The single experience
Updated: Dec 14, 2018
I had a really hard time trying to frame this blog. Essentially it's all about how great life is when you're single. The difficulty is in preventing it from sounding like a bitter, man hating rant penned by someone who, deep down, does not cherish their single status. This post is not that. Those who know me well will know that, but for a five year relationship in my mid 30s, I have been single MY WHOLE LIFE. And it has been effing awesome. People often say to me, "You have the best life!" And it's true. If I wasn't me, I would want the life I'm having. But I'm able to have that life because I'm single.
I get asked all the time why I'm single and the truth is: because I want to be. I used to get that question constantly when I was younger. It would invariably come up at extended family gatherings, like when there was a rare pause in shouting at each other over Christmas lunch. Other friends would talk about it, theorising all types of scenarios why Sayaka didn't have a boyfriend. Not wanting to be in a committed relationship was something people couldn't get their heads around. I never wanted to get married and I never wanted children. (For the record, I was married several years back but it didn't last very long). I don't think I had a gene missing, nor do I think the mammalian part of my brain was cognitively deficient. I am a very caring, nurturing person, I'm not averse to *ehem* getting nude with certain people, and I love kids. But here's the difference: my fulfilment comes from having variety.
This doesn't mean I'm a disloyal friend or a wanton slut. When I am with someone, I am fully present and I share the love because I have lots of it to give. I never fear telling people I love them and when I say it I mean it in a pure, unconditional way. The way I love is inclusive, not exclusive. And you know what - I get so much love in return. It's tricky because culturally, we're steered towards being in a relationship, and not being in one is considered temporary. Everyone thinks we want and/or need an "other". It's our raison d'etre, without which we will be lonely.
The exclusive deal
One of the greatest paradoxes of the western world is the notion that one person, ie: our romantic partner, will fulfil all our needs. They will be our companion, our intellectual equal, our travel buddy, our lover, our financial adviser, our co-habitant, our moral support, our confidant, our psychologist, our best friend. We expect them to enjoy sharing parenting, finances, debts, housework, socialising, politics and opinions that match our own. In the same vein, we expect to be all those things to our partners too, and we're devastated if they outsource even one of those things to someone else (especially the sex part).
Now consider the work environment. Creating a high performing team involves mobilising a group of people with different skillsets who are at the top of their game in each designated area. You get a finance person, a people person, a strategist, a doer, an administrator, a salesperson, an analyst, a communicator... you get the drift. Never ever do we expect all these skills to be provided by one person. If you run a small business, you may get one person to do two, maybe three of these things, tops. But when it comes to a relationship, we unwittingly expect, and even demand, that our partners fulfil every criteria that realistically takes several people to manage.
I have lost about half a dozen good male friends, both gay and straight, because their partners embargoed our relationship. Some of the partners were people I'd never met before. Sometimes I'd only met them once and sometimes they were people I'd become acquainted with since they were dating my friend - in most cases, my best friend. Whatever it was that I provided to those friends was something that their girlfriends/boyfriends/wives eventually did not think they were entitled to get from me. The partners either assumed the role of 'Sayaka' or flat out denied the presence of Sayaka in their lives. In a few cases the friend would return after the relationship ended but it was never the same.
Finding a person who can be all things to you is about as easy as finding a unicorn that shits gold. From what I've observed, the relationships that are truly rock solid are the ones where they honour what each other brings and what they don't bring to the relationship. The relationship suffers fewer neuroses and anxieties because the parties don't attach meaning to an action or lack thereof. They have fewer (unrealistic) expectations of their partner and exercise a bit of freedom in the relationship, and the relationship flows within the bounds of some fundamental principles that can essentially be narrowed down to: Do not disrespect the other people in your relationship. I say 'people' because in a healthy relationship, there is recognition that other people are part of your relationship, ie: your children, your friends, your family, your work.
We often expect the very thing from our partners that we lack - even if they lack it themselves. We seek in them the missing pieces of our own fulfilment as if that will make us a whole person, and we find it very difficult to accept that those pieces could come from someone other than our partner.
Imagine saying to your significant other: "Honey, I'd like to spend my next holiday with Jim as we both like doing the same things when we travel like hiking, adventure sports and camping whereas you like resort hotels and shopping." Think about how well that would go down! Yet, it's a perfectly reasonable request. Well, I think it is but I guess I'm not your average thinker.
Consider the prospect of relocating for work. When you're single, interstate or international job opportunities only require you to consider what you'll wear on your first day and how many drinks you can neck in the business lounge - or in my case, how many cakes I can scoff.
Or, here's the elephant I know you've been waiting for me to bring up: what if your partner is everything you want in a person except you no longer connect physically - and yes, I mean when it's sexy time. This is never a problem when you're single. If you want sexy time with one, three or no people, you can go get 'em tiger. With the ubiquity of dating apps, it's even easier and quicker than ordering a pizza. (I personally don't have a lot of faith in an algorithm to take care of the selection process but that's just me). Those apps can't be that successful without delivering the goods.
The monogamy myth
With the exception of gibbons, beavers, wolves, some kind of parasitic worm, a bunch of birds and a few rodents and reptiles, animals are NOT monogamous by nature, including humans. Monogamy in human relationships is socialised into us from a young age, and only in certain cultures. 'Socialised monogamy' in humans, where you're conditioned to believe you're committed to having sex with one person for the rest of your life, is really only prevalent in the Western world - and look how that's worked out for us...
Esther Perel wrote an amazing piece in the Atlantic about how we have imposed a ridiculous and unrealistic social edict on ourselves that dictates once we have partnered up, the instinctually human part of us that desires others miraculously switches off.
Here's an except:
"We used to get married and have sex for the first time. Now we get married and stop having sex with others. The conscious choice we make to rein in our sexual freedom is a testament to the seriousness of our commitment. By turning our back on other loves, we confirm the uniqueness of our “significant other”: “I have found The One. I can stop looking.” Our desire for others is supposed to miraculously evaporate, vanquished by the power of this singular attraction."
We westerners will average at least three significant romantic relationships in our lives. It's very sweet to think the one we love is the only one we'll love and the one we'll stay with forever but statistically (and biologically), it's not likely.
I do not condone deception in any type of relationship. When people have been cheated on they usually say it was not the physical act but the deception that killed the relationship. I have been betrayed and I have seen my friends betrayed. Who hasn't? Interestingly, the most hurtful betrayal is almost always in romantic relationships. There is nothing more manifestly devastating than when your partner prefers another over you. Yet, it is so profuse. I'm not referring solely to sexual infidelity - although this has historically been considered the mother of all betrayal - I'm talking about completely inoffensive behaviour like your partner wanting to hang out with the boys/girls instead of you. If they come home wasted and vomit everywhere - that is definitely an offence. But the act of getting together with your mates for a couple of drinks, even ones of the opposite sex, is harmless. I will never understand why people have a problem with this. Is it the activity itself or the (often inaccurate) meaning we attach to that activity that drives us nuts? Remember this: restriction leads to resentment and resentment leads to contempt.
Intimacy ≠ sex
My friend Jen came over for dinner the other night. Jen has been in a relationship for almost 20 years. We talked about being in a long term relationship, what you choose to give up for it and what you manage. I've never actually met Jen's partner even though I have been friends with Jen for a decade. It's not a deliberate intervention. It just never happened. Jen's partner understands that whatever Jen gets out of seeing me is something her partner doesn't offer and they're both ok with that. If Jen's partner thought she was coming over to have sex with me, that may be a little different. The irony is that what Jen and I share when we catch up is so much more intimate than if we were to, say, strip off and go hammer and tong for a good 30 minutes and then make a clandestine exit. We share our dreams, thoughts, failings, fears - the type of stuff that you share with your closest friends... or your accountant.
The word 'intimacy' is almost always interpreted as sexual activity but that's not what that word actually means. That's an amped up euphemism that infers we have affection or closeness to whomever we're having sex with. I have a bunch of very intimate relationships and I have a bunch of people I've had sex with and very rarely, if ever, have those circles intersected. I don't think this is sad although I acknowledge it may seem insensitive to some. Is it sad to not be spiritually or intellectually connected with someone you're sleeping with or is it sad to be emotionally, financially and/or legally tied to someone who is not mind-blowing (or even marginally good) in the sack? I guess it depends on how much weighted value you attribute to each of those things.
When we're coupled up we expect those things, and more, from the same person but it occurs in very few relationships so I salute you if you've found it. The beauty of being single is that you don't have to compromise - you get to pick the best person for each job, guilt free, and it makes your interaction way more gratifying.
A word of caution here, singledom is not for everyone. Most people are actually quite miserable being single. They do want someone and they're prepared to be that person's everything on the condition that it's reciprocated. A lot, and I mean A LOT, of people are far happier being in a not very good relationship rather than being out of a relationship. Nothing will test the limits of your tolerance like the person you're besotted with. Nothing.
The key to being successfully single is you have to want it and you have to be able to see how good it is to be on your own and live on your own terms. Whether you are attached or single, you should never be emotionally dependent on another person. You have to be a whole person inside and outside of your relationships. The most honest, loyal and lasting relationship you're ever going to have is the one you have with yourself. Fact.
Stay well, sleep well.