Being (Happily) Single in a Couples' World

Whether it's for a month, a year or for decades, being single can be a wonderful and fulfilling time in your life. But only if you understand and counter the forces at work that can make you feel badly about it. Whether you have never before been married, or find yourself single again after a divorce or death of a spouse, you are not alone. And, importantly, you are not abnormal!

But more than likely, you have never questioned some ideas you have held your entire life that are now causing you to feel badly about being single. Being clear about why you are single and being more at peace with who you are will not only make you more happy but also more open to love. And this may surprise you, but men feel many of the same things about being single that women do!

My story is no exception. The anxiety and self-doubt that come from being an unmarried man in my thirties were compounded by the "friendly fire" I used to get from my friends and family. Believe it or not, like many men, I also heard my biological clock's tick-tock -- loud and clear. I once made the mistake of revealing this worry to my older sister who was incredulous. "What!? What do you have to be worried about?"

All my buddies who were married with children envied me while I secretly coveted all that they had. It's macho to go out on a lot of dates, but not very manly to admit feeling lonely, demoralized and a failure because you're "still" single. They thought I was out on the prowl, but I felt like a lone wolf who had lost his appetite for meat. Don't get me wrong, I love sex. But sex without intimacy is like eating candy -- it's not sustenance for the soul, and usually leaves you with a stomach ache the next morning.

Like a lot of men and women these days, I have had relationships, but with nothing leading to marriage it was demoralizing. By my mid-twenties, feeling hopeless about ever finding the love of my life and trying to cope with a bad case of baby-lust, I actually sent away for information on single parent adoptions!

By the time I was thirty, all of my closest friends were either married or engaged (I remember feeling that if I went to one more wedding alone I was going to scream). And once they had children, we rarely saw each other anymore. When we did, it was almost always on their turf and terms. My two worst fears at the time were that I would end up all alone in life and that if I died in my apartment no one would find my body for a week. And I thought being single was supposed to be a blast!

When I stopped beating up on myself and looking for scapegoats, I began to look for answers. What I learned was that growing up I had adopted a set of expectations that no woman could ever fulfill -- at least no woman that exists on THIS planet. The expectations I had about the woman I would one day marry were bestowed by my family and our culture.

Growing up I found myself stuck between two scripts and two eras that held very different beliefs about what women should strive for in life. As a result, I became stuck on an ideal that didn't exist and the women I dated were much more reluctant to get married than their mothers were. In my mother's time the unquestioned ultimate goal in a woman's life was to marry, have children and create a home for her family. As children, my sister, brothers and I learned that the most important things a woman should aspire to in life were beauty, marriage and children. Preferably in that order. That was one of many antiquated and contradictory messages given by our mother and the cultural script she held on to. But nowadays, in this country, women work and have independent lives and careers of their own. Single women today have opportunities our parents and grandparents never dreamed of. You no longer have to be married to have a career, a sex life or even children. And with the divorce rate hovering around fifty percent, most of the women I dated were more reluctant to walk down the aisle then I think they cared to admit.

Adding to my confusion is the fact that my mother was single in the 1960s and didn't put her life on hold while waiting for "Mr. Right." She had a career, an active social life and made us dinner every night. Nevertheless, the subconscious script was etched in stone: The ideal wife was a selfless supermodel who stayed at home making babies, meals, our house a home and supporting the efforts of her man, who was out wrestling with the world on behalf of the family.

Growing up in America in the 1960s and 1970s, I acquired different tastes. Among other qualities, I am attracted to women who are independent -- women who have careers of their own, and who demand support as much as they give it (martyrs need not apply). In sorting out what it was that I really wanted in my mate, I finally realized that there is no such thing as an ideal woman. But I discovered that there is an ideal love. It is a love that is based on mutual respect, trust and understanding. And in my experience, passion is the inevitable offspring of such love.

The single women and men interviewed for my book Being Single in a Couples' World, and those that I have had the privilege of knowing as clients in psychotherapy, have taught me a lot about what it takes to stop putting your life on hold when you're single. The lessons I learned are not about resigning yourself to being single, but on self-acceptance and understanding. It's a win-win proposition. It makes you happier in your life, more attractive to others, and more open to love.

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