This is a topic that is always coming up in conversation, and I’ve chatted to a couple of different people recently about it, so I thought I’d tackle it.
If someone asked you, ‘Is it better to be on your own or alone in a relationship?’, how would you answer?
Without thinking, a lot of people would prefer to be in the relationship, because the thought of being on their own scares the hell out of them. Sometimes this comes up for me, especially around this time of year as it is almost 11 years since I ended an engagement. Although we weren’t married, we were living together, had bought our own place and were tied financially but there was always something nagging at me that wasn’t right. I loved my partner, however I felt like we had drifted apart and it had become more of a friendship.
The biggest thing I have realized is that no matter how much you care about someone, if your hierarchy of values is different, chances of it working are quite slim. Not impossible, but slim. For example, he placed financial security above relationships, which, while financial security is important and something a majority of people want, myself included, my relationship was more important. Being present in the relationship was more important. Ultimately, this wasn’t going to work because our priorities were different. He was happy to forgo the day to day frivolities and be home every day, knowing he was saving for/paying off investments. Don’t get me wrong, I think investing if you can is a great idea, however I wasn’t in a position to do that at the time and felt that our present was suffering at the hand of our future – the problem with that was I felt like there wasn’t going to be a future because there was no present. It needs to be balanced or you need the same hierarchy. If I was the sort of person that was happy to sit at home every day, watch TV, play the Playstation and do sport 5 times a week, it would’ve worked for me too! It’s no different to someone who places career above relationships – in my world, that’s never going to fly. I’m ambitious and want to do well in my working life, but when it comes down to it, my relationships will always win out – whether it be with my partner, family or even the relationship with myself.
Personally, I am pretty happy with my life as it is right now, however, I do feel the effects of being single at different times, especially around Xmas/New Year when people are getting together with their partners and going away on trips or having that lovely midnight kiss to welcome in the new year. Like most females, I want to be in a relationship, though I am not so hell bent on it that I would sacrifice myself, or what I want my life to be, just to be in one. A few people have said to me that they admire my strength and ability to just be who I am without the need to be defined by a man. As lovely as that compliment is, it’s not something that’s just landed in my lap – I’ve had to do a fair amount of hard work on myself and my insecurities, fears and hang ups to be able to be really honest with myself and find peace. I still have some of those fears and insecurities, though a majority of the time, I don’t let them overwhelm or rule me. It’s hard and often confronting, though you need to be really honest with yourself and handle your baggage if you’re ever to truly move forward. It takes time and courage, but everyone has the ability to do it if they really want to.
OK, so to put it into perspective and real world situations, I’m going to give you 2 scenarios and I want you to have a think what sounds better to you:
Kelly has been in a relationship with a man for 6 months. They have a lot of fun together and he makes her laugh. They go out for dinner or watch a movie and generally do things couples do, yet he withholds from her emotionally and intimately. Sometimes he’ll hold her hand, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he’ll kiss her, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he’ll sleep with her, other times he won’t. He doesn’t always call her and can let several days go by without any contact. He may not return her texts and when he finally does contact her, will give her some excuse as to why he’s been out of contact, reasoning it away with humour. Not wanting to be that ‘needy’ girl, Kelly lets it go. Again. He may feel he is doing nothing wrong but the average guy who wants to truly be with his girlfriend will generally be in contact with her daily or at least frequently/consistently. She has begun to notice a pattern, though as much as she tries to ignore it, she wonders why it keeps happening and she starts to get down on herself.
Isn’t he attracted to me? Doesn’t he want to be with me? It’s been 6 months – doesn’t he have an idea of what he wants by now? What’s wrong with me?
As most women do, she tries to rationalise it. Maybe he’s just scared of getting hurt? Maybe he wants to take things slow? Maybe I’m expecting too much? Once she’s rationalised it in her mind, Kelly starts to relax and allows the behaviour to continue because he’s with her and if he didn’t want to be there, he’d leave right? Temporarily, Kelly is feeling better and things continue on as they always have. After all, she is grateful she is in a relationship – a lot of people don’t have anyone. A few weeks later, her man books and pays for a holiday for himself and doesn’t include her in his plans. This hurts Kelly as she doesn’t really understand why, given they have been together for 6 months. While she understands that he doesn’t need her permission to go on a holiday, wouldn’t he want to go away with her? This makes Kelly feel sad and unloved and feelings of abandonment and isolation start to creep in. When she asks him about it, he brushes it off and doesn’t really give her much of an answer. Kelly reminds herself that at least she’s in a relationship and despite the holiday, he still wants to be with her or he’d leave, right?
Abby is single and lives on her own. She has a job that she loves, a supportive family and friends who are a lot of fun and who love to spend time with her. She gets invited to events, birthdays, afternoon teas, drinks and girly catch ups. Abby goes on the odd date here and there, though only if it fits in with her schedule. Abby knows her self-worth and what she wants. If she doesn’t feel it’s right for her, she won’t see the guy again, even if he wants to. If she does like him and wants to see him again, yet she doesn’t hear back from him, she lets it go. He simply wasn’t the right person for her. Abby won’t chase him down with texts or phone calls and ask why he didn’t text or call her back. She figures he wasn’t that into her or she would’ve heard from him. She may be on her own but Abby takes comfort in knowing everything is as it’s supposed to be and lives her life as a whole and happy person. If a guy happens to come along to complement her already full and happy life, then great! Doesn’t mean she doesn’t get a little down on occasion when she sees other friends in relationships, getting married, having kids etc, though she knows that she’s better off being on her own than being in the wrong relationship.
Having read the above 2 scenarios, who would you rather be? Personally, I’d rather be Abby. Abby is alone in the sense of not being in a relationship, yet she isn’t lonely. She has a full and happy life with her job, friends and family. Kelly is clearly lonely and is choosing to stay in her relationship out of fear. She is worried that by speaking up or being totally honest with her partner, he will end it and she will be on her own…yet if she thought about it, isn’t she already on her own anyway? Think about it.
Living in fear is no way to live. The old adage ‘If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it was meant to be.’ certainly may be one of those annoying cliches people will regurgitate to you when you’re going through a break up, yet there is a lot of truth to it. If you can’t be honest with your partner about what you want, then what’s the point? If they’re going to walk away because you challenge them on something or they don’t like what you have to say, then that says more about their character than anything to do with you and the relationship is doomed anyway. If you look at Kelly’s scenario, she appears to have lost herself and is afraid to speak up for fear of retribution. She is staying because she fears that if she leaves, she’ll never see him again and he won’t love her anymore…though it’s quite clear from his actions that he doesn’t really love her.
Unfortunately, as women, when something starts to move out of our grasp, we tend to try and cling to it tighter and reason with ourselves that if we do that, it won’t go. Unfortunately, what happens is quite the opposite. Think about holding a puppy or a kitten – if you hold it gently and stroke it, it will happily sit in your arms and enjoy the affection. If you try and hold it too tightly, the puppy or kitten will start to squirm and try to get away from you. The tighter you squeeze something, the more you’re going to push it away. Kelly keeps telling herself that if he didn’t want to be with her, he’d leave, however a lot of guys tend to be happy with the status quo. Even though they don’t really want to be in the relationship and aren’t particularly unhappy, if a girl doesn’t challenge them on things, they’ll be happy to coast along, enjoying her company and having the relationship on their terms.
So, my suggestion to you is this:
Let go of what you can’t change, what doesn’t work and what isn’t meant to be. If you are single, let go of the fear of being alone and enjoy being on your own – your time will come. There is no point hanging onto things so tightly that you don’t see the forest for the trees. You may still be angry or upset or sad at the situation, but how does it help you and where does it get you? Nowhere. All it will do is slowly eat away at you, leave you feeling empty and keep you still when you should be moving forward. The past is the past – learn from it and leave it there. If a relationship isn’t working for you, you can only do so much to try and save it. If your partner isn’t respecting you or thinking about your feelings, desires and goals, be bold and walk away. It may seem unfair and you feel like you’ve given so much and received little in return, but so what? Do you really want to stay and be miserable just so you can say you’re in a relationship? They don’t deserve you and doing things like begging, trying too hard to please and giving too much of yourself will only push someone away or give them the fuel to take advantage of you more.
You may end up having to be the one to walk away, though once you’ve had time to grieve, be honest with yourself and look at what you’ve learned. There are two people in a relationship and while your partner’s behaviour may have been unacceptable, you’ve allowed it to be OK by staying. (*NOTE* The exception to this is domestic violence as there is no excuse for this. If you find yourself or know someone in this situation, call the Domestic Violence Line for help 24/7 on 1800 656 463).
Domestic violence aside, by not speaking up and being true to yourself, you’re selling yourself short and not living the life you deserve to live – you’re actually living the life your partner wants to live. Sounds absurd right? Yet if you look at it, that’s what you’re doing. By hanging onto the past and the ‘ideal’ of what you thought you had, you are missing out on so much that could possibly be out there for you. I realised this a number of years ago and it was such a liberating feeling, as though a weight had been lifted and I had a freedom I hadn’t felt before. It’s hard to describe, but as soon as you just let go, you will start to see the world differently. It’s not a simple fix and won’t be sorted in five minutes, as there are often a lot of things to work through, but as soon as you make the conscious decision to change your thinking, the empowerment that comes with it is truly awesome.
So why not start now? Take control of your life and do what you want to do for YOU. Don’t let a man or anyone else define your life or who you are. Make decisions for you. Do what feels right. Allow yourself to make mistakes and don’t be too hard on yourself when you do. After all, mistakes are how we learn and grow. Remember, you are never truly stuck in your situation. You can always change something, even if it’s only something small. You’ll be surprised at how that one small thing will give you a sense of control and will help you to see that you do in fact have the power to change something whenever you want at any time. Even if something has always been a particular way, it’s never too late to change it and you can start right this second.
If you’re in a dead-end relationship and you’ve tried to make it work and can’t, end it. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in it. Do you think this person deserves to be in your life if they’re not willing to work with you on things? Same goes for a job. If you hate your job, think about why. What could you do to change it? Change departments? Find another one? If you’re unhappy where you’re living, move. I know these things aren’t always easy as there are often circumstances that surround each of us that make it difficult to just change something that quickly, but think about your situation and how it can work for you and what you can do to change it. Don’t let fear paralyse you into not doing something. It’s OK to be scared, because being scared means you’re about to cross a boundary or overcome an obstacle. Use that feeling to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get excited about it. Don’t worry about all the things that ‘might’ go wrong. If we thought about all the possible things that could wrong every day, we’d be too scared to even get out of bed! I could break my leg when I’m getting ready for work because I trip over one of my cats (and believe me, it’s almost happened!!). What about when I get in my car to drive to work? I could end up in accident. Sounds depressing doesn’t it? My point is, we don’t think about those things all the time as they simply become a part of our daily lives, so we just get on and do them. The same will eventually be for whatever obstacle you’re trying to overcome.
It will be OK. You are stronger than you think and you can handle a lot more than you realise. Don’t fear change – embrace it – because that one small change you make can be big enough to change your whole life.