There’s no other time of year that reminds you just how single and childless you are than the Holidays. Everybody else spends the Holidays with their partner, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, and/or in-laws. Single people like myself spend the Holidays with families too, just not our own families. Oh, we might be related to the people seated next to us at dinner, but we enter these family gatherings as a guest, and then we leave. Sometimes we leave feeling sad and pining for a family of our own. Other times, we leave feeling relieved and confident that we’re the lucky ones.
Lately, I’ve been debating which of these scenarios is more appropriate – having a family of my own, or being alone. I have mixed feelings about both.
Despite having a traumatic childhood, my idea of “family” has always been a positive one. My father was a volatile man, but also loving (in his own way), brilliant and extremely witty. My mother was calmer, a good listener, a pillar of emotional strength, creatively inspiring, and also funny. I would often tell her that I not only loved her, but I also liked her, which always made her smile. Likewise, if my siblings and I weren’t related and met as strangers, I’m sure we would still be friends. That’s a good feeling.
It was also a good feeling to have a partner, to love, to be loved, to be in love. It was a beautiful experience to be supported, to laugh with someone (to be able to make them laugh), to care for each other, to be able to confide, to share the wonders of life and discover new things together, to feel like we weren’t alone in this world, to know that we had each other’s back.
Not that being in a relationship was all roses and butterflies. In fact, it had its fair amount of drama, even before my late husband got sick.
Several months into our relationship, when we’d started letting our guards down a little more, I remember Kaz saying that he considered his Home a sanctuary and that all the world’s drama should stay outside (his diplomatic way of telling me to not bring my bad moods inside). I understood this on an intellectual level, and it sounded great, but it didn’t seem very practical.
Having grown up with all kinds of drama inside the home, I thought that was normal. Not necessarily extreme rage, violent outbursts, police being called, and people locking themselves in the bedroom for days, but the open expression of unhappiness and taking one’s bad moods out on others. I actually thought that’s what “home” meant – the freedom to shake off the shackles of societal pressures and behave any way you want. What a relief to come home and just be unhappy without pretending!
Suffice it to say, I don’t think like that anymore.
Growing up, being a caregiver, watching someone slowly die, dealing with multiple losses and years of grief, as well as years of living and writing alone, has all shifted my attitude. I don’t just want drama left outside my home, I want it as far away from me as possible.
It’s strange – all the aforementioned experiences have made me less prone to worry and less sensitive to insult, but far more sensitive to my immediate surroundings. Someone can break something in my house, and I won’t get upset. But if they raise their voice for any reason, I cringe.
I don’t like emotional outbursts, I don’t like complaining, I don’t like it when someone is moody, I don’t like loud noises, I don’t like negative tones of voice, I don’t like rudeness, I don’t like it when someone talks too much, and I really don’t like it when someone interrupts my work (which feels like an invasion of privacy).
I like peace and quiet. I like rooms with doors (that I can shut). I like being alone and not having to talk to anyone. I like having my own space. I need my space. I like being free. I like not having to deal with anything other than myself, my dog, my house, my work. (I’ve written about some of these themes before: protecting my head space, living the solitary life, and being alone vs. being lonely).
All of which brings me back to the central question: can one have a family without any drama? If not, is it better for someone like me to be alone? Or is some happy medium possible? Maybe separate offices, separate bedrooms, separate houses?
This reminds me of the painters/partners Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera who lived and worked in two houses that were joined by an elevated bridge. There’s actually a term for this kind of relationship now – it’s called Living Apart Together (LAT). And apparently, it’s growing more popular.
I know couples who live in the same house and have studios/offices on separate floors or away from the house altogether. I know couples who live in different cities. And, of course, there are couples who live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, work in the same office, and are perfectly fine despite being joined at the hip (I don’t get it).
I know families who are having all kinds of problems with their children: obesity, lack of appetite, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, drug problems, and more. And more than one couple that’s heading for divorce (the Pandemic has definitely not helped).
Maybe the answer is to find someone who doesn’t create or bring a lot of drama, and is wonderful enough to endure whatever drama arises. The right person will be someone who helps make it easier, not contributes to making it worse. Because, honestly, I don’t think life is possible without any drama.
Being alone might minimize it, but it’s certainly not a shield. As we all know, anything can happen at anytime. And living apart might help, but not necessarily (and might not always be possible).
Anyway, it’s worth thinking about. I hope to one day find the right situation, the right balance between togetherness and apartness, union and individuality, freedom and commitment. It would be sweet to host our own holiday gatherings, invite family to join us, and then to be left alone again. Alone but together.