knows about the future.
That is the terrifying joy of the future – it is the great unknown, unseen, and out there just before you. Again, I counsel you with the same words I’m telling myself: Use that unknown to your advantage. Make the future work for you.
How do you use the future? By casting tomorrow in its appropriate light – it’s the darkness just over the horizon.
Or, to use a less poetic metaphor, let’s say you’re driving in the desert. It’s nighttime. You have some music on, music you love, and the lyrics seem to be speaking about your life right now. In your rearview, you see your past. It’s receding into darkness. You’re left only with the memories of where you just were. Before you, your headlights shine against the night. You can see where you’re headed and what’s illuminated in the tiny bubble of light around your car, but other than that the night is as dark as a hangman’s nightmares. There out past your headlights, lying in the impenetrable pitch black darkness is the future. That’s where the future exists — if one can use that term – it’s there out past your headlights.
You can’t see it. So fuck it. Don’t worry about it. There could be a ten-car pile-up and a snarling traffic jam ahead. Or it could be smooth sailing, you won’t know until you get there. Right now, you’re here. Or flip it: You’re here for now. This is also where you are alone. If that makes you sad, well, sisters and brothers, I hate to say it, but you need to feel that sadness.
Sip on your sadness like petit syrah. Get drunk on your heartbreak. If you really need to, go on an emotional bender. Get hammered on your sadness for days and days. But before it stretches into weeks and weeks, sober up, clean yourself up and remember you can’t dwell in drunken sadness.
Steel your heart with the fact that you may feel alone, passed over, unwanted, rejected; you may feel the pain of the loss of the life you thought you were living, but eventually those feelings should be left to the past. Eventually, those feelings are no longer new and they should slip from your grip like litter out your open car window, as you watch it in your rearview and your feelings of rejection flutter and fall into your past like garbage.
We live in the Eternal Now. You can’t touch the past and you can’t hear the future. All you have is right now. You’re telling yourself the story of what’s going on, you write the pages of your life, so keep hold of your perspective like it was a pen in your hand.
There may be no good answer to the question: Why are you still alone? You don’t need one. You just are. (Unless, you have a pretty good idea, like, you’re a raging alcoholic and a dope fiend. If so, you should probably seek help.)
Personally, I’m gonna go listen to some Otis Redding. As you probably already know, music (particularly soul music) is the world’s best medicine for sadness. After some Otis, I’m gonna tell myself I’ll be fine because I trust in the great weirdness of life. And I look forward to the surprises to come. If your family and friends and dental hygienist are driving you crazy, wondering why are you still alone, please remember:
There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t give in to self-pity or bitterness. It’s their loss. You just need to keep trucking. It’s a long road and one never knows what comes next.