hard to say: I am not alone

I sat in a horrified fury as the pastor spoke some of my greatest questions and deepest beliefs in a mocking tone in order to stress his point. Everybody laughed.

In one hour, the environment I had grown to love, where I felt spiritual freedom to think and believe and love exactly as I was made to, was demolished. In one hour, the kind, intelligent, and supportive people I had grown to respect transformed into enthusiastic bobble heads, shouting out their agreements and Amens before a point was even made.

My heart was broken, my spirit crushed. I cried hot tears of grief and mourning as I drove home from the young adult’s group that Monday evening. Once again, I do not belong.

In the days that followed, I felt achingly lonely. I tried to talk about it with the people I trusted most, who had previously been so open to growing together in our differences. But anytime I started to bring it up, the subject was immediately changed. It was clear they didn’t want to hear it.

I asked God to please help me understand what everyone else was in agreement with. What is wrong with me that I cannot find truth in this? The deafening silence that responded emptied my soul; I felt completely alone.

This is the exact spiritual abuse I was brought up in. The practice of: “if you are not with us, you are against us.” It is the reason I do not trust the church, the reason my spirit is uniquely sensitive. I did not belong then and I certainly do not belong now. But as much as I long for belonging, perhaps I was not made to belongPerhaps I was made to stand out. 

As I meditated on this thought, I began to feel a loving presence wrap its arms around my soul, filling me with peace and healing my heart. There is nothing wrong with me.

The subtle attempt to control God, or “the theology of more” as my therapist calls it, is simply not something I can ever come into any kind of agreement with. The command to always do more – pray more, worship more, give more, sacrifice more – in order to get closer to God. The idea that we must live a certain way and follow a set of laws in order to please God and receive His blessings – I choose to live outside of this idea, to turn away.

If God created each of us with different purposes and unique gifts, why would he want us to live exactly the same way? Can we not just trust God to tell each of us individually what he wants for us, without becoming so fearful of the unknown we must create laws in an attempt to control the outcome?

My turning away from the church feels strongly like turning every ounce of my being directly towards God. It is lonely and painful, losing the comforting sense of community I thought I’d acquired. But in letting go of this, I am stepping out of God’s way and allowing Him to love me and to do with me what He wants. Whatever that may be, I am on board. I trust His plan and His timing. I may be lonely, but I am certainly not alone.

-EC

by myself at a bowling alley

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Truth be told: I didn’t feel much like going out this weekend. I’d have been happy to spend it parked in my hammock with a good book. Realizing this was perhaps the best opportunity to experience being out by myself – when I wasn’t feeling into it – I decided to go out anyway. Saturday night at 9pm, I arrived at Parkway Lanes, in St. Catharines, for my fifth date by myself.

It wasn’t busy; fewer than half of the lanes were occupied. I purchased two games from a young man, his voice cracking with fresh puberty, and headed to lane 14. As I laced up my rented shoes, the group of people three lanes down whispered to each other and laughed in my direction. As I got myself set up, the young man and his manager (who’d come out of his back office) stood silently staring at me. To be fair, I showed up for bowling packing a giant tripod.

I giggled to myself as I took some pre-game photos. Please excuse the poor quality. It was all dark and glowy in there and I am shyte with the settings on my super professional camera – it is utterly wasted in my unskilled hands. Hopefully you are still able to appreciate the amazing pants I chose to bowl in.

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My first ten frames took all of 20 minutes. Bowling does not take long when you are alone. Also, I am terrible at it. I took a little breather, bought a 5-dollar bottle of “Great Value” water from the bar and started my second game. I expected I’d be a lot better after loosening up and shaking off the cobwebs. Nope. Still terrible. In an unexpected turn of events, I learned something quite unfortunate that evening: bowling is not fun.

I’ve done a lot of bowling in my day. Whether on dates or with large groups of friends, bowling has always been a go-to guaranteed fun time. Now, by myself and stripped of conversation, competition, or (especially) alcohol, I saw bowling with new eyes. The darkness, the loud music, the dancing strobe lights, the disco ball, the novelty of my glowing clothing – all of it speaking to me subliminally. You are having a wonderful time. Sure you are just trying to knock down some pins by hurling a ball down a long lane, but this is the best night ever. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

What a bummer. I did manage to get one strike, which I celebrated halfheartedly. I stretched out the time by playing in the air that blows out of the bowling ball retrieving machine thingy. But eventually I admitted I was bored and gave up. I packed my things and went to the bar to hang out and finish drinking my over-priced water. At the bar, a small crowd of what appeared to be regulars watched me as if I were about to grow another head.

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The entirety of my bowling experience was met with stares, whispers, or laughter. And yet, I was unperturbed. I didn’t feel the typical animosity, defensive anger, or urge to explain myself. I felt comfortable allowing everybody to think and conclude whatever they wanted about me. For this I am pleased.

Still, I did feel a hint of something I couldn’t identify over all the strategic distractions. More than just disappointment for having discovered that bowling sucks, this was something else, something I needed to attend to.

I headed to a spot where I’d long ago been taken by a date who’d tried to salvage a terrible evening by feeling me up: a small bench atop a grassy hill. In the daytime, you can see that this bench overlooks a private beach on Lake Ontario. You can see clear across to Toronto on a sunny day. I couldn’t see a thing that night. It was so dark I could not even distinguish the sky from the water. With no visible horizon, I could have easily been convinced that the world dropped off at the bottom of the hill. I sat and stared into the darkness.

There had been a couple just arriving as I ended my last game at the alley. They took the lane beside me and flirted playfully. The girl worried aloud about the balls being too heavy for her so the guy set out to find her a lighter one. I could have told them the purple ball I’d been using was pretty light, but I didn’t. Instead I watched as he tested eight balls before returning with one that suited her. I turned away when they kissed.

As the sound of the gentle waves breaking slowed my breathing and eased my searching mind, one thought came to me simple and clear: I want that. There it was, the exact feeling I have been seeking to make peace with: loneliness.

When it came there was no fear or anger. There was no lump in my throat because there was no resistance. I let it wash over me and I began to cry. I sat in the loneliness for a long time, crying and breathing and feeling it. Then just as easily as it came, it passed. When it was all done, I wiped my face and smiled to myself. That wasn’t so bad.

I’m really glad I decided to go out anyway.

-EC

really by myself

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While backpacking in Australia, I briefly worked as a housekeeper at one of the hostels I stayed in. Living on the beach for free was well worth that time I cleaned red wine puke off the bathroom walls.

I remember a well-dressed woman in her 30s coming in and telling the front desk she was there to review us. They immediately upgraded her to a private suite and instructed us to kiss her ass for a week. She, of course, was lying. They eventually called her on her bullshit and she was asked to leave. We were pissed. She’d had us running around fetching things for her and smiling about it.

In retrospect, her scheme was pretty brilliant and hilarious. (She got a lot of free stuff out of us.) I also completely understand the need behind it.

When I explained to my dad that I am now dating myself for the purpose of learning to enjoy solitude (among other meaningful reasons) he had some tips for me.

He suggested I bring my own ball when I go bowling, wear gloves when I go mini golfing, and bring a notepad when I go to a fancy restaurant. Then I could tell people I was a professional bowler/golfer out for a practice session, or the other diners would think I was reviewing the restaurant. Excellent tips to avoid feeling rejected, alienated, lonely, or weird.

I appreciate his need to protect me; he’s a good dad. But I don’t want to protect myself from these feelings; I’d like to make friends with them.

We would have treated that lone traveler with the same respect as all the other guests. What a tempting thought though: to be treated differently because you tell people you are important instead of risking being treated differently because there is “something wrong with you.”

Here’s the catch: she didn’t make any friends or join in on any of the fun activities while she was there. Trying to be better than everyone can be just as lonely as believing yourself less than them.

Yes, lady traveling alone, it is scary being by yourself, especially in a new country. And yes, dad, it is scary being out by myself in couples-and-families-only scenarios. Both of your fears are justified; this is all true. I just don’t want it to be true for me anymore.

I am alone and I don’t want to be afraid of it. The fear of being alone is what kept me in unhealthy, abusive, and destructive relationships for so long. I don’t want to end up married to some asshole just because it’d be “better than being alone.” Fuck that shit.

I’m supposed to be heading out for glow-in-the-dark bowling by myself tonight. That was the plan. But I just don’t feel like bowling today. That’s the magical thing about dating yourself. The answer to “what should we do tonight” is always “whatever I feel like!”

I’m on my way to an amusement park by myself for the day. Bring on the roller coasters and long lineups filled with uncomfortable eye-contact evasion!

Bonus points if I get my sexy ass into the water park. Wish me luck!

-EC

by myself at miniature golf

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Saturday evening, around 8:30 pm, I went out on my first official date by myself. Please take a moment to skim through my previous post: by myself if you have no idea what I am talking about.

A first date is typically riddled with nerves, awkward pauses in conversation, and restrained farts. These are non-issues on a solo operation, so I already felt ahead of the game. I left the house looking cute and feeling well. This is going to be a breeze!

I pulled into the parking lot and my confidence deflated. Wow, there are a lot of people working on their short game this evening. I got out of the car and began setting up my tripod. In order to provide photo evidence without compromising the integrity of the challenge by bringing someone, I got a remote for my camera.

“Why don’t you just take a selfie with your phone?” my sister had asked, flabbergasted. “Because that would be too easy.”

Indeed, I intend to do this the hard way. Correction: “the more meaningful way,” says my therapist. “I think you’re just torturing yourself,” commented my sister. There may be some truth in that.

Here I am at Super Putt, in Niagara Falls, looking exactly as awkward as I felt in the moment.

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I returned my equipment to my trunk and got in line behind a group of four, a middle-aged couple, and a family of three – all of whom had just watched me take that photo and were now eyeing me curiously. The family of three approached me. “Are you here by yourself?” “I am, yes.” “Would you like to join us?”

Even though this life raft was probably well-intended, I hated being directly confronted about being alone. I had to stuff the urge to launch into a full explanation about my intentions and this new project I am writing about. Instead I smiled and replied simply: “no, thank you.”

The next 45 minutes were somewhat painless. Mini-golf is boring without conversation or flirting or competition. And it would seem I am not very good unless I have somebody to beat. Interesting.

There were several uncomfortable moments backed up behind slower people and waiting around with the other groups. The couples embraced, the families joked around with each other, and then there was me.

I wish I could tell you I stood tall and faced the discomfort with my head up, smiled at the strangers and felt as if I belonged. That would be a lie. I felt like a weirdo. I got out my phone and took photos, posted them online, and cowered behind the warm glow of the social media security blanket. (A “no distractions” rule will be observed going forward.) Clearly I’ve got some work to do.

Not wanting to go home disappointed, I finished the evening with a romantic moonlit stroll by the falls. I had forgotten how captivating it looks lit up against the night sky.

At one point a man standing beside me got up on the ledge to take a picture and I jokingly yelled, “Don’t jump!” We laughed innocently for about two seconds before his wife swooped in and dragged him away. Oh, for Christ’s sake! I rolled my eyes and headed home.

Glow-in-the-dark bowling this weekend.

-EC

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by myself

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I recently turned 31. I’m still waiting for that thing people talk about when you reach your 30s, something about hearing a loud ticking noise. I didn’t hear it when I turned 30 and I don’t hear it now. Comfortable as I am with aging and getting grey hairs and all that (I call the one by my right temple Grace) I can’t help but to evaluate my life.

On most counts, I am happy with my progress. I may not be exactly where I’d like but I’ve definitely figured out the end goal and am actively working toward it. There’s just this one annoying thing that still bothers me: I am single.

There is nothing wrong with being single in your 30s; and frankly, I’d like to stay single for a while. Here’s the real predicament: I am bored and lonely.

Nearly all of my favourite people are married and/or have children. I’ve become an expert 3rd, 5th, 7th, and even 9th wheel. I enjoy spending time with my happily coupled friends and their kids… or dogs. But couples and families need a lot of time. Time with each other and ample time before they may abandon their responsibilities to join the fun. More often than not I am left to my own devices.

This is good. I am an introvert after all. I read, go to the movies, kayak, ride my bike, and take a lot of walks. I still get bored and I still feel lonely.

This is some serious horseshit.

I am pretty good at being single, I think I’ve figured it out, but now I’m going to teach myself to love it. As my therapist put it: I already have my Bachelor’s, now I’m going to earn my Master’s in being alone. Just because I am alone doesn’t mean I have to be lonely. And I refuse to be boring!

Here’s my plan, my challenge: I’m going to bring some fun and spontaneity back into my life. More importantly, I’m going to reintroduce myself to romance.

I’ve made a list – a list I will continue to expand on – of great dates I’ve enjoyed or have wanted to enjoy. (I will also take suggestions.) Then I am going to work my way through the list, go on all of these dates, by myself.

– bowling by myself
– mini golf by myself
– a candlelight dinner at a fancy restaurant by myself
– a midnight stroll on the beach by myself
– a play by myself (not a movie, too easy)
– a sporting event by myself (not baseball, too easy)
– a comedy club by myself (oh, I am going to get torn apart)
– a theme park by myself
– dance lessons by myself
– paddle board lessons by myself
– a weekend camping trip by myself… you know, for when things start to get more serious with myself (this is a recipe for a lot of tent masturbation)

I will report back on each date, with photo evidence. This is going to be super awkward and hilarious; I can’t wait to get started!

…stay tuned…

EC

hard to say: I want more

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I look like garbage, on paper. I am a single, unemployed 30-year old occasional blogger, living in her parents’ basement, and driving her parents’ car. Love me! It’s not shocking that online dating didn’t go well. Men with profiles saying “I have a stable job, a nice car and a big house; I really have my life together!” just couldn’t relate to me at all. I deleted my account and vowed to avoid this smorgasbord of fuckery. As most vows I’ve made to myself go, I broke this one too.

In a moment of loneliness, watching bad Saturday-night TV movies by myself on the couch, I signed back up. Pajama-clad legs bouncing in anticipation, I answered the mandatory questionnaire and began late-night perusing a database of weirdoes. Then morning came and I remembered I am a wonderful person, not a shitty profile. I wiped the residue of shallow, unsatisfying banter from my tired face and deleted my account, again.

“What was it about the loneliness, that night, that made you run away from it?” asked my therapist after my confession. Oh, fuck you, dude. Sometimes I really hate (read: admire) that asshole (read: genius). He is just the worst (read: best ever in the world).

Here’s the thing: being unemployed doesn’t bother me; I know I’ll find a job. Cars do not impress me in the slightest; I can get around without one. I can handle living with my parents; I know it isn’t permanent. But I’m supposed to be in love by now!

For years I pursued the “really having your life together” checklist: job, car, house. I graduated college with honours, I found a good job, I got a nice car, and I had my own place. So why was I so deeply unhappy? Running away to Australia did not fix things. Ooh, maybe I’ll get a better job, a nicer car, a massive house! I came home after a year, more lost than ever.

“I just want to be in love!” I shouted in my therapist’s office one day. Finally, my fundamental truth. I would gladly sacrifice a job, a car, and a house. I want more.

“Good, then do it!” he shouted back. No, don’t do that thing where you say something so simple and obvious it makes complete sense. “I want you to be in love. I want you to fall completely and madly in love, with yourself.” God dammit.

When I returned from Australia, the last place in the world I wanted to be was at my parents’ house. The home where anger lived. Thankfully I had no other option. Uncomfortable as it was, I was exactly where I needed to be. In that discomfort I gained acceptance, I learned forgiveness, and I let go of my anger. Back home is where I finally found myself.

So yes, I fucking hate being single. It is the farthest thing from what I want. It is the last place in the world I want to be. Yet it might just be exactly where I need to be right now. Perhaps in the discomfort of loneliness, I will find love.

-EC