Being Alone After A Breakup

Of all the difficult experiences that result from the breakup of a romantic relationship, being alone can be amongst the hardest. Part of grieving the end of a relationship is accepting that what you wanted to happen no longer will happen. Thoughts as significant as: We will never have the children we talked about having. To the mundane: We won’t go out to our favorite breakfast place anymore. Having gone through a breakup recently myself, I sometimes wish I could shake those who are coupled up and say, “Do you know how lucky you are to be able to wake up next to the person you love every day?” I see couples who have miraculously made their lives together work, against time and temptation, and I am sometimes baffled. It’s like lightning in a bottle. How have they been able to capture something so precious and rare?

Women don’t often give each other good examples of how to be alone. It seems like everything you see in movies and TV and on the internet is about how to find the right man, and make it work. There’s nothing wrong with seeking love, because it’s beautiful and can bring about some of the most treasured moments in our lives. But very few women I know have been able to be alone and do it well. They aren’t happy to be alone. They fear it and seek love wherever they go. Too often the pleasure they find with falling in love is the sweet release of no longer being by themselves in the world.

Other women, mostly ones who have been alone for a very long time, can be stone-faced when it comes to relationships. They are resigned to the idea of living alone and they no longer seek out men. They are consoled by their children or grandchildren or their work. They take up hobbies. Romance is too unreliable and contains risk. For them being alone is no triumph or satisfaction. It’s a result of a broken heart that never quite healed.

Too often I hear women who are coupled up rationalize why they are still in a relationship, when maybe they shouldn’t be. They say things like, “I know my relationship isn’t perfect, but at least . . . he doesn’t yell at me.” Or “he really is a good dad.” Or “he will always be faithful to me.” When I hear things like that I am reminded that breaking up with someone is an act of courage. To be honest with someone about why the relationship isn’t working is an act of love. When you can accept that your relationship doesn’t make you the best woman you can be, and you correct course by breaking up, you become immeasurably stronger.

Rebecca Solnit, in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, said this about letting go: “When everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.” My heartbreaks have taught me that. Losing the things I love has given such depth and substance to my life. I fear loss less now than when I was younger, but it isn’t any less painful. My struggle now, as I wake up in an empty bed each morning, is how to make being alone another meaningful chapter in my life.

Tracy Clifford

I’d love to hear your thoughts about being alone. Do you see being single as just a stopgap on the way to being coupled up again? Do you fear being on your own? What is the longest amount of time you have been single?

I’d love to read your comments on this page. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”