These were the words my ex-boyfriend often used to say to me. They would ring in my ears every time I challenged him and considered leaving. This blog post isn’t about him, but I want to explain how I feel I was conditioned to believe that I was and would be pretty hopeless on my own and being alone with a small child during a pandemic was simply going to be my worst nightmare.
In fact, as it has turned out, the last few months have been some of the happiest times of my life. I’ve rediscovered me; I feel more confident and I’ve changed fundamentally. The way I look at my life has completely changed and I feel very content. I now know that I’m not pretty hopeless on my own.
I hope reading my story helps others who struggle with being alone after a breakup.
My ex used to say “you’re pretty hopeless on your own”
First, let’s talk about my ex-boyfriend’s words: “You’re pretty hopeless on your own.” It is important to say he is a covert narcissist (the covert part is important) and this was one of his tactics to disarm and keep me bonded to him. However, as much as it pains me to say it, he was kind of right. I’m very sociable and a chronic do-er. Always have been and probably always will be. If I’m not with people, then I’m busy doing something, ideally something fairly productive.
Nathan (names have been changed to protect the guilty) was someone I right-swiped into my life six months after my marriage broke down. We met for a coffee one morning after a frantic 48 hours of text messaging. It was a sunny day and we had a nice walk to the coffee shop. He was as funny and charming in real life as he was on text. Although my first thought was he wasn’t 5’8” – he was definitely shorter. We had three dates in three days – the texting in between was constant, “Hey beautiful” first thing in the morning, “Sweet dreams gorgeous” in the evening. He was telling me everything I wanted (needed) to hear.
I didn’t realise I was being love-bombed by a narcissist and was happily telling him all my hopes, fears and dreams, believing him to be a great listener and very understanding. After a few weeks, together we both deleted our dating apps and our two-and-a-bit year relationship commenced. As it turned out, the reality was, he was simply farming me for information he could use against me at a later date.
I thought I would be worse off on my own
I’ve always been around people. As a teenager, I would always be at a friend’s house, on the phone to a friend (tying up the landline) or sitting with my parents watching TV in the evenings. I like people (I find them fascinating) and enjoy being around them. Which doesn’t help when you’re in your late 30’s and spend most evenings alone with a child asleep upstairs.
When I left home, I lived in America and had to share a room with another girl. At university, I always lived in large house shares. Always, around lots of people.
Actually, being married set me up for being on my own, as my husband was an introvert and I often felt lonely even when he was in the same room. My marriage was breaking down at the same time I was setting up my own business. At home, I was suddenly thrown into working long days into the evenings alone. And to be honest, I didn’t like it one bit.
Basically, everyone in my life was making me believe in the “you’re pretty hopeless on your own” narrative. Even I bought into it. For many years after my marriage ended, I genuinely believed I would be worse off on my own. Or that life wasn’t properly worth living if I didn’t have somebody to share it with.
My parents moved house to be near and with me as they didn’t think I’d be able to cope on my own. I won’t lie, it’s easier having them close by, but I do feel I could have managed if I had the chance. I am grateful for their support and know they’re trying their best for me.
My dating frenzy
This mindset led to a catalogue of dating disasters. Don’t worry, I’ll be writing books on that topic! Faced with the possibility of not growing old with somebody, I set about what I can only describe as a dating frenzy. I was a manic ‘swiper’ – left, right, yes, no … ooh, go on then … oh man, I didn’t mean to swipe that way. Crikey, he’s messaged me …I message back to be polite.
This frenzy of activity was my way of trying to find ‘the one’. I’d be obsessed with receiving matches. I would have a solid pipeline of potential candidates for the role of the person who was going to fill the gap in my life. My free weekends would be spent driving (within a 30-mile radius) to meet various guys for dates.
The dating-mania isn’t a particularly new thing. It’s fair to say that I was always really motivated to find love. I’m a chronic do-er remember, so I’m always happy working towards my goals. Coupled with being a hopeless romantic (Love Actually is my favourite film, Richard Curtis is a genius IMO), then you can see why I was caught in this endless loop of finding my ‘soulmate.’
Life before and during COVID
It recently struck me, while out on one of my socially distant walks, that the lyrics from Becky Hill, one of my favourite singers, just smacks of everything I was doing wrong. “I was searching for me in you. The person I was missing, it’s not you, it’s me.”
Life before COVID had been a frenzy of activity. My weekends with my son would involve his sporting activities, playdates, trips out with friends. We’d go from one to the other, and simply use the house as a place to eat and sleep. I’d dash from one activity to the next, with barely any time to breathe in between, always looking at where we had to go next, not where we are now. It was as if I was always trying to fill a gap in my life by “doing stuff.”
I’m self-employed, so running my own business was naturally a concern when the pandemic took hold. In one day, I lost £2,200 of my monthly income, which is a huge chunk. Once I’d taken time to deal with the blow, I put strategies in place to keep my motivation and productivity high (perhaps that’s quite easy for a chronic do-er like me). I did rant to friends and family and had a pity party, but knew it couldn’t last. So I was kind to myself then had a word and gave myself a big dose of MTFU.
However, this enforced period has helped me see the happiness I’m looking for isn’t to be found within somebody else, it is to be found within me. All I need to do is look inwards and then I’ll know what my true path is. No one else can ever do that for me and it was wrong to place that responsibility in the hands of somebody else.
What I would tell my 20-year-old self
If the nearly 40-year-old me could tell the nearly 20-year-old me anything, it would be to focus on your hobbies and passions, rather than trying to snog boys. I feel I’ve lost 20 years of doing the cool stuff I love because my biggest hobby was either finding a relationship or being in a relationship.
Just to clarify, I do have hobbies and interests, however, until recently, they were put on hold so I could spend time with whoever I was in a relationship with. I can say during the two years I spent with the covert narcissist, I let all my hobbies and interests slide so I was fully available to him at all times (which would vary depending on who else he was attempting to have sex with at the time!). I’m not ashamed to say that I was addicted to him and that’s part of the narcissist’s tactics (but that’s another blog for another day).
Time and space has been a gift
With some time and space, I can now see ‘my worst nightmare’ of endless weeks and months on my own has actually been a gift. Time to get to know me, to reconnect with my passions and interests which involve creative writing (a book is in progress) and exploring a spiritual side which has led me to have some brilliant experiences.
I’m now more grateful for what I have in my life. In particular, my small, but incredibly lovely house. It was something I used to describe as a “holding bay” until the right man came to fill the man-shaped hole I allowed to be created within my heart. Sometimes, it was where my son and I would have a “pit stop”- somewhere to eat and sleep, not to enjoy, or actually be.
I love being a mum but definitely found it harder after my marriage ended. It was as if we weren’t a proper family. Having 12 weeks together during the lockdown (and attempting to home-school) has made my son and I even closer and his cheeky little ways have definitely helped me. I feel in the past I resented him as I embarked on a newly single life, but now I can see we are a family and we’re perfect as we are – just the two of us.
I’ve started to enjoy the simple things in life. I’m still a do-er and I doubt that will ever change. What I’ve rediscovered is a buzz about doing the things I love. For example, being asked to share my story here is a feeling that will never make me feel ‘pretty hopeless’.
I feel joy from simple things like socially distanced visits from my parents (a huge help) and even putting lipstick on to do my food shop – you never know if Jamie Redknapp is going to frequent my local Aldi! I can see the benefits of not having an annoying other-half who can’t put his socks in the laundry or load the dishwasher. I can eat what I like when I like. I can sleep when I like, until whenever I like. And that’s a gift – for however long it lasts.
I’m not so conditioned to being on my own that I don’t want another relationship – I definitely do want the happy ending worthy of a Richard Curtis film. But, it is my responsibility to create the life I’ve always dreamed of and I’m lucky to have the time and space allowing the great things I want from life to happen for me. I don’t have the desperate air to ‘meet somebody’ like I used to. I can honestly say, for the first time in years, I’m really happy on my own and if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s this:
“I’m not pretty hopeless on my own. I’m pretty frickin’ awesome on my own.”