My friend Barbara is living alone for the first time in over 40 years. "How are you managing?" I ask, expecting her to say she's lonely, lost without her husband's growly voice or crusty sense of humor. "Well of course I miss Don," she says. "But I have to say, I'm really enjoying my own company!"
What a concept ~ enjoying your own company. In our culture, being a woman alone invites sympathy, pity, even scorn. Women don't get much opportunity to become acquainted with themselves, not with taking care of husbands and homes, children and pets, jobs and hobbies. In the course of a woman's lifetime, she rarely has a minute to be alone.
Another much younger friend is raising her two year old son alone. "Honestly," she said to me, "if I could only go to the bathroom alone, I'd be happy!" Families are a pervasive presence in a woman's life, and even when they aren't physically with us, their needs can still weigh heavily on our minds and hearts. Since I've become my mother's sole source of transportation, I make a point of taking her along on my errands to the market or mall. But the other day, I happened to stop at the grocery store on my way home, and was amazed at how free I felt shopping alone, meandering through the store, checking out when I was finished without waiting for her. Then, of course I was consumed with guilt for having the audacity to prefer being on my own.
While I don't consider myself an introvert, I have always been perfectly happy with my own company. Granted, I've never lived alone-at least not for more than a few days when my husband might be traveling-but I've never feared those hours when the days activity was over and I would be left to my own devices. Probably because I have always had so many interests - reading, playing music, writing, walking - there was always something to keep me busy.
My mother in law had a pathological fear of being alone. She wanted someone with her all the time, and would complain bitterly about "sitting here in this apartment all by myself." I don't think she ever liked herself very much, so it follows that she wouldn't enjoy her own company. Now she's surrounded by people all day, in the "family room" of the Alzheimer's center, and ironically enough, this probably suits her very well.
Women are taught to be nurturers, to think of others needs before our own. But we must learn to love our own company, enjoy taking ourselves for walks, to the movies, even out to dinner. It is in enjoying ourselves that we develop the confidence and assurance to become stronger women in all our roles - wives, mothers, children, and friends.