[Bella’s intro: In my last post, I gave a name to the series that has actually been ongoing for some time: Perspectives on Single Life. The first entry posted specifically under that name is from Maya Bernadett. She takes on the pressure to just settle, a topic that, unfortunately, continues to be timely. There are a number of lines from this essay that I especially appreciate, but I think my favorite is the very last one. No cheating – don’t skip ahead to the end! Thanks, Maya, for sharing your essay with the readers of “All Things Single (and More).”]
Marry No One: The Case for Being Happily Single
Guest Post by Maya Bernadett
Any mature adult knows deep down that the following two facts are true: it is definitely possible to be unmarried and happy, and it is also definitely possible to be married and miserable. Yet, in today’s modern society it seems that we mature adults have traded in these life truths for a life of fantasy. This fantasy begins as children, with the stories of the prince and princess living happily ever after, and culminates in adulthood with an almost cult-like obsession with finding a significant other, who, everyone hopes, eventually becomes a spouse. From the thousands (hundreds of thousands, millions?) of books out there on the do’s and don’ts of dating and “finding the right man” (suspiciously, these books are geared much more towards women than men, but I’ll leave the gender inequalities of dating for someone else to explore), to dating coaches, to dating sites, to reality dating shows, to the various match-making companies out there, one would think that finding a significant other and eventually getting married is the end-all-be-all of existence and the only way to ever have a chance at happiness. We all know that this is not true, which is a good thing because if happiness, self-worth, and fulfillment hinged on whether one was married or not, that would make for a pretty shallow, superficial existence. So, why do we delude ourselves into thinking it is?
There is no denying that romance can be a beautiful thing: the idea of finding someone you love and who loves you, whom you can share life’s joys and challenges with, and who will be there for you no matter what, holds a certain kind of beauty and meaningfulness that no doubt would be fulfilling. It is true too, that there are couples out there who truly seem right for each other. They love and support each other, complement each other nicely, and have healthy relationships where they find the balance between spending time together and spending time apart, having an identity as a couple but also an individual identity, and being able to share in each other’s lives without smothering each other. Even these couples, of course, have their off-days, lover’s spats, and general frustrations, but on the whole their relationships are pretty healthy and clearly enriching. Thus, this begs the question, is it worth it to hold out for a relationship like this, acknowledging that it may never come, or is it best to take the better-safe-than-sorry approach, marrying someone as soon as the opportunity presents itself, though there is no romantic connection or attraction at all? Basically, is it better to be single or to settle? My answer, truly and honestly, is to be SINGLE!
A couple years ago, a woman named Lori Gottlieb wrote an article for the Atlantic magazine, encouraging readers, particularly young women, to do exactly the opposite. Pushing forty, raising a small child, and unmarried, the author detailed the frustration and resentment she felt at how her life turned out, and concluded that if only she had settled rather than hold out for “Mr. Perfect”, she would be pushing forty, raising a small child, and married. She has now expanded this article to a 300+ page book, trying to instill fear in twenty-something year old women like me to think twice before dumping someone who’s decent but whom I don’t really feel a connection with because it could be my last chance at a ring. My response to this: So? Marriage, in and of itself, is just that- marriage. It will not innately make you happy, it will not automatically bestow your life with meaning and purpose, and it will not in any way act as an insurance against loneliness.
For those people out there who really, really want to get married, it is hard if you find yourself in a situation where something similar to what you want (marriage, kids for those that are inclined) but not quite ideal (loving, healthy, fulfilling marriage) is presented right in front of you, and you’re expected to pass. Of course one would be tempted to take the safe, decent offer than risk getting nothing at all. But even in this situation, when deciding whether to be single or settle I still say: SINGLE!
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that we may not get everything we want in life. It’s hard to believe that we, beautiful, wonderful, intelligent people that we are J could be so unlucky as to never find a long-lasting significant other. But, I’m asking you to daringly, adventurously, entertain this thought for a second. If you never find someone, would your life be so bad? Observing all the couples around you whose marriages are loveless, sexless, unfulfilling, or are like “..a mundane, often boring, non-profit business” as Ms. Gottlieb puts it, would you really want to trade places with them? Of course it would be frustrating if one’s dream were to be married and have kids and that never happened, but isn’t it the truly happy people out there who can accept disappointments in life and move on, and the truly miserable who always lament about what could have been instead of appreciating what actually is?
Imagine, if you will, a person, male or female, who has a strong sense of self, knows they are loved, and has a healthy approach to the fact that life is always unpredictable and we have so much less control over it than we think. They place their friends and family as their first priority, they have hobbies and interests that contribute to their personalities and enjoyment of life, and they have a job/career, or are pursuing a job/career that will allow them to be financially independent, and they belong to a community, whether it be religious, athletic, academic, political, etc. that gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. This person is single, and they are okay. They are okay because they know that their life, identity, and sense of self are much more than their marital status. They know that fulfillment and satisfaction in life comes from being strong in who you are, caring about the people you love, and not being resentful or bitter when life doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. They know that life is so full of wonderful, beautiful things that if one part of your life is lacking, other parts of your life more than make up for it. They also know that what may seem to be a lack might in fact not be one at all. To be single is to be free, to live your life the way you want without being tied down. It gives you time to focus on things that are truly important to you like your friends, family, career, or own individual passion, whatever that may be. It is also a challenge to see if you are truly comfortable in your own skin. This is in fact a welcome challenge, because it is crucial to maintain your own individual identity and enjoy your own company. If you can’t even stand to be with yourself, how can you expect anybody else to?
I know that as a twenty-three year old, it is easy for those older than me to dismiss my argument as the naïve, idealistic musings of someone who hasn’t lived life yet or doesn’t know the realities of what it means to be old and single. As Ms. Gottlieb admonishes, “if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.” Though I am young and may not be very wise to the ways of the world yet, I am old enough and have enough common sense to know that there are people out there in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s who are single and truly enjoy their lives. I am old enough (or maybe just precocious enough) to propose that if old, bitter, single women admitted that other women in their position were still happy, they would be forced to acknowledge that their unhappiness is not due to the fact that they didn’t settle when they should have, but rather it comes from within.
For all you early twenty-somethings out there, in the prime of your dating lives, I suggest you consider this: holding out over settling is a win-win situation. Most likely you’ll find a partner who’s just right for you. For those who may not, you would have spared yourself years (maybe decades?) of an unfulfilling, boring (maybe even miserable?) marriage that you could have avoided if only you had been confident and strong enough to accept that being single was a viable option. Just remember, whatever happens in life, keep your chin up, look for the positive, and for any disappointments that may come your way, accept them with grace and maturity. Being bitter and resentful may get you a book deal and national fame, but it’s not going to bring you happiness or, apparently, a husband.
About the author: Maya Bernadett is a Yale University graduate and is currently attending medical school in New York City.
Note from Bella: For other perspectives on single life, check out the feeds at Single with Attitude.