24 Jun 2014

In praise of realism - stop telling single people "You'll find someone"

A few years ago I remember a friend of mine suggesting that a lot of the platitudes we're fed as kids - "Follow your dreams and you will achieve your goals!" "You can do anything if you set your mind to it!" - are actually 'sweet poison' which set us up for failure and disappointment. This kind of Pollyanna, one-size-fits-all advice fails to account for the lottery of genes and birth which means I'm white and rich in a world where to be a poor person of colour is basically the shittiest hand you can be dealt, yet billions of people have still been given it. It also fails to consider the millions of slings and arrows that injurious fortune may send our way - disease, disability, deaths of loved ones, accidents, redundancies, economic crises, natural disasters. It'd be a whole lot more honest and accurate to say "It's more likely that your time on this planet will be a thankless struggle than a joyous parade of constant fulfilment, but if you're very fortunate it might end up being somewhere in between, so savour the good bits when they occur", but I guess it's seen as overly harsh to say that to children.
I got to thinking about this when I saw people posting on a (different) friend's Facebook status where she was bemoaning her long-term single status. While they all (rightly) pointed out that this person is intelligent, funny, great to be with and physically very nice looking, most of them also felt obliged to add the obligatory "You'll find someone, it just hasn't happened yet" or "He's out there - keep looking" statement that apparently certifies the speaker's ability to see into the future and guarantee a soulmate for the singleton in question. I'd wager that nothing winds a single person up more, not least because these statements often seem to come from the patronising viewpoint of an already coupled-up person, who believes that their lifestyle is so desirable that no one could possibly not want it, and that any poor soul lacking a partner just needs a bit of an ego pat in the form of "There's someone out there for everyone." But it winds me up for a different reason - not just because it's glib, or patronising or presumptuous. But because it is the perpetuation of a myth that I believe sets us all up to fail.
What if there isn't someone out there for everyone? What then?
Or, what if there are several someones out there for everyone?
What if some people are better suited to multiple short romances, or lots of brief sexual relationships, or prefer overlapping, polyamorous encounters? What if some people are asexual? Aromantic? Or only interested in sex? Or only interested in romance?
Also, what if finding a partner isn't actually a solution to much at all? Because life will still continue to batter you with its frustrations, and the only consolation you'll have is someone to share your misery with, and it's still not much guarantee you won't end up alone, because people cheat, people leave, and unfortunately, in every couple, someone's going to be the one to die first.
My, I am being cheery today, aren't I?
Amazingly, the point I'm trying to make isn't that life is terrible and we're all doomed to die alone. What I am doing is deliberately focusing on the negative and scary aspects of life that starry-eyed romantics don't want to think about. And I don't blame them for shying away from these truths, because "negative and scary" is putting it mildly. However, when I sit and listen to people's tales of infidelity, dissatisfaction, broken families, failing marriages and romantic/sexual lives generally spinning out of control, all I can think is how some realistic thinking earlier down the line might have saved these folks a lot of bother. If we considered that expecting sexual fidelity for 60+ years to be easy and effortless may be a smidge ambitious, we might stop making monogamy the benchmark for successful relationships. That's not saying that everyone has to go out and become polyamorous, but at the same time, if you never even discuss the possibility that you or your partner may be attracted to others and may one day want to act upon it, then that possibility may well be what undoes you when the time comes. Especially if you make a long-term commitment with someone whose sex drive, preferences or kinks are vastly different from your own. Thinking that marriage or long term commitment is just going to steamroller such differences is about as sensible as assuming my Ford Ka will run like a Porsche if I just rebadge it. Yet that's precisely what a lot of people do seem to assume.
And it's by no means their fault - after all, what fairy story starts with 'They had just got married'? We're not given many life lessons about how 'happily ever after' is actually supposed to go. We're told that monogamous marriage should still be the ultimate aim for all of us (gay? No problem there now!), preferably plus some babies, add water and stir and bingo! Total happiness is the result - apparently. Even though this is a model from an era when we lived half as long as we do now and married for economic and social reasons, e.g. to legitimise children and strengthen family ties - reasons which really don't apply any more, we still adhere to it. Why? Because we've been told that 'love' will take the place of all the other reasons to marry, and love will be what carries us through the bad times.
Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. Philip Larkin once reflected that he was too "withdrawn, selfish and easily bored to love", and I'd suggest that unfortunately, many of us are in the same boat. Personally, I'm OK with that. I don't see long term monogamous relationships as something that can fulfil me, so I don't get into them. That doesn't mean I don't have partners, but just not of the type that society tells me should be my ultimate goal. I don't look for a potential husband or future father of my children, because I'm not interested in either of those things. I accept that one day I might be old and unpartnered, but I don't see that as the same as being 'old and alone', nor do I see it as a fate worse than death. I strongly believe that it's up to me to make friendship networks and be part of my community to a strong enough degree that someone will still want to come and see me when I'm 85, rather than just assuming that a partner or children, or grandchildren, will be there to keep me company. Also, I'm a logical gal and I've seen the statistics - at the end of the road, it's still more likely to be us women on our own as the guys unfortunately tend to head off this mortal coil earlier. We're probably all going to end up unpartnered at some point, but what I disagree with is viewing this as a terrible position to be in, or as something that renders us incomplete.
So don't tell my articulate, whip-smart, beautiful friend that "there's someone out there for everyone". I don't know if there is and I don't care . I'm not going to set her up to be disappointed by spouting these lazy myths. If she wants romance, if she wants sex, if she wants affection, if she wants children, yes, I don't doubt that she can get those things. But love, soulmates? I don't think any of us have the right to say those things are guaranteed or that we will all find them. What we can definitely find is intense love with the family and friends we already have, and keep showing it to them. We can seek new experiences and new connections. But the idea that "he's out there, just keep looking?". To hell with that toxic platitude. I would say to her "You are perfect the way you are. If someone nice comes along and appreciates that, great. If they don't, you've lost nothing - just keep living your life."
Because ultimately, that's all any of us can do.

1 comment:

Avril said...

I am currently finding out more about the Eastern part of our world, but at the moment can only comment from a Western viewpoint.

Love, as with many things in our world, really needs to have a major rethink. We have somehow lost our way and need to have serious discussions about the culture change that is required. Unfortunately it is broken and it does need fixing.

However, rather than simply state the obvious, I will start by putting in something to consider as part of the overhaul. We do not need to tell our children/single friends et al, that life is scary and you may never meet the right one and if you do something bad may happen, instead we can list love as one of the good things that can happen to you in life, along with many other things, rather than the be all and end all. We can rearrange our thought process so that our language doesn't inadvertently assign those who are single as those who have failed, or have something wrong with them, but just as those who are currently single.

There is so much to do however it can seem like a major task to socially redefine our thoughts and it is easy to feel it is too much to even contemplate and therefore it is easier to stay as we are. We will change however whether we realise it or not, so why not move change towards something we all feel is beneficial, rather than change just randomly meandering along by itself?

I would suggest small steps. If a single friend was bemoaning her single status, I would ask her if there was anything she felt she really wanted to do in life and to encourage her to really think about this. It may be something like start a small business which may or may not be profitable, or take on a challenge, which could something like trying out a course for example on computers, even an online one, or climbing Mount Everest. Making a change in her life that she would really benefit from. Make a list of 50 things I want to do before I die and start doing them. Not with a view to improving herself to make her more likely to "get a guy" or getting out more to different places where she may find "someone" because although that could indeed happen, this would be all about focusing on herself and giving herself a great time while expanding her knowledge, fitness, mind, experiences, whatever she wanted.

We must stop believing all that we have been told, beliefs that others from a different age or era felt benefited them and then. If the world was a theme park, we would never get round all the rides. There is a great big world out there and no reason we cannot be a part of it. There is no reason we cannot change the way we think either. Bon Voyage!