Help Me to Feel Better About Being on My Own
December 12, 2011 10:32 AM   Subscribe

How do I become more confident in my ability to be on my own again (and even enjoy it) after a devastating break-up?

I am a fairly accomplished woman in my mid-thirties. I have owned and operated my own Internet-based business for the past eleven years. I am a writer and poet, and I enjoy my hobbies. But my recent (2 months) departure from a serious four-year relationship with a man I wanted to marry has left me devastated and uncomfortable with being on my own. In the aftermath, I was left in my old hometown but without friends. (It was the kind of break-up where I needed to break up with our joint friends as well, and my work-at-home business and the amount of exhausting energy it took to maintain aforementioned relationship generally kept me from being able to devote the time to making friends of my own. Big mistake!)

Since the break-up, I have found myself having fears and anxieties and a general lack of feeling for how people are supposed to do this! We'd just rented a very large house in a not-so-great neighborhood, which I'm now rattling around in. I'm okay with this, as I've worked to make it my own and get along with the neighbors well enough. I installed a security system, so I feel a bit safer, but other anxieties remain. I have some minor to moderate health problems that sometimes lend themselves to panic attacks, and I seem to have this fear of becoming sick and there being no one to help me. This was compounded by a recent tooth extraction I had done, where I decided to drive out-of-state to my mother's so that I would not be alone during the procedure and recovery. But I can't anticipate and head home for every illness. I'm an adult, and feel that it's unreasonable to feel this level of anxiety about being on my own. I've lived alone plenty of times before in my life, but never in a town where I don't have easy access to family or friends. I'm also perfectly capable of changing light bulbs and furnace filters, and calling the landlord where necessary, so it's not so much about the mundane tasks.

I am working on making friends and have recently joined a poetry group that meets regularly, but of course, developing true friendships can take time. I realize that people in much worse scenarios and with far worse health issues are alone and seem to manage fine, so what can I do to help myself become more confident, feel more secure, self-sooth where necessary, and maybe even ENJOY the fact that I live on my own (and can, therefore, watch whatever I want on Netflix, in my ugliest pajamas, at three in the morning, if I so desire).

As an aside, I am really wanting to deal with this issue instead of just deciding to move to where I have family. My family lives in a small town where nothing much is happening, and I feel like this would really be a step back on my path in life toward developing a healthy mindset and growing as a human being. It would be easier to "give up" and move back to the familiar, but I want to try building a life for myself first--just one with a little less anxiety and visuals of someone finding me in my house with my face half-eaten by my cat!

Any suggestions, fellow Mefites?
posted by exploringoptimism to Human Relations (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
How about a dog? You can foster for a while of you're not sure about long-term.
posted by bq at 10:45 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you considered getting a housemate or two? Do you get enough exercise? Join a gym, take dance or yoga classes, feeling stronger physically makes you feel stronger in other ways. Do some vounteering, it's intrinsically rewarding. Get out in nature whenever you can. If it's warm where you are do some gardening.
posted by mareli at 10:50 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, agreeing with the dog suggestion, even though you've already got a cat. I got a dog three months before my own break-up-after-4-years, anticipating just what you are describing. Dogs are a bit more compassionate than cats, I've found, and dump all kinds of unconditional love on ya! Read a thing recently -- both dogs and the people petting them get a little serotonin surge, and that's definitely some free feel-good during a break-up! Plus the walks -- it's amazing how therapeutic having to get out there and walk that dog on schedule can be.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:51 AM on December 12, 2011

It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on how to build friendships and enjoy your alone time. The bigger issue seems to be your anxiety about living alone. Have you thought about seeking out a roommate? Or even just having a friend or family member that you text or IM "Good morning!" to every day, with the understanding that if you Don't send the text, you'd like them to check in on you by phone or text?

Having lived alone for much of my thirties in a big city, I know those worries can begin to seem less wacky and a little more serious the more one ages. So acknowledge the worries that are reasonable and try to address them. If there get to be more and more of them that feel more about anxiety than reality, look at workbooks or therapy, even just for the short term.
posted by ldthomps at 10:52 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Things are harder on your own. Not being practiced in them, it makes sense that you would feel trepidation. But since it sounds like you have a handle on the actual practical aspects of living alone, it may make sense to treat this more as an anxiety problem than a living alone problem.

What has worked for you in the past for dealing with anxiety? Affirmations? Contingency plans? To-do lists? Pep talks from friends? Meditation? Journaling? Therapy? Exercise? Chocolate chip cookie dough?

Since you know you have this health problem, it's probably worth thinking of a plan for what to do when it strikes. Lots of things that you don't have friends or family for can be arranged by money.

(Since you do have a big house, roommates sound like potentially a good idea. But it's not a no-brainer because living with a non-partner comes with its own problems and negotiations, so be sure that you're up for those first).

There may be no way through this but practice and experience.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:58 AM on December 12, 2011

You've started on one of the best things you can do already. I like the pet suggestion, too, especially for foster care if you can face the risk of being permanently attached.

There are a lot of things you can do. My suggestion might be controversial. Join something like plentyoffish or But! Join it with the expectation of meeting new people, maybe friends, and explicitly not for romance. Make it clear to prospective 'dates' so they know what to expect.

It'll expose you to people you don't like. Hopefully you'll meet people you like, too. It's one approach of many to help accelerate your social life. Depends on your tolerance for possibly wasting a couple hours on someone you don't like.

You can't rush your social life, but you can improve your chances.
posted by washirv at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best thing I did living in the burbs while everyone else I knew was with someone in the city and busy was to join as many groups/activities as I wanted. It kept me busy, got me out of my shell, got me independent, and it was fun. Doesn't mean that you don't go home and have a good cry, but at least you're not wallowing in sadness in an apartment alone.

Looking back, I saw being single and "devestated" as the best opportune time to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and no compromise. Sometimes being selfish is good.
posted by stormpooper at 11:12 AM on December 12, 2011

When I am focusing a lot on myself, one of the best remedies I have found is to help other people. Maybe you could find a volunteer opportunity in your area that could help you get to know people in your area. There are anything from museums to soup kitchens that need volunteers and its a good way to meet other nice folks as well as help the community.
posted by heatherly at 11:25 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am where you are at.

I know this is not the answer you want. But it's the only thing that makes me okay right now so I'll add it.

"Grief is a lazy Susan. One day it is heavy and underwater, and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening and the next day numbness, silence.

All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But what I've discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.

I'm pretty sure that it is only be experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed - which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.

But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may have indeed fallen apart, the illusion won't hold up forever."

--Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies (cobbled together from a few different places in the book)

Dealing with things on your own is a reasonable response to having something so traumatic happen. But after you let the first few people in, you will start to feel more spacious and that there are these bubbles of grace that you can grab on to.

I know you said you have family/friends far away. Call them. They don't know what's going on in your head unless you tell them. And chances are, they would like to know. If they're not helpful, you don't have to keep talking. But find someone to talk to, please.



If you are determined to go it alone, I think the best thing you can do is start to write. Write about everything. Journal the fuck out of your life. Write down every Bad Mind thought and every bubble of grace. Keep a list of the things that are working and have been positive. Look at it a lot. Be honest with yourself and with what you're feeling. No one will judge you.

It's really difficult. Memail me if you want. I've been in your head (or something like that) and it's really scary.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:36 AM on December 12, 2011 [14 favorites]

Hello-- Great job joining the poetry group and taking other steps to meet new people with similar interests. Now it's time to start throwing parties... small dinner gatherings, pot lucks, summer BBQs, etc. It will be fun to show off your home, your taste and your life... in addition to fostering reciprocal invitations where you can meet more people.

Since you work at home, it might also be nice to become a regular at several places: coffee shop, gym, dog park, etc. It's good to get out of the house and have acquaintances from other walks of life.

Finally, if you frequent social network sites, look for groups specific to your town, e.g., from your high school class, the newspaper, the "you know you're from x" Friend folks you remember; you might be surprised who you enjoy now even if you weren't close in childhood.

All of it will make you feel more like a member of a community and less alone.
posted by carmicha at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

It truly will take time to find your comfort zone, so fill your time with things that make the time pass quickly so you are not constantly aware that you are dealing with being alone.
As counterintuitive to this as it may seem, do things more slowly, or at least at a less rushed pace. when i was face with a similar situation a few years ago, I set aside lots of extra time to grocery shop, or clothing shop (things i never did when in the relationship), or run errands. I felt less rushed and ragey about getting to and from, made fewer impulse buys, and generally enjoyed the experiences as i was fine-tuning them.
I get to things early, have a book with me to fill the time, and am proud of my punctuality.
I also joined a bunch of meet-up type groups and sports teams. Some I loved and stuck with, others I dropped as I got busier and more comfortable being alone. time passed, i had built new friends, learned how to use my own time to its best advantage, and i found that I like a lot of aspects of the single me.
Full disclaimer though...I was also dealing with being an unprepared single my parent time (half the week) was brimming with activity, and only the other half needed filled, but it was a bitter loneliness without my son those days, so distractions were the most helpful thing.
good luck
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2011

Thank you for all of the wonderful responses so far! I have definitely thought about getting a dog. While I was recently at my mother's recovering from the tooth extraction, I cuddled up to her dogs and really did feel like this might be a good thing to add to my life. The only thing holding me back is the thought of whether this would interfere with developing a social life. The answer is probably to find an adult dog that won't have separation anxiety if left alone for a few hours.

Otherwise, I am keeping in touch with long distance friends and family on a nearly daily basis (Facebook, text, phone) so there is some contact. Stepping up my journaling sounds good. I also like the idea of becoming a regular at a coffee shop.

I did recently volunteer at my local library and am waiting for the call back. Perhaps with these things it will get easier with time (and hopefully also by then I will have developed friendships with people who are local).
posted by exploringoptimism at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2011

Lots of good suggestions here; I just want to emphasize that you should give yourself plenty of time. After a breakup/divorce, you understand that you're going to feel bad for a while, but then you start thinking "Hey, enough of that, I should be over it by now," and then you feel bad because you're still feeling bad. It takes as long as it takes, which is usually a good deal longer than you want it to take; the trick is to be on good terms with yourself and develop positive ways to spend time, and you seem to be on the right track: congratulations!
posted by languagehat at 4:39 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

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