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The Trials of Being Alone After a Big Change in Your Life

We all have to learn to be by ourselves, whether it's after a breakup, a move or a divorce -- but how, exactly?

Photo Credit: Helder Almeida/



I recently went through a breakup. It was the worst — they always are — but as I wrestled with sadness over the end of the relationship, another perplexing challenge arose: how to be alone.

I’ve been through a million — OK, three — breakups before. I’ve spent plenty of time single in between. I thought I’d be good at this alone thing by now. I’m an only child, for crying out loud. Instead, on the heels of another split, I’m amazed at how difficult just being by myself can be. I have friends – they are wonderful — but I feel a suffocating solitude at the end of the night, in the morning or at any moment of the day that isn’t scheduled with distraction. It wasn’t this way when I was coupled. Just the knowledge that I had “a person” to call my own (even though I know in my bones that you can never truly call another person “your own”) was a comfort; that knowledge itself was a constant companion.

How does one become good at being alone? This question might be uniquely poignant for those of us fresh out of a breakup, or still in our 20s, but it’s a question people confront at all stages of life and for all sorts of reasons, whether it’s a big move to a new city, an unexpected death, a divorce or any countless number of things that life can throw your way. And regardless of your romantic status or friend count, it’s nice to be capable of enjoying a movie or dinner alone. A friend told me a story about an acquaintance who is married with kids: She has a meltdown whenever her family goes out of town; she doesn’t know what to do with herself.

So, I decided to seek out the world’s wisdom on how to be alone. (As I  tweeted earlier this week, “One of my favorite things about being a journo? Being able to take my own burning questions to experts under the pretense of public service.”) In terms of romantic aloneness, Anna David seemed like a good first stop: She wrote the memoir “Falling for Me: How I Hung Curtains, Learned to Cook, Traveled to Seville, and Fell in Love,” and understands the ache of singlehood all too well. “I spent so much time where everything was filtered through this lens of ‘but I’m alone.’ And I was haunted by the thought, ‘I’m going to be alone forever,’” she says.


It took a long time to move past that fear. In fact, it took setting out to write a book about bettering herself in order to land a man. “The idea I pitched Harper Collins was very much ‘Let me get totally perfect so that I can find the perfect guy to fall in love with me and the last chapter will be about how in love we are,’” she says, but none of that happened. While the book ultimately delivers a happier message of self-love, she privately felt like a failure for still being single. Shortly thereafter, though, she “bottomed out” in a relationship where she says, “I just got crazy and obsessive and I started to believe … it’s this guy or a lifetime of eating dinner with my cat.”

Either through the writing of the book or that final relationship disaster, she says, “I basically realized that it was the old cliché: that no guy was ever going to make me happy,” she says. “I was buying into this age-old fairy tale that at the end of the movie you end up with a guy.”

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