One day last March I went out for a mani/pedi, and when I came home, my boyfriend broke up with me.
Not because of the mani/pedi, of course, although now anytime I pass my nail place I have Breakup Day flashbacks. There were a lot of reasons. Mainly, money stress. I’d been laid off from my dream radio job in 2009 and had run through all of the unemployment and savings, and I wasn’t finding work.
We were struggling financially and that creates stressage. The lack of work was making me very depressed, and all sexing had basically stopped because of it. Ever try to have sex when you hate everything? It’s not a good thing.
We grew distant. When my sons were with us, he’d retreat to the tiny bedroom we jokingly called "the office" (no actual work ever took place in that room) to play video games or mess around on his guitar. When the kids were at their dad’s, we spent more time in front of our respective computer screens than in front of each other. I could feel the gap between us growing but assumed it would all get better once I found a job, which wasn’t happening. Things were bad, but I never thought he’d leave me. He was my person, the love of my life.
We’d been together six years by that point, and a lot had happened to us in that time. When we met, I was on the brink of leaving my marriage. K was a new hire at the radio station (I was a DJ, he was in Promotions); one day I had to be "the talent" at an appearance and there he was, already set up behind the table of cheap radio swag.
We clicked immediately. Despite the fact that he was all of 23 (I was 36) and still living at home with his parents, there was a connection right away based on witty banter. He was funny and clever in a self-deprecating way. And it didn’t hurt that he was tall and adorable, with dark brown hair and blue eyes, the world’s most devastating man color-combo.
I figured once I was single, I would take this boy, ride him like a pony for a little, and then release him into the wild to go on about his life and share his newfound sex wisdom with other young lasses who had neither young children nor cellulite, and I would continue to whore it up a little until I found an age-appropriate partnerman.
Instead, we fell in love. Hard. Instead of ignoring me, cheating on me, or treating me like an employee like the man I married did, K loved me in the way I needed to be loved. He got me in a way that no one else did. After years of feeling invisible, I was finally being seen.
We lived in this love bubble for nearly four years before the shit hit the fan. And even after I got laid off, K was there with the love and the support and the “I love you, you’ll make it, we’ll make it, you’ll get another job, we’ll be fine” pep talks. Sprinkled throughout was the challenge of helping out with my sons and the continuous assholery of my wasband. It was a lot for him to have to take on, and he wasn’t even 30.
Things went from bad to worse and, for K, to unbearable. The guy essentially gave me his 20s (during which he’d helped me through a divorce, a heart condition, the death of three friends, and tons of other life shit) and had never lived on his own. He needed to get out of this house and into the world and see if there was more out there for him.
And so, he left.
I did what you do when something ends: I cried. A lot. I wondered, if K wasn’t my person anymore, who would replace him? How was I supposed to find another guy who not only had all the personal qualities I wanted in a partner, but whose family would love my kids and me like K’s had? Who could possibly ever come close to getting me the way he did?
When I wasn’t asking myself these sad panda questions, I was busy making the house more MINE. The bedroom was now my solo domain. All his DVDs and video games and huge shoes (size 15) were gone. I had closet space! I could hang girly things on the walls! Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
My friend Suzanne Finnamore insisted I get new sheets for my bed, because eventually I would want to have sex again (I didn’t believe her at the time, but it’s true. I eventually had sex again). I took over K’s closet and armoire and suddenly it seemed like I had a whole new wardrobe, because everything wasn’t shoved into messy piles in my dresser.
The question of the "office" was solved when I offered it to my older son, who, at 13, needed a room of his own here. My mom came to visit and we painted the ex-office bright orange at my older son’s request (quick aside: ever seen two tiny Jewish women who are both afraid to climb a ladder paint a bedroom with a weirdly angled vaulted ceiling? We were a sitcom for two straight days, trust), and BOOM, the kid had a room he didn’t have to share with his little brother. While both of my boys had taken the breakup very hard, we had grown even tighter and were hanging tough.
The nights my boys weren’t with me, I learned to enjoy the solitude and not worry about choking to death all alone and no one finding my body for days. I got used to sleeping without K’s snoring and bigness taking up ¾ of the bed.
Also, I could display a framed photo of Dave Grohl hugging me, because there was no longer a boyfriend around who hated the Grohl (yes, people like that exist). I could play all the music I loved whenever I wanted, and LOUD. But the real, important thing? I started to figure out who I was outside of a relationship. What it was like to sit with myself and just be okay with not being part of a couple for the first time since Nirvana was a cool new band. In fact, there was a whole lot of stuff I was discovering.
Fun things you learn when you live alone after not living alone since college (I’ll do my personal math for you: that would be 23 years since I last lived in a place without another person not blood related to me also living there):
Bikini wax, shmikini wax.
You don’t have to record, then wait, to watch the TV shows you liked but he didn’t.
All the food is yours and you don’t have to share. Also, with no one there to watch, you can consume entire pizzas and no one will be the wiser.
You can not shave your legs for days if you don’t want to.
Washing the sheets can wait, like, weeks.
No one will notice if you wear the same yoga pants 4 days in a row.
Not showered and it’s 1pm? No one has to know.
To make the dual sinks in your bathroom feel like less of a reminder of being single, you can put pretty soaps next to the one you don’t use and pretend you’re staying in a really nice hotel.
Foods that seemed like snacks before can become meals. See: popcorn.
You can fuck around on Twitter all day and no one will be whining for your attention. (Well, maybe your cats, but that’s different.)
You can fuck around with different guys and no one will be getting mad at you for bringing them home to bang on those new sheets.
But then also there are a few not-so-fun things you learn about living alone after not living alone. Like, you’re the one always taking out the garbage and cleaning the cats’ litterboxes. There are things you just can’t reach (fear of ladder climbing, remember?). There’s no one to rub your back or feet or give you a hug just because you need one.
You forget how to grocery shop for just one person and food becomes science experiments in the fridge. You come across an old love note in a drawer you missed during the initial Removal Of All Visual Reminders Of Him cleaning frenzy and it knocks you senseless. No one is there to validate any successes you might have or have your back when things get fucked once again. You miss being kissed a lot, a lot.
The quiet becomes creepy and somehow all the empty space gives you a combination of anxiety and claustrophobia. You find yourself watching day-long marathons of “Grey’s Anatomy” on Netflix. You wear the same sweater for days on end, even sleeping in it (I may be getting slightly specific here. MAY.)
When that happens, it takes all the strength and energy you can muster to make yourself leave the house and be among other adults (what? I know! CRAY!), because “single” does not, and should not, equal “bitter and lonely.”
Nearly a year into this new way of life, I think I’ve hit a good balance. I have no great urge to share my space with anyone other than the two people I gave birth to. There’s no one to check with if I want to go out and be social. I like that all the things are mine and I can put them where I want. I’ve learned that the difference between being alone and being lonely is making the choice to enjoy the solitude. Even if K and I got back together tomorrow (and stranger things have been known to happen), I wouldn’t want him to move back in. It feels right and proper to be here on my own. Like I’m all growns-up, even.
Which means I should probably at least wash my sheets. At some point.