It’s been fun blogging about dating this week, since I’m so new to the concept. But I wanted to close with a few thoughts on being single. Between the ages of 20 and 30, I was in a committed relationship with one man. In essence, I grew up in that relationship. But since the divorce, I’ve experienced a whole new coming of age.
All of us experience the single, celibate life at some point during our lifetimes. Whether it’s due to the death of a spouse, divorce, or personal choice, singleness is as much a part of the human experience as romantic connection. And I’ve found much richness and joy and possibility in my nearly three years of being single.
Here are ten reasons to celebrate the single life (tailored to child-free and post-child adults):
1) You have no one to blame but yourself when you fall short. And this can only be a good thing. When I don’t lift weights or I let scene work slide, it’s all on me. This has done wonders for my confidence and my self-efficacy. In a relationship—or even just if you’re living with close friends or family—it’s way too tempting to blame a partner’s Breaking Bad addiction for time wasted in front of the boob tube.
2) Your wildest dreams are back on the docket. Want to go build wells in East Africa? Teach kindergartners English in China? Go back to college? With no one else’s life and career to negotiate around, you can and should. My five-year plan has got the Peace Corps (or, if they reject me, a teach-abroad program) and an out-of-state grad school on it. I’ll come out the other end as an ESL professor. And I’ll have explored new regions of the world and the U.S.
3) You don’t have to impress anybody while wandering around in your underpants. Track pants. Sports bra. Tube socks. Marathon jerseys. Anything goes. Especially zero sex appeal. And if you decide to go in the buff? No one’s going to point out those signs of flab or age. When I’m at home now, I dress like a boy in a college dorm. And I love it. Welcome to a whole new kind of freedom.
4) You develop a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, guilt-free. Now that I’ve been on my own for a bit, I know I can do all right for myself. So if someone or something doesn’t elevate or contribute to my life, I’m out. One of the great struggles I see for friends in less-than-healthy relationships is all that time they’ve sunk into the partnership. They’re reluctant to walk away. Psychologists call it the “escalation of commitment.” As a single adult, you learn it’s not the time you’ve put into something that makes it valuable; it’s the inherent boost it brings to your life. And if it doesn’t deliver? You know better than to let history get in the way of healthy breaks with the past.
5) Home really is a haven. It’s always peaceful. It’s always quiet. No fights. True, there are no hugs, either. And that’s a sad thing, I admit. But even for the occasional moment of loneliness, the peace and quiet in my book-lined room feel positively luxurious.
6) You discover what you really love when left to your own devices. This is the moment of truth. When you are single, no one is dragging you to anything. No one is watching sports games in the den. And you find out whether that new interest in the NBA was for real or not. And it usually turns out it wasn’t. What is real is that the long-time single ladies I’ve known have discovered passions they never knew they had. I’ve learned that I just love pouring myself a glass of red wine at the end of the week, pulling out some dark chocolate, and spending an hour or two writing up book reviews and reading. I love studying languages. And I LOVE contemporary dance. Who knew?
7) You get to develop Jedi mind powers. Every partnership has its ups and downs, its highs and lows. You’re riding someone else’s moods and libido and life course as much as your own. That can add some wonderful things. But so can a deeper acquaintance with your own mind. As a singleton, your thoughts and emotions are your primary companions. When I first moved into my own place, it was a shock to be alone so much. All those hours to myself. All the mental chatter—uninterrupted by another person. And since I was grieving, too, I quickly learned what Milton had meant when he wrote in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
8) Speaking of Jedis… If you are very lucky, you wind up in a long-term relationship with someone who has the same goofiness-level as you do. But this hasn’t been my luck of the draw so far. So I’m savoring every minute in my attic loft. Light saber battles. Complete with sound effects. Impromptu readings of Woolf and Shakespeare and Dickinson. Endless conversations with myself in Russian, French, and Thai. Acting out the scenes I’m writing. I adore my housemates for not getting on my case about it. But I would never expect a partner to put up with the constant antics. In the meantime, I’m having the time of my life.
9) Your primary relationships with the opposite sex are friendships. Romantic relationships, no matter how healthy and loving, are complex and high-stakes. They are as individual as the people in them, and no one outside a partnership can ever fully understand it. As such, your partner is not the ideal informant on gender identity. Friendships that cross gender and orientation lines are often where the deepest anthropological truth-telling happens. And I’ve learned the most about gender from friends—in ways that have opened my mind, challenged my assumptions about gender dynamics, and prepared me to approach my next relationship in a whole new way.
10) You get your priorities straight. A lot of people get into relationships because of sexual attraction, loneliness, or social pressure (“isn’t it time you started…?”). Poor reasons make for poor matches. And people are at risk of compromising personal convictions that should not be compromised. Americans can balk at arranged marriages all they want, but Indian matchmakers have something going for them. Values and priorities in line with who you are and what you want matter far more than sex or social norms for your long-term happiness and success. As poet Amiri Baraka put it, “It is better to have loved and lost / Than to put linoleum in your living rooms.” Now there’s a man who knew his priorities and told it straight.