Although being single is more accepted than it was 30 years ago, there’s still a mindset that if you don’t have a mate, there must be something wrong with you. Many people still believe that marriage is the ideal lifestyle, and we’re barraged by music and movies espousing romantic love as the answer. It’s difficult to even imagine a movie that ends with the star living contently alone instead of living happily-ever-after with a mate. The classic line in the film Jerry Maguire—“You complete me”—reinforces what many singles believe: If I can find a mate, I’ll be happy. And if I can’t, I’m in trouble.
If you’re alone and believe that “there must be something wrong with me” it will have an enormous impact on your life. You may actually be setting yourself up for rejection because other people are less likely to be drawn to someone lacking self-confidence. And feelings of low self-worth may cause you to withdraw from the very people and activities that can enrich your life. Loneliness then becomes a self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you want to live a happier life alone, you have to believe that you can. Instead of viewing aloneness as a source of loneliness and pain, think of it as one of freedom and opportunity . To reframe negative perceptions, write down the challenges of your aloneness. Your list might include things like: “I make others’ needs more important than my own,” or “I feel insecure around people I don’t know.” Identify whatever holds you back from reaching your fullest potential. Now next to each challenge, write down the opportunity it presents. Based on my examples, these might include, “Learn how to set healthy boundaries with people” and “Develop greater self-confidence around people.”
Next, start turning those opportunities into action. Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a free Saturday. You can look at it from two perspectives. You can stay home feeling sorry for yourself because you have nothing to do. Or you can look at it differently: “I have a free day to do anything I want. I can go to the gym, call a friend and go to the movies, work in my garden, or read a great novel.” Then do something that something that truly engages you.
As you take steps toward mastering aloneness, recognize that you’ll slip up. Imagine how a smoker quits smoking. He throws away that first pack of cigarettes. Then he might weaken and buy another pack, then just smoke a few cigarettes, then give it up for another few weeks, then start up again. And one day, he’s just done with it. Like quitting smoking, mastering aloneness is about changing habitual patterns of thought and behavior. Be gentle with yourself. When you slip up, think of it as getting more information about what doesn’t work for you.
Committing to mastering the art of aloneness means realizing that you will slip up; treating yourself with compassion when you do, and then moving forward in becoming the person you were born to be.