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I have always been the kind of woman who needs a man, like a fish craves a bicycle, and not just for getting up ladders but as an affirmation, a gold star that says, after having been a plain girl with a birthmark in the middle of my forehead, awkward to the point of disaster — look what I have on my arm. Like a falcon trainer, the bird an extension of themselves.
"I can’t believe you’re with such a hot guy," said a high school "friend" at the after-ball party, and it says much that I took it as a compliment, not proof of what a massive dick she was.
I won’t be alone, in this.
"The truth is I like my own company best," sang the Netherworld Dancing Toys’ late lead singer Malcolm Black, but uh-nuh, not me. I find my own company unnerving.
"I don’t think you are being very kind to yourself," said my friend Ruth when, eight months after my last relationship ended, I started seeing a younger man. I thought I was being very kind to myself, travelling the country having adventures and loads and loads of sex; but deep down I knew she was right. Somehow, she saw the times when I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, asking my exhausted reflection what the hell she thought she was doing.
Ruth knew I hadn’t left myself time to grieve for the life and love I had lost; recalibrate my compass, find a new direction. My mother, also a wise woman, said that after my dad died, she’d had to ask herself, "Who am I, now that I am not Rob’s wife?"
Love naturally calls for an abnegation of self. However, letting the person you’re with define you — as an academic wife, the lover of a mountaineer — leaves little room for finding out who you really are. I’ve been a screen for men to project the movie of their life upon and, as a writer, even its narrator. This wasn’t malicious on their part or manipulative — I simply didn’t want to turn and face myself. In an article for Psychology Today called "When you Can’t Stand Being Alone with Yourself", Dr Jill Weber says: "When a person loses touch with their sense of themselves as a separate entity, a consequence may be a very real discomfort with being alone. Women are socialised for empathy, care and responsiveness to others. At its extreme, self-esteem may come to depend completely on relationships with others."
Leading to a relationship revolving door, belief in the myth that romantic love and companionship is everything. That all animals must go two by two. Forgetting that before you can be a good two, you need to be a great one, find self-love first. Even though it’s what every yoga teacher, every "#loveyourself" meme, is always telling us in this ME era.
Spending time alone is the healthiest decision you’ll make — compared with the ones you might make to avoid it. Although, having chosen to schedule some time alone, now comes the scary part. I have an extremely active imagination and a very talky brain, so I’m understandably a little loath to be alone with that mad bitch. A recent study in Science showed people would rather give themselves electric shocks than be alone with their own thoughts for just 15 minutes — and I live in electric-fence country.
I’m not too worried I’ll start talking to myself — I do that already, like a motivational coach whose client can’t remember why she walked into any room, unless it’s the bathroom.
However, no more avoiding loneliness. Instead, I’ll stop, breathe, embrace the discomfort ... and clean the house — it’s soothing. Developing a tolerance for myself, I plan to wallow in the weird little tunes I sing when unguarded and when I start feeling the walls close in, I’ll go out and be with the people, hopefully a better one for my two. No woman is an island. But some time on an island is always nice.