There comes a point in time where you learn how to take care of yourself.
Some children learn independence early, while others still bring their laundry home to their mother’s in college. For some, the independence of taking care of oneself is a source of great pride, for others a survival mechanism.
I think I learned at a young age to be self-sufficient.
I knew how to do laundry, which meant waking up early to iron my oxfords with the hideous Peter Pan collars for my uniform I wore to Saint Francis Borgia parochial school every day.
I didn’t want training wheels on my bicycle, because I knew without them I’d be able to ride my bike to school, which meant freedom.
It meant independence to duck down the paths I’d been warned to avoid; it meant staying later at the ball fields after softball practice was over so I could do a little extra base running.
The freedoms were important.
In college, I met a man whose biggest fault was that he could never leave me alone.
Clearly the image in my head of dating a man several years my senior—a divorced bachelor—were much different than its realities.
As a successful businessman who seemed to have life figured out, I assumed he was arrogant. But, he was the most insecure man I’d ever met. Because of this, my vision of coexisting independently was never realized, as we melded into the same person over the duration of our time together.
Though we preach independence, we become accustomed to support systems.
They become the backbone for everyday interactions, and when we ask life’s big questions, the support system answers.
“What do you want for dinner?” (Steak. His answer was always steak)
“What should I wear to the party?” (The blue dress, he’d say because it matches your eyes, but no heels or you’re too tall)
“Where can we go on vacation?” (Anywhere except the beach)
“Do you love me?” (More than life itself)
When we separated nearly five years later, I had forgotten how to do things for myself. Making a decision without consulting him for advice seemed tedious. I changed careers and life-goals and floundered on all of those decisions without support.
The dread and worry of creating your own path can be exhausting. I know that I second-guessed every decision I made for months following our separation. Did I make the right decision? Could I change a flat tire myself? How many cups of sugar were in his mom’s fudge recipe?
The post break-up tabula rasa was now filled with clichéd attempts at finding myself, building a new chapter. A new apartment in a funky neighborhood about thirty minutes from where I’d be attending graduate school. A new job that let me work at home; a new puppy to keep me company.
But it all felt like a futile attempt to bide time until something better, something purposeful bigger than myself, came along.
So, I tried dating.
I waited for men to return phone calls, and they rarely did. I went out with men that were out of my league, and others who were embarrassing to be seen with in public (like a Yankees fan).
But it never lasted, and we’d inevitably go our separate ways over small differences. If they didn’t know the Stones were superior to the Beatles or that Dustin Pedroia had earned the 2008 AL MVP, there was clearly no foundation for a healthy relationship.
The clarity came when I learned to take care of myself.
It was still winter and some sort of independent woman aura took over me. I spent my day record shopping in Wicker Park, an activity I’ve often done alone. While it’s not quite as satisfying to find a copy of an old vinyl by the Kinks when no one’s watching, it’s still a thrill nonetheless.
After the record shopping, I marched myself into a bar where I ordered a beer and watched hockey on one of the big screens. Though I felt awkward about being in a crowded bar alone, it was somewhat freeing. No one noticed me and I was content in solitude.
That day, the adventures in solitude began.
Instead of the world passing me by while I waited for phone calls from friends (which I don’t have many) or dates (which I have even fewer), I took the world by storm at my own pace and did the things I wanted to do, regardless of company.
Then came baseball season.
Perhaps the thing about the move to Chicago I’d underestimated was its proximity to Major League Baseball.
There are two teams in the city (we’ll consider the Chicago Cubs are a major league team, for argument’s sake).
Milwaukee has the Brewers.
Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Cleveland are just a road trip and cheap hotel room away.
At first, I’ll admit, there was a daunting fear of going to a baseball game alone. When you go to a game, you see reminders of society’s norms all around.
Proud fathers bringing their children to their first games.
Young couples snuggled under blankets and huddling for body warmth on a cool spring evening.
Businessmen entertaining clients.
…and then there’s me. Alone, surrounded by silence, scorecards, and a moleskine notebook where I keep a game log.
My first reaction, especially on my first few endeavors, was to tense up and feel depressed… envious of those around me. Sure, there was baseball and that was the reason I came, but it certainly didn’t help the loneliness. There was always that nagging feeling of if 32,458 others at the game had found happiness, why couldn’t I?
It took time, but I finally realized that enjoying moments in life, regardless of company are what make life worth living.
And not just a idle living… but a celebratory sort of living. An embracing every moment and cherishing the things I do have, rather than the ones I don’t.
That dread and loneliness I once felt morphed into a genuine appreciation for the quiet times that I can spend in contemplation, deeply immersed in my scorebook, a 40-man roster, and peanuts.
I realize now that sometimes the opportunities and risks we take in life are the contentment and security we’ve been seeking all along.
I’m finally living in the way I’d dreamed about when I was a kid—free of training wheels and able to take paths I’d been warned against just to run a few extra bases by myself.
Turns out, we really do create our own happiness.