Some of you may have seen my FaceBook post this past weekend where I mentioned that I was going out of town by myself, ostensibly for a self-imposed writing retreat. That was the major impetus behind it, but the not-too-distant secondary reason was to dispel some ghosts.
When the IM (henceforth known as the Invisible Man – props to Jim for the suggestion!) was a part of our family unit, we would often travel on day trips to Wilmington, NC, about an hour and a half from our home. It’s a city, so it allowed us to escape from the small-town mindset that pervades the area where we live. Diverse people live there, progressive people live there, and there are things to DO. We would park our car on Ann Street, walk down Water Street along the Cape Fear River, go to the Cotton Exchange (which is a maze of shops and eateries in a historic building), stop at one of two or three regular places to eat, head back up Front Street (the main drag), and hop in our car and go home. It was always enjoyable, a fun way to spend the day. The Boy loves walking, and would often try to get us to walk further, but me being 43 and sedentary, and the IM being in his 60s, we would bribe him with ice cream because the walking we had already done was plenty.
Then, when the IM left last year, it felt like I couldn’t enjoy Wilmington anymore because of all the memories. To not be able to enjoy something that you love because of another person’s actions… well, it didn’t seem fair, on top of everything else. I didn’t want to be driven out of one of the only (progressive, cultured) havens left to me here. So I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone – get away to write, and get back to Wilmington to reclaim it as my own.
It was an amazing experience.
The Boy pointed out to me before I left that the last time I had been away from him overnight by myself was four years ago, while attending a work conference, which only reinforced the need to do this. And need it, I did. I thought about myself as a teenager, and what I thought life was about then. I would have told you life was about having a career that you love, yes, but also about finding someone to love, get married, and have kids. My twenty-something self would have said the same, as would my 33-year-old self.
I wish I had done a weekend like this sometime in that span, the younger, the better. I wish the possibility of remaining single had been an option I actually considered. I wish our cultural norms didn’t rely so heavily on the tradition of marriage, of “Mr. Right,” of our wholeness being dependent on finding someone else to complement us.
We are enough.
We do our girls a disservice by not allowing them to see themselves as the source of their own happiness, by expecting marriage (and children), and by painting singleness as something that needs to be temporary or remedied rather than a perfectly valid and healthy way of being. EVERY girl should live on her own for a bit, do things by herself, make her own money and manage it, be the source of her own efficacy. If only so she knows that happiness isn’t dependent upon an attachment to another person.
I was always taught to be independent, and I still saw marriage as the goal for such a long period in my life. I wonder how my life would have been different if our society had given singleness a spot at the table, too.
(Caveat: this is not regret. Life is too short. I have an amazing son I wouldn’t give up for the world, and I wouldn’t have him without my first marriage. I’m still working out what gifts I may have received from the second marriage, but I know they’re there.)
I’ll hop down off my soapbox, but I encourage you, ALL of you (yes, you GUYS, too), to travel somewhere alone for a weekend. Spend some time with yourself. Entertain yourself, do what YOU want, and go eat somewhere alone. I guarantee you will enjoy yourself.