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.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why I Am Single by Choice

I am single by choice. I'm still getting used to saying that after years of considering myself single by circumstance. In "Single by Choice or by Circumstance?" I promised that I would explain the change of heart, and I will. But first, I want to address your response to the last post, which spawned a revealing dialogue about how we define "single by choice," "single by circumstance," and the variant "single by chance" suggested by several readers.

When Singletude has used the term "single by choice," the intention has been to describe singles who prefer to be single rather than coupled. Conversely, the phrase "single by circumstance" has been used to denote singles who would prefer to be coupled given suitable partners. However, some of your comments rightly alerted me to shades of "choice" that aren't acknowledged by such black and white classifications. Some readers proudly claimed "single by chance" as a more accurate and empowering self-descriptor, associating it with a conscious refusal to settle or give in to matrimania while keeping an open mind toward future prospects. Others pointed out that some people don't think in terms of preference, just accepting and relishing whatever life brings, whether single, married, or something undefinable. Although Singletude will continue to reference "choice" and "circumstance" for the sake of simplicity, I greatly appreciate all the nuanced perspectives that everyone has contributed to our understanding of how singles perceive themselves.

Today I am unabashedly a single by choice in the sense that if the perfect boyfriend fell in my lap, I couldn't dump his bum on the floor fast enough. That is not to say that I will never be in a relationship again. I stand behind healthy relationships as sources of love, support, companionship, and inspiration in the lives of many and encourage anyone who wants a relationship to pursue it. However, I'm now realizing that just because a romantic relationship can be a positive force in one's life doesn't mean that everyone should have one. I'm one of those people who shouldn't, at least not right now and maybe not ever.


Was your first reaction to that last sentence a sympathetic "awwww"? Did you instinctively think, "Oh, she'll change her mind"?

If not, congratulations! Singlism can't fool you, and matrimania has no hold over you! If, however, you were just caught in the act, don't feel too bad because your reaction just proved my next point--that lots of people, even those who think it's possible to be single and happy, can't fathom that anyone would be happier single than paired. But right now, that is exactly the case for me.

Like many singles, I didn't imagine this life for myself when I was growing up. At around 14 years old, a friend and I swore that we wouldn't marry and have kids before age 25 so that we'd have time to get educated, build our careers, and see the world. From the time I was a teenager, it wasn't a question of if, but when. Then 25 rolled around...and disappeared in my rear-view mirror...and I was no closer to marriage than I'd been at 14. Somewhere along the way, I noticed that I didn't mind the interludes of singleness between relationships, but I still assumed I'd rather be married if the right man showed up.

As the years passed without a ring on my finger, it occurred to me that I couldn't keep waiting for someone else to give me a fulfilling life. I was going to have to find fulfillment for myself. While questioning how to do that, I began to deconstruct my concept of a good relationship and what it could provide me that was worth continued pursuit. However, it wasn't until I was mentally sweeping up the fragments of my most recent relationship that the answer winked back at me, bold and undeniable: not a whole heck of a lot.

For some time, the three major draws of relationships--romance, companionship, and physical affection--have been losing their charm for me. As far as romance is concerned, it's not that I don't still thrill to a poem written for me or a candlelit picnic awaiting me at the lake. But now my heart merely flutters instead of thumping right out of my chest like a car stereo at full volume. By now, I know that sweet nothings in my ear mean just that--nothing--and I've heard most of them before. To me, this isn't some tragic loss of innocence but a mature awareness that flowery words and extravagant gestures straight out of an 18th-century court don't necessarily foretell long-term compatibility or genuine commitment. It's also a kind of experiential satiation, a feeling that Ive been there and done that, enjoyed it, and no longer have a craving to be serenaded by moonlight or waltzed around under the stars. Sure, romance is exciting, but if it never swept me off my feet again, I wouldn't feel like I had missed out or been deprived of something.

Companionship, too, is somewhat overrated for me. A dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I used to yearn for that one person who would understand me better than I understood myself, my best friend and soul mate with whom I could withdraw into a little cocoon world. What I've learned in the intervening years is that no one can be the whole world to someone else. Even someone who has an uncanny connection with you will, at times, misconstrue, disagree, differentiate. Despite the poetic tradition of becoming one in matrimony, you will continue to be two separate people, and where there are separate thoughts, beliefs, and desires, there will also sooner or later be conflict. That's why it's imperative that we don't invest our entire emotional well-being in one person. We need to have other family members and friends to open our hearts to, have fun with, learn from, rely on. When lengthy spells of singleness drove me to seek out and strengthen that web of relationships, I found that they gave me the emotional and mental sustenance I longed for. At the same time, I got accustomed to making coffee runs, strolling in the park, and poking around museums on my own. To my surprise, I didn't have to have someone alongside me to delight in these activities. A book, earbuds, or my own thoughts were companionship enough.

And then there's physical affection, the cornerstone, we're led to believe, of relationships. Such a double-edged sword for me, a source of both pleasure and pain. One of the most common complaints I hear from singles is that they miss the high of sex, the closeness of sleeping in another's arms, the relief of a foot rub or neck massage after a long day, the simple comfort of a hug to remind them that they're loved, appreciated, wanted. But for all the joys of physical intimacy, there are also annoyances, frustrations, dissatisfactions. Meditating on the dark side of sex, I think of all the times I have felt pressured to offer the use of my body to someone, not because I wanted to but because I didn't want him to reject me or feel rejected. I think of all the covers pulled off in the night, the muscle cramps from sleeping in positions contorted around someone else, the snoring slicing through my peaceful dreams. I think of the hours I'm obliged to spend on shaving and personal care, the sexy lingerie I'm supposed to keep my drawers well-stocked with, the risks of pregnancy and disease and the side effects of birth control. I think of these things and remember that physical love exacts a price of its own.

Of course there are other perks that relationships offer. Convenience, support, security, social standing, the chance for children. Some people marry for these reasons alone. But I believe that a man should be more than just a woman's handyman, paycheck, or sperm donor. A woman should be more than just a man's housekeeper, arm candy, or incubator. I believe that two people should be together primarily because they love to be in each other's presence. Those other bonuses like the guaranteed Saturday night date, the shared rent, or the extra pair of hands in the kitchen are not good enough reasons by themselves to dedicate one's life to someone else. To be with someone for just those reasons is tantamount to using that person.

So I can't, in good conscience, enter a relationship for the wrong reasons, nor do I really want one for the right reasons. The benefits of relationships simply don't outweigh the drawbacks for me. They are just not enough. And drawbacks there are in spades.

I know somewhere out there someone is reading this and thinking, "She just hasn't found the right person yet." I used to believe that, too, so that's probably why I only reached this conclusion, finally, after my last relationship ended. It was then I discovered that no matter how deep the connection or intense the passion, no matter how stimulating the conversation or enriching the shared experience, no matter how compatible the interests or complementary the personalities, relationships are still work. They demand compromise and sacrifice and adjustment and accountability. And all that work just isn't worth it to me. The pain of argument is not overcome by the satisfaction of making up. The loss of self-direction is not justified by the gain in synergy. The reduction in personal time is not compensated for by the increase in companionship. The irritation of quirks and foibles is not offset by the ease and comfort of familiarity. Even when a man is everything I could want, the sweetness of a relationship is not enough to counter the sour.

Before you roll your eyes and go back to sucking face with that hottie you met at the bar, please remember that I'm just explaining my own rationale. I don't expect it to apply to everyone or even to most people. I'm well aware that I'm a rather unusual person in somewhat irregular circumstances, which affects my attitude toward relationships. For instance, if I wasn't self-employed and trying to expand my own business, my personal time might not be so important to me. If I didn't live a fairly bohemian lifestyle, self-determination might not be such a sticking point. In fact, maybe one day my life will be different enough that I'll change my mind. After all, if it's changed once, I'd be foolish to think it couldn't change again.

Nevertheless, this is the way I feel right now, in my present situation, about this particular lifestyle decision, and this is why. Although I respect and blog about other lifestyles, this is the perspective that I write from. I am single by choice. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of it, neither thankful nor resentful, neither champion nor protester. It's just the right choice for me.

If you haven't already answered this question, do you consider yourself single by choice, single by circumstance, or single for other reasons? If you are single by choice, why? If you are not single by choice, why? Do you think it's better to be one way or the other? Why or why not?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!


Anonymous said...

Now I know why you are called CLEVER Elsie - this blog post is both so rational and well-written.

... oh, let's not forget that I agree with everything you've written 1000%! I think exactly the same as you. So that makes ME CLEVER too, doesn't it??!! ;-)

singal femail

Jenn said...

My 1st reaction to your statement "if the perfect boyfriend fell in my lap, I couldn't dump his bum on the floor fast enough" wasn't so much "she'll change her mind" as "why is that any different than someone who wholeheartedly wants to be in a relationship?" Either way, it seems sort of extreme to me. But as I kept reading, I realized that you've simply already resolved for yourself the answer to a question I am just starting to struggle with: are the costs of being in a relationship, even a fantastic one, worth the benefits? After my last relationship, I worked hard to get to a point where I was perfectly happy being single, and then I met someone who is amazing. He honestly is everything I want in a partner (to the point that it sort of freaks me out at times) but there are still costs (your comments about the covers being pulled off and snoring are spot on!). So I'm slowly learning that even with someone amazing, and a relationship that is actually healthy and wonderful, there are still limits to what the relationship can give me. At some point, I know I'll have to decide whether it is all actually worth it and for the first time, I can imagine deciding it isn't, even if things are great in the relationship. But I also know that I would never have gotten to this point if I hadn't had that period before of being so happy being single. How can you truly compare a great relationship with someone else to a great relationship with yourself if you've never had BOTH? Maybe it's only those of us who are lucky enough to have had both who can honestly say we are either single OR coupled BY CHOICE.

Clever Elsie said...

Singal Femail: Haha, thanks, I appreciate that! You know, the irony is that I chose the name from a Grimm Brothers fairytale because the character is only accidentally "clever." Interestingly, though, through her accidental cleverness, she winds up leaving a rather dim-witted man and striking out on her own!

And, yes, you are also outstandingly clever, as are all of us women who know the value of the single life! :)

(For anyone who doesn't know, Singal is the moderator of Footloose Femails, a Yahoo! Group I belong to. She is gladly accepting new members!)

Jenn: My 1st reaction to your statement "if the perfect boyfriend fell in my lap, I couldn't dump his bum on the floor fast enough" wasn't so much "she'll change her mind" as "why is that any different than someone who wholeheartedly wants to be in a relationship?"

LOL! At the risk of reinforcing stereotypes about "bad boys" and "bad girls," it does seem like an awful lot of singles who are seeking partners wouldn't know a real gem if it clunked them on the head. Anyway, I was probably being too hyperbolic with the statement you quoted, but the general sentiment that I don't want to be in a relationship right now, even if I found a suitable partner, is accurate.

So I'm slowly learning that even with someone amazing, and a relationship that is actually healthy and wonderful, there are still limits to what the relationship can give me.

I'm so relieved that you're out there having a similar experience (though sorry to hear you're struggling somewhat with it) because sometimes I really think it's just me! People I know in relationships complain to me about these same irritations but usually look at me like I just arrived from the moon if I explain that that's why I don't want to be in a relationship. It's like they see the annoyances as just part of life, something you have to put up with, as if there wasn't a choice.

Anyway, I know where you are right now and that it's a hard place to be. There really are so many reasons to recommend both states of being, and the emphasis you place on some over others can fluctuate over a lifetime. Good luck with your decision, and I hope you'll keep us all informed of the outcome of your, er, cost-benefit analysis. ;)

April said...

This was so beautifully put, Clever Elsie! And yes, I concur on every point!

Shiri said...

Wonderful! You're so right (and clever :D). You make valid points, some that I've often made myself. I'm so happy that I read this. Thank you for sharing!

Clever Elsie said...

April: Thank you! It's so nice to be able to connect with others who feel similarly!