the distinction between “happy with yourself” and “happy by yourself”

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about feeling blue and weepy, despite having a full life and doing all the things that a modern, single mother should do to be happy on her own.  The particular source of my blues was centered on a fractured faith that my Mr. Right would eventually appear in my life at some point.  But I received a comment on my post that took my thinking back around to a common (and tired) theme that is revisited frequently for single people (and especially women).  It is the idea that somehow, some way, we must each find a way to perfectly happy and content alone before we can ever be such in a truly fulfilling, healthy relationship.

Well, I don’t think so.

I’m an only child who was raised by a single mom and a lot of babysitters.  I have traveled through and relocated to foreign countries alone, lived alone for most of my single life, spent holidays alone, taken short vacations alone, and I often go to the movies or out to eat alone.  Trust me, suggesting that I need to spend any more time with just myself is nothing short of insulting.  And frankly, I think that’s true for a lot of women, whether they have the passport stamps or other tangible evidence of their aloneness or not.

To a large extent, it seems that women have been convinced that if we desire a partner in this life, there is something inherently insecure or lacking or insufficient in us.  I would (and frequently do) argue loudly to the contrary.  Since when did the desire to make a heartfelt soul connection with a romantic partner become a weakness or a liability?  Why is it not evidence of an open and generous nature seeking the same?

Certainly there are many people out there (and I would argue that at least half of them are men) who simply pinball from one bad or mediocre relationship to another just to avoid any time with their own company.  We all know who they are; their discomfort with themselves doesn’t take a clinical psychology degree to recognize.  And yes, I would definitely agree that those folks would benefit from some serious alone time — to figure themselves out and how they fit in the world and what they really want from a relationship and this life they’re a part of.

But most of the women I know are not those people.  Most of the women I know are quite capable of being alone, they would simply prefer not to be.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have long understood that we need to be comfortable with ourselves and possess a love for ourselves and what we have to offer before we can successfully offer it to someone else, but pop psychology has lately mutated that into some kind of rationale that we should first be completely happy and fulfilled alone. That’s jacked up, if you ask me.  People who don’t need or seek deep emotional connections are what we call “emotionally unavailable”; indeed, at the furthest end of that spectrum, we label it autism.  Needing a deep emotional connection is not abnormal; it is, in fact, the very definition of normal.   I don’t think anyone should feel bad about admitting that they want a partner in this life.  There is nothing noble in being alone and not caring that you don’t have a heart full of love for someone.  To be truthful, the people that I have known who have most loudly proclaimed their comfort with being alone were also the most emotionally walled-off people I’ve met, without exception.

I think it all amounts to the difference between being happy with yourself and being happy by yourself.

It seems to me that the psychology researchers and professionals have been trying to encourage us to figure out how to be happy with yourself before trying to be happy with someone else.  But that is not the same as being happy by yourself.  Being happy with yourself focuses on how you feel about who you are and what you have to offer, whether you like yourself and your company, whether you know who you really are.  Being happy by yourself suggests that other people aren’t really necessary in your life to bring you happiness and fulfillment.  And let’s be honest, unless you’re an extremely devoted religious observer (like a Catholic nun or Buddhist monk), that probably isn’t a healthy — or reasonable — road to happiness for most of us.

Speaking of spirituality, I have friends who strongly believe that our souls come into this realm seeking to experience different things in different lifetimes. For some people, that means seeking to experience solitude or peace. For others, it might mean seeking to experience financial security or professional success. And for others — possibly most — it is seeking to experience and learn from a heart connection with other humans.  They believe that our souls come to Earth to have a human experience; something they can’t have in the other realm that you might call heaven or the beyond or whatever.  For most of these souls, a huge part of that human experience is human connection.  To this way of thinking, seeking that connection is not a weakness, but the fulfillment of a divine destiny.  How beautiful is that?

So maybe we should all let ourselves off the hook for hoping that somehow, someday, somewhere we will have someone magical to share our lives with.  Perhaps that desire is simply evidence of a healthy, beating heart.  Perhaps it is just part of being a perfectly normal human.  Perhaps it is nothing more than the pursuit of a divine destiny….

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14 Comments

Filed under dating, love, personal growth, relationships, single mom

14 responses to “the distinction between “happy with yourself” and “happy by yourself”

  1. It seems like we just can’t win – if you trot out the “I’m happy and I’m single” flag you get accused of being delusional and lying to yourself. If you admit that you DO want to find a partner and/or be in a relationship you are a weak woman and an affront to feminism.

  2. I put my 2 cents worth in on the original post which was ; I agree. I have to be one of the most “able to live without a man” woman I know. I don’t mind, in fact I enjoy time to myself, I don’t need a man to validate me or to “complete” ne but dang it I miss looking forward to my man coming home at the end of the day, I miss lazy Sunday mornings, I miss having someone to help around the house, I miss someone who will make me soup when I’m sick or a man I love calling midday just because he was thinking of me and wanted ot know how my day is going. I miss sex with someone who knows me inside and out and I him and being totally comfortable with each other.

    But I’m not going to “settle” just to avoid being alone. If I can’t have a soul mate I’m prepared to be alone.

  3. And God said: “It is not good for man (woman) to be alone” Geneesis

  4. I think there is a huge difference between desire and need. Am I better off and happier with Hunny that without? Absolutely. Of course.

    Would I want companionship and relationship if I didn’t have him?
    Absolutely. Of course.

    Would I be content with my life if I didn’t have him in it? Probably to same degree that I either am or am not already, depending on the day. 😆

    You can be happy with yourself and not be by yourself and still have all these feelings. You can still have that spot of emptiness and you can still spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fill it.

    Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert; maybe it’s because I don’t seek tons of deep relationships (I have a few- well, ok, I have two that I can count at the moment, because people generally move in and out of our lives) and I’m not interested in hanging with people just to hang. I really would rather be by myself, and have always been this way. And because I’m an introvert, there are times when I need to be alone, even if love hanging with my hunny and my bestie.

    I think by nature, humans are programmed for pair bonds. I won’t go into the debate of whether or not men are designed for monogamy, though. 😆

    I think the point for me is that I have “it all.” I have the soul-mate; I have the happy family; I have what others consider to be the “ideal life.” And yet, I have these same feelings. A man didn’t/can’t “fix” me (although he does help! 😉 ). The only person who has that ability (past God) is *me*.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting companionship. I absolutely do not think it’s a “weakness.” But, it’s not the banana split. The relationship, though, should be the cherry on top. 😀

  5. I think you hit the nail on the head with the “emotionally available/unavailable” comment. Those of us that would like to have a relationship and connection are definitely not “weak”…but rather live our lives to have that connection with people that are important to us. I am truly one of these people. I don’t see the job I work at or the house I live in as the end all, be all. It is always about my relationships with others that means the most to me in life. I believe that is the very characteristic that defines different people as available or unavailable. I choose to be focused on the people and connection I have with them….the “stuff” I have is just that…stuff. 🙂

  6. I share that sentiment too. We are social animals after, not (for the most) meant to be alone. And wanting to share your life, connect with someone special is the most normal/natural thing to need.
    The tired old comment from well-meaning people saying “you will find someone when you are not looking” (subtext: “you are not finding someone because you are looking”) drives me to distraction. What a load of crap!

    • Lol. 🙂 It’s funny you should mention the “find it when you’re not looking” thing because I’ve been inundated recently with the corollary “You’ll find it when you’re ready.” I have no effing clue what that really means. It sounds like as soon as my life is all calm and everything is in order and ready, then Love will come sauntering in and casually take a seat.

      Well, that’s awesome, but the only times I have fallen truly, deeply in love have all begun at decidely inconvenient times (two of them when I was attached in some way to another person), but were wonderful in their own way. Maybe other people have these neat and tidy lives in which love shows up just as planned (like a planned pregnancy, perhaps???), but my heart has never been so accommodating.

      I suppose maybe they mean that it will show up when I’m emotionally ready, but — again — love has never appeared at emotionally ideal times for me. And yet it’s still appeared.

      I don’t know about any of these things. I suppose perhaps we’ll see. Sigh.

      • Give me messy over planned, any day. I think that’s why we realize how it feels to be alone, compared to what it feels like to be lonely. I don’t need a man in my life- I can shovel snow, turn the garden and run a household with my eyes closed. I want the blessing of someone who acknowledges that it IS a blessing to be in my life. Why in the hell is it so damn hard? lol 🙂

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