As I wrapped up my "Fly Solo" series yesterday, I realized that I'd left out one more answer to singles who claim that traveling alone is boring, and this is an important one, I think.
If the prospect of traveling alone sounds dull, uninteresting, or "no fun," maybe you haven't yet learned to enjoy your own company.
We humans are social creatures, there's no denying that. But we all need some time on our own, away from the demands of the daily grind, to recharge, regroup, and listen to our own thoughts. If you're a creative person, this "me time" probably plays an essential role in your productivity, and there's no better place to indulge in it than in exotic surroundings that fire the imagination. Even if you're not the artistic type, these moments alone can be an uninterrupted time to reflect on who you are and where you're going. And there's nothing like the majesty of our natural world or the mystery of its ruins to put our contemporary lives in perspective.
Frankly, how we undertake travel, its hardships and hassles, its demands and revelations, can also teach us a thing or two about ourselves. As fun as vacations are meant to be, they also test our ability to meet organizational, navigational, communicational, and sometimes physical challenges. Thus, a trip can be a growth experience that highlights which skills we've mastered and which could use improvement.
If you can't stand to be alone, if the mere thought of a few days by yourself fills you with unspeakable dread, maybe you need to examine why that is. If you're uncomfortable with your own thoughts, maybe you don't like the direction they're headed in. Perhaps there are things about yourself you'd rather stay buried in the busy-ness of your day-to-day routine.
If that's the case, you could lose yourself in the bustle of Paris or flee to the bleak moonscape of Antarctica and still never outrun the thoughts that haunt you.
How do you use your time alone with yourself? Is it productive? Does it help you gain insight into yourself and/or your direction in life? Are you comfortable being alone?
Fun Link of the Day
Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles
Thursday, January 31, 2008
As I wrapped up my "Fly Solo" series yesterday, I realized that I'd left out one more answer to singles who claim that traveling alone is boring, and this is an important one, I think.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Single folks, we're down to our final excuse for not taking the plunge into your own version of the Blue Lagoon all by yourself! Drum roll, please...
"Traveling alone is boring."
Newsflash: Just because you're traveling single doesn't mean you have to travel alone. Yesterday, we touched on traveling with a tour group for added protection in foreign surroundings. But safety isn't the only benefit of traveling with other singles in tow.
Remember that old paradox "if a tree falls in a forest, and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound"? If you feel like you haven't seen a sunset till you've shared it with other eyes, maybe you'd enjoy the companionship of a tour group. These days, there are tour groups specifically for singles, so you know you won't be the odd one out amongst honeymooners and families of four. If you sign up for a singles tour group, you'll automatically have someone you can joke with about the native cuisine, complain to about the unseasonable heat, and rhapsodize with about the mountain views. And if you're lucky, you might start a real-world friendship or romantic relationship that outlasts your sojourn in paradise. Some singles tour groups will even give you a helping hand by playing matchmaker, pairing you up with someone of similar background and interests or facilitating activities designed to introduce you to your fellow travelers.
Here's a list of just a few tour groups for singles (a Google search for "singles travel" will turn up many more):
Singles Travel International
All Singles Travel
Singles Travel Company
Adventures For Singles
Singles Travel Service
But for some singles, the thought of wedging into a tour bus with 20 other vacationers and their backpacks and digicams is enough to induce an acute attack of social phobia. If you're one of them, traveling on your own may not be such a hardship.
But, Elsie, you're protesting, just because I don't relish playing inadvertent footsie with sweaty strangers squeezed into a duck tour boat doesn't mean I wouldn't relish the same, slightly less cramped experience with friends, family, or that elusive love interest. Traveling alone is boring!
My reply to that is: Do you know it's boring, or do you just assume it is? Have you ever tried it, or are you basing your opinion on the marketable myth of the poor, lonely single traveler, used to sell extra tickets since the first commercial flight?
If you haven't tried it, give solo travel a chance before you dismiss it. Let me ask you this: When you go shopping, do you feel bored? Is it just not fun because you don't have anyone with you while you're admiring your hip-hugging Calvin Kleins in the mirror or fiddling with the exposure settings on that Canon Digital Rebel?
Let's be honest. Almost anything you do in life can be more enjoyable with someone else along for the ride. But that doesn't mean it's a dull, unfulfilling, meaningless waste of time. If that were true, you might as well conclude that your whole life is boring and just not worth it because you're living it single.
Chances are your life is pretty interesting. It may not be everything you want yet, but you wouldn't write it off as a snoozefest. And if your day-to-day routine is kinda cool, how much cooler would it be to break up that routine? Frankly, if you can plant your feet in front of the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower or Machu Picchu and call it boring, dinner and a movie with a mere human being isn't going to interest you either.
Besides, if you're depending on a partner to go with you on your dream trip, you may never see Big Ben or the Sistine Chapel or Red Square. Calm down--I'm not suggesting that you'll never be in a relationship again. But maybe the love of your life won't have the time, money, or even the desire to travel to the places that capture your imagination. Maybe your future mate will already have gone there when he or she was single! And once kids come along, forget about that 14-hour flight to Japan or that 10'x12' bungalow in Bora Bora.
Remember those folk stories about jolly wanderers like Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, and Paul Bunyan? They were single. And they were jolly. With no responsibilities to tie them down, they roamed the earth at their leisure, and they did a bang-up job of it.
Go and do ye likewise. :)
If you've ever traveled alone, tell us about it. Did you have any problems on your own? If so, how did you overcome them? Have you ever traveled as part of a tour group? If so, would you recommend it to others? What tips would you give to other single travelers?
Fun Link of the Day
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Continuing with yesterday's theme, Singletude presents more excuses for holing up at home just because you're single and, more importantly, some irrefutable answers. (Just try to refute them! Just try! I dare you! :P)
"Travelling alone isn't safe."
Sometimes it's not. It's also not safe to walk down that dark, deserted shortcut to your apartment at night, nor is it safe to sleep with your window open in the summer to let in the cool air. It's not safe to give a stranger a dollar to make a call at your local gas station, and it's not safe to leave your keys in the car while you run up to your friend's doorstep to drop off a birthday gift.
With the exception of widely recognized high-crime neighborhoods, safety isn't about where you are. It's about the precautions you take. You can be every bit as unsafe in your own backyard as you are in a hotel in London, perhaps more so since criminals are apt to strike when they're familiar with your routine.
There are definitely opportunists who prey on travellers. But if you keep your head glued to your shoulders and remember that just because you're here to relax, you shouldn't relax your guard, it will be much harder for them to take advantage of you.
Here are some tips for safe solo travel:
1. Don't do anything you wouldn't do at home.
If you wouldn't leave a bar with a stranger back home or hike out to some hidden cave with that friendly guy you just met, don't do it on vacation. No matter how much your surroundings may resemble paradise, not everyone is an angel. If you do strike up a friendship with a stranger, don't give him or her your room number under any circumstances. If you want to meet for dinner or drinks, meet at the restaurant.
2. Don't carry a lot of cash and keep what you have close to you at all times.
If there's a safe at the hotel, make use of it. If not, it's still better to leave your cash in an unobtrusive place in your locked hotel room (maybe tucked in the bottom corner of your suitcase) than to bring all of it along for the ride. If there's a kleptomaniac among the hotel's housekeeping staff, at least there'll be a much better chance of tracing your cash than if it's lost or stolen on the street. If you have a credit card, write down the account number and the phone number of your financial institution and keep that info in a separate place. That way, if you lose the card itself, you'll still be able to call and report it stolen.
Take only what you need for the day and wear it close to you, preferably in your front pocket or in a small bag worn diagonally across your body or otherwise clipped or secured to you. Fanny packs won't win on Project Runway, but they'll keep your cash safe. Think twice about storing currency in a backpack. If you can't see it, you can't see that pickpocket reaching into the flap. Be careful too of large, open or floppy bags, which are also enticing to wandering fingers. And one more thing: If you can, divide the money you carry so that most of it is, say, in your bag, while the smaller portion is snug in your pocket. That way, if you do get ripped off one way or the other, you'll still have enough to get you back to the hotel.
3. Be aware of your surroundings.
This includes both people and places. Familiarize yourself with a map before you head out so you won't have to stand in the middle of the street like a deer in headlights, sporting that dazed tourist look for any predator who might set you in his sights. Stay close to other tourists, but beware of people who brush against you or start a commotion nearby. These are both time-honored tricks of pickpockets. Always keep in mind where you are in relation to your home base. If you must ask for directions, ask certified personnel in visitor centers, hotels, police stations, or even shops or restaurants rather than stop a stranger.
4. Keep emergency info close at hand. Always carry ID, phone numbers of relatives back home, the number of your hotel, the number of the American embassy or consulate if traveling abroad, and any essential medical history including allergies and current medications (if you have a bracelet for a specific condition, make sure you wear it). If you don't speak the predominant language, carry a pocket guide of traveler's phrases. Also, hang onto the customer service number for your credit account. A few years ago, I was surprised to learn that my MasterCard provides all kinds of complimentary services for customers in crisis overseas. Yours may, too.
5. Stay in touch with family and friends at home. Call or email them nightly and let them know where you are and where you're going in the day ahead. Leave a copy of your itinerary, including hotel numbers, with at least one trusted person at home. Ask them to call your hotel--and the American consulate or embassy if necessary--and start tracking you down if you're incommunicado for 24 hours.
6. When in doubt, take the road more traveled.
It should go without saying that you shouldn't isolate yourself when traveling alone. Stick to your travel route, and don't let unaffiliated native guides or drivers entice you with discounted fees.
7. Lock up.
This should go without saying, too, but lock your doors, lock your windows, lock your bags. This goes for cars, hotels, or anywhere else you're parking yourself for a short-term stay. DO NOT assume that just because it's remote and beautiful, it must be crime-free.
8. Travel in groups.
There's always safety in numbers. Many resorts and attractions offer guided tour groups. In fact, some singles book a whole vacation with a tour group, from takeoff to touchdown. Such tour groups, which are increasingly catering to singles, are a risk-free opportunity to fulfill your travel dreams. By connecting you with a knowledgeable tour guide and other singles, tour groups are your safety cushion in case of an emergency, a travel planner for the disorganized, and a meet and greet for the lonesome. Which brings us to our final excuse....
....But that's for next time. ;)
If you're a single who travels alone, what tips do you have for safe vacationing?
Fun Link of the Day
Sunday, January 27, 2008
As we plow through the snowbanks that accumulate in the dead of winter, tunneling onward toward spring, I hear single friends sigh over photos of the Caribbean, imagining the vacations they'd take if only they had someone to go with.
Whenever I see a single person wistfully close a travel magazine, my heart sinks for them. Not because they don't have the perfect partner to accompany them on the vacation of a lifetime but because they won't let themselves experience the vacation of a lifetime on their own.
So many singles long to trek through the jungles of Costa Rica or climb the peak of Kilimanjaro but procrastinate because they think they can't afford the trip on their own, worry about the safety of solo travel, or fear they'll be bored without a partner to share the adventure. In fact, many singles spend so much time complaining about why they can't go on their dream trip that they neglect to figure out how they can.
Repressed globetrotters, I'm going to make it easier for you to stop making excuses and go swim with the dolphins in Florida, take a whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, or go wherever it is you have your heart set on going. All by yourself. I'm going to counter every one of your rationalizations and stalling techniques so that you feel more comfortable completing your world tour with or without a partner. Ready? Here we go:
"I don't know how to plan a trip."
Planning a vacation can seem daunting if you've always left the dirty work to someone else. But gone are the days of plotting out your route in magic marker on a map you have no idea how to fold back into tenths. Between the big five travel sites--Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, and Yahoo Travel--and Mapquest, you won't have to go it alone.
Your first order of business is, of course, choosing a destination. There are still plenty of travel guides in Barnes & Noble, and yes, I recommend picking up a few. Personally, I'm a fan of the Frommer's series, but almost any guidebook will do, so pick the one that seems the most comprehensive and user-friendly to you. Don't be daunted by how thick these books are. Most cover large territories or whole states, so you can jump right to the city or region that interests you.
Nowadays, many people think the web is the place to be when researching tourist attractions, but I still recommend that you carry a guidebook unless you plan to tote your laptop everywhere you go. You can print out info, too, but then you might as well let Fodor's do the work for you and buy a book. That's not to say the Internet can't be a rich resource for travel ideas. It can, and you'll definitely want to type your destination into the Google search bar and see what pops up. But in my experience, web searches can return so many pages that it's easy to get overwhelmed. Plus, it can be hard to distinguish unbiased opinions from company-sponsored reviews trying to sell you on their personal sherpas or endangered turtle watch cruises. So browse the web but do so with your eyes pinned open and a whole tablespoon of salt at the ready.
Once you know where you're headed, it's time to figure out how to get there and where to stay. Whether you're charting an expedition to Outer Mongolia or just a weekend getaway, the aforementioned big five travel sites feature discounted flights, hotels, and car rentals. You can book them separately or as a one-step package deal, which offers less flexibility but deeper discounts and freedom from all travel planning responsibility. Just punch in your credit card number, show up at the airport, and you're good to go.
Just a word of caution when booking online: Although the prices are cheap, hotels are infamous for dumping their least desirable rooms on the online market. This isn't the case across the board, but if you want to make sure you get a room tailored to your specifications (eg., a nonsmoking room, a room far from the elevator, a room above the third floor, etc.), call the hotel directly or book through their own web site. Furthermore, when scheduling a flight, although the big five travel sites appear to let you choose seats, the airlines don't always recognize your request. Again, if you want specific seating, call the airline or order tickets through their own web site.
With your reservations booked, it's time to consult Mapquest or Yahoo Maps. If you're travelling by car, these sites are indispensable. Simply enter your starting point and destination, and either site will give you step-by-step directions for the shortest route. I've used both sites for numerous car trips and have never been disappointed. Even if you're flying or arriving by some other mode of transport, if you plan to rent a car or even navigate by foot, you'll want to print out maps to the sights you want to see. They're lifesavers when you're in a strange city riddled with one-way streets and turning lanes that pop up out of nowhere, believe me.
Finally, don't forget to write your itinerary.
But, Elsie, you're thinking, this sounds dangerously like writing an outline for English class, and that sounds like--yuck!--work. This is supposed to be a vacation! The point is to go out of your way not to work.
The problem is that if you don't organize your vacation into something resembling a schedule, you're going to beat yourself up for missing Artsy Fartsy's Most Amazing Laser Light Show Evah because you spent too much time being disappointed in the selection at Crafty Granny's World Renowned Quilting Faire. Your itinerary doesn't have to be eloquent or grammatically correct, trust me. ;) It just has to be relatively accurate.
To create an itinerary, remember that less is more. Pick a few attractions you're dying to see and relegate the others to your "maybe" list in case you have unexpected time to fill. While a few sights may not live up to their hype, it's likely that there will be more to see and do than anticipated, and if your schedule is too tight, you'll have to content yourself with skimming through exhibits or activities that are best appreciated in-depth. Reserve an hour's flex time on either end of any event to compensate for this as well as for transportation mishaps, long wait lines, or other delays. Remember to factor in travel, which should be easy with your Yahoo or Mapquest printouts since both give accurate estimates of time on the road, unless you encounter traffic. Try to plan your time-consuming must-sees for the morning and your more relaxing or skippable events for the late afternoon when you're tired and may just want to head back to the hotel.
Guess what? You've done it! You've planned a trip! See, that wasn't so hard, was it?
All right, all right. If you still can't fathom undertaking all this mapping and plotting, call a travel agent. As handy as do-it-yourself online travel sites are, they're still kind of like Lieutenant Data without the people skills. If you want to interact with a real person who will take full responsibility if she booked you a plane to Portland, Oregon instead of Portland, Maine, an agent is your best, uh, resort (no pun intended). They're more costly, but they'll save you time, worry, and inexplicably cancelled reservations.
"I can't afford to go on vacation by myself."
Let me take a page from Barack Obama and say, "Yes, you can!"
Sure, it's helpful to split the expenses with someone, but that doesn't mean vacationing alone is beyond your means. So many singles have only travelled as half a couple that they mistakenly assume vacationing is all about five-star restaurants overlooking the yacht club and hotels with bellhops and valet parking.
The truth is you can travel cheaply if all you need at the end of the day are clean sheets and a shower. And be honest. When you stayed in all those Zagat-approved hotels with your exes, did you hang out in your room all day admiring the spectacular ocean view? No, you were out visiting the sites you came to see in the first place. So do yourself a favor and ditch the penthouse suite for a reasonably priced room where you can stash your stuff while you're off doing tourist-y things.
For good deals, check out the big five online travel sites mentioned above, but also try entering into a search engine the city you want to stay in or the attraction you want to see. Many times, a general search for "Yellowstone National Park" or "Orlando, FL" will return tourist-oriented web sites dedicated to promoting local accommodations. Price conscious singles should visit these smaller sites since they're likely to list more modest, affordable motels that might not make it onto the splashier sites. If the city has an official site, trust this one first.
If you're concerned about cleanliness, safety, or other issues, Travel Post, Trip Advisor, and the big five have reviews of almost every wayside lodging that ever hung a vacancy sign on the front porch. In my experience, the reviewers are pretty accurate, so take their advice into account, especially the most recent comments.
Also don't be afraid to consider hostels if "inexpensive" tops your priority list. Once upon a time, hostels were, well, a hostile environment for the out-of-towner. In cramped, musky dormitories, one could expect to bed down with unknown insects, bathe in view of 20 or 30 travellers of dubious hygiene, and possibly have the pleasure of waking to find one's wallet snatched by a sticky-fingered bunkmate. Nowadays, more hostels are offering private quarters, open cafeterias, and even wireless Internet on premises. To find a hostel and get the lowdown on it, try Hostels.com.
Of course, accommodations are only half the equation. Transportation is another significant expense. If you can, travel by ground. Most people prefer to drive, but if you don't have a car or don't feel comfortable exposing it to strange parking lots and unmanicured streets, public transportation is a wonderful, overlooked option. Bus lines like Greyhound boast service to 3,100 destinations around the country and cost half as much as air fare. Trains like Amtrak are comparable in speed and pricing and hold the trump card for dramatic scenery.
If you must take a plane, though, comparison shop for tickets at least a month in advance of your flight. The cheapest flights are, of course, the least convenient ones--"red eyes" that leave very early or very late, flights with at least one connection, and midweek departures. But if you're willing to compromise, you can save quite a bit of cash for dozens of strawberry daiquiris on that tropical beach in your future. I have found that the least expensive domestic airlines are Delta and Continental, but occasionally some of the others will have good promotional deals. Whichever you choose, if you chug a coffee and stay up till 12:00 AM on a Wednesday, you'll have a one-hour window to order at bottom-of-the-barrel rates when company computers release the previous week's reserved but unclaimed discount tickets. Also, don't forget to sign up for your favorite airline's frequent flyer miles program and patronize their affiliates so you earn miles between flights! :)
Now, one final word: Before you book anything, read the fine print pamphlets that come with your monthly credit card statements. (You wouldn't dream of throwing those away and adding to America's already engorged landfills, would you? ;)) Unbeknownst to you, that little piece of plastic may entitle you to big savings on hotel rooms, car rentals, and airline tickets. So don't leave home without it cuz it's everywhere you want to go. ;)
Ok. Travel plan...check. Affordability...check.
You're running out of excuses...Only two left for next time!
Fun Link of the Day
Friday, January 25, 2008
You've done your homework. You've interviewed your candidate, called references, checked credit, made copies of the signed lease. Now it's time to give your new roommate the key and get down to the business of living together.
Depending on how you conduct that delicate business, you can lay the foundation for a fantastic roommate relationship or the ninth circle of hell, in which a decided chill settles over your home. Here are some tips for how to live with your roommate and keep your relations warm and cozy:
1. Find a balance between time together and time apart.
If you want to foster good relations with your roommate, it's a great idea to cook dinner together or rent a movie on a regular basis, say once every week or two. But you'll also want to construct a flexible but constant partition between your lives. The unremitting presence of another person can be overkill even in the closest friendship, so make sure you get out of the house, whether it's to hang out with your own friends or just to go shopping.
2. Keep your personal belongings personal.
If you both have your DVDs in the living room, keep them on two separate racks. Assign each person his or her own shelf in the pantry and the linen closet. Keep your cosmetic or hair care products in your own drawer in the bathroom.
Singles who hold fast to the old maxim "share and share alike" may balk at this "petty" behavior, but the fact is that when the gift fairy was handing out personality traits, some people were blessed with heaps more generosity than others. Attitudes toward personal possessions can vary as widely as height and weight, and although one's comfort level with sharing can't be termed "right" or "wrong," it can cause conflict when it clashes with someone else's values. A roommate who thinks "what's mine is yours" will be hurt if her closet is always open to you but yours isn't to her. Conversely, if you treat your fridge like one big buffet and assume your roomie will replace what he consumes, you may be disappointed.
So don't be afraid to separate personal belongings. When you introduce your roommate to his own closet shelf, he'll get the idea. If you want to share some of your things, identify which ones upfront, as well as the conditions of their use. You can do this tactfully. For example, you might say,"By the way, if you'd like to watch one of my DVDs when I'm not home, go ahead. Just make sure you put it back when you're done." Or, "You're welcome to borrow my clothes as long as you ask me first of course." Be specific so that borrowing your belongings is the exception, not the rule.
And naturally, you should be respectful of your roommate's wishes, too. Don't take it personally if he or she doesn't want to share. Not everybody does, and that's okay as long as he or she doesn't expect to mooch off you instead.
3. Divide the chores.
Decide right away what level of cleanliness you expect from your roommate and divide the household chores accordingly. If you picked your roommate wisely, you'll be in agreement about how often the cleaning should be done. Assigning tasks can be done tactfully as well. For instance, when you explain how to use the vacuum cleaner, you might say, "I vacuum the common areas once a week. I figured we could take turns." If your roommate is well intentioned but forgetful, make a chart so you'll both know whose turn it is to do what.
4. If you have a problem, address it right away.
In my experience, there's nothing more divisive than letting a problem fester. If your roommate's post-midnight ukulele practice sessions are driving you nuts, tell him ASAP. The longer you wait, the more resentful you'll feel and the more likely your temper will erupt when you finally do confront him. Furthermore, if you don't speak up, you can set an unwitting precedent of acceptance. If her sculptor boyfriend has already been living on your sofa for six months, your roommate isn't going to understand why you want him out now. She'll be much more responsive if you inform her immediately that Le Artiste needs a studio of his own.
Again, remain as calm and polite as possible when discussing differences. There's a proverb that says "you'll accomplish more with sugar than salt," so speak with a honied tongue and avoid the salty language. :)
5. Don't make mountains out of molehills.
No matter what you do to smooth the transition, learning to live with someone is a journey paved with its own ruts and potholes. Your roommate isn't perfect, and neither are you. Expect that there will occasionally be tension, and not every problem will have an easy solution. At the end of the day, sometimes you have to compromise. When your roommate is making kissy sounds into the phone for the twentieth time in as many minutes, when you've stumbled over his shoes by the coffee table again, when she's digging into that odiferous Gorgonzola cheese with gusto, sometimes you just have to put on a happy face, shrug your shoulders, and remember that your favorite pickled herring isn't her lunch of choice, either.
Moving in with a roommate can be a test of patience, open-mindedness, and communicational skills. But with a few ground rules, you can pass the test with flying colors. People don't live in isolation, and if nothing else, rooming with someone is an educational experience that will improve your relations with coworkers, friends, family members, and maybe a future spouse. And, with a little luck, your roommate will become not just a boarder but a companion and friend.
Do you have a roommate or have you had one in the past? How has it worked out for you? What are some of your own tips for living peacefully with a roomie?
Fun Link of the Day
Thursday, January 24, 2008
As a smart single of modest means, you've decided to "just say yes" to apartment shares! Now you just have to find a roommate who will help with the dishes, pick up her own underwear, set a new record for thirty-second showers, turn the TV off the minute you yawn, and do all this while paying the rent on the first of the month, every month. Can't be too hard, right?...Right?
And silence reigned over Singletude.
Okay, so it's not easy to find a roommate you can stand to see grinning in your kitchen every morning when the last thing you want to do is chit-chat about what the Dow is doing today. But with some foresight, caution, and common sense, you can choose a roomie who may not be your best friend but won't make you want to cower under the covers until he leaves for work, either.
Speaking of best friends, if you’re like a lot of singles, your first instinct is to move in with your Thelma or Louise. Proceed with caution from hereon. Sharing quarters has been known to divide many a friendship.
That’s not to say that rooming with a friend can’t work out. Friends tend to be both more predictable and more tolerant of each other than strangers since there’s a shared history and an interest in preserving the relationship. In my experience, living together can also present an opportunity to build a closer bond or, if you’re up for it, party like you’re still in college.
The downside is that if your best friend turns out to have domestic habits you were previously unaware of–say, a fondness for borrowing your clothes without permission or an overly generous spirit with copies of your house key–she or he could become an ex-best friend faster than you can change your lock. For as many success stories as I’ve heard about rooming with friends, there are twice as many horror stories. The bottom line: as hard as it is to find a good roommate, it’s harder to find a good friend, so before you sign the lease, make sure the two of you are compatible as roommates, not just bosom buddies.
On the other extreme, you could put an ad on Craigslist and hope Jennifer Jason Leigh doesn’t answer. Living with a stranger is generally a more demanding adjustment than moving in with a friend, but it has its own, often overlooked advantages. Unlike friends, since strangers don’t have any personal expectations, they’re not likely to spend much time together. Thus, both roommates can more easily maintain their boundaries and are less likely to burn out on too much time together or step on each other’s toes. Additionally, if there’s a conflict, strangers, who are less worried about hurting each other’s feelings, may feel more comfortable addressing it directly. And, in the end, if the situation deteriorates, they can part ways without the devastating loss of a loyal sidekick, a kindred spirit, or a childhood playmate.
On the other hand, letting a stranger waltz through your front door–and into your bathtub, your refrigerator, and your TiVo settings–is risky. There’s no way to know if they’re trustworthy or if they’ve hidden skeletons into your now shared closet. It’s impossible to predict if your lifestyles and habits will mesh. You have no clue how they’ll react under stress. You’re not even sure if they’re fiscally responsible, although you start praying for a check every month whether or not you’re a believer.
Perhaps the best compromise is to choose someone you know but aren’t close with, maybe a friend of a friend or a former coworker you see on occasion. Someone you know won’t run an international drug ring out of his bedroom but who has his own social life and outside interests. Someone you could have a drink with now and then before you eventually go your separate ways with no hard feelings.
Whether you pick a friend, an acquaintance, or a total stranger, you'll want to have a chat before you pack your suitcase. Here are some points you'll want to cover:
1. Sleep Schedules
Birds of a feather flock together, and that applies to early birds, too. If you wake at six o'clock on the dot, you may not want a roommate whose circadian rhythm peaks at two am. Just a thought.
2. Work Schedules
Most roommates would like a break from each other at least part-time. If you're a work-at-home freelancer, you may want to give priority to that investment banker who lives at the office and is really using your place as a crash pad.
You'll also want to find out what time your potential roommate leaves for work in the morning. If your own departure time requires that you two battle over the bathroom, you're going to get very tired of trying to brush your teeth over the kitchen sink.
Ask your possible roommate about cleanliness. It can be hard to get a straight answer about this because people who don't clean up after themselves don't always want to admit it. If you're a neatnik and clutter would bother you, make it clear that you can't live with someone who doesn't pick up after himself. Conversely, if you're the sloppy one, be honest about that, too. You won't want to live with someone who's always nagging you to take the dishes out of the sink before the roaches get to them.
4. Social Life
Does your roommate like to party? If so, will she bring the party home? If your friends teasingly call you "The Librarian," are you going to be happy about that? Or maybe the situation is reversed. Maybe 15 of your closest friends get comfy on your sofa every day, while your roomie candidate prefers to lock his bedroom door and work on his doctoral dissertation. Lifestyle differences like these can cause needless frustration for roommates who don't ask about them upfront.
5. Leisure Activities
You want to know what your aspiring roomie does in his or her spare time. If that guy with the ring through his eyelid and the bar in his chin listens to the kind of music you think he does, how often does he play it and how loudly? Music, TV, computer games, or anything else at top volume for any length of time can be distracting at best and slow torture at worst, particularly if you don't like what's blasting over the speakers.
If you're sharing a TV or other equipment, you'll also want to make sure your new roommate isn't addicted to a show that airs at the same time as your beloved Lost, American Idol, or Grey's Anatomy.
If you have pets, you need to make sure your roommate will be comfortable with them and respectful of them. If possible, introduce your candidate to Fido and Fluffy during the interview and watch how he or she interacts with them. If your roommate will also be bringing furry friends, you should meet them as well and arrange a "play date" for any current animal residents to make sure everyone gets along. You don't want to find out Fluffy and Tiger don't like each other after Fluffy takes a chunk out of Tiger's ear.
7. Financial Security
This is an important one. Be absolutely clear about how much rent money you expect each month, when you expect to get it, and in what form it should be delivered. If you want a certain amount down and/or security, you must specify this, too. If there's a lease to sign, you should review the terms. You should also be explicit about what's included in the rent. If your roommate will need to contribute to utilities, cable and Internet, a housekeeper, or anything else, he or she should be informed of it at the interview.
Ask about employment. You'll want to avoid anyone who doesn't have a stable source of income. You're within your rights to run a credit check and request a reference from an employer or former landlord before you let someone take up residence in your home. (If you're shopping for a new place together, the broker will take care of this for you.)
8. Personal References
On a related note, if someone is serious about moving in with you, he or she should be willing to furnish personal references from former roommates who can vouch that your applicant is sane and doesn't have a criminal record. Things like that.
9. Ground Rules
Establishing your ground rules just might be the most important part of the interview. This is your chance to spell out exactly what is and isn't acceptable in your household. Is your roommate allowed to have overnight guests? If so, how many nights a week? Will he or she have full access to the house or apartment, or are some rooms off-limits? Are you a vegetarian who doesn't permit meat in the kitchen? Are you allergic to certain scents that your roommate can't wear? How will you divide up household chores? What items does your roommate need to bring and which of them can be shared? It's best to discuss your policy on all these things now so that you won't be surprised later!
Also be forthcoming about yourself and any habits or living arrangements you have that could irritate or disturb a roommate. Although you may have the urge to downplay them, if you haven't portrayed your quirks realistically, a disgruntled roommate could back out prematurely and leave you in the lurch.
And now, to assist you with the interviewing process, a translation of commonly heard potential roommate euphemisms:
"I'm not out that late, and when I am, I'm really quiet." = Buy your earplugs now while they're on sale.
"I'm a fairly light sleeper." = Don't you dare get up to pee!
"I have a flexible schedule."= I'll be in your way a lot.
"Sharing the bathroom has never been a problem." = For me. Because I don't share.
"I'm clean, but I'm not a neat freak or anything./I clean up after myself, but I'm not OCD." = I like making postmodernist sculptures out of the pots and pans in the kitchen sink./Some of my best friends are rats, lice, and cockroaches.
"I mostly keep to myself." = Until my alter comes out to play.
"I don't like unsociable people./I'm not crazy, but I like to have fun." = I could put my subwoofer in this corner, and the strobe lights would go over there...Oooh, how many people can fit in the whirlpool tub?
"I don't listen to loud music." = Death metal is a very maligned genre.
"I don't have pets." = Just my komodo dragon. I don't consider him a pet. He's his own person.
"I'm an entrepreneur." = I'm unemployed.
"Would it be all right if my boyfriend stays over once in awhile?" = Would it be all right if my boyfriend moves in?
If you keep the above checklist in mind when interviewing candidates, you'll be well on your way to identifying the best match for you. But even the most compatible roommates can rub each other the wrong way when they have to live together 24/7. Tomorrow's blog will suggest ways to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Do you live or have you ever lived with roommates? If so, how did you choose your roommates? What criteria did you use?
Fun Link of the Day
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Unfortunately, Singletude has been hard hit with technical difficulties since its inception. Although the Internet connectivity problems have resolved (at least temporarily), a massive hardware failure is now threatening.
Elsie is spending the evening researching more reliable hardware and hopes to return to her regularly scheduled blogging as soon as possible.
Thank you for your patience. Please subscribe to the Singletude feed if you would like to be notified of future posts since this may be an ongoing issue.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Sometimes you can't live with them, but you can't live without them. They're a staple of home life for many singles--roommates.
Perhaps you thought you'd seen the last of them when you boxed your bean bag chair and mini fridge for the ride home from college. At last, you thought with a sigh of relief. Never again will the tender pads of my sockless feet encounter the remains of Bernice's egg salad sandwich on the kitchenette floor! No more will I wake to the grinding of Edmund's incisors in the middle of the night!
But you didn't count on the rising cost of housing and the modest starting wages that haven't kept pace with inflation. And, somehow, you find yourself with a broker in a duplex with a private garden, a whirlpool tub, and a rent that's through the roof, and suddenly you're considering getting a roommate to share your digs.
It's been a long time, though, since you had to cross your legs in the hallway while your oblivious roommie in the shower belted the soundtrack of Rent from start to finish, and maybe you're not sure you can go through that again without resorting to Valium, a gun, or both. But that private garden...that whirlpool tub....
In the interest of making your decision less complicated, here's a rundown of the pros and cons:
Your bank account will benefit. This is the most obvious pro of sharing your pad. When you split rent, utilities, and maybe cable and Internet, you'll save a bundle.
Your roommate may not agree with your definition of "financial responsibility." If that's the case, his or her late payments may suck your wallet dry.
You'll have a built-in buddy, someone to order a pizza with, borrow staples or tape from, check your back for cat fur before you go out, and notice if you don't stumble in drunk at the usual hour.
Not all roomies get along, and even those that do can drive each other to the point of physical violence in the forced intimacy of close quarters. Everyone has his or her own living habits, and some of them won't mesh with yours. Especially if you're used to living alone and running your own show, accommodating someone else's quirks can be a disconcerting stretch outside your comfort zone.
A roommie is an extra pair of hands around the house for scrubbing the tub, sweeping the floor, dusting the bookshelves, and all those other chores that can make a tired single person want to kick everything under the bed and resign it to the dust mites.
A certain percentage of the population can be described as "slobs." Slobs may lurk in your office, in your neighbor's house, even in your own family. Often, they only let loose the full extent of their slovenliness behind closed doors, so you may not know you've encountered one until you're living with her. By the time you find her hairballs in your drain or smell his dirty socks wafting from the bedroom, it'll be too late.
If the above list of pros and cons doesn't clarify your choice, cross-check by asking yourself these questions:
1. Am I out of the house a lot so that my roommate and I won't be stuck in cramped quarters too often?
2. Am I a sociable person who likes to be around others and doesn't have an excessive need for private time or space?
3. Am I an easygoing person who can take the unexpected in stride?
4. Am I flexible enough to adjust my daily routine to accommodate someone else?
5. Can I handle ambient noise like music or TV from another room or the sound of someone shuffling around in the bathroom after I've gone to bed?
6. Can I tolerate someone else's stuff lying around in communal spaces like the living room, kitchen, and bathroom?
7. Can I deal with the possibility that a roommate may invite people I don't know well into our home?
8. Do I have good conflict resolution skills so I can address differences with my roommate without alienating him or her?
9. If my roommate falls behind on the rent or moves out suddenly, will it break the bank if I have to cover it myself for a month or two?
10. If necessary, do I have legal recourse to evict a roommate if the situation becomes untenable?
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, chances are you're the kind of person who would thrive with a roommate, and you're ready to take the plunge!
So, if you're still feeling brave enough to open your door, it's time to begin the hunt for the perfect candidate. Tomorrow, we'll discuss how to find the most suitable resident for your home, and the next day, we'll talk about how to adjust to living with him or her. In the meantime, if you can think of other pros and cons to sharing your home turf, please add them to the list.
Fun Link of the Day
Monday, January 21, 2008
Yesterday's post highlighted the daily workload that singles must balance on one set of shoulders while their married counterparts divide and conquer, so to speak. As a single person, unless you're David Copperfield, you can't conjure an extra pair of hands. But you can reduce your own workload or at least take shortcuts to be more efficient.
It's been said that humans aren't such great multitaskers. That's what machines are for.
Throw a load of laundry in the washer while you put a pot on the stove to boil for dinner. As your clothes churn and your food cooks, vacuum your room. After dinner, pop your china in the dishwasher, and while the Cascade works its sudsy magic, take this opportunity to do the dusting. Be sure to leave the TV on while you dust so you can listen to the evening news (or, you know, whatever doesn't suck).
These are just a few examples of how you can multitask with the aid of mechanized slave labor. In some ways, this is a better method than relegating tasks to a spouse because the washer won't ask you to commemorate the anniversary of its installation with a shiny new agitator, nor will the oven get steamed and fume for days when you talk about the cookies it baked in that tone of voice. In fact, if your oven is steaming and fuming, the only thing you need to do is turn it off. :)
If you're not used to multitasking, it may take a little practice to figure out which chores you can double up on. But once you get the hang of it, you'll find that most housework can be condensed into one day a week with a little advance planning.
Make One Trip, Not Two
Whenever you leave the house to run errands, that's time and fuel wasted. Try making as many stops as you can in one trip. If possible, do this on the way to or from work since you're already on the road. Once you're ensconced at home in your bathrobe and Cookie Monster slippers, you'll be loathe to traipse out to Staples for that toner that went belly up yesterday.
Patronize stores that are in the same vicinity. If you've pledged allegiance to the Home Depot or Rite Aid on the other side of town, now's the time to try that Lowe's or CVS on your way to the bank. Some consumers cling to a mistaken sense of brand loyalty or want to take advantage of less expensive prices at the retailer across town. But remember that the extra gas and travel time will offset what you save at the cheaper store. And if you never investigate anything new, you might miss out on a bigger selection and better deals than you'd ever get at Same Old Things "R" Us.
Shop From Home
No matter how you streamline your shopping trips, you can still spend a whole afternoon driving, parking, stocking your cart, and standing in the checkout line. Did you know that you could eliminate all this hassle by shopping online?
Most people are familiar with Amazon and other major online retailers, but many aren't aware that household names like Macy's, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Stop & Shop, and a plethora of others also allow you to order online. The delay between purchase and delivery and the cost of shipping may be drawbacks, but they add up to a small price to pay to shop in your pajamas...while multitasking with your dishes and laundry, of course. ;) Especially for products that don't need to be "tested" in person, online shopping is a lifesaver for singles who want to have a life--and not one that's consumed in puttering from one strip mall to the next. Another best kept secret of the web is that retailers will frequently offer discounts exclusively for online purchases. So open your browser and keep your credit card on the ready!
That Extra Pair of Hands
Okay, I was exaggerating when I said that short of renting a robot, you couldn't snap your fingers and have an extra pair of hands. You can rent the hands. But instead of a bot, they'll be attached to a bopper. A teenybopper, that is.
You've probably observed them babysitting for your married friends or walking their dogs. If you have pocket change to spare, hire one of them to be your occasional gofer, especially when you have a busy weekend coming up.
Just make sure your girl friday has references before you send her to Lord & Taylor with your cash in her pocket...And for goodness' sake, don't send him to the supermarket with "Coors Light" anywhere on your shopping list!
Now if you can't afford to put change in anyone's pocket but your own, there's still hope, and it can appear in the shape of a roommate or friend.
What you really want, remember, is what couples have--a shared division of labor. Granted, they have it a little easier than you do because they're probably not as obsessed with the equity of the arrangement as two platonic pals would be. Since couples are in love, a calculated peck on the cheek or bat of an eyelash can have an effect that similar maneuvers on your part will not have on your best bud. Nevertheless, you can still work out a comfortable deal with your BFF, and--just think--the terms will be out on the table from the start, unlike with a lover's peck on the cheek or bat of an eyelash, which promise rewards that one may not wish to dole out later!
The idea is to trade off on responsibilities with a roommate, single neighbor, or close friend nearby. You might agree that if he picks up the groceries for both of you this week, you'll do it next week. Or maybe you'll take her package to UPS with yours while she walks both your dogs. Again, this should be someone you trust since they'll be handling your personal belongings and probably your money. But if you have an amicable relationship like this, it can cut your time on the go in half. As a side benefit, it will probably strengthen your friendship, too. And in an emergency, it's good to know that someone's got your back.
What about you? Do you feel crunched for time due to all the responsibilities you need to shoulder as a single? If so, what shortcuts do you take to minimize the workload?
Fun Link of the Day
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Singles are twice as busy as their married counterparts if you think about it.
Tonight I'm beat. Totally, completely wiped out. So exhausted I fell asleep for three hours before bedtime. I feel like a creature that should be hibernating right now. And this is by no means unusual. It happens with some frequency.
It occurs to me that part of the reason I'm so tired all the time is because I'm single.
Wait, wait. Before you write this off as a "poor Elsie" rant, let me explain. It's not that I'm under the impression that couples do nothing but enjoy the glow of each other's presence all day. I know all people are busy, coupled or not. But couples get to "share the busy" by dividing the labor much as they do the rent.
Consider this list of tasks I had to accomplish alone this weekend, most of which I made time for, a few of which I didn't:
1. Go grocery shopping.
2. Go to the post office for stamps.
3. Go to the bank.
4. Go to Staples to get packaging for a return item.
5. Go to Home Depot to pick up a birthday gift for a party.
6. Go to the pharmacy to pick up a birthday card.
7. Go to the stylist to get my hair cut.
8. Go to the department store to replace a shirt which literally fell apart on me.
9. Attend a birthday party.
10. Go shopping with my friend for her bridal gown.
11. Sort through mail and pay bills.
12. Buy a new computer monitor.
13. Research the current value of my car, which I'm selling, prepare paperwork for the sale, and write a description to post.
14. Send reply emails to friends who wrote to me.
15. Write a business plan for a new web site so that I can discuss it more coherently with a potential contact.
16. Write my blog posts.
17. Work on my CafePress.com site.
18. Water the plants.
19. Do the laundry.
20. Make myself three meals a day.
Obviously, some of the above stops on my itinerary were fun. I enjoyed the birthday party. I'm glad I got to help my friend pick out her wedding dress. Shopping for a new top and getting my hair done were not unpleasant errands. But I spent so much of the weekend running around that I'm actually relieved it's over and the work week about to begin.
When I was growing up, weekends were an oasis of inactivity at the end of a busy week. My mom and I woke up late and shared biscuits with honey while I watched Saturday morning cartoons. My dad usually went out to breakfast with his friends and ran errands to the post office, the bank, and the pharmacy, etc. Before he left, he'd generally ask my mom what she needed him to pick up while he was out. In the afternoon, Mom went to the A&P to "do groceries" if she hadn't during the week, and Dad probably brought home lunch from the deli. Perhaps he'd "do the bills" after lunch while Mom continued on to the mall with me to try on some clothes, or maybe we'd go have some ice cream or--gasp--just come back home and not do much of anything. My parents might call some friends to say hi; chances were I'd be in the play room for most of the day. The evening would find us gathered around the TV or reading to each other, and Sunday, with the exception of church, would be more of the same bumming around the house punctuated by the occasional trip to the movies or a family restaurant.
Okay, so I should probably check my contacts and make sure I'm not wearing the rose-tinted ones. ;) But the idyllic description of my childhood notwithstanding, my parents' marriage had a clear division of labor which allowed for those relaxing weekends. By splitting the chores, they doubled their free time.
Singles don't have this option. If you're without a spouse or live-in lover, you must take care of everything that's screaming for your attention, all day, every day. No exceptions. It doesn't matter if it would be more convenient for a girlfriend to pick up lunch while you call the phone company about your long-distance plan. Too bad if it would save you time if you had a husband to take the car for gas while you're writing out the checks of the week. If you get sick, deal with it. If there's an emergency, that's yours to handle, too. All by yourself.
Now, since this is a singles-friendly blog, you must be wondering when I'm going to get to the positive part. Your wait is over. Here it is:
Short of renting a robot, you won't be able to replace the helping hands of a marital partner. But the good news is there are some shortcuts you can take to minimize some tasks and double up on others so that your life will be only half as busy. Which is exactly how it should be.
Tune in tomorrow for Singletude's tips and tricks for busy singles.
Fun Link of the Day
Friday, January 18, 2008
Research indicates that some people are hardwired to desire and experience contact with "the divine." (Whether "the divine" is Yahweh, Allah, Nirvana, or simply an altered state of consciousness is open to interpretation.)
Unfortunately, I was not able to pinpoint what percentage of the population is said to carry the so-called "God gene." But this leads me to wonder if the same people who believe in the existence of soulmates, or divinely orchestrated love, also have this genetic marker. Moreover, I'd be curious to learn if those who are consumed with finding their predestined mate already have an active spiritual life or if they are, in a sense, replacing their desire for union with a higher power with their desire for a lover.
It's interesting to me how love seems to take the place of religion in the lives of many. Although 90% of Americans say they believe in God, regular church attendance has declined to around 40%. Unless you're very spiritually oriented yourself, chances are that most people you know believe in something but don't spend much time thinking about it, much less trying to connect with it. But I'll bet you know tons of people who visit their local bar religiously to scout for dating prospects and fervently believe that the objective of life is to create a "perfect union" with a marital partner.
Could it be that people who would've placed their faith in a religious institution fifty years ago have transferred that faith to the rather nebulous concept of "true love"? That the responsibility for peace, fulfillment, or even salvation has been reassigned from a divinity to an all-too-human mate?
After all, we've all known singles who are desperate for the love of their life to miraculously swoop in and save them from themselves. We've all had friends who couldn't find a moment's peace in their own company, who had to be married by some set age or else feel "incomplete" forever. We've all read personal ads seeking someone to "make me a better person." One could say these fantastic imaginary partners, with their boundless power to transform lives, seem almost...superhuman.
Perhaps that's why singles have such high expectations for dating partners today. They don't want to be with a person. They want to be with God.
What do you think? Has the quest for union with a soulmate replaced the quest for union with divinity? Are people projecting godlike expectations onto their potential partners?
Fun Link of the Day
Thursday, January 17, 2008
1. Sure, you have to clean up after yourself, but you don't have to clean up after anyone else. Unless you're a single parent, in which case you have to clean up after the kids, but at least you don't have to clean up after their mother or father, too.
2. If you don't clean up after yourself, there's no one to nag you about it.
3. You don't have to okay your plans with anyone. Wanna waste ten bucks on a James McAvoy tearjerker so you can ogle Jamey boy shirtless? Go for it. Rather stay home with a beer and chips and watch the Patriots game? That's your call, too. And no one's going to make you feel like a loser for it.
4. Flirting with that gorgeous blonde at the bar isn't cheating.
5. You can climb the career ladder faster when there's no one asking you to slow down and spend more time at home. Don't want to run in the rat race? Fine. There's no one expecting you to keep your shared bank account filled to the brim.
6. If you want a change of scene, pick up and move across the state border. Not far enough? How 'bout cross-country? Or the other side of the Atlantic? As a single, you have that option. It's a lot harder to do with a family in tow. Conversely, you'll never have to pick up and leave a life you love for someone else's career opportunities.
7. No in-laws. Not even friends you have to make nicey-nicey with.
8. No drama. No emotions spiraling out of control every time he or she forgets your birthday or goes out to lunch with an ex or criticizes your taste in music. Your life is calm, and your moods are even.
9. More time for your friends and family. No arguments about where to spend Christmas this year, no guilt trips about girls' or guys' night out.
10. The possibilities. Once you have a family, everything you do, every decision you make, revolves around them. Your life is not your own. When you're single, the possibilities are endless. You can take up snorkeling off the coast of Vanua Levu, open your own singing telegram business, write a book about writing books. You're free to pursue any path your heart desires, and what's more, you don't yet know where that path will lead, so you can look forward to the adventure of finding out.
What reasons do you have to be happy you're single?
Fun Link of the Day
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
As you know, Singletude doesn't advise embarking on a relationship with someone due to loneliness, social pressure, insecurity, or any reason other than that you really like the person you're seeing. But in today's age of customizable cells, computers, and cable packages, sometimes it seems singles expect to find a custom-made mate.
A few hundred years ago, most Americans grew up in small communities in which they chose one out of maybe 10 or 15 neighborhood teens who was reasonably attractive, pleasant to be around, and came from a good family, courted for a few years, and got married. These days, buzz words like "soulmate" and "settle" indicate how many singles feel about that mentality.
Perhaps it's due to fairy-tale indoctrination, which convinces every child that he or she should have a castle, a white horse, and a prince or princess. Or maybe it's because of the high standards set by Hollywood hotties, their airbrushed lips and cheeks plumped with enough Botox to inflate a black hole. Then there are the New Age theories of love, which relentlessly remind us that we can never be complete unless we find the twin soul from whom we were separated at birth. Maybe it's the increased choice provided by our mobile, global society or at least the illusion of increased choice perpetuated by Internet dating sites. Whatever it is, many singles feel entitled to find someone who fits snuggly inside their definition of "perfect."
I wonder, though, how common it is for people to find and actually end up with someone they consider "perfect" for them. How many couples really believe that their partners were the best choice for them, and how many simply know that their partners were the best they could get?
It always disturbs me when someone settles down with a girl or guy they admit isn't right for them just because "it's time" or they "don't want to grow old alone" or for any number of other commonly heard reasons. But then sometimes the prevalence of this kind of sentiment makes me wonder if the problem lies with the "imperfect" partner or with the one who demands perfection.
Is it possible that part of the reason people are remaining single in record numbers is because we're so picky that we eliminate many candidates we might be very happy with in the long run?
According to the mere exposure effect, familiarity breeds affinity, not contempt. Thus, the more time we spend with someone, the more we tend to like them. This may help explain why couples in arranged marriages sometimes speak of coming to love and appreciate each other over time even if they felt little or no affection at the start. Given that this is the case, it's possible that many people discard partners they don't immediately "click" with on every level and, in doing so, miss out on potentially fulfilling relationships.
What do you think? Are singles too picky these days? If so, why? Share your personal experience!
Fun Link of the Day
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
So maybe you're not into the "I'm gonna get a dog or cat cuz everyone else is doing it" mentality. Or maybe you've just never looked into nontraditional pets.
Well, now's your chance. Singletude presents a list of "alternapets" for the discriminating single:
1. Lagomorphs (Rabbits) and Rodents (Guinea Pigs, Gerbils, & Hamsters)
If an animal is not a pet to you if you can't, well, pet it, but you don't have time to be as involved with it as a dog or cat, consider a rabbit, guinea pig, gerbil, or hamster. Rabbits and guinea pigs, in particular, are a delight to the fingertips, although only guinea pigs will let you hold them for any length of time.
All of the above animals are conveniently housed in indoor cages and are well suited to apartments and other small spaces, although rabbits can be kept in a hutch outside or even housetrained to run free and use a litter box. (If you choose this last option for a rabbit, though, keep in mind that litter-trained rabbits aren’t always as...precise...as cats and may sometimes leave droppings outside the box for your cleaning pleasure.)
Although rabbits and guinea pigs in particular may enjoy interacting with you, they are undemanding pets. They won’t wake you at six in the morning whining to be fed or walked, and in the case of gerbils and hamsters, they can entertain themselves (and you) for hours if you keep their cages stocked with toys. However, you will need to play with them yourself if you want them to be well socialized, and this means supervising them while they’re out of the cage. This can be a joy, though, especially with rabbits, who rival cats in intelligence and will engage you in games of tag and fetch.
Speaking of “cage,” you will also need to clean it regularly, and that can be a daunting task since rodents and lagomorphs are messy animals. Anyone who adopts one should be prepared for this responsibility.
Rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, and hamsters have special dietary needs, which can easily be met at your local pet store. But keep in mind, too, that their teeth are constantly growing and, therefore, they will need the rodent equivalent of the everlasting gobstopper to keep them happy. If you don’t continuously supply them with things to chew, they will turn their sizable teeth on whatever is available, and this may include expensive parts of their housing--or yours if you’re not careful.
These animals are also prone to a wide variety of diseases and have fragile health, so monitor them closely. However, they have short life spans naturally–under 10 years–so you won’t be making a lifetime commitment.
In the end, if you choose one of the above pets, you’ll get a luxuriantly touchable, entertaining friend who is content with and without you, freeing you to come and go as you please. And you may have to get out the pooper scooper more often than you’d like, but at least you don’t have to do it outside, rain or shine, in heat waves and in blizzards three times a day.
2. Reptiles (Turtles, Lizards, & Snakes)
Turtles, lizards, and snakes aren’t hands-on pets like their furrier counterparts, so they appeal to pet owners who like to observe more than interact.
Again, if you’re a busy single, you’ll seldom have to interrupt your schedule for reptiles. As long as they have adequate food and water in an appropriate environment, they’ll be content to bask in the rays of the heat lamp all day. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun handling them–in fact, if you want them to remain friendly and comfortable with humans, it’s a must–but they won’t pace for you by the door if you’re out late, and they definitely won’t wake up the neighbors with sounds of excitement when you return.
Many reptiles are stunning to look at due to their bold, brilliant coloration, and, in the case of snakes and some lizards, which eat live prey, their feeding behavior can be fascinating, if not for the faint of heart. And, let’s admit it, there’s a certain coolness factor to owning a reptile.
Don’t be fooled, though. Their needs for interaction may be low, but they are high-maintenance pets. The specialized equipment required for their care, including heat and light sources and, in some cases, filters, is expensive and needs daily fine-tuning to maintain the right temperature, humidity, and brightness for the animal’s health. Reptiles are extremely sensitive to disturbances in environmental conditions and can easily sicken if you don’t keep on top of this. Like rodents, they’re also very messy, and they’ll depend on you to clean those top-of-the-line enclosures.
If you have a reptile, make good friends with your veterinarian. Reptiles, particularly snakes and lizards, develop health conditions and behavioral problems at the drop of a hat, so you and the vet may soon be on a first-name basis.
Another issue that arises with reptiles is that they’re natural escape artists. You’ll have to be very careful when securing their aquariums as well as when letting them out to play. They’re attracted to tight, dark spaces from which you might have great difficulty extracting them. Some have been known to scuttle off and disappear, never to be found again...unless they're found under the sofa of a less than thrilled neighbor.
If your heart is set on a reptile, though, don’t get discouraged. Start with a small, preferably vegetarian species, however, one that will take up less room, be easier to care for, and have a relatively short life span in case you realize you’ve made a mistake.
3. Birds (Parrots and Related Species)
If you’re looking for someone else to fill the silence, a bird’s got you covered. Parrots will gladly oblige by talking, squawking, whistling, chirping, and screaming.
Yes, screaming. Parrots are capable of emitting more background noise than you ever wanted, so think very carefully before buying one. With patience and repetition, you can teach them to talk, and when you do, the results are adorable, but these highly social animals never want to end the conversation. If you’re out of sight for even a minute, that’s too long in the parrot’s eyes, and she will probably fuss, which can sound like a flock of crows has just invaded your home. Depending on the temperament of your bird, this can go on from the crack of dawn till bedtime, so assess realistically whether you can live with that. (And if you can, can your neighbors?)
If you work at home or can take your bird with you every day, a parrot might be a wonderful pet for you. If you can’t, your feathered friend is likely to become withdrawn, depressed, and even aggressive. Armed with that beak, an aggressive parrot is not someone you want to confront.
Those jokes about small-bladdered birds are also true. They’re cuddly and outgoing and will literally walk all over you if you let them, but they have a high metabolism and excrete waste every 15-30 minutes. That can really limit a play session. Before you get a bird, consider whether you’re willing to clean up the mess he makes, both in and out of his cage. Remember, if you're single, you're the only one to do it.
Like rodents, parrots are also chewers. Aside from a well-balanced diet that you will be expected to provide, birds need lots of toys to chew on. They also need toys for mental stimulation since they’re among the most intelligent animals kept in captivity.
Unfortunately, the cost of bird plus cage plus food plus toys can add up quickly. It’s not unusual for parrot owners to spend several thousand dollars just to establish their pets. That's a few thousand that many singles don't have.
Finally, if you want a parrot, remember to do your homework on the longevity of the species. Some smaller parrots live 10-15 years, but many have life spans that rival ours and could easily outlive you. Because parrots bond so intensely to their owners, rehoming a parrot is a traumatic experience, sometimes one from which it never recovers, so please don’t adopt a parrot unless you’re absolutely, completely sure that you can dedicate yourself to it for the rest of its life and, perhaps, the rest of yours. When making this judgment, please take into account how your life as a single might unforseeably change due to relocation, different job requirements, or the addition of other people to your family, any of which might make it difficult to take care of a bird.
If I sound negative towards would-be parrot owners, it’s only because parrots are among the most frequently returned pets, yet they’re the ones who can least afford it emotionally. Each year, thousands of abused and neglected parrots are rescued from owners who promised to care for them but lacked the resources to follow through, especially in the face of their notoriously willful behavior.
If you are that special single who wants a bird to be your "other half," a close, childlike companion you can baby and share your life with, then a parrot may be for you. When they’re well cared for, they’re breathtakingly beautiful, wickedly intelligent, insanely fun clowns. But if you want a good relationship with a parrot, you’ll have to earn it.
Here, at last, is the perfect “alternapet” for singles. They can accommodate any size dwelling (as long as you don’t get a dozen sand sharks, of course), they’re not noisemakers, they’re low-maintenance (daily feedings and a good filter should do the trick), and forget low social needs–they have no social needs. About the only work you need to do is choose a handful of compatible fish, buy a tank, and monitor the water quality from time to time.
On the flip side, for many people, especially those who live alone, an inseparable part of pet ownership is interaction, which is the very thing fish can’t provide.
They’re among the most stunning pets to look at, though, and if you need to calm down after a trying day, there’s no better way than to watch a tapestry of fins swaying hypnotically back and forth, back and forth, among the coral and algae in a miniature sea.
If you're single, have you found it helpful to have a pet? What kinds of "animal companions" have you had? Which ones would you recommend to other singles?
Fun Link of the Day
Monday, January 14, 2008
No matter how full your days as a single, if you live alone, there are still nights when the sound of your iPod isn't enough to fill the silence.
When singles get lonely, some of them rush out and return with the first member of the opposite sex who doesn't smell like something stuck to a bathroom stall.
Singletude doesn't endorse this option. Instead, Singletude recommends making a lifelong commitment to someone you will feed, pay medical bills for, and give up your bed to, who will never ask you why you two don't talk anymore.
(No, that is not what spouses are for! Jeez!)
I mean an animal that can be classified in the canine or feline families! Or, if you're more adventurous, a psittacid, leporid, or cyprinid. Animal companions can provide you with affection, entertainment, protection, and even health benefits. That's right--owning a pet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol level, decrease your risk of depression, and increase your overall health.
Today and tomorrow, Singletude presents reviews of common household pets with the needs of singles in mind.
No list of pets would be complete without "man's best friend." One of the first domesticated species, dogs have been our allies for centuries. As pack animals, they're especially suited to the hierarchical, cooperative nature of human society. While their temperaments vary greatly by breed, most dogs are affectionate, protective, loyal, and playful. The soft, plushy coats don't hurt, either, especially when you need a hug after a disappointing day.
Singles who struggle with loneliness will appreciate a devoted dog who trots eagerly alongside from room to room and snuggles close at night. Those who feel vulnerable living alone will also find peace of mind with a furry bodyguard at their feet. And, as an added benefit for the busy single, a puppy who wants to play fetch or tug-of-war will give you an undeniable excuse to exercise.
Dogs are relatively low-maintenance. They require two or three meals a day and about as many walks, so working singles won't find it difficult to fit Lassie or Fido into their work schedules. Alternatively, when you're out, you can keep your dog on a run, in a fenced-in yard, or, if he's small enough, in a cage of appropriate dimensions. However, walking a dog may open opportunities to connect with other dog lovers, so singles who are lonely or isolated may want to block in time to take a stroll through the park.
Since two dog breeds can be almost as different from each other as two separate species, make sure you do your research before you pick your pet. Some dogs need more space, attention, or training than many singles can provide. If your dog is miserable, she'll really let you know about it through incessant barking, chewed furniture, or offensively scented "gifts" in inappropriate places. Do what's best for both of you and get a dog that's compatible with your lifestyle. When you find the right match, you'll have found a friend for life.
Cats have a reputation for antisocial behavior, but cat lovers know this is just independence. (Many of us singles can certainly relate!) Ranging from about 5 to 20 lbs., cats are smaller than most dogs and are less demanding, which may be why they've now surpassed dogs as the most popular pet in the nation.
Though they still need to be fed at least twice a day, supervised walks are unnecessary. Primarily outdoor and indoor/outdoor cats can take care of business by themselves, thank you, although it's best to give them an enclosed area unless your neighborhood has little or no traffic and no threat of wild predators. However, many owners opt to keep their pets indoors full-time, with a litter box that is cleaned once or twice a week. Special "clumping" litter and sifting bags have made this arrangement easier than ever. Since cats aren't that active in adulthood and adapt well to small spaces, they don't need time outside to stretch their legs...and the local bird population will thank you.
Cats are unique in that they share many of the advantages of a dog--intelligence, playfulness, good communicative ability, and cuddly, huggable bodies--but not the dependency that can make it hard for singles to go on vacation or even stay out late with a dog at home. Cats can spend hours, even days alone without incident and are well known for conserving their food.
Plus, if you're squeamish about small critters, a cat on patrol can discourage rodents and eliminate quite a few leggy, hairy things better seen in horror flicks than on your bedroom floor.
Singles should be aware, though, that cats can be destructive due to their profuse shedding, frequent vomiting of hairballs, and long, sharp claws, which need regular trimming or rubber nail sheaths if the cat won't reserve them for the scratching post. Cats also delight in mischief, and it's difficult, if not impossible, to discipline them since they have much less motivation than dogs to submit to the will of a superior. Furthermore, some breeds are more sociable than others and can be almost as jealous of your attention as dogs, so choose with care.
However, if you welcome a cat into your home, you will be rewarded with hilarious antics that will occupy you for hours and a warm, purring friend to keep you company on long, cold nights.
Dogs and cats are so common that most people have had some experience with them, and they're often the first animals that come to mind when a single individual is considering a pet. Unfortunately, many people overlook animals that fly under the radar, and that's a shame because such animals can be better suited to the needs and concerns of singles. Tomorrow, we'll feature some of these less traditional pets.
Fun Link of the Day
Sunday, January 13, 2008
As I've noted before, one of the tenets of Singletude is that mutual respect is an integral part of any relationship, short-term or long-term, romantic or otherwise. A pet peeve of mine is the crass talk that some singles engage in when discussing their dates with friends.
I'm sure you've heard it, too. Guys get a lot of flak for it from women, and it's probably true that they tend to be cruder and more explicit. But the ladies are just as guilty of mean-spirited gossip after a date. While men may bare the details--no pun intended--of their sexual encounters, some women boast about how readily they can get a smitten guy to ask how high when they say jump. And both sexes can be equally malicious, judging their dates for every awkward stutter or popped pimple with a jury of their best buddies or BFFs urging them on.
At least once, it's probably gotten back to you that someone you went out with was not only "just not that into you" but had some choice words to share about the "laugh like Flipper on helium" or the "shag carpets for eyebrows" that he or she wasn't into. Even worse, maybe their derision extended from a genuinely embarrassing first date moment like an unintended display of your Scooby-Doo undies or your Pepsi's quick detour through your nose, and now, instead of cutting your losses and putting the humiliation behind you, you're forced to relive it at intimate gatherings of your close friends and family...and at office parties...and with that old woman on your block who catches you walking your dog and asks again if you aren't the one her grand-something took to that wedding who threw up on the bride's dress 'cause those stains are hard to get out and that must've really been something.
It hurts, doesn't it? And you feel ashamed and betrayed and disillusioned.
But I'll bet, at least once, you've also listened to a friend talk about one of his or her dates in similar fashion. Maybe you've even talked about it yourself. Either way, you laughed and joked about it, just like everybody else.
Wouldn't the dating scene be less intimidating if we didn't talk about each other that way? If you could trust that, no matter what your crush's unflattering opinion of you, the secrets of your first date faux pas would be safe with them?
Ever think that your actions could help keep those secrets safe?
Bragging about conquests and demeaning former dates is primarily a method of distinguishing oneself among peers. It's a way of saying, "Look how awesome I am! I'm too cool for this schmuck!" And, in the case of sexcapades, "I'm too cool for this schmuck, and they still come crawling back to get a piece of me!" If our culture didn't support this behavior, we wouldn't have such an incentive to engage in it.
As with all culturally driven behaviors, you have a hand in how such posing is received in your circle of friends. The next time one of your crowd shreds an innocent former lover, don't endorse it with laughter or agreement. If you wouldn't like a date to talk about you that way, show the same courtesy to the victim of your friend's ugly commentary. You don't have to pull out your handy pocket bible and teach them a moral lesson, but you don't have to encourage their callousness, either.
Don't respond, change the subject, or, if you've met the brunt of your friend's jokes and feel comfortable doing so, try defending him or her. You don't have to lecture. It's enough to answer your friend's suggestion that his ex had a nose to put Ronald McDonald to shame with a short, sweet "I never noticed anything wrong with her nose." Or, if your friend is one of those who thinks it's the height of chic to use someone, try a simple "I feel bad for him; that must've hurt."
If you remove the carrot your friend is aiming for--the respect of your social circle--he won't be so eager to jump. Maybe she'll even pause to think about what she said and be struck by a pang of remorse...Well, okay, the remorse might be stretching it.
The point is our social behavior is driven by rewards and benefits. Maybe, in some 22nd-century utopia, dishing about your date will be as cool as dishing about your parents' sex life. Until then, if we can't appeal to the better side of human nature, we can at least remove the reward for stooping to its basest depravities.
Remember, once upon a time in the 20th century, it was cool to beat up gay teens and make African-Americans sit at the back of the bus.
Attitudes change because someone changed them.
Have you either spilled too much about a date or had this happen to you? How did you feel about it afterward? How do you respond when your friends trash their former flames? Tell us about it!
Fun Link of the Day
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Yesterday was all about what to buy when you're cooking for one. Today I'm going to share my three rules of thumb for how to buy groceries when you're single and what to do with them once they're yours (it's a big responsibility, caring for food, I know :) ).
When You Go Shopping
1. Make sure you're not hungry. It sounds simple, but it could save a donut's life. Seriously. If you go grocery shopping when your stomach is sounding the alarm, everything in sight will look irresistible. Your cart will end up loaded with food that either means death to your waistline or that will feed your household ant colony because you have no intention of actually eating it.
2. Avoid out-of-season foods. Yesterday's watermelon is back, and it looks better than ever in the middle of a long, cold winter. Resist the temptation. Groceries out of season, mostly produce and fish, make you pay dearly for the privilege of consuming them. If you're a single on a budget, put your craving on the back burner and promise it satisfaction in a few months. Then buy something in season that you like to make up for it.
3. Pay attention to sales and specials. Don't shop blindly. If you read the newspaper, take note of inserts with coupons as well as coupons that come with items you regularly buy. If you're a little scattered like many busy singles, keep an envelope in a designated place for collecting them. (Just make sure the envelope goes with you to the store!) You may also want to star or check items on your shopping list that have coupons so you don't forget to use them when you get there. Once inside, keep your eyes peeled for those cheery stickers announcing good deals. This is when it doesn't hurt to branch out from your shopping routine and shake things up. For example, if you're a Dannon loyalist and see a special on Yoplait, give it a try. You just might discover that your tastes are broader than you think.
When You're Home with Your Groceries
It's just you and the food now. Treat it well.
1. Freeze it. As soon as you get home, it's into the freezer for any fresh items that you won't use within the week. Obviously, nonrefrigeratables like unopened cans, mixes, and bottles of syrup, salad dressing, etc. can go in the pantry, not the freezer. But I bet you never thought about freezing butter or hamburger buns, huh? Yep, those can be frozen, along with the more traditional foods like poultry and beef. Just seal whatever fresh food you can't eat right away in plastic ziplock bags and make them comfortable in the freezer. When you're ready for them, thaw and eat. One note of caution: This strategy works well for bread products and meat, but be careful with produce. Some of it can be frozen immediately (eg., berries), some of it needs to be boiled first (eg., apples), and some of it can't be frozen at all (eg., lettuce).
2. Cut it. Whether you're whipping up a gourmet menu or following the directions on the back of the can, remember that you can cut recipes in halves, quarters, or even eighths to reconfigure them for one. It may seem self-explanatory, but if the recipe serves three, cut the ingredients to one-third; if it serves six, cut to one-sixth; and so on. When in doubt, make more rather than less because now you're going to...
3. Store it. Yes, this means the L word. You guessed it--leftovers. Just about anything can be refrigerated in plastic or tupperware containers and microwaved tomorrow, and it will be almost as good as it was today. (If you experience persistent "microwave dry-out," try adding a little water to the dish, then cover almost completely with plastic wrap. The water will be trapped inside, creating steam, so your food will remain moist. For solid foods like slices of bread, try wrapping in a wet paper towel.) Multiple meals are the sweet spot of cooking for one, so use them to your advantage.
Do you often cook for one and have shopping or meal preparation tips for other singles? Share them with us!
Fun Link of the Day