Answering a few worst case what ifs.
If you haven’t read it, take a look at Pondering A Future Alone by Yael Wolfe. A podcast listener of mine recently shared it with me, and top to bottom it’s honest, direct, and poetic, three indicators that it’s worth your time and eyeballs. It’s asking some incredibly valid questions but more than that, it’s asking relatable ones. Yael beautifully walks us through the thought process of a single woman, and those thoughts aren’t sad, wrong, or weak—they’re incredibly powerful and real, and ignoring them doesn’t serve us well. I love the questions, and I’m grateful to Yael for asking them. But right now, I’d like to think about the answers.
There’s nothing wrong with asking the What Ifs of single life. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging our unwanted scenarios—because acknowledging them can’t magically make them come true, it can only make us more prepared, if we’re willing to go there. I think asking the What Ifs is actually a really healthy thing to do—as long as you also answer them. Allowing a laundry list of What Ifs about life to bubble to the surface and claim mental, emotional, even nervous system real estate inside us and then leave them there like terrifying hanging chads doesn’t serve us as well as playing the tape through to the end. What if? Let’s find out, maybe then we take away the power of a What If to make us uncertain and afraid.
Before I get into some of the outstanding questions Yael brings up, I want to give a piece of (privileged) advice that is my #1 piece of advice for single women, other than block him and move on, because this can actually answer a TON of What Ifs: build a savings account. Every paycheck, without fail, set aside a percentage that you’re comfortable with, or even better, one you’re not comfortable with (you’ll feel more comfortable over time) and put it in a savings account. Every. Single. Time. I contribute 1/3 of every check I receive (I’m freelance, so this accounts for tax savings as well) to a savings account. When that savings account hits a certain amount, I take out half of it and move it to an investment account with an app called Betterment, which allows my money to grow without me having to do anything extra.
This savings account does several things as it grows:
1 — It shows you that you’re capable of saving, and building this habit
2 — It gives you confidence that if shit hits the fan (a big What If that tends to come true every now and then) you will be able to financially handle it
3 — It allows you to actually financially handle it. A savings account is meant to be spent, which I know is counterintuitive, but remember that all the work you’ve done in saving has been done for a reason. Use this money when you need it, because that’s what it’s there for, and allow the confidence you’ve built up over time as you’ve grown this account to give you the confidence that you’ll put it all back in there eventually—and then some. Your savings can never grow unless you actually commit to contributing to it. This habit—not the dollars saved—is the greatest gift I’ve given myself as a single woman.
Save your money, it genuinely helps you handle the What Ifs in a mental, emotional, and literal sense. Why am I giving financial advice? Because one of the What Ifs in Yael’s piece is “what if a window breaks,” among other physical scenarios that—like it or not—we can just hire someone to help us fix. Fun fact: Couples have to do this too.
Other What Ifs a savings account can help mediate, all of these are from Yael’s piece:
1 — Getting sick and having to “fend for yourself” can be helped by getting things delivered to your home, and in extreme cases you can hire an in-home caregiver or a Lyft to take you to the hospital
2 — Fear of severe weather (I REALLY relate to this one) can be helped by purchasing emergency supplies and having a plan for either sheltering in place or staying somewhere else ahead of severe weather
3 — Needing help with a big project and having no friends available can be mitigated by hiring someone actually skilled in that area, sites like Thumbtack are full of people more than happy to help you out, and they offer services at all price points—they’ll likely do a better job than a friend, anyway.
What about the other What Ifs, the ones that can’t be solved financially? Because Yael does acknowledge a What If that occurs when her savings runs out. There are a good amount of unanswerable What Ifs that involve literally having no way to handle them, physically or financially. At that point, the only way to handle them becomes logically.
If you have no savings, no health insurance, no job, no home, a severe illness, etc. that is a genuinely dire What If scenario. That is the most dire What If scenario imaginable. I think two things about this: First, it can happen to couples and those who are not alone too, and second, it’s unlikely. The most dire, worst case, no hope in the world scenario is both extremely unlikely, and impossible to solve with a romantic partnership.
But Yael’s What Ifs are valid, and they deserve to be acknowledged. I choose to view them through a lens of logic, and after I apply logic, I remember my personal history. I let the moments of my life, especially the worst ones, remind me that I have made it through tough times alone, and I will do so again if I have to. We have already proven to ourselves that we’re going to be okay in the future, because we’ve been okay in the past. We’re still here. Is the likelihood of the worst What If ever enough to allow it to genuinely claim your thoughts and fears? The worst What Ifs ever can happen to anyone, and as human beings, we’re wired to persevere. Especially those of us who have had to learn to be resourceful enough to persevere alone. I’m not afraid for us, I’m proud of us.
Other What Ifs involve the “search for someone” via online dating and other methods. I love this one: “What if I spend the next few decades getting onto and off of dating apps in an endless cycle, swiping right and leaving notes and comments, only to find that the time I spent on it comes to nothing?” I love it because she’s answered it for herself. She’s already acknowledged the unproductive online dating cycle, and goes on to say “What if the rest of my life is filled with this frustrating combination of longing and dread, thinking maybe it’s possible that I could meet someone through this venue while also thinking it’s not something that appeals to my personality, and therefore isn’t likely to help me move forward.”
She already knows everything she needs to know about this What If. We don’t have to spend the next few decades in a space that isn’t working for us unless we want to stay stuck in this cycle. Dating apps do not control our behavior and choices, we do. Honestly, this What If is kind of easy. If online dating isn’t working for you, why do you keep working for online dating? Why keeping giving it your time, attention, and money if it’s giving you nothing back? Are we really so afraid of and disgusted by our own singlehood that we’re willing to ignore everything we’ve already learned about these supposed “paths to partnership” and just keep letting them disappoint us while taking our money? What If we never acknowledge this bullshit and abandon it? That’s the What If that scares me more.
Among the relatable pictures Yael paints, here is the hardest one: It asks us What If we never experience butterflies, or flirting, or cuddling, or sex. She asks the questions that sting, and I think she should be commended for it. Because to never ask them is ignore our own desires, and that isn’t helpful, because they can drive our behaviors anyway. I think it’s healthy to acknowledge that we want things, and I think it’s also possible to be okay when we don’t receive them.
I want all the things. The romantic feelings and passions and comforts of another human being who cares about me, I really do. They’re wonderful. But they’re not wonderful enough to be a reason to hate my beautiful, valuable, precious single life and constantly strive to find someone so it can end. I never want to look back on my single time with relief that it ended because I found someone. I want to look back on it and be proud of how I spent my time.
To ask the What Ifs and not answer them for ourselves is to let them control us. I don’t what to give that much power over my life to hypotheticals, not when there’s so much real life available to me in the meantime.
Yael ends her piece with “What if being alone for the rest of my life is the best thing that could happen to me?” And we can interpret this in a variety of ways. I don’t know how Yael meant it, but I do know this: Being alone for the rest of our lives is another way to say we were alive for the rest of our lives. I don’t think being alone forever is the best thing that could happen to me, or the worst. I don’t think being in a couple for the rest of my life is the best thing that could happen to me, and I know it won’t be the worst because I’d end it before “forever” happened.
We do not have to treat “being alone” like it’s something to solve for. That’s the point. Being alone is simply being, and a romantic partnership doesn’t make you exist any more than you did before. It doesn’t solve anything. Anything that is actually a problem in our lives can never be solved by another person. In that way, we are all alone forever, and I don’t see that as a sentence. I see it as freedom and endless possibility.
I don’t think Yael, or I, or anyone who wants partnership will be alone forever. Logically, that doesn’t play out for me. Partnerships begin and end every minute. There’s too much possibility, and there are too many humans on earth, for us to resign ourselves to our worst case What Ifs and let them paint such a valuable time in our lives—singlehood—with a disappointing brush. I don’t think we’re going to be alone forever because that isn’t really a thing that happens that often, and when it does, it usually happens to people who prefer it. Will partnerships happen on the timeline you fantasize about because everyone else posts their rings on Instagram? Maybe not. But maybe there was a different timeline set aside just for you, and you can decide to trust it, and live fully, or you can decide to What If.
What would happen if you, or I, are single and alone for the rest of our lives? In short, anything, and everything, we want to happen—except for one thing. And while that one thing is genuinely remarkable, it’s not everything, or certainly not enough everything to erase the beauty, potential, and value of my actual life. Single isn’t bad enough to sour my career, my relationships, my travels, the homes I create for myself, the experiences I seek out, the things I learn, the pets I love, the skills I acquire, and the time I’ve been gifted, my time on earth, to live any life I see fit. His absence isn’t enough to make my life lacking. Or yours.