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being single, spinster, solo

Image by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash.

“I’m single.” That used to be something we’d mutter apologetically. We knew what was coming. 

“But aren’t you afraid of dying alone?” (No. I’m afraid of being surrounded by well-meaning family who’d keep urging the staff to shove tubes and needles into my dying body.)

“Don’t you get lonely?” (You must be kidding. And married people get lonely too!)

“What do you do on the holidays?” Some single people like to hang out with friends and family. For the rest of us, check out my article here. 

If you’re single at heart, your problem isn’t loneliness.

It’s (a) dealing with awkward, intrusive questions from family and friends; (b) being expected to stay late and accept lesser status at work because “you don’t need to be home to get the kids;” and (c) dealing with the medical establishment, which issues we all have loving relatives who have nothing to do but pick us up after medical procedures and wait around uselessly while they operate.  I wrote about that here.

One of the pioneers in recognizing the pervasive effects of “singleism” is Bella DePaulo.  She’s a Harvard-educated sociologist with impeccable academic credentials. Her first book, Singled Out, debunked the “research” showing the negative effects of singles. She organized a Facebook group, Community of Single People, which has nearly 8000 members from all over the world.

To celebrate her newest book, Single at Heart, Bella gave a presentation at a bookstore in Washington, DC. You can listen to the livestream here. I’ve ordered the book and will post a review. Full disclosure: I’m quoted in both

One question was, “How do you know if you’re single at heart?

It’s actually a pretty deep question. I’ve met married people who openly wish they were single.  One married person confided, “I didn’t realize my spouse’s quirks would bother me so much.” Another said, “I’m tired of staying home because my spouse doesn’t like to travel.”

Did your parents marry in the forties, fifties, or even early sixties of the last century?  Chances are they were following social norms. Some fell in love and stayed married for 40 years or more. Others experienced serious mental health challenges, mostly unrecognized back then. But being single? You’d be labeled a failure.

I believe you know if you’re single at heart, just as you know if you’re gay. (And I’ve met gay single people as well.) 

I encourage everyone to learn to enjoy your own company and enjoy being alone with your thoughts. I’m not a therapist but I suspect relationships will be stronger if people are together because they want to be with each other, not because they’re afraid to be alone. 

Even if you’re coupled, you may be single some time.

A partner could die or decide to leave you. The loneliest people are those who lost a partner or spouse. Some feel relieved and decide they enjoy being single. Some date a few times and decide they’d rather be alone. Some look for a new partner.

We need to identify the concept of solitude skills as basic life skills.

We’re just beginning to see discussions of silence and solitude in mainsream media.  For instance, The New York Times recently ran an article on the trend to silent walks – a solitary activity free of devices and, incidentally, other people.

Apparently some people are so afraid of being alone with their thoughts they’d rather be shocked, the article says. There may be evolutionary adaptations: for much of history, people simply couldn’t live alone. It wasn’t safe. Today, the ability to be alone seems like a skill we should all cultivate before we need it.

To be sure, single doesn’t mean silent. I suspect some single people live with constant background noise – TV or music – all the time. Personally, I believe we need more silence -and more solitude – for mental health. In fact, I wonder if the current mental health crisis isn’t partially fueled by noise that surrounds us. But that’s another story.