We've all just gotten our yearly dose of all things Valentine's day. Some of us may be experiencing hangover-like symptoms. Withdrawals from the rose-colored tinted experience that the holiday brought or didn't bring you this year. Leaving some of us feigning for that romantic high, that IV-dripped plunge into immediate relief that comes with being admired and loved by a special someone.
Experience in the helping profession has helped me infer some observed emotional states and patterns for the months that follow the relationship-focused holidays of November-February. The season can really do a number on people. There's something about our most intimate attachments with others (or reminders that we're not attached) that can set us off on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Valentine's day seems to culturally symbolize that last opportunity to be recognized as a part of a significant relationship until Fall rolls around nine months later with the holidays again. We begin the dreadful walk into the desert, and for some of us, the "I will not go through another holiday single" mantra begins.
Often in our anguish and obsession of coupling we miss out on the lessons that can be learned in a season or seasons of being single. I have found myself in such dry deserts, parched, with dehydrated induced hallucinations of oases where I imagine the luxurious perks of coupling life. Sometimes for much longer periods than I've liked. But, I am a firm believer that we usually don't get what we want. We always get what we need. And sometimes we need to be single. I needed to be single.
There is much insight and development to be gained for our personhood and future personhood from time alone. Opportunities that can only be experienced directly out of being in relationship with self. When we forget that there's a primary relationship with ourselves we can ignore our Universe-assigned quest to figure ourselves out, alone, before we navigate the realm of relationship with others. When alerted by the "OMG, I CANNOT GO THROUGH ANOTHER HOLIDAY SINGLE" we can end up focusing our energy on obtaining the next date, obsessing about how to get the next love interest and when it will happen. We miss out on this especially carved out time made for exploring our own unique philosophy of what it means to be loved and love. The time of Me, Myself, and I.
I've been inspired of late by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell's work, Parenting From the Inside Out. Although their collaborative work focuses on parenting, I was able to find some gems that highlight a process in which we can figure ourselves out to continue developing in our relationships throughout our lifespan. An excerpt from their book: "People who remain in the dark about the origins of their behaviors and intense emotional responses are unaware of their unresolved issues."
Whew, that one swung out of the pages and Fozzie-tomato-splattered me right between the eyes. And if you're like me or anyone with a heartbeat you will probably experience some things that just rub you the wrong way more than other things. And feel bigger than other things. Things that catch you off guard. Things that need to be understood. Because these unresolved issues can wreak major havoc on our relationships.
Why reflect, why figure out how things in our past impact us and the stories we tell ourselves and how we construct our stories? Because the way in which we remember, perceive and tell our stories are linked to how we respond in our relationships. Often the things that are keeping us from being available to others are embedded in this process. Lucky us, we have this thing called Free Will and we can choose to continue closing ourselves off to making sense of the way we have constructed our reality. I honestly understand this coping skill, it numbs the pain and shame. Sadly though, it keeps us stuck. It keeps us from growing into our potential emotionally and relationally. It blocks authentic connection and attunement with others. And if you've ever experienced authentic unblocked attuned connection with an other. You know it is a space of infinite magic. If you haven't yet. Trust me it's worth getting uncomfortable for. It's worth feeling wounded for.
We don't have to give up participating in life as we know it and go on a solo quest into the wild somewhere to find ourselves. Although, personally that sounds very cool and I’m totally for the option of being able to go off the grid and find adventure in this self-exploration quest. Just find the way to do the work. Find your way. Find your thing or things. Dig up those mined gems and invest that wealth into your relationships.
The point is, as Dr. Siegel says, "chance favors the prepared mind." We all know that finding "the one" requires chance, situation, timing and luck. Things out of our control. What is in our control is to have a prepared mind. To understand ourselves. To be in favor of that chance when it lands on our laps.
So let's get to work! Things that I wish I contemplated and made sense of in my earlier seasons of being single:
For those who are I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T and sing the anthem out loud, I am your spirit animal. Been there. Done that. Was it helpful? In some ways. It protected me financially. Emotionally? Not so much.
What I needed to learn: Dependence on an other is normal and is a core human need for our development throughout our lives. We are wired to attach and it is HEALTHY to do so. I’ll repeat myself here, because this is important! It is HEALTHY to NEED someone emotionally and physically. We are the most underdeveloped beings when we are born and require TONS of nurturing and help before we are able to care for ourselves. This need is not only present as infants and children. This need is with us for life. Obviously this need evolves through different developmental phases of our adult lives. But the core need remains. We need each other. If you are uncomfortable with needing someone or when someone needs you, this may be an area to grow in and make sense of. Healthy attachment and understanding valid needs and dependence on someone who we are in a bond with is a main component for healthy and satisfying relationships.
What would it mean to have to depend on someone? I struggled with this concept of attachment and needing an other for a long time. My single mom, reinforced in me, over and over again that I was not to depend on someone else, especially not a man. Although this has served me in many areas of my life and has contributed to my ambition, personal success and discipline, it created a disability in healthily attaching and creating secure connections in my romantic relationships. I possibly suffered more than I needed to, fighting with this dependence thing. Although the belief that supporting myself financially is still important to me, I can see the value of emotional dependence on another. Through some soul-work I have a new understanding of the difference between emotional attachment needs and financial supportive needs. An emotional attachment and emotional security is the glue for love. I do need to depend on someone and others. We all do. It’s about survival. It is primal. It is our birth-right.
Other questions to explore whether you're in a relationship desert or its oasis (Questions for contemplation are from Dr. Siegel and Mary Hartzel's book, Parenting From the Inside Out):
What does it mean for you when someone will need you and have to depend on you?
How do you feel about closeness and separation? Where do you think you learned how to be close or to stay distant? Is this something that makes you feel safe or is it something you want to change?
Do you tend to only want to experience things from a distance?
Do you tend to emotionally relive things from your past? Making it hard to be in the present? Do they seem so intense even though they've happened a long time ago?
Do you remember many details of your early life? (For insight about our narrative/story types, Dr. Daniel Siegel’s work about the Adult Attachment Interview can be helpful.)
If you are in a season of being single, take this time to rejoice, do things that partnered up people can't. Discover all the layers of yourself. Do brave work. Find your own value. Get sweaty from the emotional workout that this type of work calls for and build some new muscles you never knew you had. So when chance comes around the corner, you will be able to reap all its favor.