Saturday, June 16, 2007

IS One the Loneliest Number?

I have to say that I heart my Conversation class. The students are at an intermediate level so they can express themselves enough to actually have a conversation about something beyond "At the Grocery Store" or "In the Taxi." What they need are opportunities to do this. This week I picked the topic of Singletons.

Singletons, if you don't already know, is a term coined by Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones's Diary. Bridget Jones used it to refer to herself and others that had no romantic partners. In so doing, she recognized the "us and them" situation, distinguishing singles from couples or "smug marrieds" as she called them.

With the exception of one couple, my class consisted entirely of singles. When polled, all of them claimed to be happy with their lives. But when asked "Are single people happy being single?" ironically they all answered no. I was actually a little surprised. Furthermore, not one of them wanted to be single in the future. I thought for sure that (out of a class of 15) at least one person would want to be single!

Given the inevitability that all of us will be single at some point in our lives, I had to wonder, is one really the loneliest number?

Our class identified some reasons why a person might be single. A mental or physical handicap or deformity might curtail marriage. Circumstances such as poverty or lack of suitable mates would also be factors. Someone mentioned a life of service or mission and referenced Mother Theresa. Of course this led us to the ultimate singleton- Jesus of Nazareth. Was He happy being single? Surely someone who is fully human (yet God) would have feelings of loneliness and a need for intimacy. To quote a song from the 80s "Ponderous man, truly ponderous!"

(Oddly enough, not one person gave being gay as a reason for being single. A unmarried middle-aged man, more often than not, used to be a gay man. My, how times have changed, eh?)

It occurred to me while talking to a classmate at my recent high school reunion that some people will be woefully unprepared for singlehood when it comes along. Does this girl, who immediately married her high school sweetheart and had two kids, even know who she is? I truly believe that a person is different by themselves than when they are with someone, no matter how much they protest "Nothing will change! I'll still be the same!"

This started me thinking about how different my life would have been if I had never been single. There would have been fewer goals, self improvements and risks taken. I would be in debt with kids and possibly have little professional satisfaction. There would be numerous trips untaken and stories untold. Not to mention the unmet life long friends and privotal moments that made me the person I am today. And, at the risk of sounding like an arrogant bastard, the person I am today is a vast improvement over previous versions!

So in closing I think it's vitally important to be content (rather than happy) no matter what marital status you may find yourself in. While I will acknowlege that there are downsides to being a singleton, there are disadvantages to being a "smug married" as well. The following from the last episode of Sex in the City really sums it up best:

Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous.


Jolie said...

Wow! Interesting post. For part of it, I felt like you were talking about/to me. I think about this topic a lot. I am one who has not been alone ever in life. I've been in the same relationship for almost half of my life. I've also never lived on my own. I do wonder if there is more to me out there that hasn't had a need to shine through yet. I don't really think this is the case. I'm luckily in a marriage where I can be completely myself (for good or bad...and there is a lot of bad) and therefore haven't had to assume a role to I play in my couple. I jokingly kid my husband that when he is gone (he swears that I'm killing him slowly), I will remain single forever. I actually see this happening. I look forward to a time that I'm on my own. Not that I wish him ill, but I do think it would give me a chance to experience a whole new side of myself.

You really have lived a great life so far. Yes, we can always 'what if' ourselves until we are crazy. But you have made great choices and had some amazing experiences. I think that's so great that I started off as the worldly one and over the years you have far surpassed me. Basically, you rock! Don't change a thing.

connie said...

Loved this post! I swore that I would never remarry after my divorce and I meant it. I realized shortly after becoming single that I was free to express the real me for the first time in my life (my fault that I never found the confidence to do this in my first marriage). I was very happy and contented while single.

It took a person who lets me totally be me, and who wanted a mate who would let him be himself to convince me to marry again. That's the only kind of relationship that is satisfying for the long term, for me at least.

Don't change you for anybody. Change should be motivated by a belief that one is going to experience growth through change. Boy, could I go on and on about this topic......thanks for the message.

Jay said...

Very thought provoking. One of your better posts.

Anonymous said...

Loved it...and not just because I am a "singleton"!
I agree with the growth that takes place in being single for parts of our lives...perhaps it's not the neccessity of being single but rather of being 'alone'. It's hard to 'detach' with the constant company of a partner.-Ally

sassiekiwi said...


Very thoughtful post ... I like the angle you took on the idea that all of us will be single at some stage.

Yes ... and for so many reasons. I was talking with a dear friend whose marriage broke up - he was desperate to be in another relationship and hated being alone. My advice to him was "until you are comfortable with yourself and being alone, you will never bring the best of you into your relationships".

As a single person, I resent people (read smug marrieds) telling me how easy my life is compared to theirs. It ticks me off quite frankly, as most of them have never lived for an extended period by themselves as a single person. i am content single but making EVERY decision ALL the time can get a bit wearying ... coming home sick, throwing up on the floor and having to crawl to the bathroom to get stuff to clean up because I am too sick to even stand ... its wearying. Every now and then I feel like pointing these things out to smug marrieds! Or even more ... saying stop telling me how hard your children make your life. Ever thought that i might love to have children ...?

Anyway this sounds like a big rant! Its not ... just a little reality from the single side of the fence! I think the key that you hit on is contentment! We need to be content at whatever phase we are in our lives. I actually have a great life. I am blessed with great friends and awesome opportunities. It would be nice to share that, but while I find myself single, I will take every opportunity to enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Well being single all my life, I can tell you that I'm the ultimate singleton. I do think about being in a relationship a lot. I think people in general have a fear of being alone - especially when they get older. If you're single you have the comfort of freedom, if you're in a relationship, you have to comfort of a lover. Regardless of one's relationship status, we have to do the best with what we've got, and make it better.