“If it isn’t any of your friends, it must be you”. This was said to me by a co-worker who tends to speak her mind. The things on her mind are often blunt and usually make me uncomfortable. Last summer. We were sitting in a restaurant at one of those supposed-to-be-fun-but-mostly-awkward work lunches for someone leaving our department. We were discussing relationships. At the time, I was dating, but single for all intents and purposes, surrounded by married people. More than relationships, we were discussing those people who just can’t seem to stay in one. People who always seem to pick the wrong kind of person, ending up alone, with a broken heart. The married people in the room were exchanging stories about people they knew like this, shaking their heads and sighing. And according to my colleague, I was one of the broken ones. I had been saying that most of my friends from high school were married or in long-term relationships. She said “there’s usually one in every group. And if it isn’t any of your friends, it must be you.”
In that moment, I felt like she had stuffed me neatly into a giant, airless Tupperware container and slammed the lid on. And although I wanted to come back with a witty comment, I couldn’t help thinking that she might be right. I had been in “failed” relationships, I hadn’t “got it together”. Was that me? Doomed to an existence of always broken hearts and loving “the wrong person”? I imagined myself in a tight leopard-print skirt and stilettos at the age of fifty, wearing too much make-up and hanging out at a cougar bar. Because that’s where this was all leading, right?
And yet, that person and that life had nothing to do with me. First of all, I dislike leopard print and rarely wear skirts. Second, I wasn’t a desperate single woman looking for love. Yes, I was dating, exploring the possibility of being in a relationship again, but I liked my single life. I was having a good time spending entire weekends in yoga classes without having to check in with anyone, taking myself out for movies and dinners. There are definite perks to being single. And although I felt ready to be in a relationship, I certainly wasn’t coming home and crying in my cold apartment from the hollow emptiness I was supposed to be feeling. I was happy. Yet, according to my colleague and the other marrieds at the table, since I hadn’t achieved a state of wedded bliss, I had failed and was likely emotionally unstable. I can’t really blame my co-workers, they were simply echoing beliefs held deeply in our society; that being in a couple is better than being single, and that if you are not in a couple, there most be something wrong with you.
Why do we put such a high value on being coupled in our society? Or most societies for that matter?
I know that being in a long-term relationship is frequently wonderful. I know that people (me included) learn valuable lessons in relationships. I am in a relationship now, I’m so grateful for it, and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. But people can be miserable in relationships too. I have friends who wished their parents had just got a divorce already instead of fighting all the time. I’ve seen people disappear in relationships only to get themselves back when they leave them. Some research has shown that after an initial “honeymoon phase” coupled people return to the same level of happiness they had before they got married. I’m sure we’re all aware of the statistics regarding the longevity of single women. To me, both paths, singled and coupled, are equal, so why are people so judgemental about someone whose life doesn’t look like theirs?
I don’t really have any answers to this. I think it may have something to do with the pervasive idea that we’re never really whole until we find “the one”, perpetuated by any rom-com you’ve ever seen, and which I think is total BS. Was Mother Theresa half a person? Or Jesus? Sure, my examples are a little extreme, but seriously, I’ve never heard anyone say “Oh that Mother Theresa, such a nice person, if only she’d found true love”. Ridiculous, right? So why can’t that apply to everyone? Or maybe it’s just biology, “life’s longing for itself”, to quote Kahlil Gibran. Some part of us recognizes it’s easier to rear children in a couple (queer or straight) and so urges us to find someone to be with. Maybe it’s a belief created by and handed down by our mothers, who just want to see someone looking out for us. Who knows?
What I do know is this coupled=happy, single=miserable belief is not helpful to anyone, especially if you happen to be single. And maybe it’s time to re-examine it. Maybe it would be easier if we could admit that none of us really have all the answers, and work to be a little less judgemental of other’s lives in the process.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any stories about being judged for being single?