In July 2019 I wrote an essay in an attempt to answer a question so awkward that it made me sweat. In March 2020, not long after the pandemic closed us in our homes, I revised it. You can read it here, on Medium. This month, reflecting back on March 2020 and thinking about what’s ahead in 2022, I remembered this piece.
Here’s a flash version of my essay Alone.
“Why didn’t you ever marry?” my dead fiancé’s son asked me, in a voice that sounded so much like his father’s I had trouble breathing.
This young man, who I’d only spoken to once, reached out when he turned 30 to learn about his father, who’d died 24 years before at 32, leaving behind an ex-wife, two young boys and me.
Thinking about how to answer him I felt uncomfortable, then embarrassed, then ashamed.
In the years after my fiancé died (in a helicopter crash two weeks after we got engaged) lots of people have asked why I’ve stayed single. Here are my published reasons:
- I’ve red-shirted for too many years and lost my eligibility – if you’re off the field too long, you forget the rules of the game.
- No one wants a Mormon – observant members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not to have sex outside of marriage.
- No Mormon wants me – aside from my fiancé, men in my church have kept a safe distance from me.
- I’m too busy – I can’t summon the energy to be charming for a new man.
- The two closets in my bedroom are full – Yes, there are two huge walk in closets in my bedroom. They are both full. There’s no room for a man’s stuff in my apartment.
- I am a realist – I should expect miraculous, healing, profound love in my life TWICE? Please.
- Only a mighty good husband is better than none – Partnership is no guarantee of happiness. Everybody knows that.
- I know how to have a great life on my own – I’m not one of those women who needs a man to have a full life. I’m fine. Stop asking me about this.
Underneath my published reasons for singleness hide the real reasons I’ve remained alone for 25 years.
I don’t know how to be loved. I was just learning how to accept and rely on love when my fiancé was killed. Like so many of us, I know how to feel sad and unworthy. I am expert at withdrawing to create a safe, separate space in which I am wholly alone.
Self-preservation matters. Losing my man was like being thrown into an acid bath. In the wake of losing him I was a crippled shell. Not for months. For years. I know I am not strong enough to survive a second acid bath, and I also know that life and love offer no guarantees. So I learned to push down the dull, despondent ache of loneliness rather than face the possible sharp, mortal blow of another heartbreak.
I am strong enough to be unpartnered. Besides, I like it. Everything is exactly where I left it when I come back to my apartment. I make every decision about my time, my energy, my financial resources and my attention. And I have an amazing community of friends. It is the purest form of freedom.
Would it be nice to have someone who could put me on his insurance, clean the top of the fridge, wipe the dirt and sweat of the arena off of my face? Sure. But if you need someone, you may not see who they really are. You may wind up losing more than you gain.
Do I miss having a partner? Not really. The more accurate question is this: Do I miss the incandescent joy I felt as I was about to begin a life with a partner I deeply loved? Profoundly. But I know how rare great love is, and I know better than to bank on keeping it – because anything can happen. I still remember the acid bath. So I keep my head down and I climb – free and solo.
When my dead fiancé’s son asked me: “Why didn’t you ever marry?” I did not tell him this: In the last letter my fiancé wrote to me he said, “I have trouble imagining being hurt to the point where isolation would be preferable to risk.”
Oh my darling, you never had to learn what it feels like to live in a world without you.