As I reflect on being Spontaneously Solo in Florida for a little over eight months now, I feel compelled to clarify that “solo” is not the same as “single” and “single is not necessarily synonymous with “alone.” One could go to a movie alone without being a single female. A person could be single without living alone. And, of course, one could feel alone regardless of relationship status.

Coming out of a long-term relationship that crashed and burned quite unexpectedly, I first went through being single without being alone. Not knowing anyone upon my arrival, I did experience some alone time, but then distracted myself from loneliness by dating frequently, casually, and without any intention of establishing real relationships. To those who were caught in that crossfire, I apologize sincerely. But this was my own type of necessary rebound (and one I denied I was having). Though not categorized by obsession over one particular person, it was a rebound in its extreme avoidance of the breakup at hand. “No need to mope; If these circumstances worked out so well, it mustn’t be that bad,” I told myself.

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Upon gaining some perspective, I admit that was a backwards thought. How does one feel both gratitude and pain simultaneously (we just do)? Though I was embracing being single, I was not letting myself feel alone. I had been enveloped by the unconditional (and impressive) support of friends and family and felt my gratitude for them didn’t allow for any feelings of loneliness. Yet, I still needed to grieve the loss of that one particular friendship. Also, this is something that I will need to grieve in different stages, multiple times over–how annoying.

The key, though, was that real reflection does not occur when you are on dates with other people. As simple as that sounds, I didn’t realize I was getting in my own way. If I was holding off from jumping into another relationship, I told myself, then I must still be allowing myself time to be “single.” I thought I was being rather productive. Don’t people suggest, after all, that one should get on and continue living their life? Yes, there is a benefit in meeting new people, in remembering your attraction to people with different interests and habits, and in learning how to be yourself among strangers. Yet, when we do not let ourselves feel truly alone, when we fill our time with romantic distractions (committed or otherwise), we risk two things that are absolutely essential: clarity and growth.

Hence the necessary separation of the terms “single,” “solo,” and “alone.” There are those in committed relationships, with or without fidelity, who have no real intimacy. The subsequent feelings of being “alone” outweigh the fact they they are not officially “single,” but attached to someone from whom they feel isolated. On the other hand, there are also those (like yours truly) who are single and noncommittal, but are dating and avoiding “alone time.” I wasn’t avoiding alone time on purpose–at least not at first–I just didn’t think I needed it (this was before I started eating solo on purpose).

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Regardless of where it started, it didn’t end well. In fact, it climaxed in a heap of proverbial crap hitting the fan. And then, as if by magic, the road was clear, the sky was bright, and I was grateful for the alone time, not just the “being single” time. Perhaps I was grateful for the alone time because I felt as if I was choosing it, rather than it being thrown upon me unwillingly as in the initial stages of my move. “Face the demons!” I chanted enthusiastically. Either way, it is wonderful and emotional without being dramatic–finally!

And so, I can look upon these last eight-or-so months with a little bit of disbelief, some amusement, and with much more comfort than before. I’ve learned that I have pride, that I am a person of sometimes contradictory emotions, and that I tend to distract myself from pain simply because I don’t think I’m experiencing it. Also, love affairs borne out of distraction frequently result in disaster for one or both parties. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can not only eat alone, but I can be alone comfortably–and that sometimes doing so on purpose is worth a million ill-timed suitors.