Tabatha Wharton

words

{musings of an aging millennial trope}



The Incomplete Commandments of My Self-Imposed Celibacy.

{this post originally appeared on Tabatha, Etc)

In the late late hours a couple of weeks ago, I posted quietly that this year, I would be celibate. I've been too disconnected from my body and my sense of self to be able to value the things I have to offer someone -- I've been giving myself away for so very little, in return, and have paid the price every single time. Honestly, I still am. 

And what's been cycling in my head (and has been asked a number of times) is what that exactly means, to me. I've been rolling around some basic rules and guidelines ever since the idea really took shape in my head to help clarify and define what exactly this process will look like ... and it's only the end of February and I've had it challenged in enough mostly subtle ways that I thought I'd just lay it all out here -- so anyone who wants to know the specifics can study them thoroughly and I will have some accountability to not just you all but to myself. 

So without further ado ...

Thou shalt not pursue a romantic relationship.

This seems really intense, I know. When I tell people who don't know me that well that I'm not interested in dating anyone this year, they balk and act like I just said I'm promptly donating my left leg to science. I've never been single in my adult life, and I *do* think that part of my fear of being single and therefore alone (and therefore worthless and unlovable and and and ... ) has driven me to be in relationships that were more harmful than beneficial as well as less than I deserve -- but my already paper-thin self-esteem remained based on these relationships I kept throwing myself into, and the vicious cycle would repeat. And I've kind of lived this existence of always scoping people out or reading into things and overthinking everything; always keeping an ear to the ground for the next tragedy or the next person who could even infinitesimally fit the role of my partner, so to speak. And it took up so much mental energy and emotional strength that all I ever felt was tired and pissed off and drained and still lonely as hell.  So, for the first time in my life, I'm not looking. Making that choice felt like a giant weight had lifted off of my shoulders, so I suspect I'm on to something.

Thou shalt not participate in casual sex, friends with benefits, etc. 

Especially with one's former partners, who likes to ask after one has been drinking while claiming the demise of said partnership was completely their fault and other sundry platitudes to gain one's temporary trust while playing on one's heartache and loneliness. Trust, they will screw you  ... and then they will screw you over. I have actually (twice now!) been able to stand up for myself and refuse to be a booty call/casual hookup/secret texting friend/whatever and that has felt UHMAZING. It's one thing to realize you have intrinsic worth that is not tied to your body's use by others. It is a whole other thing to actually demand others to see that worth and treat you as such before they get to touch you. Spoiler alert: it still sucks when confronted with either treating you with value or ending whatever thing was happening, they choose to end it. That still stings and you will still cry a little about it, but at least you'll be able to see that the problem isn't you.

Thou shalt not whine about being single.

I admittedly suck at this one, hard core. I try really hard not to talk about it but I guess people assume since it's been so long since I separated from my soon-to-be-ex-husband and broke up with my ex-post-separation-person that I must be out doing all the things, or something. Maybe it's because I present as reasonably attractive that the assumption is I'm getting something from someone somewhere, but the palpable disappointment I confront regularly about not going out and not meeting people and not being on dating sites (we'll get there, hold on) is actually disturbing. So sometimes, when I'm tired (because I am perpetually exhausted) I end up bemoaning the lack of a person to end my days with, to count on for not just help with housework and childrearing but also being that emotional center to draw from and pour back into. It is just me and the pets and silence at the end of my days, and I'll readily admit that is pretty fucking lonely most of the time. But if I'm making the conscious choice to not throw myself into whatever presents itself, I don't get to bitch about being on my own. Also, to quell any snark, there aren't any options really presenting themselves, either, so that is kind of a double-edged sword because it makes it easier to pick being single when no one is trying to convince you otherwise but then also you are totally awesome and dateable in your opinion but the overwhelming lack of interest certainly casts a shadow on ... well, everything. See, working on it.

Thou shalt not join any dating sites/apps/etc.

Because if you join one just because you're sad and lonely or have been drinking or because your friends badger you into it, a few things will happen: (1) you will discover the dating pool in your area is frighteningly lacking in the combination of intelligence, spirit, and appearance that you desire and you will question if your standards are too high or if you just live in a really shitty area for single people [spolier alert, it's the latter]; (2) you will be creeped on by the creepiest of creepers and crazies who will hunt down your social media and try to friend you over a year later; (3) you will become depressed at your prospects and therefore begin to sell yourself short again just to garner interest and attention (4) you will inevitably be matched with your soon-to-be-ex-husband straight out of the gate on most platforms, and you will discover he not only is a well-established user on those platforms from before you were even sleeping in different locations in the same house, but a prolific one as well ... and you will delete your profile because if the best the fancy questionnaires and algorithms have for you is the person you're actively divorcing, well then fuck all.

Thou shalt not keep company for the sake of not feeling lonely.

This is for the surrogate boy and girl friends. You will only spend time with people because you genuinely enjoy their company, not because they obviously enjoy yours. You will not dump upon someone who possibly has the end game goal of seeing you naked in person for all of their troubles dealing with you and your aching heart, because they let you. You will not string people along, convincing yourself that something is platonic for both when it is questionably so for the other. You will not keep someone in your back pocket to pick up your pieces so you can hand them off to whoever may come next. I was bad about this in my teens, and again as my marriage fell apart, twice over. I'm not going to emotionally leech people because they fill some superficial need (whether I realize I'm doing it or not) at the time. My friendships shall be real, shall be solid, and shall be equal and reciprocal. There is no more room for passing infatuations and manufactured intimacy just to take the edge off at the end of the day. Give me something real.

Thou shalt not walk through life searching for a partner. Or stalking your ex-partners. 

I kind of mentioned the first part of this above, about always being on the prowl, for lack of a better phrase. Even when I was with someone I knew was wrong for me but I didn't have the courage to call it off, I'd always kind of be tuned in just in case someone presumably better came around and then, once I felt safe that the new interest was also interested, I'd jump ship. That's not a way to live a life. I can't let the fear of being on my own force me into some lifelong serial monogamy relay race. I can't even begin to tell you the difference in my mood and my experience of situations from when I don't give a fuck who is in a communal space with me versus when I'm eyeballing every single person in the room to see if they're eyeballing me. Admittedly, this is a surprisingly hard habit to break. It's a constant work, and it does mean sometimes you blank out and don't register people you actually know and would enjoy talking to and hanging out with. It is its own bizarre social awkwardness. 

As for the second part, I KNOW this trap. You're lonely, you're kind of sad, or you hear from a friend of a friend about a thing, so you creep your exes. THIS WILL ONLY LEAD TO AWFUL THINGS. You will either (a) see that they are or are appearing totally fine and well adjusted without you in their life and have moved on to someone you will then want to also stalk and compare yourself to (a1) in hopes to not find yourself lacking, but then all of your insecurities will just manifest and you'll go to bed in a fit of angsty rage because that motherfucker broke your heart and could give a flying fuck or (a2) you'll be horrified by how obviously inferior they are to you and will be incredulous that THAT is what replaced you rebound or no and how on earth could they be THAT happy with someone so clearly below your level and you will go to bed in a fit of angsty incredulousness or (b) you will find hints that they are equally as unhappy and lonely as you are but for whatever reasons or circumstances have not reached out to you to reconnect and you'll tear yourself apart trying to over-analyze if a certain (mostly digital) happenstance has a double or triple meaning and you will go to bed in a fit of angsty ennui because why must they make you suffer so and should you be the one to make a move or what if it is all a trap?

The answer always ends with you being angsty, which means you're letting it all take up too much space in your head. The past is the past for a reason, and you will not go chasing ghosts who probably just want to be chased so they stop feeling like shit about themselves and their bad life choices and inability to handle their own shit. It doesn't actually have anything to do with you at all. But if it makes you feel better you are 100% the better catch out of all the options above and those exes are total douchecanoes for not valuing your awesomeness when they were in the good graces of it.

Thou shall take care of one's self.

GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER. By this I mean, in the span of time you've been wallowing in your (earned and righteous) self-pity and stages of grief that are actually cycles that come in inexplicable waves at always the worst times, you've by no doubt let your care of yourself go. You have probably stopped exercising or eating healthy (or well, or at all). You probably aren't sleeping enough or drinking enough water and too much coffee and alcohol. You maybe can't muster up the energy to do anything beyond the absolutely threadbare minimum to keep yourself and any small dependents in your charge alive and healthy. The dishes pile up. The laundry never gets really done. Your holiday decorations are still up and it's the end of February (SHUT UP I HAVE REASONS BEYOND MY BROKEN SPIRIT). Whatever it is, you probably have let yourself and your needs fall by the wayside. Stop that. Now, more than ever, I know that no one is going to take care of me, but me. And in the last couple of years I have learned that I am capable of extraordinary things when I set my mind to it. My body is amazing and powerful and nearly completely at my command. So I will move it and remind myself of this fact, even if all I can fit into my day is turning up my Spotify loud and dancing my heart out around my kitchen. I will force myself to eat at regular intervals, and once I can stomach food at all I won't let myself live off of potato chips and chocolate milk. I won't let my solitude rob me of my health. 

Thou shall love one's self, as much as possible.

You'll forgive yourself. Over and over. You'll learn to say no in a way that doesn't make you feel like shit and doesn't make other people feel like you're rejecting or attacking them. You will do things that make you happy, unapologetically, and become slowly more and more impervious to the snark and the put-downs of others who don't know how to sit with themselves comfortably yet. You will forgive yourself, over and over. You will care less what people think of you and what they say of you and how they paint you, because you are good with you. You will allow yourself space and time to feel all the feelings that cross your heart, and learn from those feelings. You will forgive yourself over and over and over again for the times you did not love yourself or you take things out on yourself because you don't know how else to be or what else to do with all this feeling, this being. You will learn to treasure the body you inhabit scars and flaws and all. And yes, you will learn to take care of the most intimate parts of your inner and outer life in a way that feels like a gift you never fully realized you could bestow upon yourself, instead of others. And you will, over and over again, forgive yourself.

Thou shall invest redirected time and efforts into bettering one's life, without expectation of a partner joining for the journey.

This is hard for me, mostly because when I'm not at work, I'm with my kids, so suggestions for the newly single to fill their sudden free time like "take a new class!" or "join a new club or volunteer program!" sound a lot like "GIVE PARTS OF YOURSELF YOU DON'T HAVE TO THINGS FOR THE SAKE OF SAYING YOU'RE DOING THINGS" and besides, that comes with an unspoken side of maybe you'll meet someone new and that's not the fucking point, is it. So, it's doing things like completely rebranding my online spaces and getting back into writing, from a slightly different place. It means actually persuring some of the interests I've barely touched upon and let fall to the wayside to make room for other people's interests -- so like actually learning how to use my DSLR, or read the books I've been impulsively purchasing and only starting a chapter or two before getting listless, or learn how to reupholster the vintange furniture I've collected over the years. Soonish, I'll have a new home to dream over, and I think that will help reawaken a part of me that's lied dormant for far too long, as making my house a home my way was such a huge creative and emotional outlet for me and losing that has truly stolen a great deal of joy from my day to day life. So I'm not going to tackle things that are completely out of character for me, but more redirect my energies to the things that already pique my interest, and hopefully grow from there. 

Thou shall let the love of and from one's children and one's friends carry one through the rougher patches.

Being celibate doesn't mean being shut off to love completely. It means learning what different kinds of love mean and look like and letting yourself feel those things, too. We've kind of been taught our whole lives that romantic love is the end-all-be-all of those heartstring ties to people, but that's not true. I have my solid friends I can fall apart to when the load is too much to carry, who lift me back up and hold my hand along the way. I have a few communities of supportive writers and moms and divorcees and survivors and people that hold me up and hold me accountable and refuse to let me talk shit about myself undeserved and keep me going, even if we're all limping along in commiseration. And I have distant friends and acquaintances and blog readers (hey boos hey) who always seem to know the perfect time to reach out and let me know I'm on their minds or hearts or have made a difference in their lives somehow, even by just telling them my thoughts on an outfit or wall color.

And I  have my children, for whom I have never felt a more unabiding, soul-crushing devotion in all of my life, than to them. Their hugs and kisses and homemade cards and little voices calling my name and not-quite-so-tiny-anymore hands reaching for mine and even the moments when they tell me they hate me because I have rules or they're not my friend because I won't just let them have their way, these two literal organs of my body out walking around becoming people amid this shitstorm of divorce and breakups and all the goddamn changes all at once, they are my heart and soul, my legacy in the world. And they fill me up in a way a partner never could even dream of touching. They are love I physically manifested and have fought hand over hand, tooth and nail, to show them love in every way possible despite whatever maybe swirling in the vortex of life around us. They are my heart, and if their cheeks are the last thing I ever kiss in this world, I would be perfectly content with that. 

*****

I did what every woman was raised to do, expected to do in order to have a happy, fulfilled life -- I married my college boyfriend, bought a house, had babies, started careers, collected pets, the whole nine yards. And here I am a decade later, with none of it, save those babies and to an extent those pets, being worth a damn. I've been betrayed and belittled, abused and abandoned, and never treated like I was worth more than what I had in me or of me to give, without being given anything in return to replenish my stores. So I'm doing just that -- learning to replenish myself, putting my own heart first and foremost, and refusing to let the endless pursuit of an ideal relationship stop me from experiencing and enjoying and living in the life I have now, by myself.

So yes, I'm being celibate for 2016. 

This may just prove to be my greatest adventure, yet.