I am single and I’m in pain

Stuff. Stuff looks just like this. Only, it's internal.

Stuff. Stuff looks just like this. Only, it’s internal.

This is one of those rare posts where I show you “live” how I work with my stuff.

It’s full of seriously cool and useful concepts. At least 5 things that are Important to Know.

First the back story

I was in a Facebook conversation on the topic of “Single”. When suddenly I felt *anger*.

Now, according to Karla McLaren, anger shows up when our boundaries have been crossed.

Since I’m a HSP with very thin boundaries, and since I don’t get angry very often, I have learned to make the best out of my anger when it does show up.

That is: I feel the anger, allow it to be there, and then write whatever is in my head at the time, because it’s bound to be useful for boundary-setting.

Here it is. My “stuff” meltdown in all its glory:

Top SwirlyIt’s my god given right to have pain around being single (dammit!) Why should I be “complete” and “happy” and “not want things to be different”? Are my coupled friends happy with what they have? Do they feel complete? F*ck no! They still wish they had more money, they wish their jobs were better, their in laws weren’t so difficult, their parents less frustrating, etc, etc. You know, they’re human. Why should I be held to the super human standard of “feeling complete as you are and happy and not ask for more”.

ESPECIALLY since being “single” in this culture is being incomplete. I mean, the idea gets reinforced all the fricking time. And then comes the “dating advice” and the “self help pop psychology” and tell us that those very people who are defined by society as “incomplete” should put on a big show about how “complete” they feel.

Well, f*ck that.

I am as human as everyone else. As prone to feeling dissatisfaction as the next human.

And I am single. And I’m in pain.

And my pain is legitimate.

Anyone who has a problem with that will just have to deal.

It is not my place to reassure people’s anxieties.

If my being single and being in pain is triggering all their judgements about how I am a pathetic loser, or how I am unworthy, or if my pain is “bringing them down”, that’s all their stuff.

I can’t help them with that. I can’t help people to not judge me.

I can only work with my stuff.

What’s mine?

My pain. My neurosis around being single and “ageing”.

My monster stories about how “nobody will ever love me because I’m miserable, and getting older, and I’m not pretty, and I’m very, very poor, and I’m one big failure”. Mine.

What’s theirs?

Their pain.

Whatever my “I’m single and I’m in pain” situation is triggering in them, ie: “I’m coupled and I’m also in pain, and I shouldn’t be, because I’m coupled, do you mean to say that because I’m coupled I shouldn’t be in pain?”. Their stuff.


If I’m the one thinking “people will think I’m pathetic and miserable, and nobody will ever love me because nobody loves the miserable”, then that’s my stuff.

And I can deal with that.

Sure, I have judgement. When people express their pain sometimes it triggers mine. I find myself thinking “really? You think that’s pain? Do you want me to detail just how much pain I’ve been through? You’re a cry baby”. That’s all my stuff. Mine. I take ownership of my stuff. I don’t tell people “quit your whining”. Instead, I acknowledge that their pain is triggering my stuff, reminding me of how much pain I carry.

And then I give compassion to myself.

The more I do this, the less other people’s stuff triggers mine.

And the more compassion I have for their pain.

So in time, everyone wins.

When my coupled friends come to me with their woes and their troubles, I don’t go “tut tut! You are coupled, you should be complete. What are you doing complaining about things?”.

We need to sledgehammer through the bullsh*t that “nobody will love you if you are miserable”.

Oh, yeah? Well, so effing what?!

The last thing I need is to deny my pain out of fear that I won’t be “loved”. That’s just unhealthy.

If I’m in pain, then I’m in pain, and it is my responsibility to look after that pain.

My responsibility. Mine.

I don’t go around asking people to take away this pain. I don’t go around asking people to go out with me so I won’t be in pain.

I’m just… you know, in pain. And I work with it.

Much like I do with every other kind of pain.

Because that’s life.

Bottom Swirly

I was using the technique of separating between “My Stuff” and “Their Stuff”. It is essential for boundary setting, and is one of the most important skills to have if you want to live amongst other humans and not lose your marbles every second (ahem).


Now, let’s look at the “Ole Single Chestnut”

It’s not the first time I’ve looked at that whole idea that “you need to be happy first if you want to find a partner”.

This idea triggers all my stuff, so of course, it is taking me a while to work with.

See, even if it were true that one only finds partners when one is in perfect harmony with oneself, how is knowing that going to help anyone?

Time for another Important Concept:

Not everything “true” is useful.

My friend, hold on tight to that quote. Keep it somewhere close to you.
It might save your sanity more than once.

Being in perfect harmony with oneself is something that, for most of us, takes years, if not decades.

And saying to someone who is hurting because of wanting a partner “dude, you just need to spend years, no, decades on this thing before you find a partner” is not helpful. That person is likely to go into “panic attack mode”, which is always unproductive.

Here’s a much more productive way of framing this.

[And at this point I have to caveat. I am what-I-call “Super Single”. I haven’t been with anyone in 3 years. No dates, no flirting, no nothing. Plus I have twenty tons of trauma from past relationships that were truly awful. All this to say: I am the last person to go to for “dating advice”. Take that in your consideration as you read the following.]

The alternative to “being happy with yourself first” is not “leaving things as they are and giving up on working with your stuff”.

Working with your stuff* is awesome. It’s helping me break seriously unhealthy patterns of ending up in “romantic” relationships with men who despised me. Of course we need to work with our stuff!

* If you are new here: “working with your stuff” is what I call “internal work” or “personal development” (blergh!) or “self-help”. It’s essentially “sorting out your issues”. I wrote a book about it and you can get it here.

It’s just that we will never get “there”.

So, here’s the framework that helps:

Strengthen your inner safety net.

The older I get the less Fs I give about happiness, to be honest.

Instead, my approach is to get better at building my inner safety net.

It makes far more sense to prepare yourself so that you can deal with “hard stuff” than it is to expect you will reach a point where “hard stuff” no longer happens. Because that point doesn’t exist.

So… What do we do to build that inner safety net?

  • Observe and notice… Then observe and notice some more. (Meditation is key to acquire this skill. We call this ability to observe and notice “mindfulness”)
  • Give your pain legitimacy.
  • Give yourself compassion and kindness. As much as you can stand.
  • Let go of judgments about yourself.
  • Trust, a little at a time.
  • Get to know your body from the inside. (you’ll need yoga for this)

This is totally Widdershins

By which I mean: this goes completely against common sense and against “pop wisdom”.

The idea that you can focus on “resilience” and forget about reaching for some miraculous inner state called “happiness”? No way!

Well, yes, way. Because it’s what I’ve found to work best.

To wrap up this humongously long post: if you get better at noticing, at bringing yourself back to harmony and peace, if you get better at being fully alive, then it doesn’t matter whether you are single or not. It stops hurting so much.

And you make it far more likely for happiness to find *you*.

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