Monday, February 21, 2011

Why Solo?

Although I’ve taken several trips with friends, family and tour groups, I always liked traveling solo.  Even on R.V. trips with my brother across the U.S. and Canada, we drove separate vehicles and often took separate side trips.   Scenes that stand out most vividly in memory are of places I’ve explored on my own; surroundings impress themselves most intensely on my mind when significant others are not around to distract.   
Now that I’m older and living alone, how do I feel about that?  I’ve lived alone some fifteen years now, since my youngest daughter went off to college and my mother died not long thereafter.  Yes, that daughter didn’t stay long in college; she moved back into one room of the house briefly, then out and on her own again.  A couple of years later, she moved back into the downstairs with a husband and baby while I had quarters on the second floor.  By that time I was traveling and working elsewhere--to supplement retirement income and to see the world--so I just needed a place to land when I returned to regroup.  My daughter and her husband kept up the house and the yard, more or less, in my absence.
I realized that I liked living alone.  I had lived with others most of my life:  as a child with parents and siblings, in college with room-mates, during two marriages with husbands and children, and later with growing children until they left for college.  I may be strange, but I find that the emotional tension of living with another (or with others) rubs me raw inside. 
I don’t like it when someone is angry with me.  Once, my first husband became angry and stopped speaking to me for at least a day after I had helped him with something he was not able to do by himself (solve a calculus problem), even though he had asked me to help him. Another time, a colleague complained that an instrument (an ultramicrotome) didn't work and, when I fixed it, he became annoyed and called me a "ball-buster."  These episodes of unjust rejection and helplessness were burned into my memory.  You get no love for being a competent woman.

I feel unhappy and helpless if someone I care about is hurting and I can do nothing for them.  My daughters all have had hurts from friends and boyfriends, and I could do nothing but listen, and sometimes they wouldn’t even talk with me about what was hurting them. 
I feel betrayed when I’m taken advantage by others I try to help.  I have learned the strategy of ignoring “friends” who have problems I listen to, but who are not there for me when I need them. 
I become annoyed and defensive if someone encroaches on my space and time for trivial demands.  And I particularly don’t like the TV blaring when I’m trying to read or concentrate on a project.
I am deeply saddened if someone I care about rejects me.  Like most others, I’ve had my share of unrequited love.  I must say that my love-life has been fair, however; I’ve probably ended (or refused to begin) relationships as often as I’ve been rejected.
I am keenly sensitive to mocking or sarcasm and will try to avoid anyone who behaves that way toward me or others.  Before I retired, I was a female in a male-dominated profession and was the brunt of no end of sniping and sarcasm from many (although not all) male “colleagues.”  (This had not always been the case; I was in one professional setting in which male colleagues were, in general, pleasant and supportive, but that was not the norm in my professional experience.)  I came to understand that insulting behavior toward others is a way that "civilized" males establish dominance relationships within their mini-tribe.  I even learned to lash back with feigned good humor from time to time, but that behavior was never natural and it came at an emotional price.  This was undoubtedly one of the reasons I decided to take early retirement from a faculty position in the bio-medical sciences; I just didn't like the constant battle for status.
So this sensitivity to emotional dissonance in my surroundings is probably a major reason I’m now alone and liking it.  The price of peace may be solitude.  Bless friends and family with their own homes!

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