This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to your local newspaper.
During the first year of my divorce, I lived alone for the first time in my life. I did have a former college friend who stayed with me intermittently, which proved helpful as I adjusted to my solitary life. Having my daughter on alternating weekends helped, too.
The next year, I decided to host a couple of international students who had moved to the United States to complete their high school education and attend college. I missed the sounds of a house with people in it. This arrangement lasted for three years.
At one point, my two adult sons stayed with me, too, making the house quite full with five full-time occupants and my daughter on occasion. Though occasionally crowded, I enjoyed the familiarity of a bustling home, reminiscent of my childhood growing up with four siblings.
When I returned to Lawrence from Kansas City after four years, my house grew quieter as my sons moved out and on to the next phase of their lives. At times in Kansas City, I had craved a quieter environment. When it overwhelmed me, I retreated to my master bedroom.
A year after my move, I no longer needed to do that. My three-bedroom townhouse was mine alone.
My work life consisted mainly of various part-time writing and consulting work, which I could accomplish online and at-home. Even my full-time teaching position consisted of entirely online courses. Years before the coronavirus pandemic, I “social distanced.” Be careful what you wish for, I told myself.
In order to have more social interaction, I began going to trivia nights at local restaurants and developed a great relationship with a group of guys. I started my MFA program at UMKC, which included teaching classes on campus.
I had the best of both worlds. If I felt like eating out, I did. A table of one. I bought a movie pass and built this into my weekly schedule. There were occasional awkward moments when I would see married friends and other couples out. And yet, I might have been alone, but I wasn’t lonely.
I had one long-term relationship and still occasionally date, when I can find time in my hectic schedule. This is on my terms, too. I am not looking to date to validate myself or to cure my loneliness.
One of the hardest and best lessons I learned after my divorce was that I could stand on my own. Unlike Jerry Maguire, I did not need someone else to complete me. I am whole.
Life today has been a struggle as my social outlets have been temporarily shuttered. Technology has lessened the sting as I can still see familiar faces or hear familiar voices at the push of a button.
Still for those of us without spouses or families at home, we feel the pangs of isolation. When I do, I remember the words of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca: “He too carries his valuables intact through cities burnt to ashes, for he is contented with himself. This is the line he draws as the boundary for his happiness.”
I encourage you to use this time and temporary solitude to appreciate your gifts and treasures and to cultivate your own happiness. Be safe and well.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.