By Gwenn Voelckers
This September marks the 14th anniversary of my solo trip to Paris to celebrate turning 50. It also marks the anniversary of a decision I made that changed my life.
It was in the “City of Light” that I decided to create a workshop designed to help women live on their own with more confidence and joy.
Since launching the workshop in 2005, I have met and been inspired by countless courageous and resourceful women (and men, too) who are now living alone with success.
They reinforce what I practice every day and what I “preach” in this column and my “Alone and Content” workshops — that the relationship with ourselves is the most enduring of all and worth nurturing.
While many of the women and men I’ve met have encountered some very real and painful obstacles, they now embrace their independence and are busy leading interesting, full lives. They are making it on their own. These independent pioneers have discovered, as have I, that marriage is not the only state in which we can be truly happy, fulfilled, secure and complete.
Whether divorced, widowed or “confirmed” bachelors or bachelorettes, they are not spending their time bemoaning their fate. They have taken their lives into their own hands and have come to appreciate the choices and opportunities that living alone has to offer.
This we know:
1. Living alone doesn’t mean being alone. In fact, it can offer more time and opportunities to deepen existing friendships, make new and interesting connections and spend quality time with family members.
2. Loneliness is not a state of being reserved for single people. Did you ever feel lonely or neglected while being married or in a committed relationship?
3. With time alone, spent with intention, you can re-awaken your true self and identify those things that bring you joy. When that happens, living alone can become a profound adventure of the spirit.
4. The stereotypical image of single women and men as desperate and miserable are exaggerated and just plain untrue. Recent studies on the subject bear this out.
5. Accepting party invitations is worth doing, even if you suspect the party will be mostly couples. Remind yourself that guests often separate into groups of women and men, so singles blend right in.
6. Figuring out how to hire a contractor, buy a car or even replace the flapper valve in your toilet — all by yourself — can be very satisfying!
7. Pursuing a new career, volunteer job or college degree in midlife can be liberating and rewarding.
8. Doing a random act of kindness is a great antidote when you’re feeling alone or sorry for yourself.
9. Despite past hurts, try your best to remain open to others who would like to get to know you. Relationships can add dimension and meaning to your life. That said, responding “yes” to a dinner date does not obligate you to anything.
10. Living alone can release your inner Martha Stewart. Do you have a craft project secretly lurking inside you? Set it free!
11. Treating yourself well builds self-esteem. Prepare and enjoy healthy meals at home. Get enough sleep. Walk, move or exercise every day. Stay engaged with others and your community. Pamper yourself. You’re worth it. Do it!
12. Living alone takes practice. Know that there is always someone you can call or something you can do to improve your situation.
13. Getting out of your comfort zone is worth the discomfort. Try something new — pick up a musical instrument, take a memoir-writing class, learn a new language, start a book club, explore a plant-based diet — whatever piques your interest. It’s a great way to stretch yourself and meet others along the way.
14. Isolating on holidays, birthdays, Sundays, etc. is for the birds. Solitary confinement is punishment for criminals, not single people. Make plans.
15. Comb your hair. Lose the baggy sweatpants. Put a smile on your face. It’s important to create your own positive feedback. Caring about your appearance says a lot about how you value yourself.
16. Traveling solo can lead to self-discovery and grow your self-reliance. Whether it’s Paris or Peoria, striking out on your own will expand your horizons, build self-awareness and increase your appreciation for diversity. You will become a more interesting person, not only to yourself, but to others as well.
17. There’s no shame in asking for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. On the contrary. Asking for help shows confidence and resourcefulness.
18. If feelings of fear, vulnerability or self-doubt overcome you; a little quiet time, meditation, and/or prayer can be an answer. Embrace your spiritual side, however that manifests itself in you.
19. Your dream house can be yours. Whether it’s a cozy apartment or cottage in the country, you can — at long last! — make your home your own.
20. Expanding your definition of love beyond “romantic love” will stand you in good stead. Embrace “passionate friendships” — those relationships in which you can be yourself and feel completely comfortable.
21. It’s all yours — the good, the bad, the chores, the bills. Living alone, like married life, is not Shangri-La. It’s real life. And that’s a beautiful thing. Embrace it.
22. Still in your PJ’s at noon? No one needs to know.
23. Hanging out with negative people is a real downer. Put yourself with upbeat people who make you feel good about yourself and about life.
24. Mac and cheese may be just what the doctor ordered. There’s no harm in occasionally indulging in your favorite comfort food and tear-jerky movie. “The Way We Were” is my three-hankie movie of choice.
25. Finding your home in your heart can deliver peace as well as power. Harness that potential and your contentment will know no bounds. Don’t we know it!
Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of “Alone & Content” empowerment boot camps for women held throughout the year in Mendon. She is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” For information about her boot camp, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak call 585-624-7887, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.aloneandcontent.com