Sometimes, if I’m honest, I want to compromise a little. I want to bend the rules I set for myself. I’m lonely, and it would be so much easier not to be if I was willing to wiggle my standards down lower. But lower is how I got here in the first place. Lower isn’t going to make me happy.
But is this happiness, this creeping sense of isolation? I’ve done everything we’re told to do when we’re alone. I love myself. I enjoy my time alone. I’ve curated a beautiful life for myself. I step outside my comfort zone. I jumped out of an airplane, for goodness’ sake, not once but twice! I am facing my fears and living my life, but sometimes, I just want to fall asleep with another person’s arm wrapped around me and the sound of another heartbeat in the room that doesn’t belong to a pet or my child.
There are days I feel as if I am coming undone, slowly unraveling from the strain of holding it all together and being the one to hold myself as I fall asleep. I want. I want. But I’ve come too far to negotiate the non-negotiables. That’s how I messed up before. I can’t afford to do that now.
So, I don’t send a text when I haven’t been getting them. I remind myself that one of my commitments was to put the energy in that I was getting back out. It’s a testament to my tenacity that I haven’t broken this rule more often. I’ve suffered through far too many relationships where most of the effort came from me. It’s not too much to ask for equal time and effort spent staying in touch. It’s a hard line in the sand that I can no longer cross because to do so, to cross that line, would be to walk backward into a past I worked hard to leave.
This was particularly true when I briefly toyed with online dating. I wanted to date. I wanted to meet new people, and I went into it with a good attitude and the best of intentions. But so much of the time, it was my energy going into it while I got very little back out. There would be demands for me to be entertaining while I was not even the tiniest bit entertained. Disengaging was the only answer because I would not perform on command for people logging on to dating apps to do the bare minimum.
Dating experts at The Gottman Institute validate this approach to dating. We all have an emotional bank account. For every single negative interaction in a relationship, we need 5 positive ones. That’s just during conflict. For everyday life, the ratio needed is 20 positive interactions for every single negative one. That might seem like a lot, but think about it in terms of healthy relationships. Are they more positive or negative? Is there an emotional investment in the relationship, or is it just draining? For online dating, I couldn’t keep putting in effort when I was getting minimal participation and few positive experiences to balance out the negative ones.
There are other relationships I’ve been tempted to revisit. Wouldn’t that be simple? There’s no need to start from scratch. There’s only the effort needed to reach out and make an overture. But I know now what I’ve known for a while — these connections didn’t work out for a reason. Good reasons. I know I can recognize the right fit, but it’s just as important to recognize one that’s wrong.
I’m lonely, and it would be easy to ignore what I know. I could trade a night of companionship for a hard day when I would have to be honest with myself. But that road is well-traveled, and I don’t want to visit it anymore. Part of growing up is accepting that we can like someone, enjoy their company, and still recognize that they aren’t right for us.
Author Mark Manson highlights 4 major areas of compatibility: life priorities, preferences, fundamental beliefs, and values. When these align, we have a better chance of long-term relationship sustainability. Without compatibility in these areas, relationships naturally offer more challenges and more opportunities to fail.
It’s just as tempting to allow my daydreams to go in another direction. I could dwell on the relationship I wanted that didn’t work out. I could allow myself to open up the door to what if and if only. But to what end? There’s no way this ends well, and all it does is rip open the wound that’s finally begun to heal.
Too often, we revisit the past — if only in our minds. We look for a fantasy to take away the sting of reality. The lover who sweeps back in and wants to try again. The one who got away who realized the error of their ways. The almost-relationship that finally got the timing right. The missed opportunity, missed no longer.
Preoccupation with the past doesn’t give us peace. It’s a fleeting distraction from the lived experience of loneliness. We can go there, but we’ll come back worse for having done so.
On Love and Loneliness
It would be so easy to betray myself for love because I’m lonely. But I can’t betray myself because of love. I finally love myself enough to say no to that impulse. I love myself enough to choose loneliness by myself over loneliness with a person who isn’t right for me.
It’s hard being an adult and making grown-up choices. It’s hard to willingly choose the hard path when the well-trod path looks so much easier. But I’ve gone down all those roads, and I have the scars to show for it.
I’m trying something new. So, no, I won’t compromise on the hard days when I want so badly to reach out and make myself feel a little better now at the cost of feeling worse later. I accept that feeling lonely hurts and that no amount of distraction or denial will change it.
I let gratitude for the life I’ve built coexist with the loneliness I’m feeling, and I don’t judge myself for it. I’m giving myself compassion where I once gave myself an easy way out. I’m giving myself strength when I feel like it would be so much easier to give in. I recommit to honoring myself because I am the only one who can.
Originally published on Medium