“You’ve been single your entire life. Does it ever bother you?” I asked a friend one night.

“Not really. I guess I feel lonely sometimes, but I look at the things my friends who are in relationships go through emotionally, and I don’t think I’m any worse off.”

“Are you eager to find someone who is worth going through all that stuff for?”

“Not particularly. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind; I don’t spend much time thinking about it I guess.”

I had this conversation shortly after writing my entry about SoloPoly and Singlish. Being single was on my mind. You see, I’ve been “involved” with someone in one way or another since about the age of 13, from middle-school “boyfriends” who I would hold hands with and sit next to at lunch, to polyamorous relationships and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy as an adult. Though my Facebook status has read “single” for the last 3+ years, the truth is, I haven’t truly been “alone” in terms of romantic involvement in well over 10 years.

I’ve realized that my perception of “singlehood” is likely very different from others’. My perspective is that of someone who grew up in Los Angeles, where, by the age of 13, having a significant other was a prerequisite to having any social standing above “loner” at school. My perspective is that of someone who moved to St. Thomas at 16 and soon entered a 7-year relationship, which was completely normal in the new cultural context. At the ending of that relationship, I began navigating singlehood without ever straying too far from some kind of romantic connection. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but because of it, I have wondered at my ability to be happy while being completely romantically alone. I have wondered at the ability of others, as well.

There are many studies about whether being married increases a person’s chances of being happy, and a few studies, I believe, about whether just being “in a relationship” does so. A study from MSU published in 2012 actually tracked people’s levels of happiness ten years before and after marriage and compared them to a control group of people who remained unmarried for the length of the study, and found that married people experienced a spike of happiness during their first year of marriage, then declined to pre-marital levels of happiness. Unmarried people’s happiness declined over time, leaving them worse off than married people, except, it appears, in the cases of unmarried people who cohabitate with a long-term partner.

As I search the internet for more of these studies, I can’t help but notice how much of the “happy and single” movement is moved by, and geared towards, women. The friend I had the conversation above with is a woman in her 20’s. She’s happy, if not wishing only for a more challenging career. I somehow expected that, as a woman, she would have experienced some doubts and loneliness about her singleness, if for no other reason than movies and songs and TV shows are constantly telling her that she’s supposed to be in a relationship.

Apparently not. I continue to find evidence that happiness is, ultimately, up to the individual. Perhaps the single people whose happiness declined over time were feeling less happy because they believed that they should have been married by a certain age. Perhaps positive attitudes about singleness could rectify much of this reported unhappiness.

Thoughts from people with perspectives besides my own?

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  1. Shannon,

    You’ve hit on an intriguing subject, and likely a subject that consumes most of us a lot more than we really care to admit. I must include myself: intimate companionships is indeed what I wish for but due to external dynamics with other’s and social norms, I am usually “kept at a certain distance.” Not by my choice. Whether it is right or wrong, joyous or painful, I MUST respect other’s (temporary) points of life-journeys. I have accepted this seemingly difficult road in order NOT to lose my own identity. During my weak lonely times I sometimes loath this principle of mine; a principle I will likely never surrender.

    However, I have also learned in my 51 years of life that the (perceived?) easier path is usually not the best path either. I have learned and I have seen dear friends also learn the beauty and the wisdom gained in traversing bumps and storms within human intimacy. A person’s sphere of experience and wisdom is only as big as their courage and support of those around them. The larger the latter, the larger the former. I have finally learned that ‘failing better’ each time, happens much more often OFF the beaten path. In my lifetime of friendships and relationships — some across both oceans — one pattern emerges with human intimacy. If the relationship isn’t weathered, if it isn’t challenged, if it isn’t flexible and adaptable, and if it isn’t diverse as well as complimentary… apathy sets in. That sort of chemistry between two attracted people is not easily transparent or divulged. And TIMING is a big factor also. Add multiple people and their personalities, and those encounters becomes even more infrequent.

    Not to sound boastful because I don’t share all this freely all the time anywhere, but as a Polyamorous (hetero) man I’ve become more and more flexible and accommodating to and for my dear friends. It does indeed get tiring sometimes but in the end I sleep extremely well knowing exactly who I am… and I love me. 🙂

    • Bravo! I can only hope to continue to learn and that you do the same, friend. I can tell you’ve learned much from your experiences, and in the context of all my thoughts on perspective, I enjoy taking yours into account alongside what my experiences have taught me.


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