After ten years of marriage, Nathan Graziano is finding being alone a different challenge from his old single days.
On Dec. 28, my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary at a nice Italian restaurant where, for dessert, the owners brought us—on the house—a homemade cannoli with Happy 10th Anniversary scrawled in red icing on the white plate.
A little over a week later, I was moving out of the house into a single room in a communal townhouse.
As with any fracture in a long-term relationship, the reasons my wife and I separated are long and endlessly complicated, spiraling through myriad of burdens and blames, disappointments and our own private despairs. Out of respect for my wife and our privacy, I am not going to get into the details behind our separation.
I have noticed, however, that since moving out of my house, I’ve been forced to relearn a skill I thought, as a writer, I had mastered: the skill of being alone.
The last time I lived alone I was 25 years old, childless and still immortal. I had gotten out of my first really bad relationship and was starting to realize that being with another person involved a lot of hard work. At the time, the girl I dated was bipolar and, to quote Frost, I am also one “acquainted with the night.” Along with the mental illnesses, we both drank heavily, and every night had the potential for total and complete combustion—and often it occurred.
So when she finally moved out, after months of back-and-forth anguish, for me, being alone became analogous to being liberated. And at 25, I kept my own company masterfully. Like Tom Waits writes in “Better without a Wife”: I was “goin’ out when I want[ed] to and comin’ home when I please[d].” I didn’t have to learn to be alone because I had embraced it. I made “alone” my own.
This time, it is different.
This time, I have two beautiful children who I miss with a hurt unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I have set up a shrine with pictures of them in my new room, where I now hermit. This time, I don’t feel the need to go out and prowl the meat markets in the downtown bar scene, drinking until last call and puking on my shoes in a parking lot.
This time, I am willfully alone.
But there also are issues of pragmatism about being alone this time that weren’t there when I was 25 years old. Family life can soften a man in the sense that eating becomes a routine, not something you do when you feel like it. My family would sit down for meals, and miraculously meals would arrive via my wife, who also concocted grocery lists and stacked the cabinets with food. Now, as I learn to be alone again, I have the choice of either eating one Subway sandwich a day or three-balanced meals.
So far, Subway is winning.
There is also the crude fact that every person, male or female, who is learning to be alone after a long relationship suffers, to some degree, from the existential crisis that begs the age-old question: Am I ever going to get laid again?
While statistically speaking, the odds are in my favor, the bleakness involved in accomplishing the deed—in going out and finding a person to sleep with—as a 37 year-old guy, hardly seems worth the effort.
In addition, if you’re learning to be alone again after a long relationship, hopefully you’ve realized that intimacy is actually the opposite of alone, and intimacy has little to do with genitals. Intimacy is much more difficult to find than sex.
I think I’ll be alone for awhile.
My new room is clean and well-lit; Hemingway would approve. I’ve decorated it with some of my paintings and posters, and the act of putting up familiar pictures somehow assuaged some of the loneliness.
Looking ahead, I’ll need at least one night where I buy beer and listen to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and write a five-page vitriolic poem for my wife, which I’ll then delete in the morning. I’m going to need many nights alone for spiritual cleansing and healing.
Learning to be alone again has not been easy or fun, but I’ve been fortunate to have a few friends who have offered their ear to me. And sometimes, alone, it helps to pick up the phone, hear a familiar voice, and talk about cannolis.
Image credit: Alexis Fam Photography/Flickr