Category Archives: Alone and Together: A Very Short Primer on Happiness

Alone and Together: A Very Short Primer on Happiness

“When you can read a book, read a poem, take walks together, that is love.”

That is what my dad told me one time.

“When you can be alone together,” he said, “That is love.”

He was right.

My dad is a pretty cool guy.

Alone and Together is a  serial I wrote in 2012, three years after meeting my husband, David. It tells the story of our meeting and of my realization that being married isn’t all that terrible.

I can be married, and still be me.

Here is the full list of installments.

Part One: Alone

Part Two: Together

Part Three: Alone and Together

Think Deeply and Be Alive (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Five)

Tonight, I stood outside on my balcony and looked at the trees. The air smelled good. It was nice. Every time I do something like this—every time I stop and just stare at the sky or trees or at the moon, for no other reason than the pleasure—I remember the time I spent alone. I remember how much I used to appreciate the sky and the trees and all the beautiful things in the world.

And how I felt, every day, like they were mine.

Being lonely inspired me. It made me think and feel everything more strongly. It made me believe that the world was full of possibilities.

It made me deep.

In his book Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut described one of his characters who had just arrived in New York City for the first time. He said it was like he had just been born. It was like it was his first day out of the womb and into the world.

And that is how I used to feel every day.

Tonight, I didn’t feel like I’d just been born. But, after a couple of years of trying to live more the way I really want to live, of being open to new things and new people and all of the different emotions, even the bad ones, I am feeling more of what I used to feel again.

I am feeling inspired.

Even though I live in the suburbs. Even though, someday, I will probably get a car.

Because, after all, I can still take walks. And I can still not buy things I don’t need and not be materialistic. I can still be romantic. I can still write poetry.

I can still refuse to get old.

Anyway, in many ways, what I feel now when I’m by myself is better than what I felt before. I don’t just have hopes anymore; now, I have goals. The things I want to do are the things I will, someday, actually do.

I’m a real adult now, after all. Not just a person in college.

I have power.

I am not only thinking about all the things I want to do in life.

I am living.

You Can Be Whatever You Want To Be (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Four)

One day, soon after Thanksgiving, I decided to put on some Christmas music—and I enjoyed it. Before that time, I didn’t really like music and I never really had, and, until that time, I thought I probably never would. Anyway, even if I did, I figured, I would never really be good at it; catching up on everything I missed would take way too long.

I have my limitations, after all.

So, instead of trying to pretend to like something just to sound cool, I decided to do the opposite, but with the same result: I’d be proud of not liking music. I’d tell everyone as soon as I got a chance. I’d admit I was a dork, which, to me, was a different kind of cool.

And so, I did. And after a while, it became part of who I was, and part of who I wanted to continue to be.

That day, though, as I listened to the Christmas music, I realized that I could like it. I could be a person who likes music—even sappy music—if only I wanted to be.

I could be something new. I could change my idea of myself.

I can be anything I want.

Now, I like Christmas music and all kinds of unlikely things, and I’m glad I like them, even if at first I didn’t want to. And it’s little realizations like this that make life new every day.

I’m just a baby, really.

And that is the way I like to think of it. I like to think of myself as if I am one year old, and my life is just beginning, and I can be anything I want.

If I want to love someone, I can love them. If I want to be with someone, I can be with them. If I want to go to church, I can—and will—go to church. There is nothing in the way except tradition.

And tradition, we know, is negotiable.

David and I never got married. We call each other husband and wife, but really, that is not what we are. One day, after getting pregnant and deciding I didn’t want to have a different last name from my baby, and I didn’t want David to, either—we are a family, after all—I went to the courthouse and changed it.

I don’t know when we will get married and I don’t really care.

My ending is just as happy either way.

Know–Really Know–You’re Good Enough (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Three)

There was another thing I learned in my second and third years with David that went along with that, and it was: how to be more secure.

When David and I first got together, I obsessed about my looks. I wondered if I was pretty enough for him and whether he would stay attracted to me after our initial infatuation wore off. Then one day a couple of years after we got together, I looked in the mirror and realized something: I liked the way I look.

It surprised me.

Before that, when I would see myself in the mirror, I wouldn’t think I was very pretty. I have a big nose and a round face and that isn’t very feminine at all. (I look like my dad.) But that time when I looked, I thought, My face is intelligent. It is serious.

It is a great face and I would not change it at all.

Anyway, if I were prettier, I may have married earlier, I realized. That would have been bad. Also, I may have had an easier childhood. That would have been tragic. I would not be here right now.

I’m good enough.

Thinking this way was a definite improvement.

Beware of Middle Age (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Two)

Sometime during the second year of my relationship with David, I went out of town. I was gone for about a week.

It was the longest we’d ever been apart.

The people that were renting my house had just moved away, so I had to go home to do some repairs. I didn’t mind leaving, though, and I didn’t mind the work. I wanted to remember what it was like to be there again, living in the house that I was so proud of for so long, and to remember what it was like to be alone.

I took the train into town, then took a bus the rest of the way. When I got there, it was about five in the morning and I was tired, so the first thing I did was to put some blankets on the floor. Then, I fell asleep. A few hours later, I woke up and there I was in my house again, just like old times.

I was alone, and yet, it wasn’t like it used to be.

As I worked on the house that week, I kept trying to figure out what had changed. I tried to remember what it was like when I lived there before, when I was still lonely, and writing a lot of poetry, and feeling strong and independent for living in my own house that I bought all by myself and that I loved. I remembered how I used to tell myself to never get married because if I did, it would change me forever and I’d become like everybody else.
Was I right? I wondered as I painted and hammered and cleaned. Maybe I was. I have a wonderful boyfriend, and I am rarely lonely and I love being this way so much. But I’m not the person I used to be.

These days, I’m almost like everyone else.

Then, the realization: This is the very beginning of middle age.

I never believed it would happen to me.

But I don’t want it to, I thought. I want to keep growing.

I need to find a way to keep growing.

The repairs went well and I worked hard. After the week was over, on the way back to Seattle, I made a decision: I would not live only for David anymore. Instead, I would do what I wanted to do, too.

I would be more of me.

And so, that is what I did. I started working harder than before. I started doing more of the things I loved. On my next trip to my hometown, I visited my mother and slept alone again for the first time in a long time and, that time, I enjoyed it more than I had before. I enjoyed having the bed to myself, and staying with someone other than David, and waking up to them instead of him, too.

For the first time in a long time, I was glad to be alone.

It felt like a betrayal.

It reminded me of a story by Albert Camus called The Adulterous Woman. She was married, but she didn’t cheat on her husband.

She just took a walk alone at night.

When I came back from that trip, David and I lay in bed for a while talking. He said he really missed me when I was gone, and I said I really missed him, too.

“But you don’t normally miss people,” he said. “You never missed your husband after he was gone.”

“That’s true,” I said. “But it was different. With him, if I ever did want him back, I could just remember the bad things and change my mind. With you, though, there wouldn’t be any bad things to remember.”

But the truth is, I am sure I would think of something.

Of course, I wouldn’t be as happy without him as I am now. And I’d probably start looking for another man again eventually. But not right away. I’d need time—probably a lot of time—to get over it.

And that’s something, after all.

Expect Change (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-One)

The last thing that David and I have learned while being together I want to tell you about is this: let the other person change you—and let them change, too.

Ever since I have known David, he has wanted to have kids. When we first met, though, I did not. He is the one that made me change my mind.

That happens, I guess, when circumstances change along with it.

As I told you before, I was married for nine months. With my ex-husband, I never considered having a baby. I went to the doctor and asked to have my tubes tied, but he said no.

Even then I could tell that he was a kind and good man.

At that time, I was still depressed. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to handle having children, though I didn’t realize it was because I was depressed. I just thought I didn’t want them because it wasn’t my style, and I wanted to do other, more important things instead.

I told the doctor this, but he didn’t believe me. He gave me an IUD instead.

I will be grateful to him forever for that.

Later, after my divorce, when David and I talked on the phone for the first time, he asked me why I didn’t want to have kids. I had told him this in an email already, and he had told me that he definitely wanted kids and we agreed that our relationship was probably doomed.

On the phone that day, though, I explained my thoughts on the matter. I told him that I didn’t want kids because I wanted to do other things and I didn’t think I could do both. He asked me what things I wanted to do.

It was a good question.

In the moment before replying, which lasted under one second, I made a decision. I decided that someday, I might want to have kids after all.

That is how things change.

Of course, I didn’t tell David that. Not right then. I just told him I didn’t know. Then later, a few weeks into our relationship, we talked about it again.

We were in bed. It was during one of the many all-night conversations that we had when we first started dating when he didn’t have a job and I was only working part-time, and when we would go over all of the things you would want your soul mate to know about you forever, and a lot of inconsequential things as well.

At one point, late that night, he put his hand on my stomach.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

“I like it,” he said.

“Why do you like it?” I said.

“Because that is where the babies come from.”

“Aw,” I said. “That’s sweet.”

We lay in silence for a few minutes. Then I said, “I might like to have babies someday.”

“Really?” he said, looking at my face.

“Yes,” I said. “Baby kitties.”

I laughed. He hit me playfully, saying not to joke about such things. But I told him I was just kidding.

I wanted human babies after all.

On Christmas morning—the second one that David and I spent together—we woke up at my mother’s house. No one was home, and since we had celebrated at my sister’s the night before, there was nothing to do, and no presents to open.

There was just me and David.

And that was okay. Presents are nothing to me anymore, I thought as I looked at my husband in his pajamas and made him an egg. Everything I have the right to ask for in this life is already here.

Develop a System That Works (Alone and Together, Part Thirty)

The other secret that David and I have had for the whole time we’ve been together is this: We don’t nag.

And we don’t nag not because we don’t want to, but because of something much more effective: We don’t need to.

My mother—an otherwise very sweet, very competent, very beautiful woman—used to nag my father, and I was always scared I would, too. So, from the first day David and I lived together, we had an agreement: I would do all of the cooking and all of the housework, and wait on him hand and foot, and David would work more than me and pay more than his share of the bills.

So revolutionary, I know. So original.

And so, every morning, I make the bed and pick the clothes up off the floor. During the week, I clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, wash the dishes and vacuum the floors. I make all of our meals.

And I love it.

I don’t love cooking, but I like cleaning and I love living in a clean house, and—more than all that—I like taking care of my husband. And David, of course, likes it, too.

Originality is so overrated.

When You’re Struggling, Admit It (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Nine)

The second year David and I were together we learned even more about fighting.

One day, we were both feeling a little annoyed with each other though neither of us really knew why. Then, suddenly, while we were in our office sitting next to each other and reading or working or something, I realized, I don’t want to be annoyed with him anymore.

And I don’t have to, either.

Later, when he said something to me that seemed a little short, I said, “Honey, please me nice to me, because I am tired.” I said it in a little girl’s voice and he hugged me really hard and said, “Okay.”

And after that, whatever it was that had been bothering us was gone.

Later, we discovered a similar technique that we have used ever since. One evening after work, David was acting kind of grumpy and I said, “Honey, are you okay?”

He said, “I am grumpy.”

I said, “What can I do for you?”

He said, “Just a hug.”

I said, “Okay.” Then we hugged.

I didn’t get mad. And because I didn’t, it meant that I would get my turn to be grumpy later.

It’s a system that works pretty well, and I am proud of us for having it.

We are happy. We don’t wake up in the morning wondering if we are going to have a fight that day.

We are sane.

It is a good life indeed.

Apologies Are Amazing (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Eight)

A few days after our one-year anniversary, it finally happened: David and I had our first real fight. It happened because we were moving to another place and we didn’t have everything done in time and I was hurrying and I was packing things wrong and he got mad.

He said, “You’re doing it wrong, Mollie. You’re not being careful enough.”

I said, “I told you to pack your things last week but you didn’t, so now I’m doing it my way.”

I didn’t say it nicely, either; I yelled. Then I left the apartment, slamming the door. I walked down the pathway across the street from our house and thought about how angry I was and how unfairly he had treated me. I fumed and walked really fast and cried. Then, about half a mile down the road, I saw David’s car stop in front of me and as soon as I saw it I knew he was sorry and, suddenly, one second later, all of my anger was gone. David got out of the car and hugged me for a long time on the pathway and apologized over and over and I didn’t say anything.

I just cried.

And that was the next very important thing I learned about relationships: I learned what an apology can do.

Don’t Be Like Other People (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Seven)

On our first Valentine’s Day together, David bought me two bouquets and surprised me with them at work. One was roses and the other one was daisies. It was more than I expected him to do.

It was sweet.

After my shift was over, we had a picnic on the beach where we went on our first date. Then we went home and talked very late into the night. I told him that when we got engaged, I didn’t want a diamond ring; I wanted a plain gold band instead.

I think this was a good decision.

“I don’t want to be like other people,” I said to him as I wrapped my legs around his, my head resting on his chest. “And not just in the wedding rings, or in the wedding, or in other things like that. But in just the way we are.”

“What do you mean?” David asked.

“I mean, we can’t ever start fighting in a way we can’t stop, like other couples do. We can’t stop treating each other well, not just well but supremely well—just as well as we do right now. We can’t start being like the couples we know, after they’ve gotten used to all the good things, and now it’s only the bad things they see.”

“Whatever happens, we cannot turn into them.”

“I promise,” David said.

I said it, too.

Of course, I know that every couple says this, or something like it. But at the time of that conversation, David and I had been together for almost a year, and we hadn’t had a real fight yet.

And so, our confidence was understandably high.

If He’s Not Your Best Friend, You Have No Chance (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Six)

Shortly after David and I moved in together, we visited my parents in my hometown. It went better than I thought it would. We went to see my mom first. The first thing she said was, “You even look alike!” This was a nice compliment. She made us dinner, then let us sleep in the same room even though she had made a separate bed for David somewhere else.

The next day, we visited my dad. We took him to a barbeque restaurant. On the way there, he asked David a lot of questions about completely irrelevant things, and David knew the answers.

He passed the test.

It was a nice conversation, and a nice meal—one of the best I’ve ever had. David and I were affectionate and supportive like we usually are, but to my dad, it was a surprise.

It was the first time he’d ever seen me in love.

A few days later when we were back in Seattle I called him and asked what he thought of David. He said that before he met David, when I just described him on the phone, he didn’t know why I’d want to date him, but when he saw us together, he understood. He could tell that we were good friends, he said.

He approved.

And he was right: we are good friends. We are best friends. And there is nothing in a relationship that can substitute for that—nothing.

And please, esteemed reader, please, if you are reading this now and you aren’t absolutely sure that the person you are in love with is truly your best friend, someone you can tell almost anything to without getting teased and with knowing they will still love you as much as ever after you tell them, please:

Do not get married.

If you do, of course, I don’t blame you. We all want our happy ending to happen soon. I did, too. But as soon as you can, as soon as you have the strength to be without it again, do what I did: Say goodbye.

It’s Wrong to Get Annoyed (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Five)

In marriage, some days are of course better than others. Sometimes, like anyone, we are annoying to each other, and sometimes, we get annoyed.

One time, we were in the kitchen and I was making dinner and he told me I was cutting the carrots wrong. Then he showed me his way of doing it and to me, it didn’t seem any better.

I was a little bothered by his thinking I needed help but I knew that I shouldn’t be, so I didn’t say anything.

That is my first strategy for dealing with annoyace, and most of the time, it works pretty well.

But not always.

A little later, when we were eating, he said, “So, have you been remembering to fill the ice cube trays? It seemed like they were empty when I checked.”

“I always fill the ice cube trays.” I said. I didn’t say it in a nice way.

“They are not filled now,” he said.

I got up and looked and he was right. They were not filled.

But they were mostly filled.

Later that night, lying in bed, I thought, I was wrong to get annoyed. If he wants more ice, I will give him more ice. What’s the big deal?

We’re in love.

Love Is a Form of Worship (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Four)

And so, ever since I have known David, I have loved him, and adored him, and thought about him as much as I could. I’d even say: I worshipped him. On purpose.

One day, while we were on a trip to South America, he and I had a fight. We were riding a crowded bus into Bogota looking for our hostel after a long night traveling from Peru, and David asked me to try to communicate with someone in my tenuous Spanish, asking them where we were.

“I’m too tired,” I said. “I can’t do it.”

I was sick of everything. I was sick of traveling.

I was mad.

Fortunately, a boy sitting near us on the bus spoke English. He overheard us talking and offered to help.

I looked at his kind face and started to cry.

David explained to him that I was really tired and the boy just smiled and said that he understood.

When we got off the bus, David and I didn’t look for our hostel right away. Instead, we sat in a park for a while and took a break. David held me and said that he knows that he pushed me too hard and that he would take care of everything else we needed for the rest of the day.

That was exactly what I needed to hear.

I have cried in his arms before and he said the right thing that time, too.

This is an important quality in a boyfriend.

After this experience, I trusted David more than ever. I realized that he was more mature than anyone else I knew. I wanted to give him everything of me.

It’s like how, when I was a Christian, I used to feel about Jesus. He became everything to me.

He became my religion. Not literally, of course. But I lived for him then, and I still do.

He was at least part of my religion.

One time, during the first year of my relationship with David, we went to a movie. The movie was only okay, but we enjoyed being there together.

Romance is really not that hard.

At one point, when we were at the theater, I watched David from across the room. There were a lot of other people standing around and he was trying to get back to his seat.

He looked perfect.

Somehow, for some reason, seeing him from far away like that made me remember how much I love him. Somehow, it made him more precious.

I was proud of him.

I decided to try to remember to make him happy every day—not to think only about myself, but to do something to make him happy every day. And, I think, I have.

Mostly.

Always Remember How Lucky You Are (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Three)

The very next thing I learned about happiness in relationships is almost the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone who is already with their life partner, and that is this: Try, try, try, try try. Try to never start taking each other for granted.

Because once you start, it is very difficult to stop.

When I first moved in with David, we were both afraid of taking each other for granted. Actually, I was afraid of being taken for granted—like I had been with my ex-husband—and he was afraid of taking me for granted.

We are still afraid of this sometimes.

One night during the second year of our relationship, I dreamt that I was still married to my ex-husband. I was unhappy, but he wanted to stay together even though he had been gone for the entire summer and I had started seeing David while he was gone. He knew there was someone else, but he never asked me about it. I didn’t know whether I should leave him because he was not mean to me and I figured that if I stayed with David, things would become just the same with him after a few years or so and I wouldn’t be happy then, anyway.

When I woke up, I realized that part of me was surprised that after nearly two years with David, we were still so happy and content.

Why am I so surprised? I thought. Other people wouldn’t feel so surprised.

Then I realized: It’s my way of making sure I remember how fortunate I am. It’s my way of remembering not to take him for granted.

And that is what makes it work out so well.

Say Out Loud What You Need (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Two)

Several days after I met my husband David, when we were on our cruise in Alaska, I told him that I needed him to be the leader in our relationship.

“That is what I want, too,” he told me, and I was so happy to hear it.

It was the second to last day of our cruise, a Wednesday. It was late at night and we were sitting by the buffet. I started crying.

The day before, he had told me that he loved me and I told him I did, too.

That night, we had a romantic dinner like I told you before and all the waiters smiled at us knowingly and we ignored them even when they came to our table and we just stared and stared at each other and talked about our feelings.

Then, the next day, he didn’t tell me he loved me again, even after I did, and that scared me.

It scared me so much.

I thought that we had moved too fast. I thought that he was going to change his mind aout me, and that maybe I should’ve pretended not to care so much.

So, late that night, in the dining room, I told him this, and started crying. Then I said,

“David, I want to ask you something.” He said that I could.

I said, “I want to ask you if it’s okay that I don’t hide my feelings from you and play games like people do. Because I can’t do it. I can’t pretend you are just another person I’m dating, because that’s not the way I feel.

“But I won’t say that I love you again until you say it again. I don’t want to be the leader in our relationship. I want you to be the leader, always. I want you to decide on the timing of whatever happens between us. Is that okay?”

I said this between deep breaths, very slowly. It was something of a scene, I’m sure, but I didn’t really care.

It was the last thing I was worried about.

David felt badly that I was crying. He held me while I talked. Then he said, “You don’t have to play games. I didn’t tell you I loved you today because it is all just so fast for me and so unexpected. I need some time alone to think about everything. But I don’t want you to play games with me. And I want to be the leader in our relationship, too, and I will be.
“I promise.”

I was glad to hear him say this, but I wasn’t entirely convinced.

The next morning, I went to the library and did a crossword puzzle by myself while he was at the pool. The rest of the day, things were a little strained between us.

Then, before we left the ship, we had one more serious conversation. I said, “Are you feeling afraid of this relationship because it happened so fast or because you’re not sure you know me well enough yet?” I already knew what the right answer was.

He said, “It’s just so fast. I just need to take a few days to think about things.”

That was the right answer.

I knew right after he said that that everything would be okay.

And it was. And it was better than that because David actually did what he promised and he has been the leader in our relationship ever since.

It works for us.

Even Atheists Are Kind (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-One)

David is an agnostic who is practically an atheist. Before I met him, I didn’t know atheists could be so kind.

I didn’t think he was at first, actually. I thought he was shallow. But that was just the first date, because he talked about clothes and seemed a little too happy. Too optimistic.

To me, that seemed pretty suspicious.

Also, when we were talking on the phone before we met in person, he said, “I think friendships are the most important thing in life. Don’t you?”

I said I didn’t know.

On our second date, though, we went sailing and to a seafood restaurant and we talked a lot more. I could see that he was intelligent and we always had more things to say and it was never boring. He wore sailing clothes and he didn’t look as stylish as before and I could see that he was a little shyer than I realized and I liked that a lot.

After we were done eating, we got onto the subject of the differences between men and women.

It was an eye-opening conversation.

“I don’t think gender roles are a bad thing,” he said, and, looking back, I think that is really the moment I fell in love.

Of course, I didn’t say that. I said, “I agree.” And then we talked some more about that and later I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a man who was as traditional as you are that is not religious.”

And, I thought, as honest.

After that, we talked about all of the places we’d traveled to and all of the other places we wanted to travel and later, when we were driving in his car together, he drove very fast but I didn’t care and I thought, “He can drive any way he wants because I trust him completely and he is perfect.”

By the time that date was over, I think we were both in love.

It’s Okay to Want What You Don’t Have (Alone and Together, Part Twenty)

El Paso is a plain city. It is very dry, and the Rio Grande, which separates it from Juarez in Mexico, is small. The city is divided straight down the middle by a low mountain range called the Juarez Mountains.

Those mountains made me love that city forever.

When I first moved there, I was married to Jake and we lived on the west side of the mountains. This was the white side of town. It was ugly. It was the suburbs.

After nine months of living with Jake, I moved out. I went to live on the east side of the mountains. This was the Mexican side.

It was an improvement.

There, I rented a room from a hippie lady with a lot of cats and a very dirty house. The rent was low and I knew I’d need to save as much as I could for whatever was next and now I’m so glad I did.

Soon after leaving my husband, I made a very important decision: I decided that for the first time in my life, I would look for a boyfriend.

I am not going to do what I did last time, I decided. I’m not going to wait around to be happy. I’m going to make myself that way.

I can be good to myself, I thought, and, more than that: I should be.

It’s a principle I’ve lived by ever since.

You see, before I got married, I was always just waiting for something to happen. I didn’t look for what I wanted in life; instead, I waited for something to intervene: For fate. Or for God. Or, always, for a sign. After I got married, though, I realized something very important: I could make mistakes.

Mistakes, as it turned out, can actually be good for you.

Who knew?

And so, my new life began. I signed up on a dating website and soon, I met Josh.

Josh was a normal guy and a nice guy. He was intelligent and we had the same taste in movies and books. He liked to have long conversations. He had a cat and he had his own apartment.

He was good enough for me.

We dated for six months. After that, I decided to leave El Paso. Josh and I broke up, and I looked on the internet for a new boyfriend, also someone nice, and even before I left El Paso I met David. Then, I moved to Seattle, and because of that, now more than ever before, I am happy.

The first night I spent in Seattle we went on our first date and from then until now I have never been alone—not  once. And because of that, I have learned a lot.

The first thing I learned about being in a relationship after I was finally lucky enough to have a good one was this: Ask for what you want. Which is another way of saying what is so often said, which is, Don’t play games. And, that oft-said corollary, which is: Be yourself.
David and I were both thirty-one when we met so somehow we had already learned how to do that and it was a good thing because knowing who we really were and what we really wanted was one of the things that made us fall in love in the first place.

Being Married Is Nice . . . (Alone and Together, Part Eighteen)

The proposal was unexpected. Jake, an army officer, had just learned of his coming year-long deployment to Iraq. He was lonely, he said. He missed me. He visited me one weekend about a year after we broke up. Several weeks later, I got some time off work and visited him in El Paso, where he was working.

He had bought the ring even before I arrived. He said we could get married when he came back.

And that’s what we did.

He came back, and I married him, just like I said I said I would. I moved out of my house and I went to El Paso and I learned what it was like to be married and it was wonderful. I learned that I liked coming home to someone.

I learned that I liked not being alone.

Jake, I soon found out, didn’t feel the same way. A few months into our marriage, he started acting differently towards me. He was colder, more angry.

He was mean.

One time, I remember, we decided to go to the opera together. I had wanted to go, and he had not.

He complained the whole time. He embarrassed me.

I never forgot that night.

Soon after that, I wrote him a letter and put it next to the bathroom sink where he would be sure to see it. I wrote a lot of things about what I thought I needed from him and what he was doing that hurt me.

It was a nice letter.

That night, when I got home from work, it was still right where I had put it by the sink.

“Did you read my letter?” I asked him as he sat at his computer.

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No,” he said.

I paused. Then I said, “I think I’m going to move out.”

I went into the kitchen and cried.

For a while after that, I was pretty mad at Jake—even, for a little while, bitter. I didn’t purposely try to stop myself from feeling that way, though.

Sometimes, it’s right to feel wronged.

Anyway, the bitterness didn’t last long. Soon after we broke up, I was glad that it all had happened. I was glad that I had met him and married him and then gotten a divorce.

I still am. In fact, I recommend it. If you can’t break up with someone, I say: marry them.

That, it seems, will do the trick.

It’s Okay To Be Strange, Part Two (Alone and Together, Part Seventeen)

The first house I bought was built in the 1950’s. It was very old-fashioned, with ugly bright green trim, polished brass hardware and a rounded kitchen nook. I loved everything about that house. It was the symbol of my independence, and it still is.

When I bought the house, I didn’t want to change anything about it, even the things that needed to be changed. The only thing I did was replace the doorbell, which didn’t work anymore.

I still have that old doorbell somewhere.

One time shortly after I moved in, someone from work gave me a ride home. When she saw the house she said, “So this is it.”

“This is it,” I said. “It needs some work, of course. I’ll have to paint over that trim.”

I didn’t tell her that I secretly liked it just the way it was.

As it turned out, though, I regretted not telling her that, because she beat me to it.

“I like it how it is,” she said. “It’s cute. It’s old-fashioned. It’s perfect.”

A few years later, when I finally did repaint the trim, I used the original shade of green. It is still an ugly color. And it is still perfect.

It takes a long time to learn not be embarrassed about being weird, and it is much harder than anyone makes it out to be.

I learned something from that girl’s little comment, and for the next year, I worked on being whoever I wanted to be.

I would never become materialistic, I decided. I would live as an artist for the rest of my life, probably unmarried (at least until the age of forty). I would decorate my house in bright orange and other bright colors. I would take lots of walks and eventually be successful but never famous, and even if I was famous, I’d never wear expensive clothes—I would wear crazy things from thrift stores instead. Or I’d dress very plainly, to show that I wasn’t trying to be different.

If I did decide to marry, I would only marry someone who was very deep, someone, I told myself, who would understand why even though he was a man, I called him beautiful.

I discovered things about myself, too. I discovered that I was strong—stronger than I ever realized before. I discovered that a little loneliness was actually necessary for me to be really happy, and that in some ways, being alone was better than being in a relationship—more romantic.

Then, a year later, Jake proposed.

I said yes.

It Is So Good To Be Free (Alone and Together, Part Sixteen)

The day before I graduated from college, I turned in my history thesis. Before handing it in, I kept thinking that something dramatic was going to happen to mark the occasion, namely, the end of my seven-and-a-half-year stretch of college.

As it turned out, it did.

The next day, my very last day of college, I found out that the thesis had been voted “best paper” by my classmates. That night, the professor took all of the students out for pizza and beer. Though I wasn’t friends with anyone in that class, I went to the party and then to the bar afterwards, too. They had voted for my paper, after all.

And that was the night I met Jake.

We sat next to each other at the table and flirted. When the bar finally closed he walked me home and took my phone number, then called the next day. After that, we dated for a while.

It was hard.

For a long time, I had successfully avoided relationships with men, and I was happy. Now that I was dating someone again, I had all the guilt that I used to have and some additional confusion as well.

I didn’t know if I loved him. I didn’t know if I would ever love him. I wasn’t sure if he was right for me, but I didn’t want to let him go.

I went back and forth in my head, trying to figure out what to do.

After about three months, I left town and went traveling, partly because I’d already planned to and partly to get away from him. We decided to keep dating but when I came back, we decided not to anymore. After that, I bought a house in my hometown and lived alone once more. And, once more, I decided not to date anymore. The desire had left me again, and, again, I was free.

It was a very good time in my life, a time I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It was a time to learn about myself, and be responsible for no one but me.

It was my time to do nothing.