I came across an article recently challenging the assumption that everyone should either be in a relationship, or looking for one:
He tracks the roots of this assumption back to Plato and Aristophanes and to the myth that our original human form was “… a four-legged, four-armed, double-sexed entity …”. The myth is that Zeus had them sliced in half and that this is why we search for a ‘soul mate’ to ‘make us whole’ again.
In my experience anyone who deviates from the ideal of ‘coupledom’, who chooses to be single (permanently, or ‘just for now’) does tend to be viewed with suspicion by couples.
And, as the article describes, there most certainly is a definite disparity between how ‘spinsters’ and ‘bachelors’ are viewed generally: “… the former is holed up with her books and cats, the latter is the most interesting man in the world …”
The article goes on to say that many of us look for, or see, parts of ourselves in others. And I know, too, that we can be attracted to characteristics in others that we think we lack and which complement us – or ‘complete us’, as the saying goes. But this doesn’t apply just to romantic relationships – as Baer says: “… the same … could be true of the friends, family, and communities that you relate to …”
He comments that: “… One side effect of mistaking life for a romantic comedy is that it makes it easier to assume that anybody who acts in a non-normative way … must be weird or defective …” and quotes singles researcher Bella DePaulo who makes what I think are some very important points:
“It’s hurting single people because they’re led to believe that there’s something wrong with them, something wrong with their lives, even if they recognize at some level that they want to be single … And it also hurts married people, and people who want to be coupled, because if they’re in a bad relationship, they still think: ‘If I become single, maybe I’m going to be even more unhappy’…”
He cites author Carrie Jenkins who says that romantic relationships aren’t ‘the only way’ and that self-realisation can also be found in “… work, play, creative activity, and all kinds of other things that can make life meaningful to the person living it …”
He also mentions James Hollis, the Jungian scholar who, he says “.. would argue that to make a relationship work, your significant other needs to remain significantly other — they’re not there to replace your parents; healing and realization are DIY …”
I like Hollis’s work – he wrote The Middle Passage which was the subject of my very first blog and is a book I recommend to friends, family and clients. I’ve found it helpful to people who are questioning how they’ve lived their lives so far, challenging the ‘should’s and ‘ought’s that have guided them, and who might be thinking about defining their own measures of success and happiness for the future.
In essence, I think a lot of this comes back to asking ourselves some very basic questions about who we are, what we want, what we need and what is meaningful for us. Some of it is also about identity – who we are inside, how we present ourselves to the world and the importance (or not) of other people’s perception of us.
We also need to strike a balance between time alone and time with others – and what works, how much we need of each, varies from person to person. Just because most people choose to live as couples, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for everyone.
Some people live very happily on their own or sharing a living space with someone who isn’t an ‘other half’.
We can do things and go places with other people or do them by ourselves instead – we have a choice.
Solitude doesn’t have to be lonely, it can be precious and nourishing – a welcome antidote to the hustle and bustle we experience elsewhere.
Plenty of people who are in relationships don’t live with their partner and I’ve heard of married couples who choose to live apart and claim to enjoy the best of both worlds: someone to share things with and space where they can be properly alone.
People who haven’t chosen solitude – perhaps through divorce or bereavement – might find this hard to understand, especially at first. But some grow to like it and choose not to seek out another live-in partner – for a while, at least.
Baer’s article ends on a really positive note, which I love, advocating “… glorious, self-affirming rebellion …” and suggesting that “… You could move out to the woods and live deliberately, or just take yourself to the movies or art museum. You might also consider eating alone in Los Angeles. I’ve heard it works.”