By Laurie Stone
2020 was a crazy year. Not only for the usual reasons: global pandemic, wildfires in our backyard, almost half the country wanting a narcissistic racist misogynist as our leader. But also, because it was the year I started online dating. Let me back up. About two and a half years ago I left a 20-year marriage. Although difficult, I was actually so happy to be on my own. My son was off to college, and as you empty-nesters know, that’s both heart wrenching and liberating. I moved into a tiny apartment, was able to do what I wanted when I wanted, and I didn’t have to take care of anyone except myself. With the best friends in the world, a wonderful family, and a job, colleagues, and community that I love, I was perfectly content and thought I could be happy to be alone forever.
However, then I met up with one of my best friends for decades, and it was the first time we were both single at the same time. We decided to test things out. All of the sudden, I was in a relationship. Six months later, he decided we were better off as friends and I was devastated. By then I had gotten used to having someone else in my life; someone who wanted to spend time with me and found me smart, funny, and attractive.
Well, I didn’t feel like any of those things anymore, and decided I needed to do something about it. So, I signed up on four different dating apps. This was back in the good old days, when we could still go to movie theaters and gyms and have physical contact closer than six feet apart. And what do you know, pretty soon I had dates. Now, the last time I dated, (friend who was “a friend” one day and “more than a friend” the next notwithstanding) not only were cell phones not a thing, but email was still novel, and if you had it, you had a Hotmail account. Needless to say, I was a bit out of my element and terrified.
However, I ended up meeting some really nice guys (and a couple of nice women.) Things started getting serious with two of the guys, and I started having feelings for them. Unfortunately, not strong enough feelings for one of them, and too strong of feelings for the other. To make a long story short, I broke one guy’s heart, and the other guy broke mine. That’s when I really lost it. I not only felt unlovable, but I felt like a shitty person as well. I became so depressed that I had entire days when I couldn’t stop crying, and I’m not even a crier. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to be happy on my own and be content with my own company. By then, I had become addicted to having someone make me feel special and loved. To make matters worse, by then COVID was raging and I had achilles tendonitis so I couldn’t run, which was how I have dealt with stress and depression for the past 40 years.
So, I sat around eating copious amounts of chocolate, feeling unloved, out of shape, and sorry for myself. Then, I would feel guilty about feeling bad because with the friends I have, the job I love, and the place I live, I am more fortunate than 90 percent of the people on this planet. So that made me feel even worse about myself. It was a vicious cycle. I realized I needed to get back to the place where I felt strong and independent and didn’t need somebody else to complete me. Someone asked me once what I was most afraid of. Being single in my 50s, you might think I would say I was afraid of being alone. But what I’m really afraid of is being afraid of being alone. Of course, I’d love to find someone to share those special moments with, but if I don’t have that, I want to be happy just by myself.
So, what did I do? I wrote down the numbers of every local therapist and bought a bunch of self-help books. Then what did I do? I continued to watch stupid Netflix shows and eat a lot of chocolate. It was so much easier than making that phone call or reading those books. When I saw the call for articles about “shelter” for Alice, I thought I should write something about what I’ve been going through. But how could I write something if it doesn’t have a happy ending? I wanted to be able to say that I came out the other side. That I am now happy to be on my own, and don’t feel like I need anybody else to make me feel whole. But the truth is, I’m not there yet.
I guess what I have learned is that it’s OK to feel sad and lonely. That we all struggle at times, and that if you’re struggling, you are not alone. And that I know I will come out of this someday, because I have a community of people around me that are the best I could wish for. I still have days where the tiniest thing gets my crying for hours and no amount of chocolate can fill the hole I feel (although it’s not for a lack of trying.) But I also have days where my friends and my son make me smile and laugh and I realize how fortunate I am and actually feel pretty good about myself. So, what does shelter mean to me? I hope someday I can say my shelter is myself. But for now, my shelter is my friends, family, colleagues, and community. And maybe someday I will have someone special to share that shelter with. But if not, I hope I’m OK with that. And who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll make that phone call and start reading those books.
Laurie lives in Carbondale, Colorado, where she writes for a nonprofit working to combat climate change, runs when she has a functioning achilles, and eats a lot of chocolate.