(Long) Weekend Reading, 2.18.19
February 18, 2019

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

My closest friend from college and his fiancé were in town this weekend, and I had the pleasure of having them over for brunch on Saturday. I whipped up the butternut black bean enchiladas from Power Plates, along with a big salad and a pot of coffee. The three of us had a happy few hours of eating, catching up, chatting about the wedding next fall, and connecting.

When they left, I had the same feeling of loneliness that often hits me when I’ve just said goodbye to visitors. This is a relatively new feeling for me, as far as feelings go. For most of my twenties and the first couple years of my thirties, I relished my solitude. I liked hosting friends, but I was always secretly relieved when they went home and I had my space to myself again.

It’s different nowadays. I still enjoy my quiet time, but whereas my solitude used to feel juicy and pleasurable, it now often feels uncomfortably empty.

I’m thinking about this because, in about a week’s time, it’ll be two years since Steven moved out. Much as I’ve grown in the time since that breakup—in spite of all I’ve learned—that split changed my life in ways that I’m still adjusting to. One of them is a changed relationship with solitude, which doesn’t register as the pleasure it once did.

In the wake of that breakup, I spent a lot of time scouring blogs, books, and emails for comfort and advice. Much of what I read and was told about healing the heart, moving on, and readying oneself for future partnership implied that the trick is to find contentment with one’s life as it is. Including and especially the state of being on one’s own.

This is probably great advice. But, if I’m being honest, it always rings a little hollow. It’s difficult to find contentment in solitude when one is aching for partnership, which I am. I gather I’m not supposed to be aching for it. According to some sensible-sounding experts, I’ll never find it until I feel completely whole on my own. But the ache is there, all the same. The thing that made this particular breakup so difficult—the thing that still makes it difficult—is that the relationship was my first taste of longterm cohabitation with another person. The degree to which I liked it took me by surprise.

I’ve always spent a lot of time on my own. This was true when I was growing up (only child, hardworking single mom) and all through college and my early twenties. I suspect that my eating disorder compounded this; I usually preferred being alone with my food routines and fixations to being with friends or partners. Much of the solitary inclination, though, registered as a positive, as an expression of my independent nature and my capacity to find contentment in reading, cooking, and daydreaming.

When Steven and I moved in together—a first for me at thirty-two—I was nervous. What would it be like to share my space, my mealtimes, and my schedule? Would I irritate him, or him me? The answer was yes, obviously. Couples get on each other’s nerves. But for the most part, cohabitation was sweeter and more fulfilling than I’d imagined. The rhythms of waking and sleeping with another person, having shared concerns, tackling life’s little difficulties and talking through challenges, and especially the joy of having someone to share my food with for the first time in my life: I loved it, even at its most perfectly imperfect.

Now I find myself back on my own. It’s been nice, at times. Right now, with the DI and all of its stresses, it can be a huge relief to come home to an empty apartment, put my feet up, and do as I please. But it isn’t the same as it was before. It’s quieter than it used to be. And in spite of it all—in spite of a home space that I love, good friendships, a fulfilling relationship with food, hobbies that keep life interesting—I can’t help but feel that something’s missing. One day, if my life is more intertwined with other lives, I may look back on this period of freedom and kick myself for not having appreciated it fully enough. But I’d be lying if I said that I want to be this untethered forever.

The good news, I guess, is that I’m keeping the door open to change. It took me a while to date again, but I’m now in the swing of it. As anyone would probably tell you, dating in the day and age of dating apps is deflating and exhausting a lot of the time. (In my experience, 90% of the time.) But the longer I date, the easier it becomes for me not to take it too seriously. It’s no small thing for an introvert like me to be putting herself out there as consistently as I am, especially since the DI leaves me so little free time. But I’m doing it, I really am, inevitable lousy dates, miscommunications, and mismatched feelings aside.

Today, as I consider these past two years of independence, I realize how far I am from the kind of post-breakup, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes success story I’d like to tell. I’ve come a long way, but I’m still sad and angry sometimes. I often covet and idealize lives different from the one I have—specifically, partnered lives. I’m not above envying my married friends, even though I know that marriage is its own great feat of hard work and faith, far from a panacea or a barrier to loneliness.

I’m more at peace with the past than I was two years ago. I’m less inclined to feel sorry for myself or to see myself as a victim of what happened. The DI has encouraged me to put my self-care skills into action, and I get better with them all the time. I have a ways to go with the whole contentment business, but the past six months have taught me a lot about gratitude, which is something. It’s more than something, actually: it’s a lot.

It wasn’t a divorce, we didn’t have a child, and we hadn’t even been together for more than five years. But that breakup two seasons ago impacted me in ways others hadn’t, because it gave me a taste of what companionship and a vision of a shared future can feel like—what trust can feel like, too. The unexpected loss of those things knocked me off my feet, and I haven’t quite found my footing since.

Maybe I’m not supposed to have. Not yet, anyway. Maybe the disruption and struggle are encouraging me to be open to connection—to seek it out, even—in a new way. If this is true, which I hope it is, then one of the pieces of post-breakup wisdom I’ve heard most often in the last couple years is also true: I’m right where I need to be, whether it makes sense or not.

Thanks for two years of company, support, and for very often being my reason for keeping my chin up and moving forward. I am so very grateful for you all. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

A new baked, steel-cut oatmeal dish to power me through mornings at my internship.

Nothing beats a colorful kale salad in the dead of winter, and Eva’s latest creation looks so appetizing (to say nothing of the roasted garlic dressing that goes on it).

I love the looks of Alissa’s simple, protein-packed, chipotle tempeh taco filling.

This mashed avocado black bean quesadilla is going on my weeknight dinner rotation immediately!

I wonder if Tessa would ship some of these vegan, gluten-free brownie bites to me? They look delicious, and perfectly snack-sized.

Reads

1. Since my current rotation consists mostly of diabetes counseling, I was super interested to read this article on a possible robotic capsule for insulin administration in the New York Times.

2. A new Dutch study suggests that meat consumption may be linked to a higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

3. This essay about the true meaning of self-care was published last spring. A friend sent it to me, it resonated, and I forgot to share it. Another friend emailed me the link this week, which means that I’ve officially been reminded! Worth a read.

4. Important reporting on Strep A, a pathogen that’s usually treated early in the US with antibiotics. In other parts of the world, treatment is far less accessible. One of the potential complications of Strep A infection is rheumatic heart failure, which is often fatal. Mosaic magazine looks at this overlooked, yet devastating health issue and examines why a vaccine, which experts say is feasible, isn’t a reality yet.

5. One scientist explains why she wears a pink hard hat for fieldwork, even when it’s greeted with hostility.

Wishing you a week of fulfillment on your own and with your people, whomever they are. Sending love, and I’ll be back around here in a few days with a new winter squash recipe.

xo

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    19 Comments
  1. Hi Gena-

    I’ve been reading your blog for a long, long time, but I don’t think I’ve commented before. Anyway, I’m a little late to the game here (getting caught up on blog reading!) and this post really touched me. I can still remember my first really devastating break-up, with my first love, and your post brought back memories of how hard it was to adjust to sleeping alone again, how lonely I too felt (I ended up getting a cat a few months post-breakup), and how it took much longer than expected for the sadness and hurt to subside. That breakup was over 10 years ago, and while I don’t feel the same painful “twinge” when I think about it, I don’t think I will ever feel totally indifferent (and it took several years for the twinge to go away).

    You and I are the same age, and I can only imagine how much harder it would be to find myself going through something similar at this stage of life, when almost everyone my age seems to be in a long-term relationship. I think it would feel lonelier now then it did then.

    Anyway, to sum up (and paraphrase Carrie Bradshaw), no need to keep should-ing all over yourself. 🙂 There is no one right way to handle a breakup, and you are doing great. You didn’t fall completely apart, you’ve kept up with your blog and school, and you’re putting yourself out there. Those are all great accomplishments, and you should absolutely be proud of yourself. Sending you hugs!

  2. One thing that I feel helpful with the whole idea of “needing to be whole” but still aching for a partner is by asking myself: “okay I know I want a partner but what can I do to make the most of this time I have alone right now.” This time of being single could last a year, two years, etc… and so I think about all the freedom I should enjoy during that time, everything I want to explore, cook, and do on MY TIME, until I meet someone. That’s been (mostly) helpful, because I struggled with that concept, too!

  3. Hi Gena. you could have been writing about my life. I spent my 20’s being alone – I had an eating disorder, which I used like a shield to avoid feelings and people. When I met someone and it failed I had a name for the emotion I had hidden within the ED. I was lonely. It took a long time for me to accept and feel ok about wanting to share my time and sacrifice my independence.
    For me, I stayed with some one who did not treat me well and it’s taken awhile to get to the middle ground where I know I’d like to be with someone, but not at any (my) cost.
    Thank you for sharing your story, I share mine as an offering that we are all learning; and change, particularly from our own expectations, hurts but we get to where we need to be. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for such insight and poignant words Gena. Your writing is always so illuminating.

  5. I enjoy reading your posts because how honest you are and how beautiful you write about emotions. Although i am living with my husband and kids, often time I still find lonely or better said solitude which is not good and bad at the same time. At the end of the day, we are alone in this world and we are fully responsible of our feelings. 🙂

  6. Wow I can’t believe that breakup was two years ago, I’ve been following your blog intermittently forever, in fact it was one of my first introductions to raw foods 10+ years ago. What you have written is so, so true. I say this as someone who was suddenly left by her husband with our babies being not even 4 yrs. and only 4 months. It has been 4 years since then and I have connected with a LOT of single moms during that time, read so much about breakups, healing, etc. And have heard the same theme of advice over and over “be complete with yourself, be strong independent woman”… which I was to some extent… but I do not think there is anything wrong with wanting to be partnered, wanting someone to take care of you and someone to care for. It’s not a weakness, it’s how many of us ARE as humans. I think you’re doing everything right and your attitude is spot on – I did the internet dating also, it’s exhausting. But it’s a numbers game and all you can do is keep on, hopefully with a sense of humor, and take a break when you need it. There are still good ones left out there, I know from experience!!

  7. Gena,

    I read the comments and I agree most heartily with Rebecca’s thoughts. I would add that it’s the mix of things that we have to get used to and that a mix is OK. There is a fallacy that contentment is the goal and I think being happy all of the time just isn’t the case (a black and white outcome). A person can be very lonely in a relationship and also perfectly happy being alone. In either case, it’s possible to wish for connection, regardless. It’s just human nature. I am in support of working on things but against being told what my outcome must look like. And I can remember having people leave my house after dinner or what have you. The disconnection is bittersweet. You are grateful for the time well spent with friends but are dying to close the blinds, put on your jammies and curl up with a book. Nothing wrong with experiencing both things.

    I loved the pink hard hat article. I don’t think I will see it in my lifetime, but I long for a time when a person’s competence will be front and center and not the color of their clothing.

    Have a good week. Thank you for a great post.
    Libby

  8. This reflection is so so beautiful Gena. You know I adore your writing to pieces and this one hit me hard with empathy. And familiarity. I relate so much to your reflections on loneliness and coveted alone time and the blurry line that can separate the two.

    I just want to say that I have always adored your gorgeous independent spirit. In a strange way it has given me some of my own strength to feel confident in my own independence of heart.

    And I have SO much faith that everything your heart craves (and deserves) will find its way to you. (Sorry if that sounds lame but it’s true!) Xoxo

  9. Hey Gena! Haven’t commented in a while but I’m still reading 🙂 Just wanted to pop in the say that although we ´re often told we have to be satisfied on our own to find a partner, I’ve been learning in therapy (kind of to my surprise) that that’s actually not the healthiest mentality. Our society is very focused on independence when truly we are not totally independent creatures. It’s normal to crave partnership, intimacy and a bond with someone. So don’t ever feel ashamed of that desire or feel it means you are unevolved in any way. I wish you well in the big scary world of dating in 2019!

    • I don’t think there’s a way around feeling whole and satisfied on your own. One shouldn’t be ashamed of herself wanting a partnership, but initially, YOU are your partner. And to form a really good partnership you have to be your own best friend and lover. Only then can you go further. I’ve wrestled with this idea for many years and after having made that transition to being my own partner, in my mid-forties, my life has changed dramatically for the better. It’s a long process but it’s essential to your well being and to your relationships with others. And imagine, yes, it could be that you will not find a partner to live with for the rest of your life, it’s possible, and let’s not forget that most partnerships are not happy ones, if you ask me I think not being able to live happily on one’s own is a huge factor in this.

  10. Dear Gena,
    Thank you so much for this beautiful post, for being honest and true, and for inspiring me with this opening. Sending you good vibes 🙂 and may you find the beauty and peace in every little thing, every silence, every laughter and every ray of sunshine as well as every drop of rain. I feel resonance when you described your childhood. I’m coming into recognition with a lot of things in my past, and now I’m finding this quiet solitude very fulfilling for my creative explorations. Thank you for putting yourself out here so we could find you and be reminded of what’s important. I have been really inspired by your book, and the recipes have really helped me feel more grounded after a few years of chaotic journeys with a scattered mind. You’re awesome and I trust that your journey will be full of blessings and love <3 Stay warm and sprouted 😀

  11. I’ve been enjoying your recipes on food52 and in your cookbooks, and have finally found your wonderful blog. Please help me though, as I have no idea what “the DI” is. I’ve tried to figure it out but can’t find it defined anywhere. Thanks!

  12. Hi Gena, like the other people who have commented above, I’d like to thank you (again) for your honesty and for your willingness to be vulnerable here on your blog.
    I have been in a relationship with the same man for twenty years (I am forty-eight), so I know it isn’t my place to comment on the particular kind of loneliness that you are experiencing and writing about. My heart goes out to you.
    I will, say, though, that I think that the advice that many ‘experts’ give us about learning to find contentment with our lot, whatever that ‘lot’ is, is pernicious. I have come to believe that, contrary to everything those experts say about about the importance of contentment, the way to survive (and maybe even to thrive, in a different kind of way) is, rather, to accept that we CAN’T always be content. I’ve come to believe that contentment, whether you are alone or partnered, is no more achievable than happiness or bliss. And that what is important is that we stay with our feelings of non-contentment, and learn to accept that they are what make up our life for much of the time … and that our life can STILL be meaningful, even when it is a struggle, even when we NEVER learn to feel content.
    I don’t mean this to sound depressing. In fact, I actually find it the opposite of depressing. And I’m writing it to you because it’s taken me a long, long time to learn it, but it makes more sense to me than anything else I know.
    Sending you big hugs xo

  13. Hi Gena, it is not surprising that a taste of togetherness and intimacy would feel so delicious to you and the break-up hard, like a big piece missing. Why not put a positive spin on it? You were able to get there, to open up, to find a person you can have this with. You will be able to experience it again. Life is not a linear line, not for anyone. You did not fail because the relationship was not long-term. Maybe, your next one will be long-term, maybe out. No one knows any of those things, but they are still worthwhile experiences. Life is an adventure, with few guarantees.

    have you heard about deep dating? I think it has some really good ideas, almost like intuitive eating.
    http://www.interchangecounseling.com/blog/deep-dating-the-new-rules-for-creating-intimacy/

  14. hi gena! i just wanted to say that I can relate so very closely to a lot of this. spooky how close the timelines align too – i split with my boyfriend of 4 years almost exactly 2 years ago – we lived together, and it was my first time living with a significant other, too. 2 years later and a cross country move (1.5 years ago) I find myself putting a concerted effort in the NYC dating scene, which is sort of inevitably the app dating scene. it’s hard. not much more to really say on that…but i feel ya on so much of this post. thanks for being so open <3

  15. Thank you for this very lovely honest and raw post. I can say that I truly relate in many ways. I felt like I was reading my own words when you described the eating disorder and comfort of eating and being alone. I too am single in my late 30s and like you had difficulty with it at first. However over time I have found myself to be a complete opposite. I make friendships or begin dating and realize it is not what I want and I crave that alone time in the comfort of just being me my ugly beautiful self :-). I find it very difficult to find people that I feel comfortable enough around to let in completely. I am an introvert as well and as content as I am , I am always doing things and keeping busy, but interaction really exhausts me. For example, I will go to numerous yoga classes per week, I am around people but not necessarily interacting with them, I find that to be enough for me, right now. Other times I worry that I will be alone forever, yet I struggle to find that desire to connect with someone . As a fellow introvert I just want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world. People are listening 🙂

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