When I parted ways with my live-in boyfriend of four years, loneliness quickly set in. As is often the case with cohabitation, we shared more than just an address. Everything about our lives had been so intertwined. Even my social circle became a painful reminder of the relationship lost.
The future loomed with unknowns. Would I find another person to fill the void? Did I want to? How long would the feelings of heartbreak and isolation remain?
Looking for a fresh start, I hopped in my 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia and headed north to Chicago. I fell into the safety net and onto the couch of a couple friends from college. I met new, interesting people and stayed busy with freelance work. I went to concerts by myself and found a yoga studio within biking distance of my friend’s apartment. It took several months, but I figured out a new normal that was all mine. I learned to navigate the world without someone else by my side, and it gave me the confidence in my independence to set me free from my fears about the future.
I began trusting people. But more than just resurrecting my hope in other humans, I emerged from that time as someone ok with being alone. Despite pressure from my peers and coworkers to “move on,” I instead grew more and more confident in myself as a single person. I didn’t need to fill the void left by my former boyfriend with another person. I didn’t need another person to complete me because I was fully whole by myself.
I’d found myself in Chicago but decided it was time to return to my hometown. I packed up my VW and headed south. As the sun set and illuminated the Chicago skyline I was leaving behind, I began reflecting on my time in that city. The takeaway was this: Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. Aloneness had taught me to let go of my fears and to trust that I could take care of myself.
I realized my life was in my hands. I came to see that a good relationship wasn’t something I had to earn. That time spent working on myself wasn’t about becoming worthy of someone else but recognizing the worth of my life in itself. I didn’t need another person to complete me.
Because of the work I had done on healing myself in Chicago, I could choose to be in a relationship rather than stumble into one out of fear of being alone. Not long after returning home, the right person did come along. My contentment prevented me from jumping into a relationship too soon. Instead, we took things slow and our solid friendship became the foundation for a romantic relationship. I married him because it was my choice, and I was ready to make it.