At some point in life—many women find themselves alone. And whether this is by choice or not — it can be a lonely feeling. Psychotherapist, Florence Falk — herself twice divorced found that many women in her practice were going through it alone and needed assurance that life on their own would be okay. She was invited to appear on TODAY to talk about her new book, “On My Own: The Art of Being a Woman Alone.” Read an excerpt:
On the day Sam moved out, Lisa sat on the couch in stunned disbelief while he padded from bedroom to study to bathroom, sorting through clothes, books, CDs, even bottles of shampoo and vitamins, separating out his stuff from hers. When he was finished packing, Sam walked over to her. "Be good to yourself, darling Lisa," he said, planting a kiss on her brow. "No matter what, this has been a great adventure for both of us." The ease with which he had already seemed to slip back into his own life and away from theirs infuriated Lisa. She both marveled at and was enraged by his composure. "Just leave me the keys, you arrogant bastard," she shot back. With a sigh, Sam set them down beside her. Car service rang up a few minutes later, and he let himself out the door.Feeling too drained to move, Lisa curled up on the couch and fell asleep. When she woke up, it was already dark. She had to pee badly, and her arm ached from lying on it, but she couldn't bring herself to move until a cramped foot forced her to sit up. Her body felt sluggish and weak, and she could barely lift her feet. The phone rang. Hearing her friend Katherine leave a message, she didn't bother to pick up. It was Sam's voice she was waiting for.That night, Lisa couldn't bring herself to sleep in their bed, so she brought her pillow and comforter back to the couch and stayed there,zoning out on old movies. She slept on the couch the next night, too, and the next. With Sam gone, she found herself listening to the silence. It's odd, she thought. I've been by myself a thousand times when Sam was out. Only now it's different. Before, I was alone, but not really. I was waiting for him. Now I'm not waiting for anyone. She started to sob, and finally the pain and hurt came pouring out. She felt frightened and confused. This didn't seem real, but of course it was. He was gone and he wouldn't be coming back.Lisa is a set designer who first came to see me when her "honeymoon" with Sam was over, and she was struggling to understand how a relationship so magical, so light and luminous, could have begun to collect the dust of ordinary existence. She wanted to be wanted again. She wanted Sam to feel her longing and respond to her longing with his own. In her heart of hearts, she wanted to hold on to the rosy candlelight glow of romance, rather than have to deal with the bright, sometimes glaring day-to-day life with another person. And who could blame her? To be spun off earth and float above it for a while is exhilarating. But real love must take root in the soil of reality; otherwise, it can't last or modulate into deeper form. Lisa and Sam's relationship didn't have such durability.Still, for Lisa—and almost every woman I know—the problem is the hard landing that occurs when a relationship ends and she falls backward into the shaming belief that somehow she is to blame.
Today, the woman who sits across from me still feels too bruised to try to pick herself up. "It feels like there's something terribly wrong with me. I don't understand why I feel so bad." Lisa speaks more slowly than usual, and in her eyes I see a threading of loss and bewilderment. "I think I knew for a long time that this day would come, but I didn't dare let myself think about it. I guess I swept it under the proverbial rug." She is silent while she struggles to make sense of her feelings. "It's not that I want to be with Sam. I mean, I do," she corrects, "but only if it could be the way it used to be, and I know it can't. It's just that..." "Just that what?" I ask. Lisa is staring at the floor. "That I'm alone, completely alone, and it's terrifying." She pauses for a moment, then looks at me helplessly. "I don't know how to be a woman alone."
************************It took me a long time to appreciate the special beauty of aloneness. Like many women, aloneness wasn't a subject I thought about—until it fell smack into the forefront of my life, as impossible to overlook as an inkblot on white paper. In the years leading up to my divorce, aloneness felt like a burden to me because I couldn't pretend it wasn't there: the widening gap between two people growing apart won't allow it. In the years following, the weight of the burden lifted, only to be replaced by a newfound sense of aloneness—the stark reality that I was going it alone in the world as I struggled to find and build a career that both satisfied me and would support the two sons I would be raising—alone. That my sons would receive support from their father was a comfort, but it scarcely obviated the greater challenge I faced: to discover who "I" was.Twice I entered into marriage in the throes of romantic love, and twice I had been disappointed. Like Lisa, I wondered, Who am I if I am a woman alone? Like her, I felt afraid. Having reached the place where I could no longer dream of being rescued by a man, I understood, fully and irrevocably, that I was the sole agent of my fate, no matter how many relationships I entered into and whether or not I found another great love.What I eventually discovered changed my life: having let go of the fantasy of rescue, I had crossed some invisible boundary. For the first time, I was ready to accept being a woman alone, only now it was no longer a default position but a state I could inhabit in a prideful way. This shift of perspective was at once radical and ordinary: radical because, as I shed my shame and fear, it forever transformed the way I thought and felt about myself; ordinary because it allowed me to go about my daily life with a clarity and strength that had long been missing.
Excerpted from "On My Own: The Art of Being Alone" by Florence Falk. Copyright @ 2007 by Florence Falk. All rights reserved. Published by No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.