This year, I lived alone for three months in sunny Florida while my husband toiled in Detroit’s deep freeze. To my surprise, I learned I am not alone, helpless, worthless or incompetent, despite feeling all that for much of the time. When I confessed my doubts about going it alone, my wise friend Karen said “You’ll figure it out.”
She was right.
The reason my confidence was some days at zero turned out to be pretty simple, even though it took awhile for the light to click on. And I’m embarrassed that my helplessness was a learned behavior. I have never been a pampered princess. I’d been on my own plenty before. I’d even been a single mom, where being the adult in the room is a requirement. Most days I got it right.
My loser mentality at age 63 was simple. Over the course of 30+ years of marriage, I gave up making decisions. I’d hated balancing my tiny single mom budget, so my husband took care of money matters while I wrote. I have little mechanical ability, but my husband is a star in the Mr Fix It world, so he did all that stuff too. While I wrote.
The thing is, today, if I were truly alone, I’d be fine. Yes, I’d do things differently than my husband does them, but nevertheless, I would persist. Yes, it would cost more for repairs and replacements of broken things, but that’s not a problem these days like it was when I was a single mom on pink-collar poverty level wages and my rusted out old car wouldn’t start.
When I married Al, my first thought (after “wow do I love this man”) was that I would never again have to look at the price of any item in the grocery store. I could fill my cart with abandon. What a lavish relief to have that kind of freedom from economic hardship. We weren’t rich, but we didn’t live paycheck to paycheck, either.
But this year, living alone, I found that the single thing I needed to do to feel like a competent and capable adult was to take more responsibility for the jobs I’d gladly handed over to Al all those years ago. I needed to be my own financial manager, I needed to take car of my own car, I needed to make big decisions on my own without second-guessing myself.
Sound easy? It’s not. Al has a set of life tools that are much shinier than mine. He doesn’t mind showing his knowledge off, or insisting he knows best, either. And while I admire a man who can cook and clean and do his own laundry as well as keep the financial empire afloat, it’s time to do what he’s been asking of me for years: to step up. Learn the map of our financial picture. Make some decisions on my own about what I need and what can be given away as we move into the next time of our life.
Best laid plans go awry. But I have someone to work things out with, someone who knows most of the answers to my barely articulated questions. I am not alone. And if I am really alone for good at some point, I feel confident now I can handle whatever life throws my way. Yes, it’s easier and more satisfying to share life’s burdens and joys. But there’s a certain kind of comfort it knowing all will be well, no matter what.