When I selected the blog topic “National Single Working Women’s Day” for August, I thought it would be an easy one for me to write. However, it turned out to be the biggest struggle of any of the ones I have written so far. I usually write about things I have gone through where I’ve gained crystal clarity. As for this topic, I am in it now, and I still have a lot to explore, process, and grow through in this dynamic and fluid stage of my life. In other words, I lack absolute clarity on myself; granted, some thoughts could change as time goes on. Since I already promised my dear editors that I’d write this, and not being too sure when this stage of life would end, I decided to test the waters on this topic and share some perspectives on my current state of life as a single working woman.
I had a very busy July and August due to one important deadline and three trips for work. In this circumstance, it was ideal to be single with no responsibility to fulfill. I had no other roles as partner or mother, just a single working woman who enjoyed her alone time, dedicated and married to work, yet who at the same time still managed to do regular exercise that she loves. Between the free days of the deadline and business trips, this single working woman felt like a cage-free bird and care-freely hopped on a cruise trip to Nova Scotia, then flew back to her old stomping ground of New Mexico to spend some relaxing time with her American mom, then went back to work again. So, from my freshly baked solo working woman experience, you probably could extract the keywords of such a life: “work” and “freedom.” The other two less obvious keywords of mine are: “self-love” and “kindness.”
I am a first-generation immigrant to the United States which means I have no family members here, it’s just me. Work to me is so critical, which not only provides financial independence but also serves as a part of my self-identity and a source of purpose and meaning. I always feel extremely fortunate to do what I love and love what I do. Every morning waking up, I look forward to seeing my students and colleagues. The passion and energy to work are carried to my class and research groups, which also helps them engage more. Every year, I get very positive feedback from anonymous student evaluations. If I am being honest, my accent in English certainly impacts my teaching performance negatively. The good feedback must have a lot to do with my teaching methods as well as my passion for students and classes. In turn, every effort I have poured into rewards me with enjoyable satisfaction and students’ appreciation. It feels so great to get through challenges and witness their growth. Therefore, I fully enjoy my current single working woman life, but I may not if I am a single woman without work.
Practically, work also supports me to be an independent woman, financially and spiritually. With my salary, I live a very comfortable life in my own house which I can decorate based on my own free will. I enjoy carrying home a fresh bouquet of flowers. On weekends, I may light a scented candle, play some light music, read a book, write a blog, or do nothing. I can try and pursue my many hobbies: latte art, golf, snow skiing, scuba diving, and surfing. Life most of the time is quiet and peaceful. But I also need to say there are many layers of this single working woman’s life. As an extrovert, I sometimes indeed feel the urge to share my life with someone.
At this point in life, I am used to getting through sad or frustrating moments since I had the experience of navigating through depression after the sudden end of my previous relationship. Ironically, I come to find that the loneliest moments are somehow the happiest moments in life. For instance, I got a research grant from the National Science Foundation in July. I was overwhelmingly excited about it, and at the same time realized that I didn’t have someone to dine out or celebrate with me. I ended up dating myself with a movie night and a drink, which was not a bad experience, but somehow felt it would be more wonderful if there was another person who could share my excitement, sorrow, or just some trivial daily happenings. In another situation, I had a very severe back spasm and was barely able to move. I had to inch my way out of my bed or to turn over…At moments like this, fear and sadness uncontrollably surfaced into my mind. I then comforted myself through it and made a plan to avoid or limit similar situations. So now no matter how busy I am, I surely do my exercises to stay healthy, which is my top priority.
The other fact I realized is true in my single working woman life is that I live moment by moment rather than having long-term planning. I realized that death is not only a topic for old or terminally ill people who are just seemingly closer to the end. For them, it seems there is a process moving toward death slowly. However, being a younger person doesn’t really mean we are far from death. Ours could be an instant one with no prolonged process; after all no one expected the entire world to be affected by the small Coronavirus for so long. So why wait for the right moment? Now is the perfect time to start a new trend and say to your loved ones, “YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO ME.”
With this mindset, I now often take time to chat with a waiter or waitress in a restaurant or someone I meet in an airport about simple things like their name and what they like. I also found myself having time to compliment my students’ or colleagues’ dress or hairstyles or other small details. I do it not for people pleasing, I just simply want to share how I feel about them and make them feel great. Because if someone takes a minute or two for me, it sometimes could be the highlight of my day. The other day, I called my phone service company. The lady who answered my call served me professionally and validated my frustration after more than one hour of waiting on the line. At the end, I asked her to transfer me to her manager since I wanted to let the manager know she did a great job. The phone call ended up with my frustration dissolved and more appreciation coming both ways. Now I live life by a very simple principle: If people make me happy, I am going to make them happier.
Being single also means I have more time to think about life and what I really value in this life. I have come to realize that true connection is at the top of my list. I made up my mind to stay 100% true to myself and others as well as be kind and supportive to myself and others. After all, everyone has some baggage to drag along in life. My mindset is summarized so well in the screenplay of the movie, Before Sunrise:
“I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.”
Now I try not to judge or come to a conclusion too soon as I used to do in my early twenties. I now understand that everyone has a different background and can perceive things in entirely different ways. But we can always acknowledge differences and still find common ground because we all appreciate mutual understanding and are glad when someone attempts to understand us.
Regarding a romantic relationship, I still look forward to meeting the right person. By “right,” I mean we would accept each other as who we are and support each other’s self-growth and happiness. We would feel shared chemistry, connection, commitment, and sometimes mutual compromise if necessary. We still love each other at these unlovable moments. Love to the middle-aged me is not a simple passionate feeling but more a commitment by action. The most romantic moment to me is not when the couple said “I do” in front of all their family members and friends. Instead, it’s the moments when I see an elderly couple cuddled up under a sunset, either talking or in complete silence, or walking side by side holding each other’s hands, giving a smile to each other…These kinds of moments represent my ultimate romantic dream and goal for an intimate relationship. When young people say, “I do,” it is a beautiful promise with kind intentions. For older couples in love, it is a life-long promise and love fulfilled by action: “I love you, I have always stood by your side at your high and low moments, and I will until death tears us apart.” For myself, although the previous “I do” was broken by the reality of divorce, I have no regrets about my relationship since I loved full-heartedly and fearlessly. I am so grateful that after going through a lot of fear during the divorce, I still believe in love and fairytales. The loss taught and prepared me to love in a wiser and more mature way.
In the end, I want to share a sentence I saw somewhere on the internet: “You can’t give your life more time, so give the time you have left more life.” What a rule to live by! We only get one life. Even when we are single, don’t wait to have a partner to start dancing in life. Let’s get our wonderful solo dance on. Over the course of a life, someone may show up, or no one will, which doesn’t really matter in the end as long as we have done our wonderful solo dance.
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