But the question she asked me on her birthday was, "Why am I so miserable?"
Now, my first reaction was the semi-jealous thought: "If I had everything you have, I would be thrilled!" But she's an old friend, so I asked her what was wrong.
Her first answer was "Nothing." But the more she talked, the more I heard about the incredible number of obligations and commitments she has to fulfill, from work deadlines to helping fund college tuitions.
"I don't have time to take a walk, " she said. "I don't know when I exercised last."
And I had a strange epiphany.
Being single, I keep thinking that all I want is a commitment (to the right man, of course) - but here Carol had so many commitments to others that she didn't have an ounce of time or energy left over. As I mused over the irony, it hit me that single or coupled, what we both needed to do was commit to our own happiness.
By the end of the conversation I was urging Carol to make one more commitment - to herself - for a daily walk in the woods behind her office. I hung up, realizing that being single wasn't so awful and that longing for marriage was depriving me of living in the present moment.
My mother is part of a quilting group that has met every week for 30 years. Several years ago, she gave me a beautiful all-white quilt for my birthday. The intricate patterns revealed scraps of fabric that I recognized from all different parts of my life... from kitchen curtains to party dresses. And the back has a special message from my mom to me, signed with love.
My mother's friend Kate also thought about making a quilt for her daughter, who, like me, is a single woman in her 40s. But Kate had always planned to make that special quilt for her daughter's wedding even though the daughter had not dated for some time, and had no immediate prospects. My mother's advice to Kate? "Make the quilt. And when your daughter gets married, make her another one!"
Kate made the quilt. and her daughter loved it. What my mother helped her friend realize is that our lives are happening right now. and opportunities to have wonderful experiences shouldn't wait.
That understanding - that your life is happening right now - is the first step toward making a commitment to yourself. But making that commitment can feel very scary - in fact, it can feel at least as risky and dangerous as making a lifetime commitment to someone else. Perhaps even more so, because there's a nagging feeling that if you fail, there's no one to catch you. And let's face it, it's hard to face new challenges alone.
One of the first big lessons I learned was that taking even the baby steps of a new career was exciting and spiritually rewarding. I was doing something nobody else could have done for me--and just making the attempt felt like a huge accomplishment. Something about making this change in how I saw myself also seemed to change the fabric of the universe. For once I found the courage to identify myself as a writer (and believe me, it took time and lots of coaching from friends), the rest of the world obligingly went along with me. I started finding writing assignments, and my work started catching up with my hopes - and my vision.
Making a commitment to yourself, of course, isn't just for big, life-altering events. A couple of years ago, my brother was on the golf course, huffing and puffing to get across the links. He saw a fellow twice his age walking easily across the course. and realized something had to change. So my brother made a commitment to himself to get healthier. He didn't make a drama out of it: One day, he simply started eating less and walking on the treadmill every night - and within months, he'd accomplished his goal.
Whatever inspires you, making a commitment to yourself means, on some level, that you do believe in yourself - your talents, your strength, your courage, your compassion. And the more you nurture that faint little glimmer of belief, the more you'll manifest those qualities and the more others will notice, and respond. When you respect yourself, when you believe in yourself, you actually set the standard for how the rest of the world views you.
As it turns out, making a commitment to yourself has a big effect. Just as when you throw a pebble in a pond the ripples extend outward, happiness has a tendency to expand our lives. Fulfilling your goals leads you into new circles and helps create connections with people who want to support and encourage and celebrate exactly who you are. Will one of these connections blossom into a deeper relationship? There is no telling, but one thing is certain-whether you're single or coupled, committing to yourself guarantees you a happier present.