What I learned from a year of celibacy

betty ming liu Inspiration 16 Comments

Okay. I just need to write this post and be done with it. You might remember that last September, I vowed to devote myself to — well, to me. I promised to do this for 12 months. Now it’s time to share what I learned from a year of celibacy.

Oh, how I do NOT want to be blogging about this! LOL. As an oversharing blogger, even I feel emotionally naked on this screen you’re reading. But since I spent last September wailing about my life, it’s time to do the update.

Why I needed celibacy

Before diving in, here’s a quick recap of my story: I was married and with the same guy for nearly 25 years. Then, there were a dozen years of post-divorce dating. Then, a relationship that lasted three years. Then, the past year of recovery.

Celibacy saved me from dating (and non-dating) stress. I didn’t even want to think about being on the rebound. What would I get out of that, except to make the same mistakes again? So I opted out of male companionship. No looking for anyone — except myself.

And, I found me.

What I learned from a year of celibacy reset my goals. My top priority has become me. The notion of “me first” marks a complete, radical shift in my thinking and emotional canvas.

Breaking the cycle of the past

It still feels weird to put myself first because it goes against my past. I was raised to serve others. Since I was little, I took care of my younger sister. My parents expected me to help in the family business, too. I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. As a kid, I took my dad to his doctor’s appointments. Later, I gave my diabetic mom her insulin shots.

No wonder I grew up believing that caring for others was my ticket to fulfillment. But what I learned in a year of celibacy is very different.

It took me all winter to stop hurting and reorganize both my house and my life. Honey, there were days when I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Spring was better, bringing the excitement of my daughter’s last semester of college. Then, summer took off with glorious adventure — travel, new creative projects and new friends.

And now, I’m empty nesting. It’s just me and the two cats.

What I learned from a year of celibacy

Creating new daily routines is strange but interesting. I’ll be doing something and suddenly realize, hey, this is not what I’m used to. The freedom has me marveling and wondering: Is this really okay?

  • The weekly grocery bill is less than half what it was; I’m only feeding me.
  • I eat and cook and buy whatever I want, whenever I want.
  • I turn on the bedroom lights in the middle of the night or, whenever.
  • My women friends really know how to take care of me; ’til death do us part.
  • There’s nothing wrong with me. In fact, I’m worth more than I realized.
  • It feels good to sit still and be quiet — sometimes.
  • I don’t have to save the world or anybody.
  • People need to figure out their own problems.
  • Minding my own business gives everyone a break, including me.
  • I get more sleep, really deep stretches of peaceful sleep.
  • Decluttering physical space opens up emotional space to shed a lot of crap.
  • Little Betty (the inner child version of me) is playing more and exploring her creativity

Your thoughts? 

At this stage, I have no regrets about what I went through because I finally have me. That makes everything fine. Everything from my past only makes life richer.

I know a lot of you can relate to parts of this story. We put ourselves last for a lot of reasons. It’s a girl thing, a woman thing, a son-of-single-moms thing, an anybody-and-everybody thing. I’ve heard similar stories from friends, acquaintances and students of every race and nationality.

What about you? Are there ways you’re learning to put yourself first? And does it make a difference in your life?

Comments 16

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      Joel! Is that all you have to say about my fabulous post? :)

      My plumber left the box in the basement. It’s much bigger than a shoe box — maybe almost three boxes. I taped it up and cut the opening. There’s a folded IKEA bathroom mat inside, and another folded mat outside.

      Sometimes, the two cats sit together on the mat or take turns in the box. It cost me almost nothing — compared to at least $40 for a cat bed from the store. They still sit all over my desk. But they hardly fight anymore!

  1. Betty, it’s great that you are coming to terms with yourself, and dealing with life on your own terms! I would also like to add that taking care of yourself (first) is not mutually exclusive of, nor incompatible with being involved — and taking care of others. You can be in a relationship and still have your freedom, creativity, etc, etc. — people do it all the time. It’s just a matter of communication and compromise with your partner. If you see things in shades of All (perfect)-or-Nothing, then you limit your options.
    You’re a very attractive woman with a lot of positive energy, so if you really want to be in a solid relationship, it’s just a matter of finding a similarly attractive person who fits into your life, and both parties making the compromises that come with taking care of “Me first” AND taking care of your significant other. I know that you can have this — it’s not asking for too much!

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      Thanks, Dan! Of course, you’re making total sense. And I still take care of plenty of people. It’s just that I’ve come to realize that I can only really give wonderfully to others — if I’m giving goodness to myself first. I was accepting all kinds of leftovers, and not realizing it. :)

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  2. “I don’t have to save the world or anybody.
    People need to figure out their own problems.” Yes yes yes Betty! Everything you wrote resonated with me especially being raised to put ourselves last, the clearer I’ve become on what healthy caring is the freer I’ve become. Thank you for this piece!

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      Oh, Helen. Thanks for stopping by to drop me a note. When I was young(er), I thought my problem was Asian Parenting Abuse. But now that I know people and teach students from all around the world my view has changed. This idea of obsessive self-sacrifice runs through so many families and cultures. It’s just the human condition. But we’re taking our lives back!

  3. Great Aunt Henrietta was a great believer in celibacy. She attributed her six children to it and was a passionate advocate at Women’s Institute meetings. Henrietta was a lady of imposing dimension and strident personality – hence not easily corrected. To this day we remain unclear regarding what she thought celibacy meant, though her oft repeated slogan:”I celibate the glory of human intercourseness!” indicates the possibility of several misconceptions. Of course, being WASPs, asking her for an explanation of such things was utterly impossible. On the whole, whenever the subject of Henrietta’s passion broached, it seemed better to move on to comments about the weather. We talked a lot about the weather when I was a boy – never did anything about it though, as Mark Twain once noted.

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  4. With that background i’m kind of surprised you and Pauline became journalists instead of choosing medicine. That aside it was interesting to read how complex and complicated your life was beforehand

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      Darryl, you sound like you knew our parents! Of course, they wanted an M.D. in the family. Journalism was our rebellion as well as our calling. At least, for my first life. What I learned still makes for great life lessons and pro skills that I now teach in the classroom. Very satisfying. And yes, life is simpler now — but by choice. It took a lot of work to get here! P.S. — I would’ve made a terrible doctor. :)

  5. You were very brave to let us all see your vulnerability. It’s good that you have spent all this time with yourself. I understand completely since I always want to fix people and offer my unsolicited advice. They probably have all been thinking after all this time that I would give up. And I have finally decided that I need to fix myself.

    Celibacy was what I was practicing when I met my 3rd husband (after my one and only live in relationship of 7 years went kaput). I had decided that I didn’t need a man anymore and was going to go it alone for the rest of my life at 47. Boy, was I surprised when a house/cat sitting job turned into a full time live in relationship and then three years later–marriage. Since I had been turned off by living with another man without marriage, I was determined to go out and find another apartment and roommate when my college age daughter suddenly decided to live with her boyfriend’s family. My husband had picked up on my obvious discomfort with only living with a man again and he pleaded with me using those magic words that he “didn’t want to just live with me, he wanted to marry me.” He surprised himself because when I said, “Does that mean you are proposing to me, lol?” He said, “Well, I guess I am at that!”

  6. I started putting “me first” last year. I decided to delve into creative art, taking an
    “Art in the Garage ” classes and I realized I could draw. Not only that-Drawing and studying an object for long periods of time was meditative and fulfilling. I played all
    summer, reclaiming myself. Not listening or even asking for someone’s opinion. I was protective of my freedom and did not want someone to squash my spirit.

    I really appreciate this piece by Betty and applaud her honesty and truth.
    So many women, never never put themselves first. I can relate to that. I was dedicated daughter caring for my mom with Alzheimer”s for 8 years t the bitter end.
    I cared for my dad when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. I believed and did not know when to stop, I’m different person now. I found myself.

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  7. Pingback: What my inner child wants: let me out! - betty ming liu

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