I’m going to work to commit every Thursday evening to writing about self-care – what it is, how you can achieve it, and how we can become better together. As this series progresses, feel free to chime in with your thoughts, questions and concerns. View the series in its entirety. You are now viewing part 8.
Ahhh, my celibacy.
People bristle at the thought of it – in fact, when I mentioned it in a blog post I’d written years earlier, many people were infuriated by the thought – and generally don’t like thinking about shutting themselves off from the potential for intimacy… that is, until I tell them that the first thing I did coming out of my celibacy was get married.
(Far be it for me to imply that marriage is the goal, the key, the who-knows-what; but what I am explicitly saying is that my celibacy gave me the mental space to figure out what I want, to realize the futility in wasting time playing around with people who were unwilling to give me what I want, and the clarity to see red flags that would stand in my way. Basically, I finally developed the clarity to figure out what I wanted and what I’d need in order to get what I wanted, which was marriage.)
In the middle of my weight loss journey, I’d experienced a painful and embarrassing break-up. I’d been in a long-distance relationship for almost two years where I was terribly selfish and tunnel-visioned, and I’d gotten the opportunity to relocate – almost 700 miles farther away from him – to do some major work. I promptly packed up my belongings and moved, without talking to him about it, without consulting him, without even making much mention of the move at all. And – rightfully so – this made him question our relationship. What does it mean, when someone you care so deeply about doesn’t even consult you about major life changes? What does it mean, when your long distance partner chooses to move, and they move farther away from you?
And, so it ended. Embarrassingly so. I made my mistakes, he made his, and it ended…quasi-amicably. And, like most self-centered and narcissistic early twenty-somethings, this came as a complete and utter damned shock to me. How could he do this to me? How could he be so cruel? So heartless? How could he leave me?
With relationships, we do what we’re encouraged to do by society. We’re told to have a partner. Be together. Have your children (inside of a maaaaarriage.) Cling to whatever raggedy relationship you can get your grubby little lonely paws on so that you can feel worthy, of worth, and loved. Because no, you’re not loved until you’re loved by someone else.
This is stressful. Feeling like you have to compromise your wants and needs for the sake of being deemed “worthy” can feel like unwanted pressure on you, especially if you still find yourself in a space where you’re single. And, if you do partner with someone and they’re not the right match for you, that’s another burden entirely.
So many of us have been socialized to not want to be alone, to never be alone, to go from one relationship to the next. How do you learn about yourself and your own needs when your focus is always on adding someone else to the equation? How do you discover what makes you happy, when you’re always focused on how happy you think you’ll be when you’re no longer single?
What’s more, how do you figure out what works best for you when you’re constantly trying to appease another living being, so that you can keep a potentially failing and flawed relationship around?
Upon my break-up, mentally, I had to keep my head together. I had the support of the “F’ck ’em, Girl” Crew to keep me from sobbing uncontrollably at the drop of a hat, and I had the good sense to keep myself busy, to keep from sobbing uncontrollably when the Crew couldn’t be reached. Because I was also in the middle of learning about my emotional eating problem at the time of the split, I knew I had to keep myself busy.
I threw myself deep, deep, deeeeep into books about emotional eating. I went for long walks. I spent lots of time thinking – sometimes, teary eyed – about who I am and what I need, and whether or not I thought I’d get it in the relationship I’d lost. I realized, after a while, that I’d never thought about what my emotional needs were and what I had to offer another person in a relationship. I realized that I’d never considered whether what I had to give would attract the kind of long-term love and support I’d wanted. Hell, I’d never considered whether or not I knew how to give long-term love and support.
And, thus, I’d come to the realization that I needed to spend some major quality time alone. I was in an emotionally vulnerable space, and I didn’t want that compromised by the oft weirdness and demanding nature of dating. I didn’t want to deal with sex within a changing body – I was vulnerable with regards to how my body was changing, and I didn’t want to be gaslighted with “Oh, you’re so beautiful,” being told something I really wanted to hear, just so that I’d be more willing to have sex with someone. I was sensitive to feeling like I was so hurt, that I feared attracting users, like a wounded animal who attracts other predators waiting to pick at its wounds once it dies. I needed to think about what it means to treat someone well, what it means to be treated well, and being alone and single satisfied that.
There is no debate that I’ve lived a hard life, and I’ve been through much more than the average person, and I’ve probably fought more unnecessary wars than I probably should’ve. One of the terms I’ve heard used with regard to people like me is “damaged beyond repair” – so screwed up that I couldn’t possibly be normal or whole again. I firmly believe that taking time to be alone and enjoy being single, being myself gave me the time to repair. I found where I needed to be to get happy.
I learned, in that time frame, that I love history. I love good history novels. I love non-fiction writing. I love philosophical self-help books. I learned that I love yoga, I love being near the water, I love trying new things, cooking, good music. I learned that I really enjoy playing in my makeup. I learned that I have a blast rollerblading. (I also learned how to bandage my knees whenever my rollerblading became a little less graceful.)
I learned that I love being near my partner without being up under them, that I’m happiest when I’m wanted and not needed, and that I need to have my alone time respected within my relationship. I learned that I can’t do jealous types, and that the behavior I once thought was cute now felt unacceptable. I want a serious relationship – not a game – and I didn’t want to invest the energy in playing them.
I even learned what I like sexually – what I want, what I need, what I like to do, how I like it done – and gave serious thought to the value of monogamy in a casual sex world with STDs flying. I gave serious thought to my own desires for casual sex – two and a half years of celibacy will do that to you – and why it was too much work right now. I realized that what worked best for me was one partner, in a committed, exclusive, monogamous relationship, where we could explore the world, history, politics, and sex together in a safe and healthy way. I also realized that, since I was very clear about what I wanted, there was no sense in hiding that. Being very clear about what my wants and needs are upfront and keeping my eyes peeled for any red flags made the most sense.
I thought about those coping mechanisms I so desperately needed, and what kinds of healthy ways I can cope. I, mainly, learned who I was outside of someone else. Instead of getting to know him, I got to know me. I learned what it felt like to love myself, and knew thereafter that love from a compatible suitor couldn’t feel any less than this.
Two and a half years (and losing approximately 130lbs) into my celibacy, I met a man who I originally identified on here as “The Mister,” mainly because I had no idea if our relationship would last. (I no longer identify Eddy as a pseudonym – I mean, I married him; he’s a fixture in my life whether it lasts or not.) He was an attractive, like-minded man, whose views on life and his personal interests were intriguing to me – a midwestern girl hiding in Miami, a New Yorker-type man? We both had a lot to learn about one another, and were eager to share. Maybe a year and a half of dating, and we were married. Even with the ups and downs of life, I’ve never been happier, more secure, or more hopeful for the future than I am now.
I don’t take for granted my marriage. But, even in writing this, I realize how much I’ve taken for granted everything I learned about myself during my time of celibacy. While I may not plan on taking another two and a half years to think about who I am as a changing woman and where my head should be, even the time at the park, time at the nail salon, or maybe even my runs and walks should be the time I use to clear my head. That me-time simply cannot be taken for granted.
Next week: We discuss the concept of me-time, and making it productive for the emotional eater.