Relationships can serve as a mirror, highlighting our deepest wounds. A year of solo living has given me the courage to step into that discomfort.
By Kim Sedgwick
Since the age of fifteen, I’ve never been single for more than a few months at a time. When I broke up with my boyfriend at 31, I realized I had often "fallen" into relationships without much thought to what I needed or what qualities I was looking for in a partner. I decided that needed to change, and in order to do that, I needed to spend some time on my own getting clear about my intentions.
So began the experiment, “a year of living consciously single.” I'm happy to report that I did gain clarity and learned some important things along the way. Here are the five biggest "take-home" lessons from my year of being consciously single.
I’m the common denominator
My sister once told me (after learning this lesson for herself), “whatever relationship you’re in, you’ll be there. And so will your issues.” While I certainly think that some of my past relationships involved partners who would never have been a suitable match, in retrospect I realize I have a tendency to jump ship when things get hard.
There are challenges that arise from true incompatibility (like incongruent values) and then there are the challenges that surface when you risk vulnerability and foster deep intimacy.
Those are the relationships where our deepest wounds are often highlighted. We can either move into that discomfort or turn away. After years of sidestepping this opportunity for emotional growth, I’m committed to choosing the former.
My values are non-negotiable
When it comes to building a life with someone else, compromise is inevitable. As Dan Savage says, “it’s the price of admission”. However, we all have our non-negotiable values. The problem is, I’ve never given myself the space to get clear on what those are – I’ve just had a vague sense when something didn’t feel right.
Because I didn’t know the source of the discomfort, I attempted to accommodate and adapt when in fact what I really needed to do was stand firm. Over the course of the last year, I’ve worked hard to identify my core values.
The best part is, they don’t just apply to romantic partnerships. When it comes to collegial relationships, friendships and other partnerships, I now have clearer boundaries – something I think benefits all parties involved.
I’m not 16 anymore
Because I’ve been dating continuously since I was a teenager, it’s been easy to get stuck in old patterns and stories. For years I was a people-pleaser. Whether it was deferring to a partner about how we should spend the evening or failing to speak up about my own sexual desires, I used to play the passive role in relationships. As someone who is now more self-aware about her needs and preferences, I'm committed to changing that dynamic.
I also spent most of my teen years struggling with disordered eating and body shame – issues that played out in all kinds of ways when it came to romantic relationships. I’ve done a lot of healing over the last decade and I’m happy to say I’m now more comfortable in my body than I’ve ever been. Spending a year feeling grounded in that new energy has helped put old stories to rest.
I know my "love language"
During my “year of solo living” I picked up the book The Five Love Languages. While I have plenty of critiques (including the fact it’s extremely heteronormative), the framework provided some “aha!” moments.
Gary Chapman suggests that there are five ways to express and experience love: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch.
It’s not imperative that you and your partner have the same love language, it’s simply important that you know which language they “speak” so that you express love in a way that they can receive it.
Our primary love language is often the one we received most as a child. Amy and I were fortunate to be raised in a family where our parents showed love in a number of ways – all of them, in fact. This might explain why we have such lofty expectations of our partners, and why we're often considered "high maintenance!"
For me, physical touch ties with words of affirmation for top place, followed by acts of service and quality time. Gifts are at the bottom. In retrospect, I realize that my partners were often showing their love in ways that I didn’t appreciate at the time (and vice versa). It’s empowering to discover that adopting a new “language” could bridge this perceived incompatibility.
I’m open to exploring new relationship dynamics and configurations
I grew up with divorced parents and have never felt the need to get married, and yet I’ve always had a pretty limited perspective on what a relationship “should” look like.
You live together, you sleep in the same bed, you share finances, you hang out in the same social circles, and they’re the first person you turn to when you’re upset.
In other words, they’re supposed to fulfill most (if not all) of your needs. After a year of reflecting on what my ideal relationship would look like, I’m not sure that configuration works for me.
I recently read an article by Ashley Gibson where she describes why she and her partner have chosen to have their own bedrooms. Previously I’d equated separate bedrooms with dysfunctional relationships (being forced to sleep in the guest room is a common threat when couples argue), but suddenly I started to question whether it was the perfect solution to the overstimulation and frustration I often experience in relationships.
As someone who thrives on routine, it can be challenging to have someone in my space all the time (as much as I don’t want to get annoyed when we have different bedtimes, I can’t help but get resentful when my sleep schedule is thrown off). Plus, I’m an introvert who requires a lot of solitude to recharge. That aspect of my personality is something I’ve fought against for a long time. Thanks to books like Quiet I’ve learned to recognize the inherent gifts and embrace the reality that it’s not necessarily something I need to (or want to) change.
This structured, conscious time to work through my own shit has afforded me some of the most dramatic and rapid self-development I have ever experienced.
For that I am deeply grateful. However, after diving back into the dating scene it has become clear that the work is far from over.
There are many pieces of self-growth and reflection that are easiest done alone, and there are many that are only possible in the context of a partnership. Amy likes to say that being in a committed long-term relationship is like being in intensive psychotherapy. There is just no escaping your own projections or shadows.
Noticing what is coming up for me during each of my dating conversations reminds me of this truth. Listening to my dates’ comments, beliefs, and values (and my own reactions to them) has highlighted for me where I have more work to do.
Fortunately, with so much baggage cleared away, I find myself noticing these triggers quickly. And perhaps most importantly, I don’t want to escape from myself or the person who is holding up the figurative mirror. Instead I find myself welcoming the opportunity to heal another layer of my story and take yet another step closer to wholeness and authenticity.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for people seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.