Saturdays are tough when you’re single

Saturdays are MINE. But Saturdays can be tough when you’re single. You have some free time and free time means uncertainty and uncertainty means unmet expectations, like oh most people are doing this or that with their Saturdays, but I’m doing this, which doesn’t measure up to what Saturdays are supposed to look like.

I’ve been reading the excellent collection of essays How to be Alone by Lane Moore and it is this book that gives me courage to talk about something that no one likes to talk about, loneliness. I think Western society is especially prone to loneliness, the dark side of individuality. Moore delves into what it feels like not to have anyone, not family, not friends, not a romantic liaison to rely on through the journey of life. Her story is jarring and upsetting but oh so relatable.

Being Indian and having grown up in a communal culture I can’t imagine how some of my Western friends who are single like me survive in their isolated lives with very little connection to their families and precarious connections with friends. When I was younger I aspired to this level of individuality, the ability to rely solely on myself for emotional fulfillment thereby achieving the ultimate freedom, human connection be damned.

It turns out that human connection is oxygen for me. It’s the way I’m wired, maybe an inherited trait from countless generations of communal living and maybe it’s learned from my close-knit family and community-oriented childhood. That is why I’ve moved from glamorous San Francisco back to Phoenix so I can get oxygen again with my family and various communities.

At the center of my new family oriented life is my mother, as she is the center of everything in my family. She is the one who has brought people together all her life and has nurtured a close-knit, connected family.

I love our Fridays family gatherings which consist of members of my family, young and old, who can get out of work to get together after the Friday congregational prayer. My mom lives right behind the mosque, on purpose of course, and after she has chatted with her numerous fans at Friday prayer (she is easily one of the most popular people there), she then hosts a family gathering at her home. She concentrates much of her week’s efforts in cooking for the Friday gathering and we are the beneficiaries. The food is delicious and restorative after a week of battling the world on our own.

Usually my sister, her two daughters and two grandkids attend, as well as my brother, his wife and two kids and my brother who is divorced and who’s kids live in California is there too, and then my nephew comes later in the afternoon when he’s able to leave work. We eat, we talk, we joke, and sometimes we dance and all the while my mother sits back and revels in it all.

Saturdays I’ve reserved for myself to cultivate a life away from my family. Even on this single day of the week that I’ve carved out for myself, for my individuality, I feel an undercurrent of loneliness. I feel the absence of a life partner. I don’t suffer from a lack of friends. On the contrary I sometimes feel like I have too many friends, so many I don’t have the time and energy to keep up with them all in the way I’d like.

I’m eternally grateful for the friends I do have, the close friends, the ones I can text when something goes wrong, the ones I go to festivals with, the ones I have over for dinner and even the ones I hear from once in a blue moon. Every single one fills out my heart and every single one expands my life in a way that is important to me. I am not one to solely rely on my family for a social life and for mental stimulation because this feels too limiting.

I feel no angst on Sundays because they are cut and dried and I know what to expect. Sunday morning I eat breakfast out by myself, I then go to the gym for two back to back group fitness classes where I get to talk with my nieces and my sister who also attend, then I head over to my mom’s house to spend the day with her. Sometimes I cook for the week at her house, splitting what I’ve cooked with her and other times I take my mother for an outing. We go for a drive or we’ll eat lunch at one of her favorite restaurants or we’ll go shopping at Patel Bros. Indian grocery or Ross department store. Sometimes the most enjoyable time my mom and I spend together is simply sitting in the car listening to Indian music while I drive around and my mom enjoys the scenery. By the time the evening rolls around I edge my way out of my mom’s house, say my goodbyes which can last a full ten minutes, and get home in time for a little down time before I go to sleep to start a brand new week.

Saturdays, on the other hand, involve unstructured and therefore uncertain chunks of time which without fail give me anxiety. If you haven’t noticed by now, I hate uncertainty. I am a J in Meyers-Briggs, meaning I like to have everything planned out at least a week in advance and I like to stick with the plan.

But there is something I recognize to be valuable in a day that is just for me, not taken up by family or work or other obligations. Even when this day brings with it uncertainty, anxiety, and unmet expectations and all-too-close encounters with loneliness. Amid all this is possibility and growth and a chance for something new to come into my life.

For example, last Saturday I was so bowed down by depression caused by PMDD that I inadvertently tried some new things because my usual routines seemed so unbearable. I went to Steel Indian School Park and sat on a bench and stared at the lake. I watched the old men across the lake fishing, at the woman with her baby sitting on a picnic blanket, at the cluster of kids skipping stones on the lake and the various walkers and joggers that went past me. I felt the breeze on my arms and soaked in the sun on one of the first nice days of the fall. I felt a combination of both loneliness and belonging and felt connected to the strangers in the park, who were living their own stories with troubles and triumphs, like mine.

Afterward I went to Changing Hands Bookstore on a whim and by some miracle came upon Lane Moore’s book How to be Alone, something I sorely needed advice on that day. I bought the book, sat at the bar at Changing Hands, ordered a cherry pie and oolong tea, absent-mindedly listened in on the conversations around me and read through a huge chunk of the book, which turned out to be just the salve my exposed nerves needed in that moment.

My friend Kristin had come in with her daughter and came up and talked with me. She gave me a warm hug and it was so nice to see her and connect with her. She is currently splitting up with her husband and I knew she was living through the terrible pangs of loneliness that come with divorce and I felt a kinship with her and felt less alone.

Even though last Saturday was super hard because of my hormone-induced depression, it was also magical in a way and brought new experiences into my life. That is how Saturdays are for me. They are a mixed bag of feeling lonely, time for self-reflection, much-needed alone time, feeling adventurous, and chance encounters with people, places, books, radio shows, and unexpected experiences. I am learning how to sit with the discomfort of an unstructured, uncertain and lonely Saturday because I know it holds space for the growth, possibility and adventure I need in my life.