"I'm alone, not lonely." Looking back on those words years later, I can't help but think: "Amen, buddy."
They came in an email from a college friend who had graduated, moved to a new city, started a job and was navigating the world of post-baccalaureate adulthood — a world that didn't include dorms, weekend house parties and student cheering sections.
In other words: the real world.
I could write an email now with the same sentiment. In a culture that seems so desperate to marry off people, to quantify a person's worth in the concept of long-term relationships, of having three kids, a mortgage payment and a white picket fence, I feel comfortable saying the same thing now that my friend said seven years ago.
Just because I'm not married or cohabitating with someone or planning for my yet-to-be-conceived kids doesn't mean I'm lonely. Nor does it mean I'm an iconoclastic recluse devoid of emotion who shuns contact with other humans.
I'm not, in fact, the subject of Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am A Rock":
I've built walls. A fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate.
I have no need for friendship, friendship causes pain. It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock.
I am an island. ...
And a rock feels no pain.
And an island never cries.
Quite the opposite. On the precipice of turning 30, I am painfully aware that my path in life is very normal. I seek and cultivate friendships and intimate relationships. I enjoy the company of friends and family. I may very well "settle down" one day. Doing so could include getting a dog (though I should first work on not killing houseplants).
Kids? Yes, a possibility (though, again, houseplants).
All of those things are unions not to be entered into lightly. Not to equate marriage with owning a house or dog or having kids, but they do share a common denominator: They are serious long-term commitments. If you, like me, are someone who feels nervous about the prospect of being tied down to anything, you would do well to reconsider whether long-term commitments are right for you, at least at this time in your life.
I often tell people that my goal in life is to move in one carload. Furniture be damned. I can buy a cheap bed anywhere. Yes, I realize this is an invitation for psychoanalysis.
"He sounds like a commit-a-phobe," you might say. Sure, call it what you will. I call it self-awareness.
FOR WHOM THE MARRIAGE BELL TOLLS
Who is marriage for? Your spouse? Your kids? Some greater societal good? (Cynical: Insurance and tax benefits?)
Certainly some unmarried guy who prides himself on solitude and independence isn't the best person to dole out marriage advice.
But Catholic priests do. Why can't I?
If you hang around on Facebook, you may have come across a personal essay by Seth Adam Smith. The provocative title, "Marriage Isn't For You," made for easy and wide sharing on social media.
"Having been married only a year and a half, I've recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn't for me," Smith began.
Despite the catchy premise, his point was not to justify why he ended his young marriage. Rather, he employed the classic bait-and-switch. Marriage, indeed, wasn't for him. Rather, it was all about and for his spouse. It was an institution for her. And realizing that made him a better, more committed husband (or so the fairytale-like ending leads us to believe).
I won't play armchair marriage counselor, because I don't know enough (or anything) about his marriage to wax poetic about it.
However, I do know enough about myself — and the failed marriages I've encountered and grew up with — to know why I take such commitments so seriously. And why I avoid them at this point in my life.
I'm a selfish bastard, which isn't to say I'm greedy or that I don't care for others. That's not the case at all.
What I mean is that I want a lot out of life — to find happiness and fulfillment in whatever I do, to engage in the experiences (work and recreational) that I enjoy, to share those experiences with people who similarly enjoy them. I want that for all people, especially someone with whom I'm in a relationship.
But too often I've seen individual goals and aspirations lost for the sake of another person. "Marriage is all about making sacrifices," we've all heard so many times.
If that really is what marriage and long-term relationships are about, then count me as a committed, lifelong bachelor.
I don't want my significant other to sacrifice anything for me. I want that person to live a life of fulfillment and joy. And I want that person to similarly share in mine.
If that way of viewing relationships means I'll be "alone" for the rest of my life, then that's OK. I've had enough practice knowing what being alone feels like.
I can tell you it doesn't feel anything like loneliness. Not in the least. ♦