Here is part of my story – the part that is relevant to choosing to remain single (you can read more about me on my About page, if you’re really that interested…). I hope that it will stimulate some discussion, especially around the notion of internalized singlism – the belief that there is something wrong with me because I am not coupled.
Recovering from yet another relationship breakup, I am slowly getting my bearings back. This one was so promising! I thought I really had found The One this time! And then, poof, it all blew up – no magic here. Again. Maybe I am just not made for a relationship. Or maybe I just keep picking the wrong guys. Or maybe it just is time to build my life, of which I have done little. Although I am almost 40, my life so far has centered around two things: my divorce and my son. The divorce started shortly after my son was born. He is now 16. Yes, I know, it’s a darn long divorce. Tell me about it. And it’s still not over – but that’s another story…
So, maybe it’s time to build my life now, to really look at what I want to do, to embrace being single, to give up on the dream of riding into the sunset with my savior. I’ve found some joy in singlehood before. Funny thing is, whenever I start enjoying myself, I end up in a relationship. As if I am trying to distract myself. It’s scary to walk life by yourself when everybody around you seems coupled. My parents have been married forever. Their friends are married. Their brothers and sisters are married, except an aunt who is somewhat eccentric and an uncle who committed suicide. No wonder I have the notion in my head that I should be coupled, that being single is just an interim state. It is slowly but surely dawning on me that maybe it’s time to come out as single. Yes, just like gays and lesbians had to consciously proclaim their otherness, their homosexuality, it’s time for me to embrace being single, to consciously proclaim that I am single and that I want to build my life as a single woman. I am not waiting for a guy to carry me off. I am not waiting for a soulmate anymore. It’s scary, yes, but it’s also liberating. And, yes, the conventional house of cards is collapsing onto me, driving home self-doubt: Can I really be happy and single? Well, I’ve proven several times now that I can be really unhappy coupled, so why not try being single for a change? Maybe that’ll work better. Maybe I’ll actually be happy when I am very obviously in control of my happiness instead of pretending someone else is. Yes, there’s the little voice in my head that whispers that this might make me a better partner. Maybe. I guess there’s still some social learning to unlearn. And there is the expectation to let go off that I will find true fulfillment only through a partner: the internalized matrimania. I have spent 40 years building a life that I didn’t really choose. It’s time to start making my own bricks and start living!
And, yet, when I didn’t receive the I-still-love-you email from my former boyfriend, I notice disappointment. Somewhere in there, I still define my self-worth through the attention I get from men, boyfriends in particular. If they write short emails it must be because I am not worthy of a longer email. And I feel I have to prove to them that I am! With chagrin, I realize that I haven’t moved on from these internalized beliefs that I am somehow less of a human being when I am single; that I can only find true happiness through a relationship. As if building a relationship is a cakewalk. What myths surface when one pays attention! So, what is stopping me from truly embracing being single? Well, there is some positive stuff there: I have experienced the wonderful side of relationships, the sharing that goes on, the automatic companionship. All that comes at a price, again and again, and that price seems rather steep for the benefits. The longing remains, the longing for this sharing that I haven’t been able to duplicate anywhere else. Or maybe it’s just that I didn’t notice it with friends because somehow it’s expected there. It’s just what friends do. Finding a friend you can also have sex with seems to be the cherry on the cake; somehow that sex thing changes everything. As if it magically transforms everything and I’d live happily ever after. Only it is not true. And I know that. Yet, somewhere, the beliefs surrounding relationships have dug themselves deep into my psyche: internalized matrimania.
Then there are the negative things that keep me from happily single ever after. The fear that, deep down, there just must be something wrong with me because I cannot find a partner. It’s not normal. If only I could fix that one thing, miraculously the perfect partner would emerge and we’d live happily ever after. As if. The voice is there that nags that I am just trying to hide the fact that I am incapable of building a lasting relationship by becoming the posterchild single woman. The voice is whispering that it’s not really a choice, I didn’t reject anyone but I was rejected, so it is not for the right reasons and therefore there must be something wrong with me. That’s called twisted thinking in psychology. I’ll call it internalized singlism. It all boils down to one thing, though: There is something wrong with me. What that might be remains a mystery, a secret even to myself. And reality shows that I am not that horrible to be around because there are people who do enjoy my company. Imagine that. Repeatedly even. Maybe even my former boyfriend, less the sex part. And if not, I’ll enjoy life by myself, surrounded by friends.