Almost two years ago, I realized a dream I’ve had for a long time: I bought a house. Not only that, I bought it by myself. Considering the fact that not long before that, I’d spent seven years with a commitment-phobic man who had repeatedly told me he had no interest in buying a house with me, even if we were to get married, this was a very big deal.
When he left me for another woman, something arose in me that I didn’t expect — some bright, powerful, warrior queen. I don’t know where she came from but I’ll be forever grateful to her. She tirelessly, fearlessly pursued the dream of home ownership. And one day, the miracle happened.
And I did it all on my own.
I love my little house. I enjoy being single. I like my freedom.
But home ownership sometimes brings the tenderness and vulnerability of singlehood to the surface. A lot of the shelves I installed are slightly tilted, despite my best efforts. I’ve had to use screwdrivers to slowly dig holes into the walls because I don’t own a drill. And when something breaks, I get a little panicky.
My greatest challenge came in the form of the fence around my garden. My brother very kindly spent days helping me put in the posts, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. But when it came to installing the rest, he was not able to assist me further.
I borrowed his circular saw and drill and I will never forget the terror that I felt that very first day I went out to work on it. I had no idea how to use those tools. (Thank goddess for You Tube.) I was terrified I would saw my finger off. I was terrified the neighbors would watch me and laugh — or worse, intervene.
I had no idea what I was doing. I clumsily installed the rails. I even more clumsily drilled on the pickets. And somehow, my fence came into being. And I did it the same way I bought my house: by myself.
I’m proud of that fence. It represents my courage. It’s evidence that my inner warrior queen still exists, still rises up whenever I need her.
But that clumsy fence also symbolizes an uncomfortable and tender truth: That being single can be so hard. So absolutely terrifying.
Independence sometimes extracts a price. We can become hardened. We learn to live without the expectation of camaraderie or assistance. Of another’s mercy or compassion. We learn to accept the deficit of living without the support of another, without the sense of possibility born from another’s imagination and innovation, without even the sustaining nourishment of touch between two people.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m even capable of asking for help anymore — or receiving it if it’s offered.
I’ll do it myself. The long way. The hard way. Because that’s what I’ve become used to doing.
Being single — especially in your 40’s when most of your contemporaries have been married for over 15 years and are still deep in the process of creating and evolving their families — is a fascinating experience, like walking on a narrow line that delineates two very different worlds. On one side is such beauty and freedom. A happy wood to explore, fields to run through, beds to sprawl across all your own. On the other side is a dark forest filled with shadows and monsters and when you confront them, you know you confront them alone. You learn to always keep your knife out and you sometimes forget what it feels like to trust a stranger who crosses your path.
My fence is the perfect metaphor for this. It shows me both what I’m capable of and what seems so painfully missing from my life. The paradox of needing to be loved and needing to be strong on my own sometimes doesn’t sit well within me. I’m not sure how to straddle both worlds.
I want to be clear that I’m happy where I am. This life that I have built for myself is far healthier, far happier than what I had with my previous partner. Being with someone who daily changes his mind about his ability to love you causes much more damage to the soul than I realized at the time. I wish I had recognized that being single would have been a greater act of love than staying.
And I’m happy to become more self-sufficient. It makes me feel good to know that I can handle what comes my way. That I can do what needs to be done, with or without a partner.
But yes. I long to fall in love again. I long to build a fence with a beloved partner, laughing when the pickets split, getting into an argument when we run out of screws because someone miscounted how many we would need.
What would that have been like? What would it have been like to walk out there without being so afraid? Without my hands shaking when I picked up that circular saw for the first time?
What would it be like to have someone to ask for help? To have someone in my life who understood how much I wanted that fence up, that garden finished, and who would happily give his time to me to make my dream come true? To support me? To care that much?
I can’t even imagine. But I dream of it. Constantly.
In the meantime, I am glad I can do that for myself. Give that to myself.
I’m proud that I loved myself enough to walk out there and struggle to use that saw. And clumsily operate that drill that slipped and cut me so many times, there are actual blood stains on the wood. And place those pickets with the imprecise but confident decisiveness of an impatient, anxiety-ridden amateur.
I loved myself enough, in that.