man alone in stadium

Love is scary.

There, I said what we’ve all been thinking. Sometimes, love is so scary that it’s easier to choose not to have it. Padded behind layers and layers of emotional armor, we defend our choice of not investing in love with myriad excuses — I’m too busy for a partner, I like being single, I’ve looked, I swear, but I can’t find anyone I’d want to be with…

Recently, I was at a documentary film discussion group and the topic of relationships came up. Both of the hosts discussed their sordid pasts in relationships that had started out promisingly but had ended in a screeching halt, with insults hurled and wounds cut deep into the flesh of the heart. Both made a vow not to get hurt like that again.

Their words, though authentic, came with a ring of steel, a dagger-like promise — I will not get hurt — that no mortal would be able to pass through.

Imagine meeting someone whose walls have been built so high that they are impenetrable — as much potential that this person might have, who has the time to really try to take that wall down brick by brick, stone by stone? Maybe we’ve such a thing happen in movies, but movies gloss over how intensely frightening it is to really be seen that deeply both by another person, and, more importantly, by oneself. While singledom offers many benefits, staying single can be a way to continue to avoid looking at the most difficult parts of ourselves.

It’s easy enough to find a routine for basic acts of self care — exercise, eat right, go to sleep on time — but to do the in-depth personal growth that forces you to face your deepest, inner, darkest demons is hard and painful. It’s much easier to blame external circumstances for our loneliness. It’s easier to say you live in the wrong city, you’re too busy with work, or that you don’t like to be tied down, than to admit that you’re terrified to be hurt again.

I’ve heard it said that “We’re all looking for someone whose demons play nicely with ours.” Truthfully, there is light and dark within all of us, but the problem is that we are afraid of our light as much as we are afraid of our darkness — we’re afraid to see it ourselves, and we’re afraid of what might happen if someone else sees it. So, we try to hide. We strap our armor on and pull out our swords, prepared to fight against anyone who might say to us: “Is this armor what you really want?”

The swords come out and you can hear the metal on metal as people prepare to defend their loneliness with excuses about their own lifestyles or about the lack of necessary traits a potential partner might have. We pull together tremendous checklists that, in the end, don’t really do anything, besides take us away from what we really want.

To be seen.

Of course, not every person who is single is lonely and defending themselves against being hurt again. There is a way to be alone, but not lonely. Many people use their singledom as periods of deep self exploration. In getting to know themselves and in finding peace with their own inner demons, they remain willing to be open to the things that the Universe can bring them, whether that’s a partner, a move, or a new vocation.

Right after I met my now-husband, I finally found myself in this space. Having just left a short, but not sweet relationship, it was like something inside of me had awakened. I was fine on my own and could stand on my own two feet, but was open to the universe bringing me what it would.

However, many people also find, after a time of living alone, that being alone is not all that great; in fact, it’s downright lonely, especially right now, when we have high expectations of ourselves to be connected, engaged, constantly networked with others. Add to this the fact that our culture does not teach us or encourage us to access and befriend our loneliness. Instead, we are surrounded by quick fixes — apps, meds, diets, gurus, products of all kinds.  

Yet if we can’t be alone with ourselves, how can we ever genuinely connect with others? The only answer that seems real and lasting to me is love: scary as it is, we have to find a way to love ourselves, even — especially — in our darkest, most difficult moments.

Loving ourselves does not mean hiding or armoring ourselves — quite the opposite. It means going past all our defenses and loving whomever it is we find there.

If the idea of loving yourself is a little too much, imagine yourself as a very young child. Think of how vulnerable that small person is. It’s difficult to turn away coldly from the needs of a child, yet we are that child we so often turn away from. If it’s possible for you to feel kindness for yourself as a child, begin there.

As soon as we have started being kinder to ourselves, it’s easier to give other people the benefit of the doubt, and even to extend kindness towards them. It’s easier to take responsibility for what is ours and what really is someone else’s. We start to open up to the kinds of people who are also doing this kind of work (albeit in their own ways) and then it’s easier to introduce our demons to one another’s and not let them take over the show. Together, our lights can shine even brighter.

If we’re single, being kind to ourselves opens up a new way to be in relation with ourselves and others: it lets us be honest with ourselves about the real reasons we’re choosing to be alone, and it lets us begin to connect with others beyond the boundaries of our old walls.