Cue the music: All byyyyyyyyyyy mysellllllf…don’t wanna be….alllllll byyyy mysellllllfff…
Wait. Maybe I do. Sigh.
To make a very long and painful story mercifully short, I rebounded into a relationship and a couple of weekends ago the man just up and r-u-n-n-o-f-t, to quote O Brother, Where Art Thou?. I am now personally starring in the sequel to that movie entitled O Dan, WTF Happened?! Now, I have had my share of painful breakups, but I have never before experienced someone just packing up their tools, clothes, guns and dogs and gittin down the road. There is the expected shock and dismay, the anger, feeling like a fool, and all that. But in the end, since money sunglasses are what I put on, I found myself marking the costs of being alone.
For one thing, it’s tough financially to be alone, unless you make an outstanding wage and/or have a limited cost of living. Quite simply it helps to have an extra paycheck when it comes to paying the bills. There’s also a sort of emotional security blanket that comes from having a second wage earner in or near the household, because if the economic chit really hits the fan, you have exponentially expanded your options for dealing with the fallout. When you’re on your own, there is no such safety net. The fruit of your hand is truly the only harvest you can expect.
There are also increasing in-kind labor costs. No one there to help with the lawn means you have to figure out how to either do the work yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. If he fixed things and you didn’t, you either have to scrounge up the money yourself to pay for the repairs or you hit Google and YouTube and pray you can figure it out. But on the other hand…my home is cleaner. I’m doing less laundry. My utility and grocery costs are down.
The money stuff is just a surface coating over all the deeper emotional issues, of course. At the core of it, I feel abandoned. It’s easier to worry about how I’m going to pay for groceries now that he walked away from his job and from me. That’s a tangible thing toward which to vent my frustration. Less tangible is my need to march around the house squalling “Oh my God, he abandoned me! Bastard!” Shortly followed by, “I really am alone, aren’t I? What now…?”
What indeed? What does it mean to be alone? I have a young teenage son, so technically I’m not really alone physically, though at times I have to be when he goes to see his relatives for periods of time (like this summer when he’ll be gone for a good two and a half months). But since I provide for my son’s well being and not the other way around, I don’t really see that as a partnership (nor do I really want to, truth be told). So being alone means a lot of different things right now.
It means no one to help pay the bills. No one to make random comments to about the world around me. No one to blame but myself for things that go wrong. No one to advise me immediately on those parts of life for which I have no experience (“Honey, why is this thing dripping water?”). No one to have dinner with or cuddle up next to at the end of a long day. No one to make coffee for in the morning but me. No one to go mucking up my very important interior design schemes! No sex. I’m not really a one night stand kind of person.
I’m not sure how to value some of these things. My outlook on life is strongly centered around personal finance and metaphors of wealth, so part of me tries to weigh these things as a cost/benefit analysis. If my heart is a wreck, what is the value of that, compared, say, to the fact that my home is the cleanest it has ever been and my grocery bill is super-cheap right now? What is the value of not having to endure yet one more ludicrous fight about religious issues? What is the true loss of not being able to have coffee with him in the morning and laugh at his jokes? I think I just lost 1.4 years of my lifespan because I am no longer in a committed, long term relationship. But how many did I add by de facto removing on average one to two crying jags per month? Were the crying jags releasing toxins that are still hanging around my body now? Was he the toxin that just got released? (Watch out, a free radical is on the loose.)
If he started projects that require a carpenter to finish, do I knock them down and burn the wood in a fit of whooping and soul purging, or do I find the money to finish them? Which experience is really “worth” more? What is the value, exactly, of my time, now that it isn’t being poured into the relationship? Did my quality of life just go up or down?
These are the things I think about when I don’t want to think about that basic, stone-in-the-belly thought: he left me.
Ultimately, I am not at all sure what I think about all that. For now, it’s enough to get through the day and realize, yes, that is one more day proving you can do these things by yourself. Or at least figure out how to get them done. What if my middle age and older age is characterized by being alone? Is that the same as being lonely? I don’t think it is. But I have so few models to follow that are not steeped in suffering and a measure of insecurity — widows, like my mother, come to mind.
I know few older women living purposefully and happily alone. What does it mean to be a single woman again in her mid-thirties? What about the 40s and 50s? What about beyond? I have no model for such thoughts. Perhaps it’s time to pour some wine and instead of tearing about the house ranting about what a bastard he was for r-u-n-n-o-f-t contemplate what that model of a successful and alone-but-not-lonely woman looks like.