I was locked into my apartment.
I yanked on the hallway door with all my might, but it wouldn’t budge. The apartment was old—built in the ‘60s—and the wood had swollen and warped over the years.
I didn’t know how it had happened. I’d gone to get something from my bedroom and pulled the hallway door shut behind me. Just gently, not hard. Certainly not hard enough to jam it.
But it was stuck. Which meant I was stuck. Trapped in my own hallway. Without access to a phone, house keys, or my purse, which were all on the other side of that door.
I slumped against the wall, heart racing. Don’t panic—think. The windows in the apartment were burglar-proof. They only opened a few inches. My tools, which I could have used to pry the door open, were in the garage.
Then I remembered. The bedroom window had a broken lock. I’d meant to have it fixed but never got around to it. Thank god for small miracles.
I unlatched the window and crawled out, dropping onto the pavement. I looked longingly at my locked front door. The other apartments in my block were dark. It was past 11 o’clock at night, and my elderly neighbors were already asleep. I lived in a quiet residential neighborhood, with no 24-7 convenience stores or bars that might still be open.
I ran onto the street, looking for any sign of life: a house with lights on, a person passing by. At last I spotted a young man striding down the sidewalk. I raced up to him, looking like a mad woman, I knew, in my pajamas.
“Could I borrow your phone?” I asked breathlessly. “I’m locked out of my apartment, and I need to call a friend to help me.”
He looked at me. The kind of look that took me in from top to toe. In that split-second hesitation, I knew what his answer would be.
“Sorry,” he said gruffly. “My charge has run out.”
He brushed past me.
The tears hit. Like an ocean swell, the grief nearly bowled me over. I didn’t have time to wonder where it came from, or why his rejection stung so deeply. I had to fix this.
The street was empty. I wasn’t going to find help this hour of the night.
I ran back to my apartment and crawled in the open window. I had an idea.
I went into the bathroom and grabbed a bottle of conditioner from the shower. Standing on my tiptoes, I squeezed the creamy liquid into the slim gap between the door and the frame. Then I put the bottle down, wiped my slick hands on my pajamas, and grasped hold of the door handle. I turned and yanked. And yanked. And yanked.
The door popped open, throwing me backwards onto my bottom. Light and sound rushed through the doorway. The laughter of the television. The whir of the heater. Freedom.
I felt tears dripping off my nose and chin. Everything flooded out. The shame, the fear, the release, pride in knowing I’d saved myself.
The very next day, I started my hunt for a roommate.
I was done living alone.
We get into relationships for all sorts of reasons. But one of the biggest is the desire to feel safe.
Being in a relationship is so much safer than being alone. Emotionally, physically, and financially.
Although it would be nice to believe that nothing bad ever happens to single young woman, you just have to watch the nightly news to know that the world isn’t safe. Living alone puts you at risk. You have be extra careful. All it takes is one bad scare to highlight the dangers.
After that incident, I became paranoid. What if I had an accident and couldn’t get to help in time? I was living in a foreign city. My family was thousands of miles away. If anything happened to me, I couldn’t count on getting help. There was no one looking out for me.
I was painfully aware of just how vulnerable I was.
Not long afterwards, I moved out of my apartment and in with a boyfriend. I could breathe easily for the first time in ages. At night I slept with one hand on his body, to reassure myself he was really there.
I wouldn’t live alone again for another 8 years.
I’m not the first woman to hold onto a relationship like a life preserver. It takes too much effort to keep oneself afloat.
You can feel brave treading water when the sun is out and the sea is calm. But come a storm, you need support. You need something to hold onto when the water surges and you can’t see land.
Like many women, I grew up seeing men as saviors. When the you-know-what hit the fan, you went to the men. They could fix a broken-down car, patch a leak in the roof, or muscle heavy furniture inside.
But when that young man on the street took one look at me and refused to help—despite my panic, despite my need—that belief in the essential goodwill of others took a blow.
It wasn’t enough to rely on the menfolk. I needed my own man. Someone who was duty-bound to help me. Someone who wouldn’t look my need in the face and turn away.
And it worked, for a time.
I thought I’d found the answer. We weren’t made to go through this life alone. We were made to live two by two. Strength and safety lay in being part of a family. I loved my family like only the lonely can.
Until the day I realized I’d made a horrible, awful mistake.
I’d trusted someone who shouldn’t have been trusted. I’d leaned on someone who was waiting for the day when he could step away.
He didn’t want a relationship where two people relied on each other. He wanted a relationship where each of us was responsible for meeting our own needs. He wanted independence, not interdependence. It was my job to get my own life preserver; he had to sail his own boat.
I was on my own again. In a relationship, but fundamentally alone.
The fear of being alone never leaves us.
Even if we’re in the safest, most loving relationship, we always wonder:
What if something happens to him? What if he has an affair? What if he leaves?
What will I do? How will I survive?
Saving yourself is no substitute for knowing that someone will come if you call.
Yes, it’s good to be able to fix a leaky faucet and balance the checkbook and reset a blown fuse. But being superwoman is emotionally hollow. Even though you could do all those things yourself, it’s nice to know that you could ask for help, too.
If we’re lucky, we live in communities where help is just a phone call away. Our church, workplace, neighbors, friends and family are always around, ready to lend a hand. Someone would notice if we didn’t show up one morning. They’d come looking for us, and they wouldn’t rest until we were found. But not everyone is that lucky.
Relationships seem like the perfect antidote to isolation. Find someone, and you’ll never be alone again. You’ll always have someone to rely on. He’ll never let you down…
Until he does.
The only solution to the fear of being alone is to cultivate relationships, not a relationship.
It is your relationships with those people you see everyday—the postman, your favorite barista, your next-door neighbor, your co-workers, your sister, your Facebook friends—that form your safety net.
The more people you take the time to get to know, the more people you let into your life, the more people you have looking out for you.
No man is big enough or strong enough to walk through life holding a woman up.
But a community is.
So start saying hello to your neighbors. Get to know the name of the staff at the gym. Find out something you didn’t know about a work colleague. Invite someone you haven’t seen for a while out for coffee. Test the springiness of your safety net. The more people holding it, the softer the landing.