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4 Difficulties of Being Alone In A Partnered World

We had breakfast at a local diner Saturday morning. Deer with huge antlers mounted on the walls. A life-size John Wayne cutout greets you at the door.  Chicken fried steak and chocolate gravy the specialities.

You definitely know you are in the South.

I noticed a woman eating by herself. She was directly in my line of sight. She mostly looked at her iPhone. I concentrated on my eggs and short stack.

A lot of people tell me they could never eat alone.

I remember one of my first efforts. I had just gotten divorced. Wanted to go to my (had been our…) favorite Italian place in Dallas. I knew it would be dark. Convinced myself I would be okay.

4 Difficulties of Being Alone In A Partnered World

I ordered fettucini alfredo, my absolute favorite.  It came piping hot. Smelling divine. I reached for the Parmesan cheese and liberally shook it all over the pasta. Dove in for that first rich, mouth-watering bite.

It wasn’t Parmesan. It was sugar.

Tears filled my eyes. Just how stupid was I. I was mortified. “Had anybody seen?”.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell the waitress so I quietly tried to scrape the stuff off the perfectly-cooked noodles. Unfortunately I had already mixed it up.

I ate sickly sweet pasta that night. Just because I was by myself.

Had I been in the company of others, I would have laughed it off. Ordered another bowl.

My being alone paralyzed me. Yes… It also had to do with the incredible sense of failure I was already experiencing. But I think I could have handled it with laughter if someone – anyone – had been sitting next to me.

What is it about being alone that is so difficult?

1) Fear of non-acceptance.

Widows tell me of their fear of how they will be accepted if arriving somewhere alone.  They feel that they might not be welcome. Not only are they dealing with their grief, but somehow tell themselves that appearing solo is not okay. Feels uncomfortable to be the single woman with married couples. It changes the dynamic.

Or even asking to go with someone. “Judy and John don’t want me tagging along”. (I usually challenge this though. Judy and John would likely love the company…)

2) Issues of security.

There is a simple security in having someone. I remember the widow I had as a patient. Her husband had been dead for quite some time. But it was early winter. She slipped and fell on the front steps. Broke her arm. Without thinking, she automatically called out for him.

She told me it was at that moment an immense loneliness gripped her. Much more painful than her broken arm.

3) Being alone in a partnered world.

I hear about fatigue. You just get tired of it. Being alone in a partnered world. No one to talk with about the game or the party. After everyone has said goodnight.

4) Dealing with self-worth.

What does it mean to not have a partner? Especially if you want a relationship? It’s difficult to come to terms with not necessarily being in control of that.

My paralysis at the dinner table was due to this. I thought it “said something about me” that I was alone. I was “less” than someone with a dinner companion.

The holidays can make it harder.

There are of course some folks that it doesn’t seem to affect. They appear to do it easily. Maybe those people are more comfortable in their own skins. Maybe they have a “loner” streak. They would not say they are lonely. They have achieved a good balance of being with others and living their own life.

I have long thought that loneliness should be a diagnosis. Like depression. When you experience it, it has an ache that is like no other. Some people avoid it like the plague. Have people around them constantly. Others bear it who want a relationship, but life just hasn’t led to that. Maybe have tried – maybe given up. Maybe just taking a rest.

It is important to be able to value your own company. To be able to watch a sunset, read a book or cook a meal. And enjoy it for what it is just for you.

Please remember those who are living life on their own. Divorced. Widowed. Perhaps have never chosen to be partnered. Or are choosing to live life alone now.

Reassure them they are wanted. Even treasured.

And if it’s you. Know that you are.

Especially now. During the holiday season.

You may appreciate that gift yourself one day.


Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford has been in practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas for over 20 years. She began blogging in 2012 with the website “NestAche”, and following with in April 2014. Her work can be found here on Midlife Boulevard, as well as the Huffington Post, Boomeon, WeWantMore, BetterAfter50 and Arkansas Women Bloggers.

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Thursday 23rd of July 2015

I'm "that person" who won't eat alone - I won't even drink a coffee alone at a cafe - because I think people will assume I have no friends! How sad am I?? I think it's also that I see eating out as a social exercise and would rather be at home if I am by myself. I am always in awe of confident women who get on with life alone and never seem to feel lonely - great post Margaret :)

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Friday 24th of July 2015

Thanks Leanne. It does take confidence I would agree - but also practice. Or maybe you saw a parent or other family member live life alone. And they were fine. So exposure I guess. And thereby the message is not "poor girl, she's alone" but "wow, that's good news - that being alone doesn't stop you from enjoying life." My grandmother was widowed in her early 40's and never remarried. I think that had an effect on me, for sure.

Susan bonifant

Thursday 23rd of July 2015

I have a friend who won't, WON'T eat in a restaurant alone - "No, I don't do that," she says as if she's talking about walking around town in her underwear. Among my four kids I have one who "won't do that" and another who doesn't like it very much and two who consider it no big deal at all.

I've wondered about this forever. Do people feel watched? Do they not like the topic of their inner dialogue? Do they need the stimulation of company to turn thought to action? Because I don't know an extrovert who can sit still.

As a writer I process thought with the help of solitude. Maybe it's exactly the opposite for someone who steers clear of alone time.; maybe it has something to do with processing thought with the help of conversation. Either way - it comes down to feeding the brain what it needs, I guess, to make us feel we're showing up somewhere - on the page or at a party.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Friday 24th of July 2015

I like that Susan... "we're showing up somewhere". Also the extroversion/introversion spectrum is probably important. I hadn't thought of it in those terms. Thanks for adding a lot of great ideas.

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