Ask JKE is our monthly advice column written by Jackie Kai Ellis. Submit your questions anonymously here.
I have been divorced for seven years. I haven’t found the right person and dating is not possible in my culture and I feel so bad! I tried to accept the feeling and the fact that I will stay without a husband but I am still struggling! How can I feel ok being single?
Dear The Bee,
There’s so much I don’t know about you or about the details of your culture, so I’ve decided to write as if you were my oldest, dearest friend, since genuine care is universal.
I would say to you, dear friend, that you’re entitled to feel bad about being single because it’s just the reality of how you feel. It’s natural to feel grief about wanting to love and to be loved. It’s the most elemental and fundamental human yearning. And I would say to you that, unfortunately, you won’t feel okay with being single unless you actually are okay with being single. Everything else just wouldn’t be true, and truth has a way of sticking around like a pebble in your shoe.
I understand you don’t want to feel tormented any longer, though to accomplish this, it’s crucial to recognize that the desire for love hurts deeply. The desire to be intimate; to share an inside joke with a knowing glance; to experience something achingly beautiful beside someone who takes joy in seeing your joy. Even the desire to have someone to disagree with, to play tug-of-war with, to say sorry about being a dick to. Through it all, it’s the desire to stick with someone, because only certain beauties come from a love that has been nurtured for long enough that its branches have grown around your unique shapes and its shade falls on the place you both stand.
I know how enormous this feels. Though it’s likely not the same, I can only share where I’ve been myself. I spent many years dating after divorce, in search of the “right” person. It was frankly exhausting and disheartening. Despite many consoling comments from close friends that there was “someone out there” for me, the end of each encounter would inch me closer to accepting what felt like defeat. The fact was that many are not so lucky to find someone they want to spend their precious years with and, really, what made me different?
It didn’t help that in my culture, there are pervasive, lurking messages that equate a woman’s value to what she can offer a man. And conversely, the idea that a woman can be both independent and deeply crave partnership is sometimes seen as discordant. There are so many dialogues around dating that shame women, making them “wrong” for their singleness. I wrestled with them all: Was I too independent? Was I vulnerable enough? Was my life not full enough? Did I not appreciate the love I already had from my friends and family? Was I not the partner I would want to be with? Was I not whole in my being, so as not to expect the other person to fill roles I should play for myself? Did I care too much, too little? Too picky? Too compromising?
I spent nights wondering, questioning why I even wanted a relationship and what “right” looked like to me. In the end, I decided that I was who I was. I had my passions; I had people I loved; I had a life I loved; I had goals, dreams, and a “me” that I loved, too. I defined the kind of relationship I imagined would feel “right” within this beautiful life I had chosen. I defined what I was willing to compromise and what I wasn’t willing to forego, even if it meant being single forever.
Most importantly, I decided what was in my power and what was not. I stopped dating, knowing that I had done my best with what I could control, and it made it easier to accept what was not for me to decide. Maybe I’m too romantic, but I came to believe that discovering the kind of love that only few are lucky enough to find really came down to luck, or to what we are destined to experience. So I accepted whatever was meant for me.
The desire never really went away, and neither did the void. I just knew that I didn’t enjoy being sad about what I didn’t have, and thankfully had the choice to enjoy what I did.
Dear friend, this is just my story; yours is different. Your priorities, compromises, and efforts will be different. Your questions and answers will be different, too. Though in the end, we all meet in the same place, choosing to let go of the things we can’t control and carving out a life we love with the choices we do have. As a dear friend said to me, “the next eight weeks will happen anyway: choose how you want to spend them.”