After my last break-up, in December, I felt frustrated. Really, really, really frustrated. My journal from early January is full of entries that rework a common theme of “What the hell do I have to do to find HIM?” I sincerely felt that I’ve spent the better part of two years doing all the things you’re supposed to do as a single woman — I’d taken the advice, I’d read the books, I’d seen the movies…. but I was moving from one ridiculous relationship to another. My dating stories are legendary among my friends, and even my therapist suggested that I write a book. It was disheartening, and I could feel myself creeping toward the bitter and cynical endzone of the dating game.
So I called my friend Ryan. I poured out all my frustration and anger and resentment that my dating toils were getting me nowhere. I told him that I felt that my options were to settle or to be alone forever. I told him how tired I was of hearing men tell me how amazing I am, when they did nothing but disappoint me. I talked until I was out of breath and words.
And then I listened.
In his inimitable, forthright way, Ryan told me my life was too noisy. “You have too much chatter in your life,” he told me. “Every time I talk to you, you have another story, and it’s always more crazy than the last one. Have you noticed that the way these guys are screwing up is getting more and more creative and outrageous? You need to eliminate the chatter and find the silence. You’ll never hear your own voice and find your real path until you do. You are an amazing woman, but the people — both men and some women friends — you’re allowing into your life right now are not worthy of you. They know it. You don’t. You need to edit your life and find your peace.”
Okey dokey. So, I asked, how does one go about editing one’s life and finding one’s peace?
And here’s the really great thing about Ryan: he showed me. For the next couple of weeks, he was my “silence” guru. Once, when the ex from December resurfaced, I frantically texted Ryan “Need silence advice pronto! CALL ME!!!” He ducked out of a meeting at work and did just that.
Basically, I discovered that clearing out the chatter and finding your silence is about letting go of things — concepts about what your life “should” be, whom you “should” be with, self-criticism of your choices or biases, deadlines or timelines for romantic relationships. I realized that I’d been putting enormous pressure on myself to have the kind of post-divorce life that I’d imagined. My dating life was chaotic and unsatisfying, and some of my friendships had become competitive and unfulfilling. I felt tired all the time and like I was running and running but getting no where. So I canceled my online dating subscription, deleted unhelpful or hurtful people from my facebook list and my phone, and started trying to get comfortable with just me again.
Ryan taught me to allow my preconceptions to fall away and to begin imagining a life for myself that simply feels good. Not as a temporary placeholder until Mr. Right shows up, but genuinely good. He asked me to imagine: if people did not couple off, what is the best life I can imagine having? When I stopped to do that — really and truly took some time to think about that — I realized that it wasn’t so far off from the life I have now. A few additions, subtractions, and adjustments and I’ll be there.
Another friend suggested that I try to see myself the way that I’d want Mr. Right to see me — show myself the same adoration and appreciate the same little nuances of my personality as this mythical man would. At first this was a very awkward exercise, but gradually I came to enjoy it. And as I spent some time appreciating the small things I like about myself, I saw those things emerge more prominently in all my relationships — at work, with my children, even with my ex — which was very validating and affirming.
It hasn’t been easy, this “silent” period. It has been just over one month, and I have gone through periods during which I felt like I was battling myself, shouting at the wind about the injustice of being alone. Other times, I have had extravagant pity parties for myself. Still other times, I have pondered — hard — whether I am truly happier now than before my divorce. I haven’t dated or gone out much with friends. I have journaled like mad, read books, powered through my personal to-do list, and spent many minutes in quiet contemplation. But slowly, very slowly, I can feel the good me — the authentic, real me — emerging. And that feels wonderful.
I spent Valentine’s Day alone this year, but for the first time ever, I truly feel like I chose to do so. I am honestly at peace with myself. I know that I am not done with being “silent” — don’t ask me how I know this; I just do — but I can see that someday, on the horizon, I will date again. For now, I am quietly making plans to incorporate some small changes into my life that I suspect will have big impacts. I am relishing my dear friends, engaging deeply in my work, and connecting in meaningful ways with my children.
The silence is deafening… and comforting…. and promising.