Just the Tip is a sex and relationship column hosted by queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Here you will find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators as well as smart and compassionate responses to anonymous questions. If you have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or DM Jera on Instagram or Twitter @thejerabrown.
Six months ago, I set out on my own in a travel trailer with two dogs. I’ve been roaming around the country by myself ever since .
I’ve mostly stayed in states where I don’t know anyone. I hike alone. I go out to eat and shop alone. I am alone most of the time.
In November, I spent my fortieth birthday alone. By choice.
Thirty-year-old me couldn’t have done this. I would’ve been paralyzed by loneliness and returned home after a week.
But now … I choose this life.
For me, learning how to be comfortable on my own has centered around a slow-building awareness that so much of what I was taught about singleness is fucked up. For instance, an unhealthy idea of singleness taught me to feel that loneliness was a sign that I wasn’t okay or worthy of company.
What follows is the perspective shift I’ve gone through that has helped me embrace and actually choose to be single. This, in turn, makes my alone time way more enjoyable.
Maybe it’ll help you too.
One caveat: Discomfort with being single isn’t the reason that everyone is uncomfortable with solitude. If these two things aren’t closely related for you, maybe this article isn’t a good fit. But if they are related, please read on. Or prefer to listen? You can also watch a video on Instagram with most of the same content.
1. There’s nothing wrong with you for being single.
Western culture tends to see being in a relationship as an accomplishment. Case in point: We regularly celebrate engagements over other more earned life accomplishments. Why are bridal showers and bachelor parties way more common than parties celebrating someone who just opened a new business or published their first book or completed their first marathon?
The inverse of that, then, is that we commonly associate being single with being unworthy. Being single means something is wrong with you.
It’s in our language around singleness: “You just need to work on yourself before you can find someone.” It’s in our jokes: “No wonder she’s single.”
Look, maybe there are reasons you’re not attracting the people you want to attract. And sometimes being single is a very good time to work on yourself. But the fallacy is believing you’re single because you’re broken. You’re not broken. You’re human. You’re always going to be a beautifully messy individual, and the goal shouldn’t be to change that.
Oh and anyone who expects perfection isn’t worth your time.
I should add that, as a solo polyamorous person, my version of being single isn’t traditional. I have romantic partners, but nobody that I share a home with or who I make major life decisions with. When I chose to become a full-time nomad, I consulted how my partners felt about it, but ultimately the decision was mine alone to make for myself.
Learn more about what I mean when I say I’m single.
But this unhealthy view of coupledom isn’t just found in monogamous culture. It’s where we get the whole idea of a “primary partner:” the one that’s supposed to matter more than any other. And while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a primary partner (if you work very hard at remaining sensitive to the needs of everyone you’re involved with), this is our default setup because it’s what we’ve learned from monogamy.
What I mean is that in both monogamy and non-monogamy, we tend to praise coupledom and look down on single individuals.
2. There’s also nothing wrong with being lonely
For a long time, I found loneliness particularly painful because it didn’t feel like a choice. It can feel like being hungry and finding all of the doors to grocery stores and restaurants are locked.
Worse … it feels like all the doors are locked only for you. You can look through the windows and see other people eating, but you can’t figure out why you’re not allowed to join them. You might make up all sorts of reasons in your head why you’re on the outside looking in.
When you don’t want to be alone, then being lonely can feel like being powerless.
So what helps?
Yeah this is totally a serenity prayer moment.
You don’t get to choose when someone worth dating (or simply spending time with) will come along. But there are some things you can accept that make waiting easier.
As mentioned above, being single doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. At least for me, when I finally accepted that, being single got a LOT less painful.
But I also had to accept that feelings of longing and loneliness are not signs something is wrong. Just like being hungry isn’t a sign that something is wrong with me physically. It’s all perfectly natural.
When I accepted that it’s okay to be lonely or to long for something that I don’t have, then the feeling of loneliness became less painful.
In fact, I learned that longing could actually be a good thing! Longing can be a motivator. In the moment, that feeling of longing can feel beautifully bittersweet, but it can also make me excited about the things that are in my life.
Like, I have a lot of freedom right now that I wouldn’t have if I was living with someone. So longing for that kind of life partner and knowing I might have one in the future helps me be grateful for the freedom I have now. My wonderful solitude. My ability to choose what I want to do every day without worrying about whether I’m meeting someone else’s needs.
As I embraced longing and accepted that loneliness is not a sign that something was wrong with me … it became easier to embrace being single. And the more I embraced it, the more I wanted it. At least for right now.
(P.s. I also found that loneliness was very tied to depression for me. And I found Buddhist practices really helped. You can read what Buddhism taught me about loneliness and how I learned to treat loneliness with curiosity.)
3. Whatever your future holds, it’ll be amazing
It had been so ingrained in me that the only way I could ever be happy was if I was sharing my life with someone … at some point I realized, I didn’t think I could have a happy future if I was single. Sigh …
Do you believe this about yourself and your future?
When you think about your future, is your only chance for happiness tied to a very specific ideal relationship? Being with the same person for the next twenty, thirty, forty years?
Why do we do this? Why do we think our future happiness is dependent on someone else?
When you think about the happiest moments in your life, are they always tied to being with a romantic partner? I hope not. I hope you have many wonderful moments with friends, family, and by yourself.
I do. And really embracing that has helped me shape a different perspective of my future.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, all of these truths are connected. If you think that being single is a flaw and that something is wrong with you, it’s really hard to embrace a possible future where you’re single. Or divorced. Or whatever.
Why? Because you’re probably basing your self-worth on your relationship status.
Or, because you haven’t learned to enjoy life on your own.
What if no matter what the future brings, you know you can make the most of it? Sounds a lot like acceptance right?
Here’s how I learned to accept that my future could be amazing no matter what.
- I reflected on my life up until now and realized that—of all of those people that I dated that I thought that I might end up with long term— I was so much better off without them. Or, with them in different roles in my life.
- I thought about times when I was really happy or content, and many of them didn’t involve a romantic partner.
- I acknowledged that I really like who I am and where I’ve ended up. So if I like who I am and where I’ve ended up … and I’m single … that might still be true in the future as well!
Ultimately, how do you start to have hope that your future will be amazing no matter what? Have faith in yourself.
4. Actively work on having faith in yourself
I think this is a choice. I think we have to actively work on believing in ourselves.
What holds us back from having faith in ourselves?
It could be bad messages we received from family members growing up. Or other unhealthy relationships. It can also be shitty cultural messages because we live in a society that’s misogynistic, ableist, racist, agist … the list goes on.
We’re all taught some fucked up shit. That we’re too introverted or poor or broken to be in a healthy relationship. We have the wrong skin color or body shape to be desired. And what happens when we believe any of this? It makes it harder to be single … because being single is our fault. And, it makes it harder to believe in ourselves. See the circular logic?
What if we actively choose to believe that we’re amazing over all of the cultural messages that tell us otherwise?
It’s a choice to continue saying no to these messages and to start saying yes to self-love. It’s a choice to do activities that nurture self-love and find people who support our self-love messages. And the more you make these positive choices, the more comfortable you’ll feel on your own. You’ll begin to desire your own company more and more.
At least I did.