Embodied Heart

Alone in the World

For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to share about my experience of being a witness to aloneness. I am not totally, finally and in all ways alone in the world. I have friends and co-workers (and a dog) who care about me. But on the “most important relationships” marker, I am without, as I do not have a romantic partner or child and am not in contact with my family-of-origin. Rather than attempt to downplay my lack of familying, I’ve come into awareness of the power and value of this position.

What I saw in my mind’s eye was a circle, but it was entirely darkened without any light. I saw those of us there, the alone ones, furtively cowering and enclosing ourselves away, ashamed of our position. Society tells us people are most worthy when they are “good” children to their adult parents, married, and parenting their own children. For each of those conditions that are removed, worth decreases in many people’s minds. This can be very subtle—not an outright rejection but rather a no-holds-barred fight to help the person escape the circle of darkness.

We see it that way, I think, as a pit. Somewhere no one should be—alone—and certainly not for very long if it happens. I’ve witnessed people staying in relationships far past their expiration date to avoid falling into this pit, as well as denying that, for all intents and purposes, they were in fact in it.

In my vision, I saw myself striking a match and lighting a candle in this place without brightness—illuminating that which is often denied, discounted or maligned. A knowing settled into me as I did this that I am probably in this for the long haul. Most people I meet who are in a state of aloneness are there temporarily, after a major relationship shakeup or loss. They stay there briefly and then move through this place. I do not wish to delay them on their journey. Rather, I want them to know that even in a place of feeling abandoned—unheard and unseen—they are still witnessed. They are witnessed because I (and others like me) are there shining light, existing unabashedly in this small corner of human existence.

All it took was for me to write one blog post and to speak my aloneness in one public setting for this aspect of my journey to feel solidified. I have been in this place for a decade, by and large, and yet have spent almost the entire time shrinking from who I am and feeling distinctly less-than the familied ones. Now I know I’m not, and that treating this way of existing as something to be rushed through or forgotten desecrates the sacredness which with I think it is imbued. Not everyone is willing to stand in the midst of experience that bucks our evolution and desires and own being there.

I am not totally at peace yet with this place. I have voices internally (and sometimes in the real world) telling me that I am here to spare myself more grief—that I am “skipping” the hard parts of being married or of raising children. But this place is its own kind of sorrow. What I’ve seen as my purpose in life becomes clearer here—if I can speak myself whole in this way, I open space and give others permission to speak themselves whole in their places of grief. If we live long lives, we lose loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly and often too soon for our hearts to catch the blow. We are awful as a society at acknowledging, honoring and holding space for each other in these losses. Those of us who, like myself, are willing to simply stand, light in hand, and remind people around us that both they alone and their grief is seen, heard, holy and worthy, may not achieve the happy ending for which every story pulls, but we play a crucial role in the process of mourning.

What is your experience of being in a place of aloneness (without family)? How does it differ from the “in relationship but feeling alone” dynamic? To what extent do you, in whichever places your story has taken you, hold vigil for those who suffer similar losses or who grieve similar failures to find relationship?

Embodied Heart

Who Is a Woman Without Family?

Single. Estranged. Childless/child-free. No one word sums up my experience living as an adult woman without being in relationship with my family of origin, a romantic partner and without having had a child. It is a formless, unutterable identity that consumes me and yet I nearly never give it voice, mostly because I’ve allowed it to cause me shame. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I explore some possible answers to the question my title posed.

An Orphan to be Pitied

What does a woman without family feel? In my case, lots of loneliness and longing. Desire and rejection. It is hard to fully articulate the bittersweet tang of watching others for whom I care start new relationships and give birth. I wouldn’t call my feelings jealousy in most cases, as I also often feel contentment on the path on which I’m walking, but I do experience sadness mixed in with the joy.

At times, I’ve received pity as a response when I’ve shared my identity. Usually followed by a rush to wish things would be healed with my family or that I’d find love. I think I’ve internalized a deep bucket of shame around this way of being in the world, one to which scoops are only added when people pity me. Not only do I experience shame, but I also distance myself from my own wishes for family. If I don’t “want” it, it won’t hurt not to have it.

People are often surprised at the ease with which I interact with children, perhaps mistaking my lack of energy towards producing or procuring one of my own through adoption as a lack of desire. In truth, I think I’ve simply given up on love stories and tiny toes. I’ve failed repeatedly when it comes to familying and it’s failed me. I believe the only rational responses to defeat, once one acknowledges its existence, are to try again after altering some variable, or to come into a place of acceptance of it. Right now I am noticing and being with my failure, rather than trying to turn it into a success.

A Witch to be Feared

Being too different, being too loud, not following the rules enough. These are the charges often hurled at women society sees as “witches.” Women whose eccentrics show a smidge too much of their own defined sense of being. As I’ve begun to move from young into middle adulthood, this is the place I find myself sitting more and more. I am no longer only a shy teen with downcast eyes waiting for someone to notice her, I am also a warrior singing her call regardless of who approves.

I cannot tell how much this impulse comes from within me and how much it is projected on to me by others, but I sense a woman alone after a certain age somehow appears more threatening. All the caretaking roles I “should” be fulfilling are going unanswered. There isn’t an easy shelf on which to place me of mother, devoted daughter or wife. My oddity feels like a cloak in which I wrap myself to hide but by which I instead end up revealing more than I intended.

A Spinster to be Discarded

As I age, I anticipate moving into the role of the old maid if I stay unfamilied. As such, I will eventually be in a place of  needing instead of giving. Can I endure coming physical frailty without acquiescing or diminishing? Our society expects those who are old to silence their cries. What if I do not behave this way?

Several books I’ve read lately, including Belonging and The Body is Not an Apology, allude to the question of whether we have worth if we are unable to contribute anything of value to others. I struggle with this query from both sides, as I anticipate judgment of my failure to caretake my abusive, aging parents, and as I must also face changes in how others perceive me as I get older. Shame again takes hold. I feel a frequent need to apologize to my wizened crone self for my family failure, and to gift her an offering of my sovereignty as a person, won at a terrible price.

A Person to be Humanized

The themes I’ve identified—abandonment, eccentricity and worth—are by no means limited to individuals who fall into my particular demographic. Rather, I think nearly everyone who has an honest and deep relationship with themselves could connect to aspects of them. I so often feel apart from being a “regular human” when in fact I am a part of being a regular human. That is who I think a woman without family is; she is simply one blend of pigment in the rainbow of the human heart. She has every right to exist, to voice, and to move the world as best she can.