While the phrase “social distancing” is making its way into self-improvement headlines, my experience of singlehood amplifies.
Unlike people in relationships, I don’t have a loving arm to lean on. I made a solo move to a new country just a month and a half ago. I was prepared for a solid dose of aloneness to begin with. But just after I started making first connections here in Edinburgh — the virus came.
I decided to stop seeing people and self-isolate. For a week now, the only person I’ve interacted with face-to-face has been my one flatmate.
Living in these trying times without a partner reminds me of how strong and capable I can be on my own. Of course, I’m never really on my own. I have friends and family all over the world. I talk to at least one of them every day now.
But the rest of the time, I spend in my own company. Solo. Alone. Isolated. This makes me realize how much I changed since I first set out on my self-awareness journey four years ago.
To me, self-awareness is the central part of personal growth. I also value habit-building, routines and challenging myself. But, in my understanding, none of that is helpful if I don’t know why I’m doing it in the first place.
For that, I need self-awareness. This has been the critical meta-skill I’ve been working on for the past four years.
At this point, it may be good to explain what exactly I mean by self-awareness. Rather than looking at it as a soft skill I could put on my resume, it’s about the quality of the relationship I have with myself.
To be self-aware is to monitor your inner events — such as emotions, thoughts, impulses — in real time, without trying to manipulate them. I like to refer to self-awareness as “mindfulness of the self.” It’s the knowledge of what’s going on inside of you right now.
This knowledge of current events can then compound to give you insights into the bigger picture. For example, you may notice yourself reacting with irritation to a specific colleague at work. Then, you see this happening again. And again. The repetitiveness of a pattern may be a valuable piece of information about long-term dispositions you have.
In that case, self-awareness can give you general information about your personality. But the ability to be aware of yourself in the present is the basic building blog of self-awareness.
For the past four years, this is what I’ve been training myself to do. Observing how I feel and what I think gave me big-picture insights into how I interact with others.
One of the most important ones was about how I used to approach intimacy.
Around the time when I began my self-awareness journey, I also experienced my last romantic relationship.
Up until that point, I was driven to engage with men unconsciously. I didn’t know what I wanted from a partner. All that mattered was that I couldn’t bear being alone.
Because of that, I looked for love in all the wrong and weird places. I offered my heart to guys who just wanted to fuck. However, I didn’t see it happening. I was living in the fantasy world where any person interested in me was a potential candidate for a prince.
It’s hard to admit it, but that was how I used to live my life. I didn’t care about the merit of any of the relationships or romances I engaged in. I had no clue what my needs where in terms of intimacy. All that mattered was to be with someone. Anyone.
Whoever showed me a hint of affection had a chance to become my lover. I felt like I couldn’t afford to waste any opportunities.
I guess I could’ve continued that way for much longer. Luckily, I stumbled upon meditation and other tools for growing my self-awareness.
I started turning inwards and getting to know myself. With that, everything else started changing, too.
At first, meditation made me aware of why I engaged with all those guys in the first place.
I realized why I craved their affection so much. It was a form of validation that I was a worthy human being. It also became an approval stamp on my attractiveness as a woman.
The big insight that came after this was that I didn’t need a man to complete me. This wasn’t the purpose of a healthy relationship. Using my lovers to fill a self-worth void was doing me more harm than good. Engaging in intimacy for the wrong reasons was only amplifying my hunger in the long run.
Whenever a lover was near, I felt comforted. But much like a drug addict, I would start craving another dose of affection as soon as he left. This created neediness so big that I couldn’t recognize myself for it.
Then, that neediness also repelled any intimate partner I managed to find.
Realizing that this mechanism had been at work all my life was a game-changer. First, I started being more conscious of how I behaved around my partner at the time.
Ultimately, it led us to go our own ways. We separated in peace and hope that it was for the better. And I still believe it was.
However, I’ve been unable to enter any new romantic relationship since then.
Realizing that I could be single and fine at the same time was a big discovery. Before, I had always assumed that a relationship was a must-have for a happy life.
But there I was, proving to myself that my own company was enough.
Sure, I’ve experienced many difficult days since then. However, this difficulty doesn’t demand another person to relieve it. Instead, I learned how I can comfort myself.
As I go deeper into my self-awareness journey, I see the temporary nature of human experience more clearly. The challenging emotions don’t last forever. In fact, some scientists believe that if we don’t cling to it, any emotion passes naturally after 90 seconds.
Each time I went through an emotional cycle alone, I emerged stronger on the other side. Each time, I proved to myself that I was equipped to deal with my own mind. It wasn’t always perfect. Sometimes, I binged on food or scrolled social media to cover up the discomfort. Other times, I did more healthy things — like going on a walk, meditating or doing breathing exercises.
The exact coping mechanisms weren’t that important. The important part was my emerging understanding that no other human has an innate capacity to make me feel safe, loved or comforted.
They only reason it looks like they do is because we assign such “magic powers” to them. We tend to deem our romantic partners as “the most special” person in our lives. We make ourselves believe their company is more supportive than anything in the world.
But it’s just our minds at play. It’s us delegating the power to take care of ourselves to another person.
Becoming more self-aware allowed me to understand that. I also realized I could turn this around.
I’m now able to assign this “special person” status to myself. That’s been a major shift that allows me to support myself through the biggest emotional turmoil.
Increased self-awareness also means a greater understanding of my own needs. Because of that, I became more discerning in selecting a partner — or any person I get even remotely intimate with.
Back in the day, I used to fall in the arms of anyone who opened them for me. This behaviour was driven by neediness. Now, I often feel it’s better to be alone than in bad company.
Because I know what truly nurtures me, I don’t want to be with a guy who’s oblivious to my needs. Unfortunately, my experience so far has been that most men are like this. My partners or hook-ups often insisted on having sex even after I made it clear I didn’t want it. This way, they signalled that their desires mattered more to them than my boundaries.
Sex is just one example. In general, I don’t want to be intimate with anyone who lives their life unconsciously. This eliminates a big group of people from the onset.
Then, there are other preferences I developed as a result of my increased self-awareness.
Reading this, you may think that I’m picky or even selfish. It may seem like I want a prince on a white horse, who fits ideally into my vision of the word. As if no one short of perfect was allowed in my personal space.
This isn’t the case, though. Being aware of my needs, I can now meet many of them on my own. This means that my “checklist” of desired qualities in a potential partner is not long at all. There aren’t many items on it.
That said, the few items I have on my list are non-negotiable. And, they don’t seem to be prevalent in the men around me. This adds to my difficulty in finding a partner who would enhance my life experience — rather than subtract from it.
Because what’s the point of a relationship if it makes your life worse, not better?
An example of an essential item on my list is vulnerability. I can’t imagine being with someone who doesn’t at least have a desire to try and open up to me. The most profound connections I’ve ever had were rooted in vulnerability and self-disclosure. If that isn’t present, I don’t know what’s the point of an intimate relationship.
I feel like I became an essentialist when comes to finding a partner. I don’t have many expectations — but the ones I have are non-negotiable. And because they also appear rare in our society, I’ve been single for the past four years.
I rarely complain about it, though.
The new reality created by the coronavirus outbreak is reminding me what’s important. We’re all being shown that our future plans and hopes may need to be put on hold.
This causes me to turn my attention to the present. More than ever before, I live my life one day at a time. I focus on what I can do and appreciate today.
Surprisingly, being single is one of those things.
Finding myself alone in such a trying time shows me how strong I’ve grown. I see more clearly than ever that self-awareness has changed my life. At this point, there’s no person in the world that I’d rather be. I’m happy to be myself, even though it feels tough sometimes.
I feel like being single for that long is a required part of my path. I see it as my responsibility to embrace it and learn any lessons that come from my singlehood.
I still believe that a fulfilling relationship awaits me somewhere down the road. If it does, I’ll approach it from a different place than what I used to do. If I intimately engage with someone again, it won’t be in a desperate attempt to fill my emotional void.
It will be because I’ll have so much love inside me that to share it will be the only reasonable choice. A companion will be required to contain the entire load of vulnerability, affection and compassion that flows through my experience.