Why Being Single Can Be Great for You -- And Your Future Relationships
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In American culture, it's generally assumed that everybody wants to be married, or to be in a long-term relationship. It's assumed that everybody should be hitched up, and that everybody would be better off that way. Oh, sure, if you've just broken up with someone, it's considered prudent to take a break between relationships. But it's generally thought that this break is just that -- a break. A temporary pause in the normal, correct state of affairs: the state of being in love. It's assumed that, once a decent interval has passed, of course you'll want to get back in the love game.
I was single for twelve years before my wife Ingrid and I fell in love. Very happily single. I am a huge fan of taking time to consider not just when to be coupled again and with whom, but whether to be coupled again. I am a huge fan of learning to be okay about being single: learning, not just to be okay with it, but to be actively happy about it. I am a huge fan of seeing our choices about romantic relationships include the choice, "None of the above." I'm not alone in this. According to
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist (and author of
on sexuality, as well as the
blog), the consensus in the therapeutic community is that taking time to be alone after a breakup is, if not essential, certainly very beneficial to making future relationships work.
But how does that work? How can I be an advocate, both for happy marriage, and for happy bachelor/ bachelorette-hood? There are two basic things going on here. They're going to seem paradoxical, but they're really not. Paradox resolution is forthcoming, I promise. Thing One: Being single for so long was, in and of itself, awesome. Thing Two: Being single for so long has made my marriage stronger. Let's get to Thing One first. Being single for twelve years was one of the best experiences of my life. It taught me self-reliance. It taught me self-confidence. It taught me an immense amount about who I was. It taught me how to keep myself company. It taught me how to keep myself sane. And for most of those years, it was just plain fun. I did what I wanted to, when I wanted to do it. I went to the movies when I wanted. I hung out with my friends when I wanted. I went out to nightclubs or sex clubs or nerdy folk dances when I wanted. I let the dishes rot in the sink when I felt like it. (And I felt like it a lot.)
I fucked dozens of different women: casual personal-ad hookups, ongoing fuckbuddies who became genuine friends, women at sex clubs whose names I never knew. I never would have known how valuable and fun being single was if I hadn't thought to try it. As Dr. Charlie Glickman, AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator and Ph.D. in Adult Sexuality Education, said when I asked him about this, "I've always said that the only way to know for sure if something works for you is to try it on. Whether that's a shirt or a relationship, we can often make educated guesses but until we take it off the hanger and put it on, we don't really know for sure. I've spoken with a lot of people who thought that a particular sexual activity or relationship structure wouldn't work for them until they tried it." And obviously, we can't try out a relationship option -- including the "None" option -- unless we know it's both available and valid. You can't try on a shirt if you don't know it's on the rack... and you're a lot less likely to try on a shirt if your friends are all telling you it's ugly.