Illustration by Sarah Steenland and Torre DeRoche
I’m going to tell you a tragic story of the most terrible imaginable thing in the world.
I’ll wait while you grab a box of tissues…
Once upon a time, there was a healthy, professional Western woman in her 30’s who found herself in a major life crisis due to one terrifying fact:
She was suddenly single.
Life was being a total bitch to this white, able-bodied woman. It wasn’t quite the wonderland she’d come to expect from the Disney movies. Happy endings were not real. Walt was a liar.
For starters, dads die, which sucks for obvious reasons. But worse: these kinds of disasters have a way of coinciding with other major disasters, such as a long-term relationship ending, because motorbiking the world is definitely a lot more fun for a free spirit than sitting on the floor of a hospice room. Who wants to be caged up like that when you can be thrusting your body into wind and bugs at 80 miles an hour?
Viva la dead bug!
The worst part about getting motorbike’d by your significant other is that it tends to happen at precisely the same moment that – despite everything you believed up until an hour before your 30th birthday – wrinkles, depression and grey pubic hair are conditions that don’t just happen to a tragic sector of the human species called The Elderly.
They are happening to ALL OF US.
This rude awakening thrust the dear protagonist of this story so deeply into a state of turmoil that no Louise Hay affirmation could cheer her up. Manifest this, Louise.
Eckhart Tolle could set off dog paddling for a melting icecap for all she cared, because despite her considerable efforts to train herself into thinking that time is a meaningless construct of the modern world and that the only state of being that exists is The Now, all the The Nows were still tallying up into a cluster of shitty yesterdays and a cluster of shitty envelopes from the tax department in shades of white, then pink, then red.
Time was real.
Time was urgent.
The news was a bleak reminder of this:
ANTARCTICA SET TO LOSE ICEBERG THE SIZE OF DELAWARE!
Yes, global warming was quite important, sure.
But who cares about rapidly vanishing wildlife when you’re rapidly losing sex appeal?!
Unlike Antarctica, her deterioration was visible every morning in the mirror and no wrinkle cream could relax the gathering Roman numerals of worry between her eyebrows.
Worrying about being single was only making her singledom worse, which made her worrying worse, which made her singledom worse, which is something called a positive feedback loop.
(She learned that in an article about climate change.)
(It was anything but positive.)
Even a pricey, celebrity-endorsed facial cream that boasted a key ingredient of Petri-dish human foreskins for skin renewal seemed little more than a gimmick, but she was desperate.
She bought it.
It burned her eyes.
It also made her an actual dickhead.
Things had gone from bad to worse.
One day, after a burst of energy that was entirely caffeine induced, she booked a plane ticket on her credit card, on a whim, just like that, with the click of a button, because she was so impulsive and brave, and therefore hopefully loveable?
She wondered if this meant she was courageous and full of chutzpah, on a wild and daring adventure called life, or if she was a madwoman who was free-falling in a death spiral, nose to ground, both wings on fire.
Nobody can ever know the answer to this for sure, but here’s one thing we can all be sure of: Nobody loves a madwoman.
And so she uploaded a meme on social media that said “Carpe diem!” and 12 people liked it, which helped to convince her of option one: She was full of courage and chutzpah.
Spain. A destination that would look great in the background of her photos, because if your life falls apart in the woods and nobody is there to Instagram it, does it really make a sound?
She needed to disappear to a destination that could only be described using lots of desirable adjectives like ‘quaint’ and ‘dreamy’ and ‘charming,’ a place where she knew she would never run out of meandering, self-indulgent strings of descriptive language. The more fluffy adjectives she had at her disposal, the more padding she had between her private animal rawness and her neat public façade.
There, surrounded by quaint eateries and charming architecture, nestled among the dreamy fog-shrouded hills, she would journal each evening about the cute errors she’d make while trying to speak the local language, such as “Pass me the fuck,” when what she meant to say was ‘fork,’ which would make everyone laugh; which would make that dark-eyed, long-lashed man look up from his pasta to hold eye contact with her for a steamy length of time.
Of course he would!
Everyone would want to pass her a fuck!
She was so loveable!
Well, okay, she felt more like “a pathetic looser” than “loveable”, but she hoped to become loveable somewhere on her journey, when she met that One who could help her iron out her brow wrinkle and deeply furrowed life crisis.
That One. That Person. That Soul Mate. She’d been promised this person by every love song ever written, every film with a feel good ending, every sickening couple licking faces in the park, poking at her empty heart with their forked tongues.
Once she found Him – that handsome and intelligent, masculine-but-soft, kind-but-confident, talented-but-humble, stoic-but-able-to-cry-in-sad-movies, into-dogs-not-cats, funny-but-serious, successful-but-not-too-busy-coz-Netflix The One, her life would finally begin.
He was out there.
She knew it.
She just had to find him.
There was no other option.
Without him there was no point in anything, really.
She had wrapped her entire life force around this one simple goal:
Everlasting, movie-style love.
And then, armoured in romance, her life could begin for reals.
After that, she totally had plans to get straight onto some bigger issues, like the acidification of the oceans and the widening poverty/wealth divide and all other problems that existed outside of her own navel.
Only then could she become the kick-ass warrior she truly wanted to be.
Life could be so disappointing.
Who is the wanker in this story?, I bet you’re wondering.
Yeah, okay, she was me a couple of years ago.
But I know I’m not alone in suffering from this wretched way of thinking. Being single can be a terrifying prospect for many of us. Researcher Stephanie Spielmann studied fear of loneliness in 3,000 people and found that:
“… due to a fear of being alone, people tended to either stay in unhealthy relationships or settle for partners who were not ideal.”
Do you realise how crazy that is?
We would rather be MISERABLE than single!
But here’s the thing: after my Very Awkward Breakup, once I got over the fear of being single (which took about a year if we’re being honest), I realised that being solo isn’t actually all that terrible. In fact, it’s kind of magical sometimes.
With a freed schedule and a lot of heart to spare, I was able to nurture new forms of love. Love for friends. Love for new passions. Love for reading, for wandering, for the planet…
Being alone ebbs and flows like relationships do, with good days and bad days, pros and cons. For example, you get to spend your free time exploring your own interests and personal growth, which is an incredible gift … but there is nobody there each day to see you grow, which sucks. You don’t have anyone to chat with each evening about the minutia of your day, which is a downside … but you’re also not emotionally invested in someone else’s minutia, which is liberating.
It’s worth considering that everything we believe to be so terribly awful about being single comes from stigma and myth, not reality.
To get rid of these myths, we need to stop taking pity on singles by setting them up with that weird guy Darren from accounting and start recognising that they’re experiencing a wonderful (if temporary) gift of freedom that we should encourage.
We need to stop discriminating against singles through relating to them like they’re broken, tragic and lost. Maybe they’re courageous as fuck for leaving an asshole when so many among us endure miserable marriages out of fear of solitude.
We need to start sharing more empowering stories around other forms of love besides the romantic kind…
Calling all stories!
To celebrate the September release of my new book The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World – a story about overcoming heartbreak – I’m inviting you all to share love stories, but with a twist:
I want to read love stories that aren’t the traditional kind. I want stories that express how deep, nourishing connection isn’t limited to the confines of romance.
Sometimes it’s a really good friendship. Sometimes it’s a restored connection to a parent. Sometimes it’s a pet. Sometimes a passion. Sometimes it’s a lamp post named Sookie.
Tell me a love story. Help me break the myth that romance is the only way to feel deeply connected to love. Help me make singledom a less terrifying prospect.
As philosopher Alain de Botton says:
“Only once singlehood has completely equal prestige with its alternative can we ensure that people will be free in their choices and hence join couples for the right reasons; because they love another person, rather than because they are terrified of remaining single.”
How it will work:
I will pick three winners myself and re-publish them on this blog (with your permission, of course). You can publish your piece in any way you please – on your blog, on Facebook, on Medium, in the comments section below, or by private message if you’re feeling shy.
I’ll be looking for honesty and heart, so don’t hold back!
If you do publish publicly, please let me know you’ve submitted your story by hashtagging #friendlove and linking to my Fearful Adventurer Facebook Page, so that I can find your entries. Tag your friend if you feel like sharing the love. Tag my new book if you feel like telling people about it. That’d be great.
Open to US / Canadian entries only for postage reasons.
Competition closes on September 1, 2017.
I have three Worrier Survival Packs to give away, which contain everything you need to get through a bout of heartbreak and crippling existential panic (except for a new planet – sorry, they were out of stock).
Survival Packs contain:
- A copy of The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World.
- Keep Calm and Carry On plasters (for all the blisters you’ll no doubt get after putting one foot in front of the next).
- Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye sunglasses (to help focus your affections towards nourishing friendships).
- Strawberries socks (to remind you to keep your eyes out for magic).
- A carry bag for your wine (because obviously).
I’m excited to read your stories! xo