Do people always go two by two?
As mentioned in the last post, break-up season should be in full swing right about now. So what’s a single person to do? Rely on married friends to find them a new dating prospect? Find a hobby? Take a class? Bury themselves in their work?
These questions bring to mind a book by Bella DePaulo, PhD, titled: Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. Published just over a year ago, DePaulo’s book uses humor and sometimes stinging sarcasm to explain (to singles as well as couples) that singles can be just as happy as their married friends.
What? A post about singles on a family blog? Singles don’t have families, do they?
“To be stereotyped is to be prejudged,” DePaulo reminds us. “Tell new acquaintances that you are single and often they think they already know quite a lot about you. They understand your emotions: You are miserable and lonely and envious of couples. They know what motivates you: More than anything else in the world, you want to become coupled. If you are a single person of a certain age, they also know why you are not coupled: You are commitment-phobic, or too picky, or have baggage. . . . From knowing nothing more about you than your status as a single person, other people sometimes think they already know all about your family: You don’t have one. They also know about the important person or persons in your life: You don’t have anyone. In fact, they know all about your life: You don’t have a life.”
Some of DePaulo’s basic accusations may have more merit than the average “coupled” person would like to admit. After all, we barely blink when we see a book titled, If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? We may even buy it as a gift for one of our single friends. But, DePaulo makes the tongue-in-cheek proposal, what if the title was: If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Married? Would we understand the implications then?
And what if government entities also recognized that single people have relationships and lead productive lives? What if singles, like couples, could leave their Social Security benefits to the person who is most important to them, whether that’s their elderly mother or their brand new nephew? What if, instead of feeling sorry for them, others recognized their ability to contribute as productively to the family community as anyone else?
Fortunately, DePaulo stands ready to shatter every preconceived notion anyone may have of single life. “I am happy,” she says, “I have a life, and there is no way I will grow old alone (a matter that has little to do with having a serious coupled relationship or even living by yourself).” One has to concede she’s right here. If you’re the type of person who reaches out to build relationships, you may find yourself surrounded by friends even when you’re single. These people will not die alone—whether they ever get married or not. Alternatively, the reclusive couple rarely dies in each others’ arms. One of the two goes first—statistically this is usually the husband—and the second is left to die completely alone, not having nurtured the friendships that will stand by them at the end.
DePaulo contends, “The conventional wisdom about people who are single is a mythology, a gloss. It is not an accurate description of the textured and varied lives of real people who are single.”
Though readers may find areas of disagreement and some of her assertions don't quite seem to come from the happy place DePaulo insists she's in, it’s difficult to argue with the over-arching point. Singles can live happily ever after, all the while enjoying fulfilling relationships and accomplishing great things on the way.
Fortunately DePaulo makes some (though not enough) qualifications. “I’m not against coupling," she insists. "Coupling itself . . . is in fact timeless. The kind of interest that people have in coupling cannot be manufactured from whole cloth the way a sudden intense desire for a Cabbage Patch doll can be. It is based on something real. So, my problem is not with our current interest in coupling or our valuing it.”
Instead, says DePaulo, her problem is with society’s tendency to undervalue the contributions and potential of singles, and to under-define terms like “family.”
For example, while the conventional question, “Do you have a family?” is often proposed in order to find out whether an adult is married with children, DePaulo remarks that “There are, of course, other meanings of family.” This leads her to question why we don’t often hear responses like: “Oh, yes, I have a family: I have a mother and father.” Or perhaps, “Yes, I have a brother, a sister, three cousins, a grandmother an uncle and two aunts.”
When we realize that sibling relationships are some of the longest-standing relationships any of us will ever have in our lives, and that there are long-time friends with whom we may have sibling-like relationships, we understand that the term “family” is meant to have implications that do not leave singles out in the cold.
Four out of ten people likely to think twice about their relationships
According to a new dating study by Yahoo!, the period from December to Valentine’s day should be known as "National Break-Up Season." Far from a scientific study, the report suggests that the promise of a new year often leads people to reassess their relationships as they think about the future.
Says Yahoo!, "The two primary reasons leading to a break-up were not having a shared view of the future with a partner (48 percent) and feeling unfulfilled or in a rut (41 percent)." Most often, the report says, it's the more mature daters (aged 30-39) who reconsider their relationships on the basis of conflicting views and goals.
While this study may not present any earth-shattering revelations, there is no question that the two reasons for break-up offered by Yahoo! are often cited by those who are unhappy in relationships, whether they are simply dating or already married.
Of course, that's what dating is about, isn't it? People obviously need to spend time together to discover whether their views of the future are compatible enough to ensure they can commit to working together toward a common goal for the rest of their lives. There's no surprise that the lack of a common vision leads to break-up during the dating phase, or that the lack of a common vision would lead to a stale dating relationship that is unfulfilling or "in a rut."
What is a surprise, however, is that it happens so often during the marriage phase. Apparently, a vital discovery that should be made while dating often goes undetected until the commitment has been made and rings exchanged.
Why is this such a common mistake? Many blame it on the fact that Western society and culture idealizes romantic bliss. But is the perfect relationship simply a fantasy, or is it possible to attain? And what is a perfect relationship?
This question brings to mind the recent post entitled "Doing Well versus Feeling Good: The Self Esteem Debate." If "doing well" is more important than just "feeling good" on an individual basis, what happens when this same concept is applied to each human connection: marriage, family, community and beyond? Could doing well be more important then feeling good when defining the perfect relationship?
For instance, beginning with the connection between just two people who feel some initial attraction, which comes first? Working together toward a common goal? Or feeling fulfilled? Learning about the common vision you share with that other person (a "doing" aspect)? Or feeling romantic?
Just as the right kind of self-esteem comes from working through problems and mastering them, maybe the right kind of relationships don't just happen automatically. Maybe instead of giving up on a marriage when it doesn't live up to ideals of Hollywood romance, couples could find fulfillment in working through and mastering their problems, and from coming out on the other side of them with a higher regard for the marriage and their love for one another.
Of course it takes two. It's very difficult to make a marriage when only one partner is doing the work. So perhaps a "Break-Up Season" where dating couples take a hard look at their ability to work through problems together is not a bad idea. Better to do it during the dating phase than exchange the rings and find only one is willing to work during marriage.