A reasonable answer to that question could be, “It depends.”
But if I ask, “Is being single a sign of success,” I bet the internal pendulum would swing more toward the no.
First, we live in a relationship-centered society, and being single isn’t presented as the norm. Second, being single is interpreted as being alone, and this, for the mammals that we are, is indeed scary and unnatural.
I coach women and I don’t have an answer for you at the moment whether one or the other is better. But I want to question the assumptions that come with both statuses. Some of them were created though centuries where religions dictated what was good and what was bad, women were treated like property, and tales and movies keep reinforcing these narratives. I want to offer my perspective on how these have been harmful, particularly for women.
I personally spent half of my adult life being in some romantic relationships and half being single. I have loved and hated both. Hitting now midlife, I am looking back at both experiences, through my eyes and those of my clients.
I have seen women, myself included, feeling like a failure for not being in a romantic relationship.
I have seen women choose poor and even dangerous relationships over staying single because they wanted to avoid feeling like a failure.
And by the way, I am not saying only women are concerned. It turns out through my work I know their world better, so I am speaking about that point of view.
Before I debunk some myths, I want to say as well that I am not a polyamorous bunny. Quite the contrary in fact, after I had a taste of it years ago, in a “pseudo spiritual” community. It was that I just realized afterward how the mentors used it as a way to abuse women.
So, let’s talk about meanings we attach to being in a romantic relationship:
1. We are not made to be alone; that’s natural.
Yes, if we listen to the primatologists, humans descend from chimps and bonobos. Both species live differently, and I’ll let you dive into the research if you want to know more about the nuances. I would just highlight the place female bonobos give to sexual pleasure in their life and how they choose who will give it to them. But to my point here, neither the chimps or the bonobos choose an exclusive partner and stay with that partner forever.
It’s true they are not wired to be alone. But being alone doesn’t mean not being partnered. Being alone means being without a community.
That’s their vital need. And so it’s for us too, I believe.
We humans have been fed narratives about the love of our life. We women have been hearing countless stories where our life is sh*t until a prince (male only of course) appears and saves us.
As a consequence, we have a tendency to concentrate all our love in the direction of one person only, a potential or actual romantic partner.
Which means that if that person disappears, we feel on the edge of a precipice, with nothing left except this huge love in our heart that we don’t know what to do about because it has no receptacle. That directionless love which now hurts. And the paradox between feeling this longing, which itself is love, and all this conditioning making us believe just one person could run away with our love, depriving us from it.
And my question for you is this one: what would your life be if you’d play with the idea that love is, indeed, a village?
Even if this village might shift with various life transitions, this village will always catch you when you fall.
>> Maybe you would nurture it more.
>> Maybe you would meet potential partners with less expectations of them having to fulfil all your needs.
>> Maybe you would share your time more between your partner and your community, and the space created between you and your partner would help you to reunite more excited about each other.
2. It’s better to be in a relationship because it’s healthier to have sex, it’s a basic human need. (Aka: people in relationships have more sex.)
Because sex has been hit as well by the consumerist wave, it’s important that it happens often enough in our everyday life for us to feel complete. And of course, people in relationships have more sex; it’s logical.
Oh, let me debunk that one here.
Do you want to know one of the best kept secret? Almost no one has sex on a regular basis. Even less, that people have a lot of sex or have connected, non-transactional sex.
You can challenge me on this, I hear you saying, “No, not me.” Well, good on you to be the exception. I am loving it, and I hope it lasts.
I am a power and sex coach. I have coached hundreds of women from all over the world.
I am a human too, and like tons of other humans, I have been hit on by plenty of humans married or in a relationship when I was single. And I still can’t tell you who, between me and them, was the most “touch deprived.”
I hope you all experience hot sex with a lot of chemistry, because it is so good. But to keep it going is another story.
When it comes to a relationship, vibrant sex is totally possible. But it requires work. The problem is no one likes to consider sex and work or effort together—because it was sold to us that we’ll meet the person and “be happy ever after,” and we like that idea.
Well, good luck with that. How did that work for you?
The reason we need to work on our sexuality is pretty simple. We have to deconstruct a model we are just switching out of. This model where heterosexual exclusive partnership forever was the norm and worked like this: women were giving all their life force and men were providing the money and safety. It had little to do with the most important ingredient: our desire.
Relationships based on mutual desire to be together are a recent phenomenon. And if desire is a big key, we can follow it, and say yes or no to that relationship. Which leads us to the third assumption.
3. People in a romantic relationship tick a box; others have a problem they should fix.
I would say this is the strongest assumption hurting women, because men still benefit from the idea that they can be a lone wolf because they are an adventurer, but single women are single because “something is wrong with them.”
That’s how I felt at some point in my life when my friend seemed to have found their person and I didn’t.
Now I listen to my friends or clients who ticked this relationship box and can see everything.
Some are happy, some are blissful, some are bored, some are neutral, some are draining themselves taking on all the mental charge and abandoning their desires (mostly women). Some are abused (mostly women too) and some desperately look to meet other humans outside of their relationship.
Among the single people, some feel free, some have fun, some feel lonely and miserable, some want a relationship, some are done with it, and some want to explore.
From what I observe, being in a relationship isn’t at all a marker of success or happiness. But I am not saying in any way that you shouldn’t desire one.
I personally think a good romantic relationship is one of the best things in the world. If you have that desire, whether you are already in a relationship, or you are single, it’s a precious desire to cultivate and to move toward. Go for it!
What I observe in my practice and would love to contribute to end these thoughts:
>> Women often cope with a relationship they are not happy with at best or one where they are abused at worst.
>> Women waste their life and their talent for someone who sucks the life out of them.
>> Women lose their village to follow their partner, without questioning how it could be different.
>> Women with no condition who stay in a relationship that creates a condition.
This happens with some men too. All for the sake of being in a relationship because being single would mean being the biggest failure.
Yes, there are other fears in that balance too, but I promise you that component takes too much space in our decisions.
I want to offer that it would be freeing to detach any idea of success or failure from our relationship status.
There are a lot of single people around you who were brave enough to stand up for themselves and not settle. They aren’t in any way “a problem to solve.”
And there are a lot of people in relationships who couldn’t find the strength, or the support around them, to stop coping with the mediocre or the unbearable, and keep pretending it’s okay instead.
You always have the choice, may you be guided by the power inside you.
I am dedicating this article today to my close friend of 32 years, who for the sake of not being single, pushes away help, and stays under the influence of a husband who made her already loose her capacity to work, her mental health, her close friends, and now her daughter.