Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Singles and Health Insurance, Part I

Some 17% of the U.S. population wakes up every morning praying that today is not the day they get hit by a car or trip on the stairs or hear the doctor say "cancer." Because again today, they are uninsured, and a visit to the emergency room could bankrupt them.

Sixty percent of the uninsured are single. This probably surprises no one, but it should outrage everyone. Single adults in this country are the only minority who can still be discriminated against with the blessing of the law, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the private healthcare industry, in which singles subsidize the right of married employees to cover a spouse under their insurance plan.

When a married worker loses a job, chances are she can be covered under her husband's plan. If she can't, she has the cushion of her husband's income to fund COBRA until she can find another job. When a single worker loses a job and can't afford the aptly named COBRA, whose provisions are leaner and meaner than a viper, she has no recourse but to join the ranks of the uninsured.

That's if she had insurance to begin with. About three in five low-wage, hourly employees are single, and these low-income jobs are the least likely to offer health benefits.

But let's talk about a different single, who lucked out. He has a stable, salaried position that, up until a few years ago, provided full benefits. But in 2006, along with two-thirds of large corporations surveyed by Mercer Human Resource Consulting, his employer shifted part of the cost to him. Now the discrepancy between what he and his married coworker pay for insurance is visible in the big, boldfaced numbers on his paycheck.

According to a 2005 survey of 80,000 policies sold by eHealthInsurance, the national average on a monthly premium for an individual policy was $148, while the average for a family policy was $110 per member. That means our hypothetical corporate peon loses $456 annually to his smugly married coworker. If Single Schmo and Smug Married are chained to their desks for another 40 years, Single Schmo will shell out $18,240 more than Mr. Smug! In the meantime, Mr. & Mrs. Smug Married have two incomes to cover their substantially discounted premium, whereas Single Schmo has just one for his full-price coverage.

Let's not forget, either, that while a married employee is free to add a spouse and a whole gaggle of kids, singles are much more limited when handing out the healthcare goodies. Extending coverage to a parent, sibling, grown child, or other relative is simply out of the question. That's right. A single's blood relatives, his birth family, are deemed far less worthy to reap his benefits than an unrelated woman he's known perhaps a few years whose most durable tie to him is a piece of paper called a marriage certificate. And though some employers have seen the light and now cover unmarried domestic partners, that coverage is taxable. If the domestic partner were a legal spouse, he or she would be covered tax-free.

Then there's the double whammy of inadequate coverage, literally adding insult to injury when singles are already paying through the nose every month. Among the medical necessities that are often labelled unnecessary by the private healthcare sector are treatment of "preexisting conditions," dental work, vision care, mental health services, birth control, prescription medication, medical devices like pacemakers, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs, blood work, xrays and other scans, chemo and radiation, ambulances, emergency room visits, and that catchall category under which everything else falls, "preventative treatment." Little leaves a single as defeated as the realization that, after he's coughed up five or six thousand dollars a year for the last two decades, he's also going to have to cough up a lung before he gets coverage for a life-threatening disease.

For instance, last year I was evaluated for a genetic condition that would have required multiple risky, invasive surgeries had I tested positive. After testing negative on two out of three measures, I was advised to have one last exam to be sure, for which I was referred to a specialist in ophthalmology. However, when I called the ophthalmologist, I was informed that they wouldn't be able to conduct the test without also performing a standard intake exam. Unfortunately, a standard eye exam was not covered by my insurance policy because this was, you see, "preventative care." The out-of-pocket cost of this exam was about $300. I agonized over this for months until, one day, I found myself at the optometrist's to renew my contact lens prescription (also not covered, of course), and the sympathetic doctor agreed to perform the test at no extra charge. (It was negative.)

I don't know what I would have done if Lady Luck hadn't come to my rescue. I suppose I would eventually have forked over the cash--150% of my monthly premium--to ensure my peace of mind. But if that test had cost thousands instead of hundreds, or if I had been worse off financially, I might not have had that choice.

It's no wonder, then, that singles who can barely afford rent, transportation, and the pinstriped shirts on their backs are opting out of pricey premiums and applying that money to personal emergency funds instead. But unless you can hoard away a cool million or two, relying on personal savings is still a gamble.

So what's a single person to do? Anybody who claims there's an easy answer for this one would be lying, but if you're single and uninsured, Singletude can point you in the direction of some viable options. To find out more, check in again tomorrow!

Are you single and uninsured? If so, how did you lose your insurance? Do you agree that the current healthcare system discriminates against singles?

Fun Link of the Day

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"The Merry Recluse" by Caroline Knapp: A Singletude Response

A few days ago, I came across this excerpt from Caroline Knapp's book, The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays, and I wanted to share it with you. Though I haven't yet read the book, you'll find a link to the titular essay in the title of this post.

Singles can generally be divided into two camps, single by choice and single by circumstance. Knapp is most definitely a member of the former. Or perhaps it's more complicated than that.

Maybe there's a bridge category, one which straddles the conscious choice to forge a life on one's own and the land of disorientation and despair that many people dwell in when single against their wishes. The river between is where people like me reside, floating on the tranquil, sparkling surface of contentment even as currents of doubt and regret swirl deep beneath, bubbling up only on dark days when the storms of life threaten to disturb the equilibrium. I liked Knapp's essay so much because reading it was like peering over the edge of my raft into the river and seeing her face reflected back at me; I knew she and I were fording that river together.

Knapp understands that our thoughts on singlehood are like running water--deep, fluid, ever-changing--and much harder for most people to grasp than the solid land they know best. An uncomprehending world expects us to join one of the camps on opposite sides of the river. "People don't live in the water," they effectively say. "Either you're a radical feminista womyn with no use for anything as prosaic as love, or you've already bought a wedding dress a la Muriel and foam a little at the mouth every time an eligible bachelor walks by." (With some imagination, you can turn this statement inside out to apply to a single male as well.)

It doesn't occur to them that we who live on the river might, at times, be lonely, that we may gaze at the Isle of Couples with curiosity or frank longing to explore there, but that we would rather pass that island by than be shipwrecked there with someone we don't love. They don't understand that we are peaceful and even joyful singles, happy in our eccentricities, thankful for the uninterrupted time to devote to our own projects, the freedom to make our own decisions, and the opportunity to pursue our own whims, and that we must weigh these advantages in the balance before we consider sacrificing them to someone else. They aren't aware that, nevertheless, we always keep an empty seat in the boat just in case we should encounter that one person who would make it worthwhile.

Knapp knows all these things, so if you recognize yourself as a river rafter--or are just curious about what it's like to be one--give her a read.

Are you a river rafter? If so, do you feel misunderstood by the rest of the world? What's your response to Knapp's article?

Fun Link of the Day

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Single and Shy: How to Work With Your Shyness

A few days ago, a Singletude reader, bobbyboy, suggested that I blog about the plight of the shy single. I can only suppose he suggested this because he sees right through my timid writer's persona and knows that inside lies a poised, confident tigress of an extrovert trying to claw her way out.


The truth is that, along with at least 40% of the population, whenever I meet with new people or even people I don't know well, my heart stomps like a clog dancer, and my insides whirl around and do-si-do. As a writer, I have a job that allows me to work in privacy most of the time. But as a single woman, my shyness can be a hindrance. It hampers me from meeting new people and inhibits me from revealing my full-on humorous, fun-loving personality to those I do meet.

Research indicates that people who have social anxiety, debilitating shyness across social settings, are less likely to marry. While Singletude recognizes that some people prefer to remain single, a problem arises when singles want to date but can't due to a profound fear of social situations. The suffering of a shy single isn't confined to his or her love life, either. Shy people may have a hard time forming friendships and business connections, which are particularly essential for a single person, who otherwise runs the risk of becoming socially isolated. Less likely to succeed at work or school, shy singles seem to have the cards stacked against them.

What's worse, although shyness may be learned, there's substantial evidence that some people are born temperamentally shy, so it's not a trait you can just "grow out of" if you try hard enough. That's why this post isn't about how to overcome your shyness but how to work with it. Although shyness is still a daily reality for me, I'll share with you some of the methods I've adopted to make it my friend instead of my foe.

First of all, you have to accept that it's okay to be shy, just as it's okay to be single. Shyness is a normal, adaptive personality variation, just as singlehood is a normal, adaptive state. Because shy people are more cautious than most, their genes were naturally selected and survived. You don't have to push yourself to become temperamentally different than you are, a task which is no more achievable than becoming 6'3" if you're 5'1".

Second, you need to conform your environment to who you are, not conform yourself to it. On the job front, it's absolutely fine to pick a position that requires mostly solitary work. Despite all the dire warnings of social psychologists, shy people can find job satisfaction in more careers than ever before. The explosion of the tech industry has provided all kinds of jobs where a worker's closest colleague is his computer. Creative types like audio producers, copywriters, graphic designers, and the like also work mostly in solitude and are judged by the quality of their output, not their communicational skills. The same applies to scientific researchers and mathematicians. In an effort to be greener and more family friendly, many businesses now allow their employees to telecommute, as well, reducing the need for face-to-face contact. If yours doesn't, approach your employer about giving it a trial run. Alternately, consider self-employment. Running your own business can be immensely rewarding, both financially and emotionally. Independent contractors, web retailers, caterers, pet sitters...These are just a few of the pros who run their own show and do so with limited personal contact.

On the home front, it's perfectly okay to live alone in a cottage in the country if you wake up smiling and refreshed every morning. Many shy singles need a place to retreat and recharge so they're ready for another bout with the world. If this applies to you, make your home your sanctuary. It's worth it to live a little farther from your workplace if it means you can afford to live by yourself. When you get home, don't feel obligated to answer the phone. That's what voicemail is for. Don't spend all evening responding to email, either. Force other people to respect your boundaries by responding during work hours only.

On the social scene, most shy singles tend to cultivate a few good friends rather than a circle of party-hopping, club-going butterflies. It's okay to dislike large crowds and parties, and it's equally okay to decline invitations to group events. A false sense of obligation has pinned many a shy single to the wall of a nightclub, commiserating with the nearest potted plant. This doesn't have to be you. If you know that you've never enjoyed social functions in the past, quit telling yourself that maybe next time will be different. It won't.

Instead, explain your shyness to the friend who thinks she's done you a favor by rescuing you from solitude on a Saturday night. Communication is very important here because you want her to know unequivocally that you're not refusing her invitation because you don't like or want to spend time with her. Inform your friend that you're painfully shy in crowds, that it's something you've struggled with all your life and have come to accept as part of who you are. Follow that up by inviting your friend to hang out, just the two of you. If your friend values your company, he'll be happy to make yours a one-on-one friendship. If he fades away, then he wasn't worth having as a friend.

No matter what, it's imperative that you remember that your friendship style is as valid and worthwhile as that of any Mr. or Ms. Popularity. No one is capable of maintaining more than a handful of close friendships at a time, and people who flit from one party to the next are less likely to have time to develop the rich, deep relationships that you have.

But what about when you, as a shy single, want to find new friends or potential dates? It probably seems like you act out the same scene in a different setting every time. Whether it's the bar, the break room, the gym, or the book club, you go with the best intentions of yakking it up with like-minded people and return alone, without any phone numbers or email addys, after burying your nose in a beer or feigning interest in a bulletin board for an hour. How do you overcome this paralyzing shyness?

The answer is you don't. Again, you work with what you have.

When at a social event, chances are you'll know at least one or two other people in the group. Try to sit near them and ask them to introduce you to other people so that you'll have an entree to conversation without having to think up lines about the weather. Hone in ASAP on what you have in common with whoever you've been introduced to--maybe you're both new in town, work in the same industry, or recently traveled to the same country--and center your conversation around that. It's easier to keep the conversation going if you know what you're talking about. If you find that you don't have anything to talk about, instead of hemming and hawing in a desperate attempt to revive a dying conversation, just excuse yourself and move on.

If you're going to a party or other function and know already that you'll be in a roomful of strangers, invite a friend to accompany you. Sometimes, all you need to boost your confidence is the knowledge that you have a safety net. You and your friend can work the room together, picking up the slack for each other in flailing conversations and providing solace for each other if either of you gets overwhelmed.

If you can't bring a friend, seek out others who are attending alone, especially those who are obviously ill at ease. Chances are they'll be especially grateful that you approached them and relieved them from the company of the potted plant. Plus, fellow introverts can make the best friends and lovers because they understand another shy single intrinsically. They won't throw earthshaking parties and insist that you be the guest of honor, they'll murmur in sympathy when you bemoan the speech you have to give tomorrow, they'll share their own tips and tricks for dealing with social anxiety, and most importantly, they'll be glad to give you lots of one-on-one time and plenty of downtime to yourself because they need the same to maintain their sanity.

Finally, don't overlook the Internet as a haven for shy singles. Today, there are whole web sites devoted to the socially anxious. Even those that attract a more general audience allow shy singles to fulfill some of their social needs without face-to-face (FTF) contact as well as to get to know potential FTF friends or romantic interests in a comfortable, nonthreatening environment. Since many shy singles are verbally oriented but can't display this talent under the pressure of an FTF introduction, they're thrilled to discover that the web is a more natural forum for them to shine. Most of all, shy singles have an advantage on the Internet because they can build relationships slowly in a virtual setting and delay FTF contact until they feel relaxed with their new friend or date, so they never have to wade through that awkward stage that turns off so many of their potential friends and lovers.

In the end, there will be some single introverts who will either refuse to embrace their shyness or will be so crippled by social anxiety that even the above tips aren't viable. In those cases, Singletude advises seeking a professional therapist who is experienced in treating social phobia. There are cognitive-behavioral techniques that can help painfully shy people work through their inhibitions as well as prescription medications that can alleviate some of the stress of social interaction.

Are you a shy single? If so, how does your shyness affect your life? What steps have you taken to either work with or combat your shyness?

Fun Link of the Day

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"Marriage: It's Only Going to Get Worse" by Jeanna Bryner: A Singletude Response

The title of this Singletude post links to a perfect comeback the next time a busybody accosts you at a party and asks why you're not married. Just grin and say: "Because I can irritate myself just fine, thanks." You certainly don't need a spouse to do it for you, but that's what this study from the University of Michigan suggests he or she will do.

Eight hundred participants ranging in age from 20 to over 60 were asked to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statements "my spouse/partner gets on my nerves" and "my spouse/partner makes too many demands on me." As the age of the respondents increased, they were more likely to rate their marital partners as irritating and demanding. However, the researchers found that the opposite was true of how children and friends were perceived; they were seen as less irritating and demanding over time.

The researchers theorized that the results were in part due to the cumulative effect of constant exposure to a spouse's quirks and bad habits. They also implied that married couples feel more comfortable airing their grievances with each other than with friends or children, adding to the miasma of tension. In addition, the study noted that people tend to be more selective about their friends as they age, "weeding out" bad apples, while relationships with children tend to improve as they reach maturity.

The bottom line, though, is that you have some ammo whenever your smug married friends wonder why you haven't joined them in connubial bliss. Just remember that although they may not let on when they invite you over, presenting the united front of his and hers monogrammed towels and heart-shaped picture frames, when the last guest leaves, they're irritating the heck out of each other.

Okay, so we all know there are plenty of positive aspects to marriage that weren't covered in this study. But what the study emphasizes is that romantic relationships aren't the gateway to happiness. The "singletude" philosophy has always been that a strong social network comprised of many different kinds of relationships is greater than the sum of its parts, that no single relationship, including marriage, holds the key to personal fulfillment. The University of Michigan study supports the value of non-romantic relationships and even compares them favorably to marriage.

Singles, take note: you now have scientific evidence to prove that your social life is just as glowing, if not more so, than that of your irritated, put-upon married friends. Read it, learn it, quote it. But just don't be irritating about it. :)

When you've been in relationships in the past, did you perceive your partner as becoming more irritating or demanding as time went on? How about your friends and kids if you have them? Have they seemed more irritating or demanding over time?

Fun Link of the Day

Monday, February 25, 2008

Resolving Differences in Relational Needs

Last time, Singletude concluded with some questions about how to deal with differences in relational needs:

So is there hope if you and a loved one have different relational needs or the same relational needs in different quantities? Is there any way to break out of the habit of judging others' relational needs by our own? And, more to the point, is it possible to meet someone else's needs and still get our own needs met when those needs are different?

When differences in relational needs are causing dissatisfaction in a relationship, many therapists and self-help gurus wave the time-worn banner of COMMUNICATION. The solution to mismatched needs, they say, is to communicate those needs to each other.

Talking can help diffuse feelings of resentment and further a compromise if your needs are not too far apart. It can also bring to light mistaken assumptions about your needs or your partner's. For instance, using the example of togetherness versus independence, it may turn out that your seemingly clingy girlfriend would prefer to spend more time apart but thought you wanted to be a malignant growth on her hip. Or, using the example of self-disclosure versus privacy, maybe that friend who's about as talkative as the Mona Lisa would like to open up if she knew you wanted her to.

Even if discussion reveals that your needs really are at opposite ends of the spectrum, communicating can help you rethink how you judge your partner's relational needs. If you recall the story of Evan and I, for example, I mistakenly assumed that he didn't call me as often as I would have liked because he didn't care enough about me. After we talked, I understood that he did care about me but had lower communicational needs than I did. Sometimes, just knowing that different needs are different, not bad, can be enough to help you coexist with the differences. Occasionally, you may even realize that your own relational needs aren't reasonable and that you need to revisit the origin of those needs and learn to satisfy them in a more realistic way.

On the other hand, in some cases, even if you understand and empathize with another's needs, that can't bridge the Grand Canyon sized gap between their needs and yours. For instance, even though I revised my understanding of the significance of Evan's relational needs, nothing changed the fact that I still wanted more frequent communication than he did. You can rehash your needs till the sun goes supernova, but if they're not the same, nothing is ever going to make them the same. You may understand you partner better, but you still need what you need, and trying to forgo your own needs or fulfill needs you're not equipped to meet will only engender bitterness and frustration.

If you're in an otherwise happy dating relationship, friendship, working partnership, etc. and are intent on saving it, be honest with yourself about whether you can live with the differences in your relational needs. Remember that some aspect of your relationship will always be conflicted because you're not getting your need met in that area. However, all relationships require compromise, and if you're willing to compromise your relational needs, you have to also be willing to consciously and repeatedly let go of the hurt, disappointment, resentment, and perhaps anger that the denial of your needs will continually provoke.

The alternative solution is to make a preemptive strike, if you will, and end the relationship as soon as you realize that your needs are incompatible. If you're paying attention, this will be early on, so neither of you should be devastated when it doesn't work out. However, be sure to discuss your incompatible needs first so that your partner isn't clueless as to why you're dissatisfied. Give him or her a chance to respond in case you're mistaken but also be wary of the wishful thinking that might drive him or her to deny your differences. One of the main reasons that so many relationships fail is that people gloss over these basic dissimilarities because they're so intent on being in a relationship.

It's tragic when an otherwise healthy relationship can't continue because of conflicting relational needs, especially when you've already developed strong feelings for the incompatible partner. So when you add someone's relational needs to your home decor, train your eye to identify which ones complement yours and which don't. It's easy to make a return during the trial period, but if you let incompatible needs settle into your living room and start collecting dust, they'll be so much a part of your life, it will break your heart when you finally have to redecorate your home.

When you and someone else have had conflicting relational needs, what have you done to resolve the differences? If you chose to continue the relationship, were you able to make it work despite the differences?

Fun Link of the Day

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Quantifying Relational Needs

Ah, those relational needs. Pesky critters, aren't they?

You think you've found your partner in crime, that guy or gal who finishes your thoughts before you think them, who knows you better than you want to know yourself, who makes you feel like if you could never, ever listen to your iPod or buy new shoes or eat pizza again, it would be okay as long as you were with them. Bliss follows.

And then one day, you crack that trunk of musty old stuff from his or her childhood attic--otherwise known as baggage--and out pop the relational needs. At first you think they'll fit perfectly with yours because they're all, say, living room furnishings. So you take them back to your new place and set them up in the living room with your own relational needs. That's when, to your dismay, you discover that these relational needs clash with yours. They're not the same style, color, size...nothing. You try to dress them up in a fresh coat of paint, change the lighting to give them an air of grace, a certain shabby chic, if you will...but it's still painfully obvious that while all these furnishings belong in a living room, they don't belong in the same living room, together.

That is, you and another person might have certain relational needs in common (eg., a need for excitement and novelty or a need for intellectual conversation), but your slice of that need pie might be a lot bigger or smaller than theirs. To continue with the home decorating metaphor, our needs exist on a spectrum much like the spectrum of color swatches you see when you want to paint your walls. There's not just blue but robin's egg and sky and cobalt and turquoise and aquamarine and periwinkle. It's the same with relational needs. Maybe you and another person have the same need but to differing degrees.

That's why trying to match your needs with someone else's can be like trying to find a stranger whose DNA matches your own. If you can't match your genotype, it really doesn't matter how identical your phenotype appears. In the end, you're incompatible.

Quantitative (as opposed to qualitative) differences can show up with all kinds of needs, but they are, perhaps, most damaging when they involve communicational needs. Communicational needs, I've found, are among the most integral yet variable relational needs. While we can break most people into two qualitative groups of communicators--verbal and nonverbal--within those groups are endless variations in communicational patterns. Think of all those fractal designs a mathematical genius can derive from a single equation. Yeah. Like that.

The problem is that our individual relational needs (and, in this case, our communicational needs) inform our expectations for interaction with others. So when a loved one, even or especially one who has the same qualitative needs, doesn't meet our needs to the degree that we expect, confusion, heartache, and the demise of the relationship ensue.

As an example, some years ago, I dated two men in succession who were, ironically, at opposite ends of the verbal communication spectrum. (Yes, the swing from one end to the other was a wild ride!) While they were both, like me, verbal (as opposed to physical) communicators, the degree to which they desired communication was like night and day.

The first guy–we’ll call him David–wanted a lot of contact, right away. No sooner had we gone on our first date than he was calling me every night and every afternoon at lunch and IMing me whenever he saw me online, too. Well, this was overkill to me. In my mind, it was too early in the relationship for daily chit-chat, and even if our relationship had progressed, I wasn’t sure I’d ever want someone to habitually contact me whenever he had a spare moment. Soon, I was avoiding his calls or excusing myself after five minutes to, you know, take that meeting with Barbara Walters. Eventually, David confronted me, complaining that I didn't like him enough. In fact, I liked David quite a bit. But he and I weren't on the same frequency--literally--with our communicational needs. I just didn't require that much contact, so his need became a burden.

After David, I dated a man we’ll call Evan. Evan and I were together three times as long as I’d been with David and were in a committed relationship, whereas David and I had just been casually dating. Nevertheless, not only did Evan refrain from calling me twice a day, there were quite a few days that he never called at all. Up till that time, I'd never been with anyone who didn't call at least once a day, and his behavior threw me for a loop. I talked to him about it, telling him that I preferred some daily communication, and he nicely but firmly told me that although he loved me, that wasn't the way he operated. While he was happy to see me in person more often, he didn't like conversing on the phone or Internet and had no intention of doing it every day. I tried to content myself with this, but the fact remained that my need was greater than his, so I was dissatisfied right up until we ended our relationship.

Tragically, many otherwise healthy relationships, friendships, and working partnerships unravel due to differing degrees of communicational needs. This is not only because the need itself goes unfulfilled but because we approach our relationships with assumptions based on our needs. For instance, David's assumption was that if a girl liked him, she would want to talk to him two or three times a day like he wanted to talk to her. In contrast, Evan's assumption was that I should know he loved me, whether or not we talked every day, like he knew I loved him. We conduct our relationships based on these highly individualized needs, communicational and otherwise, and then are shocked and dismayed when other people don't share our needs to the same degree. What's worse, we interpret others' behavior in the context of our needs, not theirs. So, continuing with the example of communicational needs, that person who calls us more than we need to call them is deemed "desperate" or "insecure," while the one who doesn't call as much as we'd want is "cold" or "detached."

So is there hope if you and a loved one have different relational needs or the same relational needs in different quantities? Is there any way to break out of the habit of judging others' relational needs by our own? And, more to the point, is it possible to meet someone else's needs and still get our own needs met when those needs are different? Tune in next time to find out!

Have you ever had a relationship, romantic or otherwise, with someone who had similar relational needs but to a different degree than you? What problems did that cause for the two of you? Have you ever judged someone's actions based on your own relational needs and then realized you were wrong?

Fun Link of the Day

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ground Rules for Singletude Comments

Recently, How Single Men Make Women Settle inspired some heated remarks and underscored the need for a set of guidelines for commenters here at Singletude. Please take a minute to review the following ground rules for commenting so that this can remain a positive place for everyone:

If you send an ad or link to a site whose primary purpose is advertising, it will not be published. Links to your blog or web site are fine as long as they're in the context of a comment that furthers discussion.

Malicious attacks designed to be incendiary rather than informative will not be published.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS (with one exception; see below)
Anonymous comments will not be published unless the comment is a question for an advice Q&A, in which case writing anonymously is acceptable. You can also email questions to me with a request for anonymity (see the "About Me" section on the home page to find out how). The option for anonymity was enabled so that readers who don't have a blog or web page could comment. If you don't have a Blogger or Open ID and must comment anonymously, then you need to sign your comment. Obviously, we don't need to know your last name and the street you live on. "Mike in NJ" or "Anne the Librarian" will do.

This is intended to be a PG or PG-13 kind of blog so that everyone feels comfortable here. Therefore, it's requested that you limit your use of vulgar language. I won't be hypervigilant about this, but Singletude reserves the right to edit comments for language if, in my opinion, they cross an unacceptable line.

No hate speech, no name calling, no personal attacks. Snark and sarcasm about the issues are well and good; insults toward people in this community are not. I want you all to feel free to disagree with the posts, just as you have since I started Singletude. I don't have a monopoly on truth, and differences of opinion spice up the dialogue and shed new light on unilluminated points. However, there are ways to express differences of opinion that are civil and respectful and ways that are not. As stated in the beginning, this is a humanistic blog written from the standpoint that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Some of the issues discussed here may sometimes provoke strong reactions. However, everyone has a right to state his or her own opinion without being abused for it. If you disagree with a post or comment, then say you disagree and explain why, but do so politely and courteously. If you can't, I reserve the right not to publish your post.

The first time you violate a rule, you'll get a warning and be directed to the guidelines. After that, it will be your responsibility to stay within the guidelines, and if you choose to ignore them, your comment may not appear.

If you have questions about the guidelines or want to know why a comment was not published, you can contact me. (See the "About Me" section on the home page for information on how to get in touch.)

I hope that these ground rules will contribute to making Singletude a place where everyone feels welcome to say what they mean and mean what they say. Happy commenting!

Friday, February 22, 2008

I've Got What You Need: Identifying Relational Needs

First off, a big thank you to Singletude readers for your patience during the hardware upgrade. The new computer is settling in and starting to look at home in its surroundings. :)

While searching for some data to support a Singletude post, I stumbled across this web site. Entitled Commitment: Get Married Soon, it’s obviously aimed at single women who are chomping at the bit to cross the marital finish line. Ignore the intended audience for a minute, though, and instead of that bit, chomp on the food for thought in “Lesson One.” The unnamed author’s advice is universal and applies to both sexes, in any kind of relationship–-romantic, platonic, familial, or otherwise.

In case you’re pressed for time, I’ll sum it up: Your love can go deeper than the Titanic, but your relationship isn’t going to be satisfying unless you meet each other’s needs. Yes, I know–cue the Marvin Gaye, massage oil, and a bottle of Chardonnay, right? Okay, we need to be on the same page with those needs, too, but this extends beyond the boudoir.

The article introduces the concept of inherent needs rooted in the variations of personality that make us so fascinating yet incomprehensible to each other. These relational needs, whether biologically based or socialized at an early age, are, nevertheless, undeniable. Examples include the dichotomous needs to be a caretaker or be taken care of, be a leader or be a follower, have a trophy or be a trophy, be distant or be close, and be verbal or be physical. I’m sure there are many more. Some of them are unusual, and many are politically incorrect, but humans didn’t evolve in a court of law.

Not surprisingly, the article contends that the relationships that work best are those in which both parties meet each other’s needs. According to the article, if a fundamental need is unmet for too long, the unfulfilled partner will grow restless and want out.

So, no problem. Just give the person a generous helping of what they need, fill them up on nurture or intellectual stimulation or intimacy and everything will be fine, right?

Of course it’s not that simple. The catch is that what the other person needs has to be something you can and want to give, and vice versa. Not only that, but you also must find the right proportional balance for those needs, which can be very tricky and is, in my opinion, why we so rarely find that perfect fit we call “the one.”

For instance, maybe you’re a woman dating a man with wanderlust. He needs someone who also has restless feet, who knows he’s literally going places and either wants to come along for the ride or is fine holding down the fort till he returns. If you can’t catch his travel bug, if you only tolerate but never really encourage his excursions to remote corners of the world with unpronounceable names, you’re going to run into problems because one of his primary needs in a partner isn’t being met.

Or maybe you’re a man dating a woman who’s organized and likes to plan. She feels more comfortable when she’s the one to arrange your parties, evenings out, and day trips. In this case, you have to be the kind of guy who isn’t interested in the particulars of your leisure time together and would rather someone else take that load off your shoulders. Again, if you secretly resent that she manages your social calendar, your ire is going to smolder till it consumes you both.

To varying degrees, the same bargain is also struck in non-romantic relationships. For example, most of us are familiar with that perennial Hollywood duo, the hero and his sidekick. But that dynamic isn’t confined to the silver screen. Go to any bar on a Saturday night, and you’ll see pairs of friends in which one is a talker, the other a listener; one is outgoing, the other reserved; one is a storyteller, the other cracks the punch lines. Or step into your office, and watch this same give-and-take play out between co-workers or employers and employees. Over here’s the curmudgeonly boss soothed by his sweet, compliant secretary. Over there, Jane and John are assigned to the same project because Jane is the creative visionary and John knows the devil is in the details. These dyads have become stereotypes because they’re based on real interpersonal patterns that arise from relational needs.

A primary reason why we often feel disconnected from each other is that it’s a near miracle to find that needle in a haystack who not only meets your kind of need but does so to the degree that you need it. Next time, Singletude will explore how this seemingly minor issue of degree can make or break a relationship, with special attention to communicational needs.

Do you know what your relational needs are? Have you ever had a relationship, romantic or otherwise, that either worked well or didn’t due to the compatibility of your relational needs? Tell us about it!

Fun Link of the Day

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Note From Singletude

Singletude is now undergoing a hardware upgrade and may be offline for a little while. Apologies for the delay.

In the meantime, please check out one of my favorite sites, Unmarried America, for the latest news about singles, culled from publications all over the country. Or go read some of the fantastic writers on my blogroll.

See you back here soon!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Are Married Couples Happier Than Singles?

Maybe. A little bit. And not in every case.

Confused? Check out "Are Married People Happier Than Unmarried People?" at the American Psychological Association (APA) web site. This 15-year longitudinal study of 24,000 subjects reports that marriage increases life satisfaction...but only about one tenth of a point on an 11-point scale. In addition, most currently married individuals were happier people even before they tied the knot.

Interestingly, the study also found that those who are happiest before marriage have the smallest boost in life satisfaction after the wedding. Although that may seem counterintuitive, the authors concluded that singles who are already content with themselves simply can't get much happier with the addition of one person to the mix.

"An event such as marriage or divorce does not have the same implications for all individuals. A person who is very satisfied with life probably has a rich social network and has less to gain from the companionship of marriage. On the other hand, the person who is lonely and, therefore, somewhat dissatisfied, can gain much by marrying," the researchers explained.

For years, various social organizations have been ramming down our throats that marriage makes people, especially men, happier, so it's refreshing to read some research to the contrary. Of course, one could object that this study was conducted in Germany and isn't applicable to Americans, but 7,000 of the participants were immigrants, so this isn't a culturally limited phenomenon, though it's possible that certain aspects of German government or culture don't reinforce marriage as much as ours do.

In any case, this study is groundbreaking because it's the first I know of to prove that marriage is not a cure-all for social ills. People react differently to nuptial bliss. For some, the wedding bells ring in new heights of happiness. For others, not so much. But at the end of the day, your happiness compass is set where it is, and your contentment level returns to its true north.

That's why it's so important to stop waiting for someone else to make you happy. Take your happiness into your own hands. Have you always wanted to move to California? Have dreams of directing your own film? What are you waiting for? One tenth of a point?

As Bobby McFerrin put it if you're old enough to remember, "Don't worry. Be happy." And you don't need anyone else to do that. I think Bobby knew it, too. He was a one-man band.

In your experience, are married couples happier than singles? If you've ever been married, were you happier married than single? How about unmarried couples? Do you think they're happier than singles? Were you happier when part of a couple? Do you think that being in a relationship or marriage in the future will make you happier than you are now? Why or why not?

Fun Link of the Day

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Single and Insecure


It's why your ex dumped you. It's why you're still single. It's why you're not fabulously wealthy and beautiful and famous, right? You're just insecure. Oprah and Tyra and Dr. Phil say it, so it must be true.

Let's all nod our bobble heads in time now, singles. Repeat after me: "Hi, my name is Scapegoat Single, and I'm INSECURE."

Well, if you're going to be labeled, you might as well embrace it. Let's look up the definition of "insecure," shall we?

insecure (adj.)--lack of confidence or assurance; self-doubt; a feeling of apprehensiveness and uncertainty: lack of assurance or stability; the state of being subject to danger or injury.

Notice this definition doesn't include words like "dependent," "clingy," "whiny," or "controlling." Those words often go hand in hand with the label of insecurity, but as you can see, they're unrelated. Instead, this definition of insecurity suggests a state that one arrives at when the environment is unstable or confusing, leading one to distrust his or her own judgment. Yet every time this word bubbles to the surface of a tumultuous relational brew, it's flung at the guilty party like a character flaw, an ugly wart or mole growing out of a morass of self-hatred.

If you've ever been accused of insecurity, you know that it hurts. And it probably had the miraculous effect of making you...more insecure! But if you've been beating yourself up with a copy of Learning to Love Yourself, STOP. Let me submit to you the possibility that you do love yourself but someone else didn't. Let me go a step further and suggest that someone even recognized this was true and tried to deflect your concern by accusing you of the "I" word.

Now I won't deny that what I'll call "pathological insecurity" exists. The pathologically insecure are those who call their significant others on the hour every hour to make sure they're not shagging random strangers. They're the size 0's who ask you if they look fat and the sulkers who disparage your big bonus because they didn't get one this year. No matter how successful they are, no matter how loved and admired, no matter how honored and decorated, they still look in the mirror and tremble at what they see.

But let's get real. Most people are insecure because they're not size 0 and their honey really did shag a random stranger at that party last year. But you'd better not voice your worries in a culture where self-esteem is more honorable than honor, or you'll have to wear that Scarlet I--Insecure!

As much as we might like to believe that babies are born with pre-made packets of self-esteem that we just need to activate in the microwave, it isn't true. Self-worth is accumulated as we progressively conquer challenges and prove our standing in society. It is, by its very nature, environmentally dependent. The same is true of security. People learn to feel secure by testing the world around them and finding out if it will--no pun intended--support their weight. It doesn't develop in a vacuum; we can't simply conjure it up. It's directly related to how the world responds to us and how we process that response.

Yet as adults, we've become so willing to assume responsibility as reactors while letting the actors off the hook. Does your boyfriend flirt with other women? That's not his problem--you must be insecure. Does your girlfriend constantly disparage your choice of friends and entertainment? Yep, that's because of your insecurity too. Are you concerned that you're not qualified for your job interview? If you just believed in yourself, you'd know that couldn't possibly be true! Did your latest performance get bad reviews? Don't get down on yourself! Sing with me now: "That's insecurity!"

If you've been called insecure in the past, remember that the definition of "insecurity" is "uncertainty" and "lack of assurance." Before accepting the label, ask yourself whether you had something to be uncertain about. Maybe you realistically assessed that your significant other didn't consider you quite so significant anymore and wanted some assurance of his or her feelings. Maybe you weren't confident of your ability to land that job because you had little experience in the industry. Maybe you wondered if people liked you at that dinner because a) you sometimes put your foot in your mouth and b) you're not cocky enough to presume they did.

If you're the accuser, not the accused, be honest with yourself before you toss around that heated word and burn someone badly. Are you using the "I" word to distract someone from a legitimate question you don't want to answer? If someone is asking for encouragement or reassurance, is it possible that you can't give it but don't want to admit it? Or, worse still, you're withholding it because you like to keep them off balance?

While no one wants every conversation to consist of attempts to bolster someone else's self-esteem, let me suggest that we all make an effort to be a little kinder and more complimentary toward each other. If someone wants to know if you really care about him or find her beautiful or think he can tear up a guitar or cook a mean omelet, and you do, it shouldn't be a hardship to tell them again. You should, in fact, delight in telling them because you love them and want them to know it. If you think it's a burden to offer reassurance or praise, then maybe you don't love the person who's asking for it as much as you say you do, or maybe your love is tarnished by a deficit in you, one that can't give praise or secretly exults in someone else's anxiety or pain.

On that note, I'll leave you with one final thought:

Logically, the opposite of "insecure" would be "confident," "self-assured," "certain," and "safe." If you've ever known someone who was confident, self-assured, and certain in all their actions, then I'm sorry that you had the misfortune to be acquainted with them. At the end of the day, there's much to be said for humility and the "insecurity" to know that you're not infallible.

Have you ever been accused of being insecure or accused someone else of insecurity? Do you think insecurity was really the problem, or was it something else? What do you think about the concept of insecurity and how it's used today?

Fun Link of the Day

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How Single Men Make Women Settle

I thought I'd said my piece on "Marry Him" by Lori Gottlieb, but it was stuck in my head today like the wedding march on repeat. Specifically her assertion that women settle, but men don't have to.

The so-called battle of the sexes frustrates me because, after all these years, it's still rooted in an us-against-them mentality. Well, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

If anything, the backlash to radical feminism only entrenched the archetype of the single woman as the Entrapper, who uses her feminine wiles to pull off the mother of all bait-and-switches, promising sex in exchange for 18 years of indentured servitude to her children. This stereotype persists even as women outpace men in education and join them in the board room and is the subject of countless bachelor party jokes and much commitment-phobic stammering.

What bothers me about it is not that it's untrue. I'll even go so far as to admit that it is true of the mating game as it stands now. What gets my dander up is that women have been backed into this corner, from which the only way out is scheming and pressuring, by men who believe that the future of the human race isn't their responsibility.

Granted, childrearing is not a responsibility that every man (or woman) should undertake. But most men still want children and end up fathering them. Not to conjure unwanted visions of Whitney Houston, but until they perfect this stem cell cloning business, the children are our future. We need both men and women to produce them. Sorry, but we're not as advanced as those asexual amoebas yet. And, frankly, many men want to be involved in their children's lives, so much so that it's a right guaranteed by law.

Despite these facts of life, females are routinely treated as though their biological drive to preserve the species is somehow aberrant or, at the least, incompatible with the evolutionary drives of men. Well, newsflash, guys: your genes are at stake here, too.

An excuse I may hear at this point from men is that their Darwinistic urge is to be procreators, not caretakers. But that's nonsense. Men have always supported the next generation, whether by hunting, farming, or fighting, and we have plenty of evidence that men participated in their children's lives from antiquity, even if not to the intimate degree that mothers did. In fact, before the advent of birth control, fatherhood was pretty much a given in any young man's life. It's only in recent years that men have balked at taking on this role and procrastinated about it for as long as possible.

Well, here's another tidbit that may interest you: Males hit "menopause" too, and their fertility declines after age 35 or 40. Yet when you ask men in their twenties or even early thirties about having children, a common response is, "Oh, sure, someday."

My point is that men today seem to have joined sides in a self-defeating war against women and ultimately the human race. Their contemporary "bros above hos" mentality falsely paints women as the enemy instead of partners in perpetuating the species and children as some kind of punishment. Due to this erroneous worldview, men who meet fantastic partners in their twenties and early thirties often resist starting a family, forcing these women to "settle" later. The men assume they can always avail themselves of younger partners after they've racked up enough notches in the belt, unaware that their own fertility, as well as their energy for children, will also decline...and that women 20 years younger don't always make the most willing or compatible partners.

Men, we may be living longer, but none of us are getting any younger. Please rejoin the human species. We can't do this without you. It's time you remembered that you need us, too.

Do you think women have to settle more often than men? If so, why? What do you think about male attitudes toward marriage and children?

Fun Link of the Day

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Marry Him" by Lori Gottlieb: A Singletude Response

Hello, 1950! Click on the title of this post, and rewind about half a century to Lori Gottlieb's take on why women are better off in loveless, kidcentric marriages than raising their mini-me's alone or--horror of horrors--enjoying a peaceful, child-free existence.

Even The, in which the article appears, seems to know this is a crock and accompanies the story with a comic strip spoof of a June Cleaver-esque beauty rehearsing her "settling" speech: "So, you're not Mr. Perfect...But marriage means more to me than love ever could!" Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

Unfortunately, Gottlieb is all too serious about regretting the Mr. Wrongs she passed up in her thirties to become an overworked single mom (by sperm donor) whose only choice now is to marry a "recovering alcoholic" or a "trying-to-make-it-in-his-40s actor" or face the prospect of that downhill road to retirement alone. According to her, it would've been better to settle for that cake icing kinda guy--sweet but bland--who would occasionally relieve her of parenting duties in the middle of the night or at least send a child support check. After all, she reasons, "settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year." And if you're pragmatic enough to marry a good provider, you'll never have to see him anyway. In other words, set your sights low and you won't be disappointed.

There's a nugget of truth at the bottom of Gottlieb's bitter draft, but like that elusive diamond ring she's not getting, you have to wait for it. In the meantime, you'll plow through age-old arguments with age-old flaws.

Gottlieb's first failure is that she equates the 24/7 drudge job of an unmarried mom with the untethered life of a childless single woman. The core of her dissatisfaction seems to be that she's saddled herself with full responsibility for childrearing. Parenting a child is costly, hard work, and if the biology of reproduction, which demands two partners, is any indication, Mother Nature didn't intend for it to be done alone. If Gottlieb is desperate for a hunter/warrior to be her right-hand man, it's not hard to understand why. But recommending the same choice to a childless woman, who isn't under the same pressure, is unnecessary and irresponsible.

Of course, Gottlieb assumes that all women do indeed want to become mothers, and if they don't, they're either "in denial" or "lying," an assertion that would come as a shock, I think, to all the women who've chosen not to have children. Households with kids are now in the minority and falling, and whether or not that's a good turn of events for the future of our country, it indicates that not everyone is as eager as Gottlieb to knit booties and change diapers.

But let's say you are a single who dreams of your very own Beave and Wally and an impeccably dressed Ward or June to complement them. If you choose a Ward or June you don't dig, do you really think Wally and the Beave won't pick up on the vibes of disregard, disrespect, and ultimately hostility that will zing back and forth between you in place of loving winks and caresses? What expectations will that kind of environment establish for them in their own relationships? Maybe Gottlieb couldn't be happier if all children were disabused of any foolish notions of love and warned right upfront, as her mother apparently warned her, that they should settle as soon as possible. That would certainly improve quality of life for the coming generations.

Gottlieb also neglects to invent a Plan B in case of an emergency like, say, divorce. While she contends that her married friends "wouldn’t trade places with me for a second, no matter how dull their marriages might be or how desperately they might long for a different husband," will that hold true for the next 10, 15, 20 years? "They, like me," Gottlieb says, "would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone." It would be interesting to follow up with Gottlieb's unhappily married friends and find out if their marriages are still intact after the last child is off to college and mama has gone back to work. The fear of loneliness is a powerful force locking many people in otherwise unbearable partnerships, but it's amazing how, when they throw off the chains, so many divorcees maintain that they're happier single than they ever were married to the wrong person. Maybe when Gottlieb has been trapped in the corpse of a relationship that's been drained of all warmth and affection, we can take her claim of preference for that state more seriously.

The hard truth is that Americans now spend half their adult lives single, whether by delayed marriage, the divorce or death of a spouse, or the decision not to marry at all. Mated pairings are as transient as singlehood, and you are still the only constant in your own life. Gottlieb refers repeatedly to the black-and-white choice between living with your second-best and dying alone, never acknowledging that the latter is a distinct possibility regardless. More importantly, she fails to understand that the greater tragedy may be all those years spent living your life for someone else. And not for nothing, it's laughable and rather insulting to imply that women of a certain age will be unanimously passed over for "someone younger with whom [men] can have their own biological children" when plenty of older men either don't want children or had them in marital round one.

However, you may remember that I promised you a hidden treasure in Gottlieb's argument, and here it is: She's right on the money about the gender divide that forces women to settle more often than men. The article spends three pages making the case that women are too picky but then concludes that men are no better; the problem is that men have the leeway to be choosy, while women don't:

"I’ve been told that the reason so many women end up alone is that we have too many choices. I think it’s the opposite: we have no choice. If we could choose, we’d choose to be in a healthy marriage based on reciprocal passion and friendship. But the only choices on the table, it sometimes seems, are settle or risk being alone forever.That’s not a whole lot of choice."

Gottlieb portrays women as blindly pursuing some imaginary ideal, forever seeking Superman and forever unsatisfied when she can't find him. I'd like to suggest that she usually does find him--some man who, with all his faults and foibles, is still Superman to her--but that he doesn't want her.

I don't like to dredge up details of my personal life, but I will share this: Three times in my life I've met men who were exactly what I wanted. Yes, they had their flaws. I wasn't denying or minimizing them. But they had all the traits that I would ever need to be happy with a man and, as far as I knew, none of those that would have prevented me from happiness. Yet, in all three cases, those men did not choose me.

Most of the women I know who are single--heck, most of the men, too--have indeed met several people they loved or could have, but those people, for one reason or another, did not choose them back. Now, having tasted that love, most singles are loathe to sentence themselves to a life without it. So they go on searching for a duplicate of that high they got before. The problem is that women have a deadline for their search. Men (at least in their minds) do not, so many of them go on searching for the one who can wear the glass slipper long after the biological clock strikes twelve for women.

So the dilemma remains, and people like Gottlieb claim it can be solved by settling. Personally, going through the motions of a marriage when my heart wasn't in it would require acting chops I don't have, and despite the quotes Gottlieb trots out, no man I've ever dated seriously would've been happy in a cold, stale relationship.

Apparently, even Gottlieb can't buy what she's saying. "Much as I’d like to settle, I can’t seem to do it," she confesses.

Neither can we.

What do you think about "settling"? Would you marry someone you weren't in love with if they had other good qualities or if you wanted to start a family?

Fun Link of the Day

Thursday, February 14, 2008

International Quirkyalone Day

This February 14, Singletude observes International Quirkyalone Day!

What is Quirkyalone Day, you ask?

It's a day to celebrate exactly what the singletude philosophy aims to live out every day--that you don't need to be paired to be valuable!

The Quirkyalone community was established by singles who've got singletude. According to their web site, a "quirkyalone" is defined as "a person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple." The site features a blog, news articles, an active message board, and information on quirkyalone get-togethers.

Check it out and get involved!

Are you a quirkyalone? Tell us about it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Single on Valentine's Day = A Whole Lotta Love to Give

I tried to ignore it. But the more you ignore that two-ton elephant in the corner, the more it stomps around and trumpets sappy Sinatra songs and blows heart-shaped bubbles.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. If you're single, it's a national holiday to celebrate something you don't have.

Or is it?

Valentine's Day is supposed to be about love. Last I checked, love was not a pair of De Beers blood diamonds, "fresh tropical flowers" from a hothouse in Connecticut, or chocolate lollipop bears too cute to eat without feeling like you're decapitating an endangered species. And it certainly wasn't restricted to couples.

This V-Day, take a minute to call to mind all the other kinds of love you have in your life--the love of parents, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, pets. That's a whole lot of love. In fact, if you have that much love, you have way more to celebrate than those poor lovestruck couples who only have each other. And how about that wealth of love you have stored up inside? Why not celebrate that by giving it away to other people?

Dedicate this Valentine's to giving love instead of passively receiving it. Call your family and friends tomorrow and remind them that you love them. Take the time to buy or make a card for everyone you're close to and write a personalized message about how they're special to you. Hand deliver the cards or tuck them into mailboxes. For family and friends who are far away, ecards are a good substitute as long as you add a message in your own words. If there are kids in your family, take them out for ice cream or to the movies.


Let V stand for volunteer. There are so many people who could use some love this Valentine's Day. Visit a nursing home and play checkers with the seniors. Help a child learn to read. Deliver a meal to a hungry family. Feed the animals at your local shelter. There are as many ways to get involved as there are people with needs. Follow these links to web sites that can hook you up with nonprofits who need help:
American Red Cross
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Network For Good
United Way
Volunteer Solutions
Volunteers of America

Helping others will take your focus off yourself this Valentine's Day and remind you that there are people with much bigger problems than who to take to the movies. When you're picking up trash off the street or handing out blankets to homeless folks, I can guarantee you won't hear any platitudes about love...but you'll be showing some.

What do you plan to do for Valentine's Day?

Fun Link of the Day

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who to Choose as Friends, Part II

Continuing from yesterday, Singletude completes the list of characteristics to look for in a friend:

3. Your friend has firm roots, rain or shine, and if you need to lean against him, he won't break.

No matter how sparkling your friend's personality, no matter how much the two of you have in common, if he isn't dependable, he's not a good friend.

When you make a plan with a good friend, he shows up. He doesn't keep you waiting for an hour or cancel at the last minute because he found something better to do. If she gives you her word, she keeps it; she doesn't make a habit of breaking promises. If you tell a good friend something in confidence, you can trust her not to gossip. And if he has a problem with something you've said or done, he'll take it to you before anyone else.

If you've had a bad day or you're in a bind, you can count on a friend to come to your aid. This isn't a privilege you should abuse--then you wouldn't be a good friend--but if you occasionally find yourself in hot water, a true friend will grab your hand and help you out.

A good friend is stable enough that you're not thrown off balance by his giant mood swings. You have the sense that you know who he is. He doesn't continuously contradict himself, she doesn't change personalities like sweaters.

Real friends should be reliable enough with their finances to pay their own way most of the time. They shouldn't ask you for favors they never repay.

All these things contribute to your friend's dependability, and dependability is an integral part of friendship. In its absence, resentment builds and can topple a friendship that otherwise would have been strong. Once in awhile, everyone slips up and forgets you had plans for dinner, leaves their wallet at home, or gets into a car accident and needs a ride. But if your friend is habitually unreliable, it will take a toll on your time, your bank account, and most importantly, your faith in people. The last is especially true if your friend is personally unreliable and can't be trusted to keep a secret, protect your reputation, or follow through on his word.

Unreliable people tend to out themselves early, so watch for the above behaviors, not just in your own friendship but in how your new friend treats others. Weed out the undependables and nurture the friends you can rely on to go the distance.

4. Your friend is like a strong, healthy tree in bloom--pest-free, disease-free, and no signs of decay.

Some years ago, I became close with someone who was just not healthy, although I didn't see it at the time. (We'll call him Nathan.) I thought he had gone through some rough times, that he was improving, and that I could help him by being there for him. As the years passed, though, Nathan only got worse, spiraling downward until it was apparent that not only couldn't I help him, but he was going to take me with him if I didn't get out. While I'm not going to give you the Us Weekly version of events, I will give you a list of unhealthy traits I learned to avoid, either from direct experience or by inference:

--Drug or alcohol addiction
--Criminal behavior
--Severe psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, debilitating depression or anxiety)
--Financial instability, including gambling, overspending, and long-term unemployment
--Violent or uncontrollable temper
--Pathological lying
--Manipulative behavior
--Inability to set or accomplish life goals (i.e. chronic quitter)
--Inability to maintain good relations with family, friends, romantic partners, and coworkers

Obviously, you'll have to use discretion when applying this list. There are some wonderful individuals who are recovered alcoholics or medicated manic-depressives, ran into trouble with the law in their teens, or took a long time to find their career niche. But when you meet a person who is still struggling with one of these issues--and especially when you can run down the list and check off multiple problems--that person may need a counselor more than a friend.

Quite a few of us singles are people who have a lot of love to give, and some of us can't wait to give it to anyone who needs it. So when a troubled individual wanders into our lives, we see him as a withered plant. We think if we could just give her enough water or sunlight or Miracle-Gro, she'd perk right up like the other plants.

What we don't understand is that people like this are suffering from something systemic, a blight that extra food or water won't cure. And we're not arborists. We don't have the expertise to diagnose the problem or the resources to treat it. And so, even as we're knocking ourselves out hauling big buckets of water, setting up heat lamps, and checking the pH of the soil, the blight begins to spread.

Troubled people need love and affection. Absolutely. But much of the time, they're not able to receive it, nor can they return it. What's worse, instead of absorbing our love like oxygen and breathing it back into the friendship, these people tend to absorb the oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, returning our affection with toxic doses of vitriol, dishonesty, manipulation, and even violence. Eventually, they'll either overgrow your beliefs, values, and conscience until you're a prisoner in the game, or you'll get out. Either way, you'll be brutalized, and it will be a long time before you can recover from the devastation. Although I escaped Nathan with everything but my trust intact, some people lose friends, go bankrupt, or land in the hospital due to their encounters with "bad seeds."

So what makes a person "healthy"? Try reversing the list:

--Uses alcohol or drugs sparingly or not at all
--Has not had major trouble with the law or, if so, was never arrested for a violent crime and has had a clean record for at least 10 years
--Has no major mental health problems or has been in treatment for at least several years
--Has a steady income and spends wisely
--Is calm, reasonable, and nonthreatening
--Is a genuine, honest person
--Does not manipulate or "play games"
--Sets goals and pursues them
--Has good relationships with a network of long-term friends, family, and co-workers

If your friend displays all or most of these traits, you can be pretty sure your friendship will thrive and blossom.

Since I've been accused of being "too picky" with my friends in the past, I wondered if this series of posts would get some rebuttals, but apparently not. What do you think about today's criteria for choosing friends? How do you choose your friends?

Fun Link of the Day

Monday, February 11, 2008

Who to Choose as Friends, Part I

So let's review: So far, we've talked about where to meet compatible single people and how to turn them into friends. But now that you're circulating on the social scene, who do you choose to invest that time, energy, and commitment in?

I'll admit that I'm selective with my friends, and I've gotten some flak for that over the years from people who think it's antisocial or elitist to be choosy. My response is that the friends I make I intend to keep, and the friends I have are people to whom I'd trust my life...or at least my CD collection. ;)

Seriously, though, like relationships, friendships need to be nurtured to grow and thrive. While there are lots of people I'd like to get to know, our 16-hour waking days, eight hours of which are spent at work, two on the road, and at least two on self-maintenance, dictate that I can only play constant gardener to so many friendships. There are singles who stretch themselves thin between dozens of friends, but to extend the garden metaphor, when their social circle gets unwieldy, they cut back each friendship to manageable proportions. So instead of growing a handful of healthy, deeply rooted friendships that can withstand the onslaught of a storm, they sprinkle the occasional phone call or party invitation here and there and are dismayed when their friendships are shallow. Since I prefer friendships rooted like sequoias, I have to conserve my resources of time and attention for friends who are worth the investment.

The question is: How can you predict who will return your investment as a good friend?

Although you'll need to spend time with your potential friend to figure out who he or she is, these are some early signs that point to whether you're investing wisely:

1. You and your friend are rooted in common ground.

In my experience at least, the more I've had in common with my friends, the more likely we've been to stay in touch and grow closer. I've had few friendships with birds of a vastly different feather that have withstood the test of time, and although it may seem like an unfair bias, research supports this tendency to flock together with those who are most like us. Some shared traits to look for are hobbies and interests, ethical values, and what I personally find the most essential, personality type. Some sociologists will cite age, proximity, and background, but while these can be influential factors, I've yet to see them stand in the way of a good friendship.

Obviously, you and your friend won't see eye to eye on everything. Some of my dearest friends are those whom I've debated with most fiercely as well as those who've educated me most thoroughly, exposing me to concepts that might as well have been black holes in my universe for all I knew of their existence. But those friendships worked because we had our roots deep enough in common soil that it didn't matter which way the wind blew our minds on one issue or another. In contrast, I've had other friends who were as fundamentally different from me as mangoes and grapes (sorry, I thought the apple and orange metaphor was getting a bit rotten by now), and every one of those friendships has weakened or died while the others are still in top shape.

For instance, I had a friend a few years ago (I'll call her Lori) who probably sought out my company because she was new in town and I was one of the few friends available to her. We were both single females around the same age and raised in the same belief system, but our current convictions, interests, and personalities were about as similar as milk and tequila. She thought kissing was a sin; my lips (and other erogenous zones) had known the touch of quite a few others over the years. I was at home in high heels under strobe lights; she preferred hiking boots and rocks to climb. I loved to reason through logical arguments step by step and analyze the fallacies; Lori had no stomach for debate and followed her gut instinct. After awhile, it got to the point that every conversation was a showcase for how amazingly different two creatures of the same species can be. Though our friendship eventually unraveled for other reasons, I wonder if it would've survived had there been some common glue to hold us together.

Now, I don't want to discourage anyone from getting to know an interesting person just because he or she didn't grow up speaking your language, never heard of your favorite band, prefers coffee to tea, and voted for Mike Huckabee. (Well, okay, if he voted for Huckabee, forget him. ;) ) Otherwise, you might pass up a wonderful friend based on a few prejudices. If you feel at ease with each other, these differences will fade into the background like evaporating rain.

What you shouldn't do is try to force a friendship that doesn't fit. Lori and I didn't suit each other as friends. There just wasn't enough common ground. But we kept trying because she needed a friend, and I felt obligated to be the friend she needed. These days, if I'm not on the same wavelength with someone, I don't pursue closer ties. We have enough people in life we have to scrape along with even when it chafes--family, bosses, co-workers, drivers who don't signal. Friendships shouldn't be another source of friction.

2. Your friend is a ray of sunshine in your life.

A good friendship grows best in the warmth of positivity, encouragement, laughter, and open-hearted sharing. So your friend should be someone who has a generally upbeat attitude, is supportive of you, has a sense of humor, and wants your friendship to grow. She enjoys her life and wants you to be part of it.

Everyone has lived through some rainy seasons, and so will your friend. It's par for the course that he won't always be smiling brighter than a Whitestrips ad. But be careful when befriending people who are chronically pessimistic or depressed. If you're an optimist, it can be tempting to try to "rescue" a bitter person from himself. Likewise, if you're down yourself, it can feel comforting to wallow in your bad mood with someone else.

But eventually, friends who are deeply unhappy with themselves and their lives will likely insist that you always sit under their rain cloud. Even the sunniest person will feel his smile dampened, and if you already hover on the edge, a depressive person can pull you down into a funnel of despair that can be hard to claw your way out of. What this person needs is a therapist, and if you decide to fill that role, be prepared to do a lot of giving and very little receiving because someone whose hope is crushed doesn't have any to spare for you right now.

Besides a sunny disposition, another promising trait in a good friend is that she wants you to be happy, too. Did you know that we tend to pick friends who are more supportive of us? When you've landed your dream job, bought your first condo, or won a trip to Hawaii, a good friend is genuinely happy for you, not so focused on herself that she constantly resents your success and tears you down. Early on, envious types may show their true colors by trying to compete with and one-up you all the time. Green is a sickly color; avoid it like the plague. :) Instead, look for friends who encourage your goals and rejoice with you when you achieve them.

Another sign that your friend is a keeper is if she can make you laugh and laugh at herself, too. The last thing you need is a friend who turns into Naomi Campbell every time she sees a phone. A good friend can diffuse tension with a joke or shrug of the shoulders and doesn't get off on picking fights, criticizing or humiliating people, or subjecting you to a tirade of obscenities in four languages every time he doesn't get what he wants. He shouldn't take himself so seriously that he can't admit to his flaws and have a chuckle about them, too. After all, what's a good friend for if you can't use him as a verbal punching bag now and then, right?...Err, just joking. ;)

Finally, you want a friend who is open. He returns your calls and invites you out. She shares the tidbits of her life. He or she is interested in the friendship and wants to match your investment. He isn't high on some power trip where he calls all the shots. She doesn't call you as a last resort when her worthier friends have deserted her for their shore houses. They don't shut you out when there's a problem or choose passive-aggressive games over honest communication.

In short, a good friend will be an addition who betters your life, one who waters your friendship with positivity and helps you help it grow in the land of happy little trees. :)

Next time, we'll wrap up the series on choosing friends with a few more qualities to look for in your very own Robin, Tonto, or Boo-boo.

Wait a minute...Did I say Boo-boo???

I guess so. Boo-boo.

Choosing to choose your friends can be controversial. What do you think about this? Are you selective about who you hang out with? What do you think about choosing friends based on the criteria listed here?

Fun Link of the Day

Saturday, February 9, 2008

How to Meet Single Friends

Now that you know where to meet single friends, you and your pals from the soup kitchen, the reiki center, or your group for cryptozooligists from Laguna Beach must be bonding over lattes at Starbucks, calling each other to pet sit, and borrowing each other's Juicy Couture, right?


You mean Singletude has handed you four different opportunities to meet your bosom buddy and you still haven't sealed the deal?

Well, don't despair. You're not alone in your, uh, aloneness in the middle of the crowd.

I have a single friend who's diligently pursuing a career in law and is surrounded by new classmates (read: prospective friends) semester after semester. Whenever I catch up with him, he has a story or two about some of his fellow students. He chats with them before and after class and even by AIM but complains he's lonely because he can't seem to take these acquaintances to the next level. This guy is intelligent, humorous, loyal, insightful, patient, and understanding. If you were going to build yourself a customizable friend, you'd want him to be the template. But he's shy and sometimes doubts himself, and it's hard for him to know how to transition a casual social contact to a friendship.

Initiating a friendship is, in some ways, like asking someone out on a date. You have a finite window of time to make a positive impression, establish rapport, and get his or her number without seeming like a loser, a weirdo, or the second coming of Borat. Even though your interest isn't romantic, it still makes you vulnerable to rejection. You're holding open the door to someone who didn't ask to come in and doesn't know what's inside beyond what they've glimpsed over your shoulder, and there's a chance they'll say no thanks to your invitation to find out. That's hurtful, whichever way you cut it. So it takes guts to get a new friendship off the ground, and it also takes some savoir faire.

The guts I can't help you with.

Here, then, are some steps to scoring that friend date with grace under pressure:

1. Make It Personal

Presumably, you and your future friends have convened for a higher purpose than dishing about your cousin's wedding, your trip to Cancun, or your souped up but eco-friendly SUV. You have lofty goals of rehoming the homeless, communing with the divine, or deconstructing postmodernist fiction.

It's your job to bring the discussion back down to earth, and when you do, make it personal. You don't have to preface every statement with "this one time at band camp," but if it makes sense to interject an anecdote about something that happened to you, do it.

When singles are evaluating potential social connections, the most useful tool you can give them is insight into who you are. They won't get that by sticking to a syllabus. As you chat before, after, or even during a workshop, lecture, performance, outing, or other event, reveal things about yourself whenever appropriate. These tidbits can be as lightweight as where you're from and what you do for work or as serious as where you stand on politics, religion, and who's going to be America's next top model. What's important is that you open up about yourself and help set the tone for an informal, friendly environment where everyone can interact on a personal level.

Be sure to engage other group members by asking them about themselves, too. Ask the woman on your left where she got her adorable handbag because you've been looking for one just like it. Ask the guy with the Yankees cap what he thinks the odds are of a win in the game tomorrow night. Most people will be flattered that you requested their opinion or complimented their style and will be happy to not only expound on the answer but follow your lead into an actual conversation. As you chat, it will be obvious if there's a congenial vibe between you that could be the basis for a friendship. This "vibe" may seem as mysterious as the continued popularity of bold print disco clothes, but it's based on the not-so-mysterious commonality factor that you're both sizing up as you...

2. Match It Up

Research shows that like attracts like. People pick friends who are similar to them. So if you're trying to form a bond with someone, emphasize what you have in common. If someone in your group mentions an author, band, or actor you like, let them know you share their taste in entertainment (unless it's, say, Tom Cruise or the reunited New Kids on the Block, in which case it would be better for everyone if you kept it to yourself). If someone else has a view on health care that jives with yours, support their position. If someone reminisces about a childhood experience that you also had, chime in. The more common ground you establish with someone, the more likely it is they'll feel an affinity with you.

The opposite principle holds true as well, so you'll want to minimize the differences between you and your would-be friends. This does not mean you should misrepresent yourself or be dishonest, but you might avoid jumping into debates with both feet. Some people try to impress others by poking holes in their arguments, but if you're overly critical of group members' beliefs, such tactics may backfire and leave your one-time friends fuming about how they'd like to poke a hole in you. All friends have differences that affection bridges, but wait until the bridges are built before you burden them with loaded questions. ;)

Instead, play up your commonalities and think up ways to explore them together because now you're ready to...

3. Take It Outside

This step crosses the divide between social acquaintances and friends. Unfortunately, it's the step that tripped up my legal eagle friend because it's the most slippery. This is when you cast aside the crutch of your book club, charity, bible study, or what have you and see if your friendship has what it takes to go the distance in the real world. It's also when rejection threatens and your dedication to the cause is tested, so it's at this juncture that a lot of beautiful friendships cue the violins and bow out before they've debuted.

But yours won't be one of them. :)

First, keep in mind that you don't have to make the transition all at once. You can start by using your group activity as an excuse to meet outside of it. For example, if your group has any kind of educational or performance focus, it's tailor-made for practice sessions. If you're in an acting workshop, invite your prospective friends to rehearse. If you're taking a college class, suggest that you be studdy buddies. Learning to swim? Get together on a day you don't have lessons and time each other on laps (water wings optional). Afterwards, have a chat over coffee or lunch and get to know each other better.

Or maybe you don't have a reason to meet up, but you live near your new acquaintances. If so, ask them if they'd like to car pool to your next group activity. That will give you a chance to socialize apart from the group and see how the two (or three or four) of you get along. Better yet, if your group meets on a rotating schedule, volunteer to host a meeting at your house and then round up everyone for dinner or drinks afterward.

If you take these baby steps before the last big one, both you and your friend-to-be can take the friendship for a trial run, so to speak. Eventually, it will seem like a natural extension of your extracurricular meetings to call your new sidekick just to talk or ask him or her to go shopping or shoot some hoops. Since you've learned by now that you two have plenty in common, it won't be a stretch to plan an afternoon you'll both enjoy.

On the other hand, if there are no baby steps available to ease you beyond the confines of the group, your commonalities will anchor your invitations. For instance, let's say you meet a kindred spirit at a pottery class and find out she loves antiques, just like you do. Tell her about the grand opening of an antique shop in your neck of the woods and invite her to go with you. Or maybe you bump into someone cool at a event for small business owners. If you know of an upcoming seminar on small business management, inform your new friend and arrange to grab a bite to eat beforehand so you can talk shop.

See, that wasn't so painful, was it? Not even a bruised ego, right? :) Taking that last step doesn't have to be a leap of faith if you've taken intermediate steps first.

And if your growing friendship doesn't take root immediately, don't give up. You know from experience that singles are twice as busy, right? ;) If your new friend turns down a few invitations because he or she has other commitments, don't assume it's an excuse. Sometimes, too, people need a little convincing to give a new friendship a try. Especially as they get older, many singles are more selective about their friendships since each one requires a substantial investment of time and emotion. Be persistent (but not a stalker) and demonstrate that you're serious about pursuing a friendship.

So now that you know where and how to meet single friends, the only question left is who to choose for the position. Oftentimes we latch onto whoever happens to be available and regret it later. In the next post, Singletude presents some traits of a good friend...and some traits to avoid like "the Rachael."

Have you tried any of the above strategies to turn acquaintances into friends? Were they successful? What other tactics have you used to make friends?

Fun Link of the Day