There’s a lot of media attention focused on the perspectives and issues surrounding singledom. Discussion about the single life seems to be everywhere: Blogs (yes, including this one), podcasts, news articles, social media, movies, TV shows, and published essays. Google “being single” and you’ll see what I mean.
In a recent essay in the NY Times Modern Love column, Helen Rubinstein writes about her struggles to embrace singlehood. The essay sparked a lot of reader interest with over 305 comments published on the Times’ website.
Let’s chat about this while eating a modest lunch of seared tuna with shaved vegetable salad to counter the effects of Halloween candy excess.
Rubinstein recounts her struggle to be comfortable as a single woman in a couples’ world – where work settings and social functions remind her that she is navigating the world solo. She describes feeling odd, strange, shameful, and queer.
The use of the word queer struck me as off since the writer is straight. The term also offended a number of LGBT readers. That may be why the Times changed the essay’s headline from Is There Something Queer About Being Single? to Is There Something Odd About Being Single?
Word choice aside, Rubinstein decides to drive across the country alone in celebration of freedom and singlehood. As she expects, she experiences fear and a feeling of “strangeness” along the way. During a hot-spring shower in a Nevada desert bathhouse, she longs for a partner in the beautiful setting. But then she has an epiphany. Although at that moment, Rubinstein craves companionship, she realizes that being part of a couple doesn’t always counter loneliness. “Loneliness dissipates,” she writes, “when you find comfort and pleasure in your own company.”
That’s something singles hear a lot – be comfortable and happy with yourself before seeking a partner. I tried to make that a goal after my divorce but it has taken a few years to fully experience that feeling of inner strength. It’s also taken awhile to feel less of an “extra” in many social situations. Still there are times when I intensely feel my solo status – around holidays, on date nights if I’m not with a date, out with a couple. I don’t feel odd but I do feel an aloneness that I’d rather not feel.
I do, however, remember feeling strange at the beginning of my separation. After two-thirds of my life spent as part of a couple, I felt untethered. Eventually I felt tethered to myself and grew that inner strength I mentioned.
Now I believe I may be a qualified “super single,” a phrase I first heard in an episode of Better Things. In case you haven’t seen the show, Sam, the main character, is a divorced single mom of a certain age. She becomes so good at being single that she doesn’t know how to accept the possibility of a promising relationship.
As writer Allison P. Davis writes in The Cut:
“This episode marks the first time she fully comes undone over a romantic prospect. “This guy, is the thing,” she says to a friend, anguished and lovesick (literally). Her speech is really just a few lines, but, good god, does it cut to the bone. “I don’t know how to do this. I got no place to put it, I don’t want it,” she says. She only sees one way forward: to break up with the perfect guy, naturally.
“Oh honey,” her friend says in commiseration. “We’re super singles: We’re just too good at being alone.”
How many of the 111 million singles in the US (45 percent of all residents age 18 and above) are super singles? Hard to know. We’re a mix of high functioning “supers” and newbies.
The newbies may feel strange or they may be thrilled by their newfound freedom and independence. Some of the 111 million may never want to couple up – whether they’ve been in a previous committed relationship or not. Others may yearn for a relationship daily. Whether being single is temporary or lifelong, chosen or circumstantial, I hope we can try to not feel odd. Instead, I like the sentiment in Natasha Bedingfield’s song Single:
Don’t need to be on somebody’s arm to look good
I like who I am
I’m not saying I don’t wanna fall in love ’cause I would
I’m not gonna get hooked up just ’cause you say I should
Can’t romance on demand
I’m gonna wait so I’m sorry if you misunderstood
This is my current single status
My declaration of independence
There’s no way I’m tradin’ places
Right now a star’s in the ascendant
Until next week, happy dating or not dating.