I posed this question to my facebook friends the other day, asking folks to answer with the first thing that came to mind. I gave them the option of responding via message, because you know some people are private (I’ll let Kate H. expound upon THAT subject later). It took fifteen minutes for the first comment to come in, and for an exhilarating moment I thought, oh my god, no one is going to respond, and that will make for a hell of a post. But then people started chiming in, both publicly and privately. The common thread seemed to be about freedom. Sure, there were variations on the theme, but almost every comment, in some way had to do with taking liberties without consultation.
If freedom (commonly branded as selfishness) is so good, why are people giving it up? And why is it considered selfish if it’s not surrendered to (or in) a relationship? Many of the respondents talked about not having to compromise, or having limitless possibilities. For others it seemed to boil down to having control over their lives, having things just to their specifications. These are all good things. When I was a kid I longed to be an adult, free from my tightly-controlling, authoritarian parents. I yearned to go anywhere I wanted, at any time, with anyone. To live my life on my terms. But within weeks of moving away to college, I was in a committed relationship, where I expected my partner to have the ideas and plans on behalf of us. I surrendered my freedom willingly, for the comfort of being in a relationship. I wonder if having total control of our lives feels intimidating, and we seek the structure a relationship provides. Maybe it feels easier to shift some of life’s responsibility onto someone else. In my case, lacking a strong sense of self meant making decisions about what to do with myself was pretty difficult. I spent a lot of time sitting around or sleeping, because I had no ideas. When I got into a relationship THEN my life had meaning, because I was in a relationship. I could tag along on whatever he was doing, and sitting around became waiting for him. Before I had him, I felt I was a loser with no interests; an almost unbearable weight. Being in a relationship added legitimacy to my life, both personally and within the context of society. Giving up my freedom was worth the release in pressure it caused.
I’ve had friends who have been single for extended periods who love their lives, and some feel like they shouldn’t. The messages from society that we must all partner, and eventually marry are many, and stifling. Single friends have confided that everyone around them wants to set them up, or treats them with thinly concealed pity, or worse, stops inviting them. They make people uncomfortable. I look at the cascade of comments about the best parts of being single, and think, are partnered people perhaps jealous of their single friends? And does that jealousy make them feel guilty, like it means they don’t love their partner, or wish they’d made a different choice? Those feelings are so wretched that they must be rooted out, or tamped down, lest some greater self-understanding emerge, threatening the structure. Or not. Maybe it’s fleeting, a momentary pang for pleasures no longer quite available. Either way, I think choosing to be single is a cause for celebration. I think it’s brave and marvelous.
One friend commented the best part is never feeling horribly alone, and it struck me. It is a uniquely painful type of loneliness, when you’re detached emotionally from your partner, or they’re unavailable to you. In this case, being alone is preferable, because you can depend on yourself or you reach out to others for what you might need. You’re not draining your precious energy trying to connect with someone who won’t. I’ve been in that relationship, and I know countless others who have too. Not everyone views being alone as less lonely than being in a relationship that isn’t working–many would rather have at least another physical form in the room, and that’s its own issue. Taking time to know yourself outside the context of a relationship is something for which we must all strive. It’s daunting, risky and scary. It will pay dividends for the rest of your life if you work it, as my happily single friends will tell you.
I’d like to throw down a challenge here, to all of us. Let’s stop looking at single people like there’s something wrong with them, and start living more like them. Oh yeah right, I hear you saying, I’ve got responsibilities. Good for you. Add another one to the list: do, or say, or think one thing a week that’s just for you. Something that’s not about your partner, or spouse, or child or parent. Reclaim a little freedom for yourself. Reconnect with yourself, from before you got into all the trappings of adult life. You might, in that moment, find a small private oasis of delight, and it could lead to more. Or maybe you’ll find an answer for which you’ve been searching, or see a situation in a new way. You might find a little clarity in doing so. Off the cuff: what’s the best thing about treating yourself like you’re single?