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Illustration by Adam De Souza

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

This week, First Person takes a closer look at love and heartbreak.

I ran into a work acquaintance the other day. She asked if I had someone “special” in my life. “Nope,” I replied with a smile. But she looked concerned and assured me not to worry, that I was “a catch” and would find someone soon. While her sentiment was well meaning, I found it irksome. Who said I was looking for someone?

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She is not the first to suggest my being single required condolences. Many people, especially those in a relationship, make assumptions about single people. After my divorce, the first assumption I was confronted with was that the divorce was a result of infidelity or abuse. When they discovered it was neither, I was often met with disdain. People had a hard time understanding my decision. To end a marriage, especially when there were children involved (and there were), seemed a selfish act. Why couldn’t we just suck it up, at least for the kids’ sake?

How I learned to respect and admire my parents’ arranged marriage

He broke my heart, but I cannot let him go

We fell in love over the phone, and it gave me the confidence to love myself

The truth is, my marriage dissolved because it was a toxic relationship. Ultimately, both of us knew the marriage needed to end. There were no extramarital affairs, no big dramas that broke us up. It was simply years and years of trying to make it work, and finally recognizing that it was not going to.

Not everyone was disdainful. A good number of people offered me their pity. This also felt odd. I had made a choice that ultimately improved my life and my children’s lives. If you want to pity someone, pity those that stay in stale relationships because the unknown is too terrifying. For some people, stability is comforting. It doesn’t matter if that stability is suffocating the life out of them.

Another assumption I encounter is that I am lonely because I am single. Being alone is not the same as being lonely. When I was married, I was painfully lonely – I cried a lot more and laughed a lot less. I remember going to sleep at night with my partner lying next to me, both of us worlds apart, and the piercing loneliness that invaded me in those moments.

Being single does not mean being without love. Love is all around us.

I have heard it said that it gets harder to meet new people the older you get, but I haven’t found this to be true. I have a wide network of friends and divorce forced me out of my social bubble. It took some time, it didn’t happen right away, but I have befriended people I know I never would have befriended had I stayed married. When I was coupled, I was less driven to go out and meet new people.

Since my divorce, I have had several deep, loving relationships. They were valuable, sometimes painful experiences that allowed me to grow. I have had fun, casual relationships as well. These, too, have been valuable and I am grateful for each one of them. Ultimately, these relationships have all ended. Walking away from a bad marriage gave me the courage to walk away from other relationships. I no longer hold on to something that is broken and unfixable. I have learned the beauty of letting go.

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The fact that these relationships have ended has not turned me off of love. If anything, it has turned me even more onto love. Each time I am in love, my belief in it deepens. I have grown through these experiences. Even the most heartbreaking relationships have shown me the strength within myself to move forward and love again. I know couples that have been together for decades and share a deep, powerful love. It’s beautiful. But there is also beauty in having multiple loves throughout life.

At present, I am single. I am not “looking” for a relationship. Nor am I turning away from one. The key is to surround ourselves with loving people. We need to be open to the possibility of finding new love, but not desperate for it. I date. I meet cool, interesting people all the time. Some people find dating exhausting, but I am not one of them. If you stay open to the experience, you can gain a lot even if it never goes beyond the first meeting. And bad dates make for great storytelling. Sometimes my dates turn into courtships, some into friendships, some into relationships and some into nothing at all. And I am good with all of it.

We all make choices in life. I made the choice that felt right for me. My decisions have led me to lead a more fulfilling, interesting life. So the next time you hear news about a couple breaking up, don’t pity them. They got away from something that wasn’t working. That is progress. Chances are, they are about to experience the best chapter of their lives. They took a step toward happiness. And that deserves admiration, not pity.

Carrie Freedman lives in Monteal.

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