Where The Boys Are??
Me, you, and Connie Francis want to know. But your married friends won’t say.
An article on The Huffington Post (THP) recently pronounced love and marriage dead, because most people just are not “creative” enough to make it work. Unerhort! It was crisply written and hung together, but it was a sad article, and it made me mad, too.
It was an indictment of all of us “normal” people who want love and, tsk tsk, even marriage, because we drank the kool-aid that made us want that. Shame on us for not being more discerning; not being more willing to be “weird” and to “think outside the box”. We should “make the magic of becoming ourselves” happen first, then Mr. or Ms. Wonderful will appear.
On behalf of us lonely normals, I say, enough of your opinions, all you Smug Marrieds. We normal-but-single people need the comfort of the belief that we can find a relationship of our own, no matter how imperfect we or that union will be. We do not want to make a career out of perfecting dinner-for-one or any other “solo” thing that you suggest. We want what you got, even if it ain’t what you want.
She stated, “Do Not Marry Your Soul Mate”, as if that were really a bad idea. Then she went on to say that she married not her soul mate, but her “best friend”, as if that’s going to make the rest of us lonely jerks feel better. My best friend is a girl, ok? I’ve known her since I was ten and even though we played Marx Brothers together, we just never thought of settling down and raising okra as a couple, ok???
She further excoriated us singles by saying that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for wanting someone to “complete” us. As a psychologist, I don’t see any pathology in this desire, or any implication that when we want someone to complete us, that we lack what it takes to pursue a whole life on our own. Because when we are out there alone, doing all the things that make us cooler or fitter or richer or more hip or more educated—more “complete”, what’s the thing we want more than anything? To share it with someone, that’s what.
I say, It Takes Two People to Lead One Life Well.
Marriage may be rough and risky but almost all of us really want to give it a try, or even multiple tries. It’s normal to hope to find someone to whom you want to give everything and who wants to do the same for you, for the rest of your lives. It’s a kind of certainty that makes getting up in the morning worth it. And when you’ve accomplished something, or had a disappointment, you want to have the guarantee of one person being really invested in that along with you. Without the hope of finding love, I think most people would be wild and desperate. We would all be much less well behaved, more unkempt, less organized, uninsured, sicker, grosser, grouchier, and ruder. Not that marriage should be promoted to make people mind their manners and brush their teeth. But marriage is civilizing, and that’s good, and so what if it’s because it makes us into units of two amongst many other units of two, and these half- units are behaving themselves because they have other half-units who would care if they didn’t? I believe it takes two people to lead one life well.
Some of us have great stories to tell about our parents and their marriage, and a lot of us have the opposite. But even an unhappy marriage in our original family doesn’t change the fact that most human beings want to pair bond; to give it a go. We have good models and bad models everywhere around us, and we all have the power to strive for a good marriage either just like our own folks’, or in spite of them.
What I see around me is that men have changed in the way they act as husbands. Not universally, of course, but very definitely many men see their marriage as something of great importance, if not of utmost importance. I see men that are striving for and desirous of the kinds of marriage that women say they want—where the two of them talk very intimately about feelings, and where neither has to feel ashamed about it. The old days of men acting like only two emotions or so were even possible— tired and worried, or angry and frustrated, for example—seem long gone to me. It may be difficult to learn to speak about feelings, but now everyone knows it’s needed and is what builds relationships. In general, society as a whole seems to value relationships, and “work” on them a whole lot more than they did when I was growing up. Dads are more present. Kids know more about their parents’ relationship; Mom and Dad and kids alike acknowledge that who they are in the context of the family really matters in the present and in the future. Everyone seems to preface his or her behavior based on some key relationship in his or her life. And if at some point that key relationship is nonexistent, a person feels yes, incomplete.
I believe in marriage more now than I did when I was married.
I used to think that marriage without kids was pointless. What a misbegotten belief; I’m embarrassed to ever have thought that. I now think marriage is the most important endeavor we undertake as humans, with or without the presence of children.
In fact, two of my patients are men married to women and do not want children. They are men who come to me with their hearts on their sleeve about how much they like and love their wives. I admire them so much. I tell them, and I believe that, it is their marriage which will sustain them throughout their lives. Children are important in an equal way, but not in the same way. We want to be of key importance to one other adult, and to feel that way about them in return, through thick and thin. As Susan Sarandon’s character in the 2004 movie Shall We Dance so movingly said, "We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet; what does one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.’”
We singles thirst for something that no amount of solo activity will slake. It seems my friends who are single and I are no exception, and so we are all either fervently dating or trying to date or have attached ourselves to a spouse analog until the real thing comes along. In other words, we spend a lot of time focused on dating and mating. It’s like an app that is perpetually open. This is true of the people I know in their 20’s and the people I know in their 60’s and 70’s. Sometimes I hear one of them say they’ve given up, but it’s just momentary. No one gives up deeply, sincerely, and permanently. I visualize a person who has given up in black and white, a lightly sketched New Yorker cartoon; slumped; sluggish, a VACANCY sign on the old overcoat they wear every day. You’re just not going to see that in real life. People just don’t give up on love.
OK, we do not have to marry every person or any person we date, even if we date them for a long time. We may never meet the one we feel is the right fit for us. But should we give up hope? Should we become obvious spinsters or obvious man-hunters? Louches and e’er–eligible bachelors? It seems all these archetypes are making a statement about their respective romanticosexual status. They are saying in different ways, “I am the way I am because I don’t have love”.
A friend of mine who is a regular contributor to THP is a stalwart unmarried, but never has she stopped looking for love. She barks at me for keeping the love I have even though I want marriage and this particular relationship isn’t headed in that direction. She thinks I am a coward for not wanting to tell him the things about him I don’t like, and what I’m looking for. She makes a good argument for being authentic.
But I say, the fact that he isn’t what I’m looking for in a mate doesn’t mean we can’t share a phase of life together, and it doesn’t justify me angrily stating my needs and hurting his ego. I’m struggling inside to find an understanding of what he is to me and to find all the good in that I can as a first step to letting him go. Let’s try as adults not to be angry at the person we have loved when they don’t do what we want, or they are not what we want in the ultimate agreement that is marriage. As my psychologist says, “It’s not good/bad; it’s different.” And for the chicken-hearted, the breakup talk is far less scary because you are saying positive things, you’re saying thank you; you’re saying not f--- you, but fare-thee-well. This should minimize the trauma for both parties.
Then, to take stock, to work with what you’ve learned from someone, and incorporate that knowledge into your search and beyond; into the next relationship-- that is authenticity.
In my search, I will need to find it within myself to replace the comfort of the known with someone new and unknown. Someone who will see the 54-year-old me and not the 29- or 39-or even 49-year-old women I was; women who seem so distant to me now. Someone who can imagine the future with me: one of us circling the hospital parking lot while the other quasi-rushes in to see if it’s worth the wait! And someone to attend funerals and other bittersweet events with. Someone to have dinner with. Someone to ask about the day. Someone to witness my life as I witness his.
So what should we singles do?
Saying no to online dating is like saying Happy Days is your favorite TV show.
Well I’ve come to think that if we do not have a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife in our lives and we want one, that we should pretty much do everything in our power to find one. Because everything else will just be activities we do while we are waiting and hoping to find our match; like spin class without an end. It’s not that we should drop everything or cease to grow; oh no. But all that advice we hear about doing what we love and the universe will drop “the one” in our laps at the right time… it seems like a form of spinning without going anywhere to me. I mean I think we should do proactive things that are directly about meeting a mate, like being on every website and meeting all the people we can.
I used to be so very judgy about online dating. It gave me the creeps. But it’s the way it’s done these days, and it’s a whole lot more productive than any other single measure out there other than marrying the person you dated in high school or college and calling it a day. There seems to be a website for every type of person or category, making it probably even better than 1:100 odds that you will meet the person you want to marry and who wants to marry you. (I got that statistic from an “n” of 1—my very great friend met 75 men on Match before meeting the right one and eventually marrying him. Plus practically every other person I know these days met her/his spouse or fiancé/fiancée online.) Saying no to online dating is like saying Happy Days is your favorite TV show.
Another way that seems productive to me is attendance at meetups. You can take a wingman, making it quite a bit more comfortable than going on dates with absolute strangers. You can stay the whole time or leave after a few hors d’oeuvres. You can try yoga at the beach or vegan cooking by starlight. There is a great number of dance-party type meetups, too, I’ve noticed on the week’s calendar I get in my inbox each Monday. What’s wrong with that?
Another nice way is to work in a part of town where people walk around at lunchtime, and go to restaurants, coffee joints, juice bars or whatever in a kind of pattern or routine. For example, I sally forth from my office at noon to go to one gym on Mondays and Fridays, and tally ho to a different one on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. There’s a market nearby that has many islands of fresh food and deli things, and it would be perfectly natural to say “hi” to someone next to whom I was making my salad. I often go to the same two sushi bars toward the end of the week. It’s a busy little town, and I take pleasure in being out amongst a bunch of people who probably all work down there every day. This is our singles’ safety zone. It may be a really indirect way of meeting people, but it’s better than staying at your desk all day, checking Fbook.
Also, I belong to my chamber of commerce, and it’s a great group. There are many social occasions, all of which are singles parties in disguise. It’s also a way to learn about and contribute to the businesses that form my community, and so I don’t have to feel embarrassed if the second most important reason I attend these functions is the hope that I will meet an unattached local businessman whom I find dateable.
People are all about relationship, it seems to me. Yearning for one, hoping for one, beginning one or ending one, securing one, growing one, questioning one. It’s what we inevitably care about more anything else, even while we carry on as if it weren’t what we’re doing at all.
Indeed, the article I read that started me off on this subject should have been titled, “Single People Should Always Be Embarrassed to Be Single”, because the message there was we should somehow hide or just ignore the pain and loneliness associated with being single, and magically stop feeling any kind of pang of jealousy or longing related to being alone in the company of marrieds, and forget about going to events in hopes of meeting someone great, and in general tough, tough, tough titties for being single, we are big losers. I want to tell you that it’s terribly, awfully normal for you and me and all of us single people to want to be in love; to want feverishly what married people may now take for granted, and shame on anyone who makes us feel bad about that.