This blog is dedicated to all my single friends and all singles who have struggled with their status at some point in their singlehood.
In the landscape of spring there is neither better
The flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short.
Over the past few months, there has been an onslaught of articles about how being single is desirable for a variety of reasons including the fact that it offers you increased social opportunities and it leads you to an increased comfort with yourself http://bit.ly/HjSwC9; http://nyti.ms/HWvcng) Were these in response to the slew of articles which have over the years (and this year) been dissecting or blaming singles for their continued (STIL) single status? Maybe.
Revered? or blamed? Pick your stance on the issue and you can find tons of articles supporting each side. Everyone has something to say about us singles…especially if you’ve “been around” longer than some people expect you “should” be . And often, the comments you hear are less than positive (and frequently unsolicited).
Those who weigh in on the singles “crisis” (who coined this?!) include: the media, your gynecologist and lo and behold…your cab driver ? Last week while minding my own business and groceries, I was asked “why you still not married?”
And now even our own commuity- our beloved single comrades- can’t help but blame us too. Of late, a few single writers have been confessing that something IS wrong with them (http://bit.ly/i52mi9) and generalizing to the rest of us about what they did wrong and how we need to settle… (thank you very much). Not to mention your family and married friends adding to the mix (“pick someone already!” says my Uncle, but he’s kind of kidding).
After awhile you can’t help even wondering (against your better judgment) about the question yourself when you meet someone you connect with. “Hmm… why is he STILL single?! what’s wrong with him/her?” (see that Sex and The City episode where Carrie gets caught snooping around her new guy’s apartment looking for must-be skeletons).
If you grew up in a religious community- chances are the pressure is much steeper for you, because there is such an emphasis on conformity with accepted social norms that to differ is to often feel excluded. Not that the goals and norms people subscribe to in such communities (such as marriage) necessarily make those who follow them happy. Yet, they are still heavily emphasized and it can feel painful to have to be around others who’ve met these “desired goals”– whenever you have to leave your enclave of single friends . And in the Jewish community, this can be very frequent- as jewish holidays seem to come upon you every time you blink!
And it seems that no matter what community or country or ethnicity you come from, the conversation is often the same repetitive one (personally to me – boring and predictable) about whether something IS or isn’t wrong with us or whether it’s “good” or bad that we are single (though lately some articles have been less polarized). If you let yourself get tossed around in the ups and downs of what’s being said (and it’s difficult not to from time to time) , you’re likely to feel confused or analyzed, possibly depressed, criticized or just plain annoyed. Truthfully, too many conversations often end up focusing on “right or wrong? good or bad?” trying to polarize things- putting labels on things that often can’t or don’t deserve to be labelled -when you’re coming from judgment rather than from your heart.
So while we’re talking about judging… whether we’re doing the judging or accepting others judgments of us- judging is a way we separate ourselves from the rest of the world and leave ourselves feeling very isolated and alone. All humans have a tendency to rate and judge themselves in comparison to one another to some degree, but it really doesn’t feel very good. It’s one way we might try to take stock of where we are, but usually when we use the comparing game as our rating system- we tend to come up short (or on top and then on the bottom just a few moments later…). It’s just how it goes until we learn to change our mind patterns and learn that comparing is not the best way to know where and who you are.
So what’s a lovely singleton to do?!! How do we learn to separate and stay centered in our own view of ourselves and our situation despite what others think or say? How do we prevent ourselves from being tossed around in the sea of other people’s judgments (which often echo or launch us into our own self judgments such as “what IS wrong with me?”)?
(can’t be helped sometimes…(you in there?!)
I want to suggest a few strategies and perspective shifts for how you might come to view and cope with your situation:
1) It is often difficult for us to see that most of the comments about our marital status come from other people’s projections of their own anxieties, feelings or desires to help. Often people are unaware that listening is better than advice giving.
When you find yourself fielding uncomfortable comments or insinuations from others- see if you can turn the mirror around for a few moments and consider where their comments might be coming from… a limited mindset? A concern that is more about them and their anxiety for you- than about who you actually are? A belief from the other person that propelled them into getting married because they felt pressured i.e. “you’re not complete until your married…”.?
This is not to say everyone who cares about you is operating solely from their own agenda. They may share YOUR concern or longing for you but have difficulty holding back on saying what’s unhelpful to you. Try and notice: who really CAN learn to accept you for who you are, as you are right now and who has an idea about how you SHOULD be….or where you should be…Your awareness of this may help give you perspective or help you make choices about who you choose to limit your time around or what you might want to gently express to them when they say something insensitive. It will also help you separate their thoughts and feelings from your own.
Religion and culture (or sometimes it’s more how the community interpret the religion..) can influence our views and self criticisms as well by setting expectations for acceptable ways of being. Allow the space to see this and to see that one size clearly does not fit all. We are all actually very different in spite or our outward similarities and we are all growing at different paces. So see who’s doing the judging and take the microscope off yourself for a little bit so you can breathe! And re-read the poem at the top of this blog!
(p.s. upon further interrogation as to why is it so important for him to know why I’m STILL not married, the cab driver discussed the fact that his marriage was arranged and there was no option for him to date which he wishes he had had. There you go.. )
2) So again what if nothing is wrong with you?! (see my earlier post:http://bit.ly/ruev5w) And why MUST something be wrong? I want to propose what I have come to in wrestling with my own “still” singleness for many years.
You are not broken just because you are single!!. If you are not broken – then you don’t need fixing. If you don’t need fixing, then you don’t have to feel so defensive about justifying where you are in life. Most of us don’t walk around asking our friends “so does your child STILL bite people…?! Is your wife STILL smoking pot?!” i.e. focusing in only on their vulnerable spots so it’s odd that some people have a tendency to do this with us this but it comes from their own conformities with societal and cultural conditioning.
Often people are unaware that it’s painful to be asked this question because they’ve never been in your shoes and have yet to expand their compassion to this situation. Hopefully we make space for every person’s right to their own vulnerabilities and growth processes with a shared awareness that everyone has their pain. We need to do this for ourselves too- and create space for our own vulnerabilities -without labeling ourselves for having them.
Sure you want to work on some things and maybe you have some fears and maybe some of your fears have blocked you from “getting married’ or having that long term relationship (not that having a lot of relationships necessarily signifies good mental health! more on that some other time). But, if you can create a little space around that idea that you are defined by your marital status…which wipes out all your other talents and areas you thrive in, wipes out your personality, your creativity (you write the list and check it out) – you may be able to appreciate life as it is now. So… welcome to life where we all are working on our stuff!
not you (in case you wondered)
3) Consider taking a perspective outside “society”.
Ask yourself : How easily you swallow the messages about what you SHOULD be? How religious you SHOULD be? What you SHOULD eat, look like? Act like? etc.. How much do you allow yourself to question what’s presented to you by the media, your family, friends, community …before you digest the message? What risk is involved in NOT swallowing it all whole or spitting some of it out!.?!
In Gestalt therapy there is an exercise about chewing things slowly to sort out and feel what its’ like to make things your own. Consider this when someone tosses a comment at you.. and before you accept it. Consider not swallowing what society feeds you! It can give you terrible indigestion!!
4) Have a lot of compassion for yourself but try not to slip into depression about it. And remember that you are not alone. You will feel alone when you judge yourself for it (and if you judge- see if you can be gentle with yourself about the judging). Remember that you have a community of others who feel as you do and I don’t just mean your actual friends. I mean when you’re sad – think of all the singles out there in the wide world of singles who may be feeling as you do- wanting something and struggling to find it.
In fact, you can reflect on what it’s like to be a person among all the people in the world (not just singles) who longs for something that has not yet come. The saying -“if you feel it, others do too” -can ease your loneliness knowing it’s shared and universal- and it can help you avoid getting stuck in self pity.
5) Adopt grace into your life. Grace (aside from being the name of my new kitten..) is about accepting where you are…accepting things as they are at this moment even when they’re not what you want. Yes – you can have your feelings. You can feel disappointed. You wish things were different and they’re not right now.
You can also fight your feelings if you want to- which I have done with little success! It doesn’t work very well to fight what IS- as you may know from the wisdom of many religions and spiritual traditions since “what you resist persists”. The more you fight what IS, the more unhappy you will be. Not to mention that being stuck in your unhappiness does not help you attract a happy partner!. Being okay with yourself- even if you don’t love how things are and acknowledge sadness from time to time- is more productive for you as your search for a partner. So now that you’re willing to accept things as they are- how do you do this?
Consider the possibility that your singlehood is just as it is and maybe not in need of a label. Maybe it’s a place or an opportunity offered for you to refine yourself to have a great marriage or learn from past relationships. Or a time for you to learn skills or come to recognize what love really is – maybe sparing yourself from getting into a marriage that is more need- based. Making peace with something doesn’t mean you’re thrilled with it or even that you have to give up hope of having it in the future- it just means you accept it as it is in this moment. Maybe not forever- just right now.
Acceptance and resignation/ defeat are not the same.
What I see in my work as a therapist is that married or single- happiness is far from defined by one’s marital status. Married people have their issues to work out just as singles do. Sometimes it seems a luxury to be able to have the space to work it out outside of a partnership.
I never expected to feel that way but I have learned it’s often been a true blessing for me. Sure I have feelings about being single, I have hopes of marrying and I have some longings to have been married at the same point that many of my friends got married… but then there’s Grace (and she’s really cute!)
We can learn to let go of the judgments or bypass them by accepting our right to our own journey. This takes courage and grace. And it can feel really oppressive of an idea at first “you want me to accept that I’m single..? but I’m so unhappy!…” I know. I get it. But how is your constant dwelling on your unhappiness serving you?
Feel the feelings until you recognize you feel stuck. Then think about making a shift in your perspective. It is what it is -and wishing it were different won’t make it so. Acceptance can give you the space to reflect and see what you can do in the meantime. These may include developing or actualizing some of life goals -professionally, socially, practicing skills in your current relationships, living your best life single and most of all not waiting to do what you’d do “when” you find him/ her.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes in his book “The Sacred Art of LovingKindness “The Sabbath is about Grace. It’s about having a day in time where everything is just okay as it is. A day where you lack nothing”. This perspective shift can be a hugely powerful and potentially life transforming exercise (even if you’re not into the Sabbath). Practice allowing and accepting things as they are for just one day or one hour and over time your life will change. You might feel just a little bit freer. You can still have your yearnings and feelings of disappointment but you can also find your joy and not remain stuck.
This is you. Single or not.
6) Contemplate what the positive aspects are about your situation (so here I agree with some of the articles on the benefits). Don’t do it as a way of denying what you feel but as a way of expanding your perspective. Being single offers you the possibility of learning to tolerate feelings of loneliness or disappointment (which no one escapes) and you learn that YOU can tend to your own feelings and not expect someone else to fix them for you…
It also offers you to time to really learn and experiment with what makes you deeply happy. No partner will MAKE you happy. Your mood is yours to tend to (ask your married friends). These are essential skills for being happily married. You can learn in this time to self nurture and comfort yourself so you can come to a partnership with less need and more energy and availability to love and to be a giving partner.
7) Here it is again because I think it’s so profound:
In the landscape of spring there is neither better
The flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short.
Imagine if spring compared itself to summer and said “you’re so much better than me! You have more sun and I have less.. “ Each season, as each person’s journey and each person’s essence is uniquely beautiful and particular to them and may offer them growth in some way (in spite of their protests). Sure, we may have a preference and we don’t always get what we want when we want it. But can we allow our preference to not define and cloud the uniqueness of each of our experiences and take away the particular loveliness that is each of us- regardless of the external situations we find ourselves in?
LOVE is way above the stats you read in depressing articles about being single and the likelihood you have of not finding someone (who decides to publish these things anyway?!).
If you want a partner, he or she can show up at any time without you having to settle (which Lori Gottlieb sadly and to my dismay encouraged doing: http://bit.ly/byd9aH) and without you having to worry about being too old or whatever your particular storyline is. Your expectation of good things helps. I don’t believe it creates it ALL- but it helps.
Dr. Wayne Dyer says to imagine how it would feel to have your greatest wish fulfilled. We can do this not out of desperation and panic but from a place of abundance. “ I can have love .. and I can attract love into my life…” It begins with your own self acceptance of how things are and how YOU are- right now.
May we all come to embrace or at least make peace with the journey and not only with what we imagine to be the finish line.
** If you enjoyed this blog, please vote for it, click the “like” button below or share it with someone you think could benefit from it. Feedback is always nice! Thanks