How I fell out of love with falling in love, and learnt to be happy just being me

Coming to terms with being single can be a love story all on its own.

By Sean O’Connor

So, there I am in the shop of the petrol station across the road, browsing the chocolates on a Sunday eve, being quite happy on my ownsome.

Suddenly, next to me materialises a fine-looking woman, exuding a breezy freshness and a radiance. She’s instantly beguiling and not fazed by me at all.

We stand side by side, gazing at the confections in front of us.

We start chatting, and it’s so easy, about different types of chocolate bars and the favourites we’ve had in our lives, what they’ve meant about the phases we were going through, and then we’re laughing at how right now, we both need the perfect chocolate, and what that might be.

The jokes are flying. We’re crazy cacao aficionados, and although there is a risqué element to our exchange, there’s also an ease, a complete lack of pretence.

I feel completely myself, and I think she does too.

You know how this story ends, right? We swop numbers, and I text her later that evening.

We go on a date the next afternoon (a walk in the forest), and in a shortcut to now, we’ve been together ever since.

Decades later, we’ve made a beautiful home together, stuffed with books and music, and plants, and pets, and yes, even children. Maybe grandchildren one day.

Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs and challenges. We understand what it’s taken to keep our relationship alive. We have never really fought either, well, not counting the time she…

Well, I never got her number, did I? Because I never even asked, in that moment of our initial encounter, which was very real, by the way.

What if I had, I wonder? What if she’d been single and available and given it to me? I didn’t even learn her name.

As I look back, a few months after the encounter in the aisle, I wonder why not?

Am I not primed to find love, after every Hollywood film teaching me that fairy tales can come true and have the most mundane beginnings?

Haven’t I fully subscribed to the idea of romantic love and its transformative magic, how a chance meeting with a stranger can change my life forever?

That cherubim and seraphim swirl among us, invisibly shooting their little arrows of torment and desire?

Of course, I do. But even though I do believe in love and see plenty of evidence for it in the people around me, and in fact owe my very existence to it, I know that romantic love with a long-term partner is just not for me.

My own love story is the one where I have learned to love life in its fleeting forms, in the small random interactions with strangers I’ll never see again.

To be honest, my aversion to romantic coupledom is definitely a result of having been badly hurt (and having hurt others, to be fair), of being disillusioned so many times that it is an inescapable truth that, I, alone, am a common denominator of romantic woe and misfortune, surely.

And without any self-pity, I know I’m not really fit for purpose, I’m not ‘relationship material’.

Perhaps I’m too selfish, too ‘set in my ways’, too difficult. Over time, I always tend to withdraw.

Long term relationships do the opposite to me than they’re intended.

I can thus hardly pursue a romantic attachment in any shape or form – except perhaps if it has an expiry date.

It also feels to me that there is a very strong prevailing belief that only long-term relationships are worthy.

Indeed, I have been asked – “Are you ‘the one’? If not, clear off.”

There’s this view that a time-limited entanglement is somehow inferior, and certainly in some cultures, even immoral or taboo.

Yet I’m better at these, it turns out. (This is also a way of reframing my failures, perhaps).

I do not hanker after the idea of growing old with anyone and find the prospect of an earthly eternity with one particular person both scary and limiting.

I find I can give of myself freely and fully only if I know it won’t last forever, and if I am not expected to be there until death.

Hence, I evade most opportunities for romance with a rueful smile, because I’ve already had my kicks.

I have had more than my fair share of love affairs and journeyed down many paths. I’ve held hands with marvellous people – I’ve been privileged to share brief time on this heating planet with an extraordinary range of people.

However, in a society which holds coupledom as both normal and desired, a culture that even finds single people suspicious or inconvenient, or as failures who have somehow been unable to attract a lifelong mate, for me to accept being permanently and happily single has taken some guts.

Part of this is learning to accept the idea that just because a relationship has ended doesn’t mean it was a failure.

I currently live with my ex-wife and kids – but I’m not with her in any romantic sense at all. It’s purely parenting and practical, for now.

As my shrink said, the relationship is not over, it’s just changed.

Either way, I’m bent into my own particular shape, and so I’ve learnt to become single and enjoy it, and that doesn’t mean ‘single and looking’ either.

I have been on my own for many years now, barring the occasional foray into coupledom, which always seems to quickly fail, to confirm who I am.

These forays, which are affirming, are often against my better judgement, and probably because they seem like a reasonable idea at the time.

And because I do think people are truly wonderful, I cannot help that, cannot help the intoxication of possibility, that I am somehow not who I know myself to be now.

Being single means I am open to people and a myriad of new relationships of all descriptions at any time, whether they last a month or a moment. I fall in love with people all the time, to be honest.

My mind runs away with an idea about a shop assistant or friend of a friend on a hike. But after a few days, they fade.

The woman in the chocolate aisle, for example – our affair lasted just a few magical minutes. It was enough, and it was beautiful.

I have learnt that, beforehand, I could not love because I had so little love for myself, but now that I have accepted who I am, I find that I can give love away and receive it like never before. I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being single means I am not answerable to anyone but myself, but that I am answerable to myself, for this is my choice.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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