A few nights ago I awoke in the middle of the night, cold, and threw another blanket on the bed. Yesterday walking out of my office, I felt the first small snap of cold in the air and stopped to breathe it in deeply. Today, my season football tickets were waiting in the mailbox. These are welcome annual milestones for me, signaling the end of summer and the faintest whispers of the coming fall and eventually, winter. Autumn and winter are wonderful times to be in a relationship – there’s more staying in, more snuggling up tight under blankets, more watching movies, more quiet, close talking. And perhaps for everyone, as this time of year approaches, there’s a general turning inward of sorts; a tendency to draw in and focus on warmth and personal connection while the world grows colder outside.
As summer winds down this year, I find myself single and, surprisingly, satisfied to be so. As I thought about the coming winter recently, I made a conscious decision: to stay out of a relationship, out of dating altogether, remaining purposely single, until the spring. Call it a dating hibernation, call it a winter withdrawal from romance, call it a cop-out even; but this year as the temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, I will be in what I hope is a metamorphosis of sorts.
The appeal of this no-dating idea dawned on me gradually as I was watching a nature documentary one night about the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies. When a caterpillar is ready to begin the process of transformation, it spins a silky cocoon around itself and remains there inside it, existing in utter solitude for days or even months. And from the outside, it appears that whatever’s inside the cocoon is inactive, lifeless even. But in fact, there is a radical transformation taking place that’s unseen by the outside world. All of the energy the caterpillar possesses is turned inward and it becomes devoted to the singular purpose of changing what it once was to what it will be. There’s no rigid time frame for this process. For some caterpillars it takes 5 days; for others, it takes many months. But one day when the time is right, the creature emerges from the shelter of the cocoon and, almost miraculously, is no longer a caterpillar but a butterfly. Once earth-bound and lumbersome, unremarkable in color, the caterpillar is now a light, vibrant, winged creature with a delicate capacity for flight. A complete transformation has taken place.
And the thought struck me: what if, rather than dreading the winter’s bleak days, I viewed them instead as a time of growth, introspection, and maybe even transformation? Could I also go into a cocoon of sorts? One that created a tangible barrier from the dating world and created a space for me to get to know myself? And, like the caterpillar, maybe I could eventually emerge, transformed, as well. Into something newer, more beautiful; a saner, more spiritually sound person and God willing, a better partner.
This newness, this transformation was appealing to me as I turned 50 and looked back over the past three years of my life. They contained a fair amount of personal pain and heartbreak – beginning with a divorce from my husband whom I met at the age of 18, the heartache of two broken relationships that followed, and a powerful despair at the prospect of being alone that invited in anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. To numb the pain, I would seek out relationships. Because just as some people are addicted to alcohol or drugs, I realized that my own addiction was to men, to relationships. For me, they represent the promise of salvation, of wholeness, and the reparation of every open wound from my childhood. They have been an exciting, arduous distraction from the harder task of looking at what is really inside me.
And so, without realizing it, the mission of my existence became finding the perfect relationship. It was out there; I just had to find it, to find him. Then, he would save me. Save me from my own destructive tendencies, my financial insecurity, and most of all from my own paralyzing fear. And….he would fix all the emotional damage my father had done. That’s an impossible and inherently unfair standard for any person to meet. And so when the man inevitably didn’t measure up, I moved on to the next one, and the process repeated itself over and over again. Recognizing this pattern was one thing; breaking it is another. The hard work, the sobering up, can come only from abstinence, solitude, and introspection.
So, it will just be me for the next six months, and my hope is that this period will be all about inner change instead of outer maintenance. I’ve deleted the dating apps from my phone, cancelled my monthly bikini wax, and bought a beautiful leather-bound journal to write in. At one time, the thought of spending six months alone would have terrified me because within it is the question I must confront: Am I enough? I have never taken the time to answer that before.
I don’t know what this winter will hold or how I will be once the cocoon is shed, but I believe spending the time alone will bring a growth and awareness that I could never access if I were still in the chaotic, exciting distraction a relationship provides. So bring on the fall leaves, the snow, the cocoa, the crackling fires, the holidays. Experiencing the winter alone, I’m hoping to find myself in the best of company.