I made sure to get the thin crust pizza, because I knew that once it was just me and a couch and Liam Neeson rescuing some people from some horrible shit and/or wolves, I was going to eat all that pizza, and I did not want the bread bloat. I was treating myself. I was worth it. I was alone.
For the past two and a half years, in the process of dating, moving in with and then marrying my husband, I haven’t been alone much. I’d almost forgotten how to do it. I’d almost forgotten how to do something I love to do, and something that I’m very, very good at doing. I don’t mean being single. I mean being solitary. By myself.
For most of my 20s, I was in long-distance relationships, make-up break-up relationships or deep into singledom. I had a lot of opportunities to cultivate my own favorite kinds of solitude: taking long afternoon drives out into the Texas Hill Country, getting a six pack of High Life tallboys, watching British comedies all night, going bonkers on multi-hour sewing project marathons that ended in inevitable disaster. Doing whatever I wanted, when I wanted to, and never having to wonder whether eating all this ranch dip at 3 p.m. is that going to mess up dinner plans. Because I didn’t have dinner plans. And I fucking loved it.
All that changed when I began dating Patrick. We lived in the same neighborhood and worked in the same office, so we were together both on and off the clock. He was the first guy I ever lived with, and we shared a loft; our house didn’t even have walls. Two only children and extreme togetherness — did I mention we both worked from home at one very weird point? — is a recipe for disaster if ever I heard one. And yet here we are today, married. (We also moved into a house with some walls, which helps.)
Until the last couple of weeks, we’d even traveled together most of the time. We took trips back to California to hang out with his family, to Texas weddings and, at the behest of a really good TravelZoo deal, to London — a city I’d once visited alone for three of the most incredible, and solitary, days of my adult life.
But then two trips to San Francisco and El Paso had Patrick booked away from home for just over a week. I hadn’t been wholly in charge of my own destiny for an entire week since … grad school? The workdays were easy, but come quitting time on that first day, I could not figure what the hell to do with myself. I was like a confused, married, uncreative, co-dependent grown-ass-woman-toddler. I tried to remember what I used to do before Patrick, my official someone-to-ask-about-having-fish-or-pork-chops-for-dinner.
I thought about going shopping, maybe checking out the status of the new H&M (!!!!) opening in Austin. But one of the reasons I wasn’t with Patrick on his trip in the first place was that we couldn’t both afford to fly out to California, so nix on the new shoes or dress. A beer and a barstool sounded appealing, except I didn’t have anything particularly exciting to read, and the night’s televised sports offerings were a little thin. There was obviously only one thing left to do: order a whole pizza and watch Liam Neeson movies on Netflix.
The next day was a little easier, because I harnessed the awesome power of Facebook early on, advising folks of my temporary single status and organizing what turned out to be a highly successful bar night, gathered around a picnic table with my friends swapping stories about grad school nightmares and the sad state of women’s reproductive health funding in Texas. (We really do it up, y’all.)
Over the next few days, I learned a lot about my alone-self, who reverted into a state of revised bachelorettehood. I ate out for almost every meal. One Sunday, I only left the couch to go to yoga and get some tacos. I had a number of meaningful conversations with the cats: “Meers?” “Ears.” “Meers and ears?” “Maaawww.”
It wasn’t that I couldn’t make decisions for myself; it was that I had grown so accustomed to making decisions for myself predicated on the actions or potential actions of another person. When presented with a wholly blank slate, I found it difficult at first to fill the empty space. I didn’t like this. I especially didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t manage to fall asleep in my own, empty-on-one-side bed. Instead, I nodded off on the couch almost every night.
It was an old problem for me: I have a not totally irrational fear of someone breaking into my house (not totally irrational because it actually happened a few years ago, though I wasn’t home at the time) and can only, for some reason, mitigate this fear either by having someone else present in the house with me or sleeping on the couch rather than in the bed. Closer to the knives? With easier access to the doors? I have no idea, it’s just how my mind works.
A week without Patrick was a week waking up at 4 a.m. with a crick in my back and stumbling to our big, empty bed before waking up again, a few hours later, next to no one to share a giant pot of coffee with. I was fine, but I was lonely. (And creaky.) My first inclination was to be disappointed in myself, as if it was somehow uncool to be so in love with your husband, and so a fan of his companionship, that you might miss him when he left for days at a time.
This is not how single, confident Andrea would act. Shouldn’t there be some amazing solo project I’ve been planning for ages? Isn’t this the montage part in the comedy film when my friends take a desperately dependent version of Andrea on a whirlwind weekend trip to Mexico and I rediscover myself?
Nope. Mainly I was just sad to not be able to see Patrick every day and ask him about pork chops or take-out. I missed going to the grocery store with him, because he actually makes trips to the grocery store pretty fun. Same for doing laundry or trading stupid morning headlines over breakfast before work.
When I was single, I looked forward more to one-off events in the future — an awesome party, a good talk at school, a comedy show I was sure would be packed —than to the minutiae of everyday life. Now, I look forward to the organized stuff, like camping trips and excursions to Oklahoma casinos and to long nights with friends sharing pitchers of beer. But I also really like the stupid Laundromat, or boring spaghetti night, because Patrick’s there.
And I know that if single Andrea read that, she’d probably think it was the saddest thing ever and that this lady needs to get a fucking life already. But I have a life, and it’s here, where I’m looking across the living room at Patrick this morning — he’s got a cat in his lap and a thermos of coffee balanced in his puffy yellow chair—and maybe it’s the most mundane possible thing. But boy do I love my as-mundane-as-possible life.
Contact the author of this post at Andrea.Grimes@Gmail.com.