January 20, 2014

A Single’s Guide To Living Courageously.

You’ve gotta do It your way.

Can anyone else relate to this video, featured recently in The New York Times and reposted to Elephant Journal

The narrator is a creative, accomplished 35 year-old, single woman from Argentina. She has traveled extensively for work, met many interesting people and had rich and interesting experiences. However, when her work assignments end, so does her work ‘family.’ She has a positive and balanced outlook on life. At this stage in her life, she feels a lot of social pressure to ‘tie the knot,’ especially as she watches the last of her female friends stride down the aisle.

As a woman in my mid-30s, I often feel the same way. While I enjoy the freedom of being single—the ability to make important life decisions, like relocating to a village in the middle of the Yukon or taking curling lessons or joining a loud death metal band and practicing in the garage, can sometimes be lonely. But it can be awesome, too!

Here are some guideposts for the more challenging parts of the journey.

1) Like Sinatra says, you’ve gotta ‘Do it your way.’ 

I don’t know if Sinatra would really be the best model as far as relationships are concerned, but the dude really does have a point here.

It only makes sense to know yourself and be comfortable with yourself and be able to function on your own before settling down with another human being, who will, without a doubt, have quirks and baggage of his or her own. To be with the right person can be wonderful. To be with the wrong person can be really freaking horrible.

People decide to marry for many different reasons. True love. Status. Money. Social pressure. The desire to unite warring families and consolidate the empire against marauding hordes. The necessity of siring an heir before the Bubonic plague ravishes town.

There’s also that time-honored humdinger, responsibly for more heartbreak than Sinatra and Clooney combined.

‘I’m so-and-so years old…and all my friends are married!’

In my experience, this logic emanates from a place of scarcity and lack. When I feel this way, I somehow draw in relationships and experiences that cement this belief of ‘less than’. I tend to go out with people who do not respect or value who I am as a person.

This is what I do believe: putting myself in situations where one is likely to meet others who possess qualities I admire: kindness, compassion, flexibility and a certain ruggedness of soul.

This is what I don’t believe: that I can ‘manifest’ a soulmate. I don’t believe in chanting soulmate manifestation mantras while I wait in traffic, although I know people would swear by it.

I don’t support the construction of a ‘love altar’ in one’s apartment. I know others who do, and more power to ‘em. (I think the love of my life would perish in a fit of hysterical laughter/ terror if he had ever been so unfortunate as to come across the ‘love altar.’)

I believe each of could, in fact, be compatible with a number of different people in life and it takes patience, humor, creativity and commitment to find this out.

I believe in the powers of intuition, but don’t beat myself up if I find what I had initially believed ends up to be untrue.

Which brings me to…

2) Self-help and wedding industries are multibillion dollar businesses because they are designed to make people feel insecure.

Peruse the shelves at your local bookstore for some light reading material.

What kind of stuff is directed towards women in their 20s and 30s? ‘How To Find The One!’, and ‘Find a Man Before It’s Too Late!’ and ‘How To Change Yourself To Find a Man!’ and ‘How To Dress Better To Find a Man!’ And, then, there are the magazine shelves. ‘Bride’. ‘Bride.’ ‘Bride.’

All this feminine self-help has got me wondering.

What is too late? What happens then?

Do I turn into a pumpkin?

Or curdle like a carton of expired milk?

My parents were best of friends with a widower who remarried at the young age of 80. Is that too late? What about Grandma Moses, who discovered one of the true loves of her life, painting, in her 70s and revolutionized the art world? Is that too late?

It almost makes it sound like we’re supposed to change everything about ourselves to make somebody ‘like’ us—but what happens when the person we are dating or marrying realizes we have adopted a false persona to lure him or her under false pretenses?

3) Marriage changes the dynamic of one’s social group. Don’t always expect married gal pals to empathize (and vice-versa). Respect the past, but move forward.

According to psychologists, a strong social network is one of the biggest determinants of individual health and wellness.

People who have a few ‘real’ friends—the kind of people who would be there for us in the case of a health crisis or other emergency (and vice-versa)—have stronger immune systems and are able to recover from illness more quickly.

Friends play different roles at different times in our adult lives. Because a great number of us will move far away from our biological families for school and career, our ‘friend families’ serve as important sources of social support.

Let’s look at the unbelievable success of shows like Sex and the City, Friends and Girls.

What is the subtext? Romance may come and go, but true friends stick together through thick and thin.

Is this real life? Is it realistic to assume that pals, once married, will continue to include you in their lives like one big happy family?

Maybe, if you’re lucky, you will retain some of these friendships. But I reckon not. We’re all growing, changing and finding our way. Some of your friendships may even veer off into toxic territory.

As the Buddha says, things change.

In the last few years, a good number of my female friends have gotten married.

I was happy for them. How wonderful it is to be in love, starting a new phase of life! I thought. I wanted to give them enough space, but I still wanted to retain some sort of connection.

I was blindsided when a number of them pulled a Houdini. Scoring a quick catch-up visit or friendly phone call once every few months became more difficult than scheduling a Papal audience or meeting with the President. Requests were always dismissed, sometimes for years. ‘I’m too busy,’ some said, except when a favor was needed.

Eventually, I became confused and hurt that these friendships (some of 10 or 15 years or more) had gone the way of the nickel cup of coffee. Was something else going on?

Then the single-shaming started. From completely unprompted suggestions about books that might ‘help’ single me, to spending time with my parents and siblings over the holidays, to out-of-the blue comments that I was only able to publish my work as a writer because I didn’t have ‘more important’ responsibilities, to the comments about how singletons have ‘all the time in the world’ and are ‘selfish’, to playing with others’ children at a big couples gathering, to a lot more cold shoulders than I feel comfortable trying to dodge.

I am a person, not chopped liver! I wanted to say. Did I ever say I was ‘too busy’ to provide a supportive ear to all the romantic tales of woe that predated finding the One? Rarely.

It wasn’t so much that I was single. It was that I was being made to feel incomplete or immature as a person by those I had hoped would support me. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy into it. It was time to grow some cojones.

From what I have heard and read, this kind of scenario can be frightfully common when a person is newly divorced or widowed, too.

There’s a funny thing about the dissolution of (or transformation of) of a friendship. American culture does not allow us a grieving process, in the same way we would grieve, certainly, a death, or the end of a romantic relationship or even the end of a job.

‘No biggie,’ people say, shrugging their shoulders. Or ‘Get a hobby’. Or, ‘Get a life.’ But I wonder how much they truly value the people in their lives.

I am learning some things in the process, and preparing to cut some cords.

4.) Create the social life you want.

The moral of this story?

If you’re single, and want to meet somebody, stay away from those dinner parties in suburbia.

Switch up your schedule a bit. Get thee to a place where there are enriching cultural and social activities—festivals, cultural events, political causes and volunteering opportunities. A nearby university or two can’t hurt, either. I’m going to say get out of a bigger city, too, just for kicks. Everybody is always too busy, and always looking for somebody better.

Sometimes the dating game seems like a big production of musical chairs, with everybody hoping to settle onto a chair that will prove happy and healthy and lovely. I imagine Charlie Chaplin starring as a Cupid. He wears oversize shoes and stomps about playing the fiddle badly—waltzes, mazurkas and the occasional sad funeral dirge for comic effect. Occasionally, he trips people.

At the end of his fiddling, everybody rushes to get a seat.

Chaplin was ahead of his time, and you need to be, too.

It’s not about ‘fitting in’. Sometimes it is more about letting go. Practice non-attachment when possible.

Happiness is not a choice. One should not seek to find happiness in another person. One can find other beautiful qualities like love, trust, respect and security.

But, happiness?

That’s an inside job.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Imgur

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