What’s So Bad About Being Alone Anyway?

I had my bi-weekly therapy appointment today.

It never ceases to amaze me how some weeks I feel worse when I leave than I did when I got there.  It’s not always like that, but sometimes it is, and today was one of those times.

Our conversation started out awkward as I told her I wouldn’t be able to pay her until our next visit.  Too many automatic bills on the same payday as my rent is due.  It’s out of my hands… Only it’s not really, but I don’t know how to control it… yet.  I couldn’t help feeling like — I don’t know what, really.  Deb said it was almost like I was afraid I was going to get into trouble.  Maybe she’s right, I don’t know.

It’s not like she has to worry.  She knows I’ll pay her for both sessions next time.  It’s happened a few times before when the timing was bad and I’ve always made good on my bill.  I’ve never given her any reason to worry that I’ll skip out on her.  I feel guilty though, because she’s self-employed and relies on the payments from her– what am I a patient?  A client?  I don’t really even know.  But I can only assume that, unlike me, she is not living paycheck to paycheck.

I don’t know.  Maybe I wanted her to tell me exactly how this would affect her, or more specifically, how it would not affect her.  Maybe I wanted her to let me off the hook when in truth, I’m the one who had me on the hook in the first place.

From there our conversation turned to my relationship with money and what I lacked growing up and my need to fill the void.  I talked for a bit about the financial lack I grew up with and how earlier in my adult life (not so terribly long ago at all, actually) I had a bad habit of frivolously spending money and then not having enough for the things for which I needed it.  I’ve made significant improvements in that respect; thinking carefully about how and on what I’m spending my money and whether or not it’s worth the expense, whether I can truly afford it.  I’ve learned a lot and done a much better job of controlling my finances each pay period and what I’ve learned is that I now need to work on effectively managing my money on a monthly basis, carrying over funds from one pay period to the next as needed to cover expenses that the next check won’t be big enough to cover.

This whole being a grown-up thing kinda sucks.  I really hate “I can’t afford it” being the thing that holds me back, the thing that keeps me from doing what I want to do.  But it is and it does.  Being a grown-up kinda sucks.

Then Deb said she felt like we weren’t just talking about money, lacking material things.  She thinks there’s a relevant connection between the lack of material goods that I’m apparently trying to make up for (or at least I was) and the lack of emotional provisions I grew up with.

This is an old song, and if you’ve heard it before, please forgive me and skip down a few paragraphs.  But here’s the thing.  My parents split up when I was two years old.  I’m the youngest of three with a sister three years older and a brother five years older than I am.  My Father cheated on my Mother and ultimately left us for the other woman.  I saw him on two week-ends a month (sometimes less) and the other two watched him come to the house and take away one of my siblings and leave me behind.  (He thought he was doing a good thing by spending one week-end alone with each of us, and then the fourth one with all three.)

My mother was clinically depressed and had nothing to give her children in the form of emotional support or availability.  She didn’t manage her money well and left her family lacking in material possessions and good food on a regular basis.  She was always “too tired” to deal with her children.  She never helped with homework, she never “played” with her children.  She never even wanted to listen to us.  Oh, I could tell you stories about her inability to be available, but suffice it to say, she wasn’t emotionally available and she wasn’t paying attention enough to know what that was doing to her children.

My brother hated me.  He used to beat me regularly.  The world is a different place now, but if we were kids today, we’d have been separated and taken out of my mother’s home by now.

My sister and I got along OK, but she’s three years older and there came a time when she was more interested in teenager things, and her friends outside of the home, than she was in me.

I was unpopular and relentlessly teased in elementary and middle school.  And in middle and high school, my mother never approved of the people who actually did want to be my friends.  She wouldn’t let me go out with my friends.  She’d yell at me to get off the phone with them after 15-20 minutes. And they couldn’t understand what the situation was.  Eventually, she drove a wedge between me and each of them, until being my friend was just too much trouble for them to go to.

I was alone all the time, even in a room full of people.  It sucked, but I got used to it.

I truly believe I have worked through most of the anger and pain that I felt for so long over the lack of emotional connections growing up.  But despite working through those things, I don’t know how to “undo” the damage.  I’m working from a deficit, here.  I don’t know how to do emotional connections and I’m not at all convinced that it’s worth learning, even if I could.

I told Deb, “I don’t know how to fix that ‘lack.’  I don’t have any control over that, so I just focus on what I can control; money, things.”

And then we stared at each other for several agonizing seconds, like we were in some sort of Mexican stand-off.  Maybe I was trying to convince her, maybe she was waiting for me to reconsider.

People are so afraid of being alone.  They’re so afraid to be alone that they’ll stay in bad relationships, years after they’ve stopped being any value at all.  People hop into bed with the first person who shows interest in them, all in the name of emotional connection; trying to fill the void of love left by their parents or other significant figures.  Only it never works and people hop out of that bed and into the next one, over and over, just trying to find something that can’t be found in the first place, and for what?  So that they won’t be alone?

But I’m used to being alone and it’s not so bad.  I’ve got no one to answer to. No one to fight for the remote, or argue over what shows to watch.  No one to clean up after.  No one to be dissatisfied with how much, or how well, I clean up after myself.  No one to hog the covers at night or squirm in the bed while I’m trying to sleep.  No one taking up space in the closet or dresser.  I go where I want to go, do what I want to do, watch what I want to watch, listen to what I want to listen to.  I deal with my own problems and I don’t have to listen to anyone else’s.

So really!  What’s so bad about being alone, anyway?

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Irony, It’s Where It’s At

I used to hardly ever talk to my mother.  Not because I don’t love her, or she me, just because I don’t like being on the telephone, and e-mail seems like it’s pointless unless you’ve got something specific to say and then it feels like it needs to be lengthy enough to justify the effort on the part of both parties.  My aversion to talking on the telephone came from her, for two reasons.  First, she always made it clear that she had no use for protracted phone conversations.  Make the call, say what you have to say, and get off the phone.  That was her philosophy.  It was never acceptable to call someone “just to say hi” or “just to talk.”  Secondly, when I did get on the phone with friends, she would always tell me to get off the phone after about 20 minutes or so, even though I was in another room where my talking wouldn’t disturb her and even though the only people who ever called were my friends, or bill collectors so she never answered the phone anyway.  Nevertheless, through these experiences, she taught me to prefer not to be on the telephone for long periods of time.

A couple of months ago, I got a text message from my mother:

“Do you text?  Just wondered.  going to bed now. ‘Night!”

I confirmed that I do and that was the end of the conversation, that night.  Since then, however, we’ve exchanged text messages and had full conversations via text  every few days.

This morning I received a text from her while I was getting ready for work and we proceeded to have a conversation on text until I got to work when we moved to Instant Messenger.  She informed me that she had gotten a new cell phone with a QWERTY keyboard.  She said, “I wanted something with a keyboard so I could text without having to hit the keys several times to get the letter I wanted.”

I answered, “Based on the speed and length of your texts, I had a feeling you had a keyboard now.”

“Yep.  The [Boss’s family] are big on texting, so I needed it to keep up!”

“I am too,” I answered, “then I don’t have to ‘talk’ to people.  How sad is that?”

She answered, “Pretty sad, by my lights.  But it’s the way of things nowadays.”

Hmmm.  Interesting perspective for her to have.  I continued, “I text Michelle a lot, because if I want to make a quick comment about something, it could turn into a 45 minute conversation and I have a thing against doing other things while I’m on the phone so it blows my whole evening.  (I know that’s terrible.)”  I was making light of things here, I don’t really think it’s that bad.  It get’s said what needs to be said without derailing my plan for the day/evening.  And when we get together and I can focus my attention on her and our interaction we talk plenty.

“It’s just one more way in which nuance and empathy and other such non-quantifiables are being eliminated from people’s relationships these days.  I just think it’s sad.”

“Yeah, but it’s quick.   :-D”

I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of this situation.  Here we are, having conversation by means of electronic written technology and she’s telling me that it’s sad that people don’t spend more time on the phone even though she hates being on the phone as much as I do.

Sometimes, her inability to recognize the irony in her words, and yes, even her hypocrisy, just makes me laugh.