A friend mentioned to me that he was recently filling out some tax forms that had a check box for “single” under the category of relationship status. This reminded him of a time when similar forms did not use the word “single” but instead, they used the word “unmarried.” It’s good to see that, of all things, tax forms are trying to keep up with the sensitivity of changing labels (though they have a long way to go when it comes to our transgender community), but what of our own beliefs about ourselves? How many of us don’t view singleness as something to embrace and enjoy, but pretty much view it as “less than marriage.”
Indeed, I’ve worked with clients who’s expectations of the perfect partner are so outrageous, that every minute of every day seems to be a constant awareness of what they do not have. They have so convinced themselves of the rightness of this ideal that they truly do not know why they feel so miserable. They are so sure their needs are to be met by this romantic other that they have grown accustom to living half a life, much of it spent waiting for the other half to arrive. Leaving all the possibility of sexual satisfaction in the hands of that person who may or may not ever come along seems so socially acceptable, that they are sincerely baffled as to why their sexual functioning has all but shut down.
I know a workaholic that is waiting until he meets Mrs. Right before he takes any vacation time or spends any of his money. I know of another gentleman who’s standard for a boyfriend is so high — his visage of a partner is so perfect that he’s too intimidated to talk to any possible prospect. Now in his 50’s he has yet to have any lasting romantic relationship. Lots of people pass up the opportunities to bond and make solid friendships (some could even have sexual benefits) because they think these friendships are “less than” a romantic relationship. Few ever find their ideal, but they cling to it while at the same time complaining about isolation.
Truthfully, I know very few people who do not feel some kind of nondescript tug toward conformity — myself included. “We all should be in a relationship.” Why? Because we live in a society which still believes that one man and one woman monogamously forever is the only valid kind of relationship. Anything outside that model (even if it’s two, same-gendered people) carries the potential to make us feel “less than.” It’s crazy too, especially when only about half the heterosexual population doesn’t even come close to what is exalted as the ideal.
What about those who’s experiences of relationship, whether familial or romantic have been so bad, that they are perfectly content to be single for the rest of their lives. Hypothesize all you like about how they should get therapy or need healing, but any way you psycho-babble it, you’re judging them as “less than.” If we are going to truly celebrate diversity, we have got to make room in our acceptance for people who are healthy and happily single.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against relationships. Connecting intimately with others is probably one of the greatest experiences in life. But clinging to too high an ideal is not, and neither is letting that ideal make you feel lousy as a single person. I’m also not suggesting that being content and happy right now as a single person means giving up on finding meaningful relationships. It’s simply living a full and robust life without waiting around for someone to show up to validate it. Right now in this moment you can be happy, worth-while, content, and more than acceptable just as you are, with or without a partner. By the way, generating and sustaining this kind of contentment is far more sexy, and a lot more attractive (not to mention a lot more fun) than spending all your energy feeling that you’ll never be complete unless you find Prince/ss Charming.
Live it up right now whatever your relationship status. Bond with your friends. Bond with anyone around you. Who knows where it will take you? Enjoy and exploit all the upsides to singleness and give the downsides as little power as possible. All of us — all of humanity — will spend a significant amount of our lives single. Don’t get trapped feeling “less than” about it. Rather, choose to make it the best time of your life!