As I started reading Sara Eckel’s piece in New York Times – „The Hard-Won Lessons of the Solitary Years” I was sure I’m about to get yet another rant about how selfish and self-absorbed single people are. I was about to skip it, but I decided to read the whole thing anyway. I’m happy I did since Eckel perfectly captured what I have been thinking about.
The writer recalls the trepidation she felt when faced with the decision whether to move in with her boyfriend. She was 40 and well-seasoned in a single life, so she wondered if six months of a relationship is enough for her to decide to start sharing her one-bedroom apartment with a man (for the first time in her life). Today, eight years later, they’re married, live together and enjoy happiness. But that’s by no meant the article’s punch line.
The trepidation the writer felt stemmed mostly from her false notion, reinforced by many a „good advisor”, that staying single for many years turned her into an isolated and picky woman. In other words, she was afraid she became too eccentric to commit to a serious, „life-long” relationship. Through all those years of being single, her friends with many a failed relationship convinced her that all their failed relations made them learn very important skills: how to be tender, how to make boundaries, how to be a good listener and how to express an opinion. All this did little but irritate her, since all those skills can be successfully acquired outside of relationships, as well. Eckel also points out that single people are often regarded as burdened by some deep internal problems, making them „unfit to find a partner”. No one assumes that a single person simply didn’t meet anyone they would like to be with.
The author writes about something rarely even mentioned when discussing single people – it’s not like all those years when we are by ourselves (by choice or not) are devoid of human emotion! We struggle with many things, we have our better and worse periods, we date, we live through conflicts, we try to reach our goals and – to put it simply – we try to build a life for ourselves. And no one but us will ever know how wonderful – and difficult – this may be. As Sara Eckel astutely puts it, relationships are hard work, but being single is also hard work. I always say that both options have the same amout of perks and disadvantages.
I often wonder why is it that people who are themselves in a relationship often tell us, single women: „Don’t worry, you will find someone, too. They are not all bad.”. But we know it all too well! We do not see men as freaks; we like them, we desire them and we do want to build relationships. But not at any price. As you reach a certain age, namely you turn 30, you don’t automatically turn into „a creature of habit who will have a hard time meeting someone”. Instead, you become a self-aware person who knows what they want. We do not wait for a Prince Charming (I admit we had been waiting for him at age 19), but for someone who can be our partner (as for myself, I do wait for someone who represents the rare combination of brain, balls, and sense of humor). We don’t want to be with someone just because we are afraid of staying alone. We do not wish to be with men who will drag us down or men who expect us to show them what they should do in life. We do want to be supportive of them, but we do not wish to become their new mothers who are going to take care of them (at least that’s my case).
And no: we are not desperate, for if we were, we would have jumped onto the first possible opportunity (and believe me – there are plenty). „Being single teaches you that not everything depends on you” writes Eckel. I also think staying single teaches you truths about yourself. You need to live through all those experiences: sometimes with the precious assistance of your friends and family, but at the end of the day making your own decisions which will determine the shape of your own life. And that teaches you a lot.
The author mentions one more crucial thing. When one day it happened that she had a fight with her husband, suddenly she imagined her relationship coming to an end – and even though she got scared by this vision, she also knew she would know how to handle it. That’s because the one thing single women learn over the years of being by themselves is that no matter what, life goes on. And it’s still as incredible as ever. According to Eckel: „I didn’t have relationship experience, but I had a life experience of another kind”. Amen, Sister.
The whole article: