Ah, the tragedy of being single! Innumerable books, articles, coaching programs and well-meaning friends are lining up to help us get out of this terrible condition. But I have to confess something. I believe that being single is an illusion.
It is just a label that society applies (sometimes a bit ruthlessly) to people who don’t fit into the conventional schemes of relationships.
If this label serves you, that’s all good. If it causes you trouble, I encourage you to drop it right here, right now.
The negative bias toward the word “single” is undeniable. Single people are generally perceived as having failed at relationships.
Maybe they aren’t mature enough; maybe they haven’t found the right partner. Or maybe they suffer from fear of commitment. One way or another, something is wrong with them. The word itself comes from an implicit comparison: I am single because I could be in a couple, but I’m not.
But where exactly is the failure?
So-called single people, just like anyone else, have friends, relatives, perhaps lovers and children. They still have an emotional and sexual life. The only difference is that, at the moment, they aren’t part of a committed relationship.
And of course, the grass is always greener on the other side. While single people may dream about a committed relationship, partnered people often dream about being single. Human nature is such a paradox!
The word “single” conjures the spectre of loneliness, of being deserted and abandoned. But is this always so? Many single people enjoy a healthy and fulfilling network of relationships, and married people can suffer from feelings of solitude just like anyone else. What really matters is being surrounded by love and affection; whether it comes in the form of a committed relationship, or a loose network of friends and lovers, is quite secondary.
But then, why is being single such a stigma?
I believe that this aversion to singleness is partly based on fear. Single people are potentially threatening to the established order.
Much of our cultural norms are designed to provide stability and predictability in all areas of life, including intimacy and sexuality. Now, once two people are in a committed relationship, society can stop worrying about their sexual life. At least in theory, it won’t change anymore. They won’t create any more havoc.
Single people, on the other hand, are potential disruptors of the sexual and emotional status quo. They are agents of change, unpredictable and loose. We don’t know what they might do with their emotional and sexual life as they walk around looking for partners and potential mates. In the worst case, they might even fall in love with a member of an existing couple, with all the consequences and potential turmoil that entails.
Society doesn’t like turmoil; it likes predictability. In this sense, single people are, somehow, a threat to society. Which explains why being labelled as single is such a burden.
The label of being single is especially hard to bear for women. Have you ever seen a caricature of an unmarried, cranky old lady? This image is ubiquitous, and I doubt that any woman wishes to identify with it. Women, more so than men, are conditioned to identify completely with their relationship status. As a result, the pressure to attract a man and hold onto him can dictate most of a woman’s life. Many women invest untold amounts of energy and money in trying to secure a partner, often at the expense of their own personal growth.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in a stable, committed relationship. But by drawing a line between “single” and “partnered” we end up identifying people with their “relationship status.” In reality, neither our relationship status nor our nationality, nor our bank account define us. Identification with any of these roles is the source of unnecessary pain and disappointment in life. We are something infinitely deeper than all these labels.
So, if you are single, I want to invite you to do an experiment: Forget about it.
Drop this label and see what happens. I am sure that, sometimes, you forget about your nationality. So why not forget about being single for a moment? Just give it a try. How does it feel, when you stop telling yourself the story that you are single? When you stop thinking for a moment that this is a problem, and that you need to do something about it?
Now, armed with this knowledge that you are not single, that you are just yourself, you can refine your social skills and go out and make new connections.
It’s much easier than it seems, once you stop thinking that you have a problem.
Single people, committed couples, triads and groups—every form and shape of intimacy is equally important and needed. Whatever your current relationship status is, I encourage you to enjoy it and make the most of it, without any labels.
Author: Raffaello Manacorda
Editor: Toby Israel