Stuff you can try,  Working with Stuff

Being Single Alone

Photo by Sebastian Callahan on Unsplash
Photo by Sebastian Callahan on Unsplash
 
It’s Valentine’s Day, or as we call it on this website, “Valiant Day”, and since this time tends to wreck the nerves of us single people, I thought I would come out of my Writer’s Block to share the best advice I can give you on how to deal with singleness in a world of coupledness.
And that advice is:
 
“You do not talk about being single with people who are coupled”.
 
Now you may be thinking “whaaat?”, so don’t worry, I will expand on this.
And if you regularly find yourself in painful conversations with your coupled friends, you may want to read until the end.
 

Single isn’t “just” single

 
Let’s start from the beginning.
Being “single” doesn’t just mean being without a romantic partner. Not in our culture, and not in any culture I can think of.
 
Not having a romantic partner means, among other things:
  • Higher risk of disease
  • Higher risk of mental and emotional illness
  • Insecure housing
  • Not settling down in a particular place
  • Financial insecurity
  • Unchosen childlessness
Our culture is built with marriage and nuclear families at the core. That is the foundation of society.
It is no small thing to be unattached, since this places you immediately in the margins of society.
 
Emotional ties are built around marriage. Financial prosperity is built around marriage. Belonging to a certain place happens after people get married, as well as keeping a home and having children.
 
Let’s pause there, with children.
Losing a child is seen as the most painful experience a human being can ever go through.
And yet somehow “not having children” does not even feature as something that we should all consciously pay attention to because, hey, it’s kind of a big thing.
 
There’s real loss in a life lived as one, especially when that life is not chosen. There is real loss in a life without children, especially when one wants them.
This is real grief. Every year, every month, every day that goes by without a partner and without a family of one’s own will bring up grief.
And grief needs to be dealt with.
Even if our culture has no concept of rituals and practices to do so.
 
I cannot emphasise this point enough. The grief of being single, feeling lonely, experiencing life as a leaf tossed by the wind, without ever growing roots anywhere, not to mention the real loss of the children we never get to have, this is extremely Big Stuff. It is serious. It is close and personal and cuts right to the bone.
That’s why we need to treat it as such, and only talk about it with people who can help us hold that grief.
 
And coupled people can’t. And so…
 
“You do not talk about being single with people who are coupled”.

Speaking of grief

 
If you ever suffer a great loss, you quickly realise who you can and cannot talk to.
 
When I lost my father I got very quiet. I only spoke to 2 people, my two friends who had lost parents. I cut off communication with those my age who had never gone through such an experience. I limited our interaction to the “shallow” end of the pool of life.
They could not handle depth, and I was not going to risk exposing my grief to unprepared hearts and minds.
 
This is how grief works: it destroys the person you are and demands you grow into a bigger person, the one who can carry that much pain. 
We need people to help us do this, who can show us the way, and hold our hand in the process.
But our culture is toxic, and people neither understand grief nor are they prepared to help others with it.
 
And so, we must cut off communication with them.
 

Not speaking to the coupled

 
When we go to coupled people and express our pain, we are asking for empathy, for help holding our grief and guidance in growing through it.
This is the point where (most) coupled people shut down.
 
They choose their own comfort, over connecting with us. They choose identifying as “coupled”, and therefore “not single, not like you” over connecting with us. They choose their social status over feeling the pain that they themselves went through when they were single.
Heaven knows.
 
 
Here’s Brene Brown on empathy:
 
Empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable choice. Because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.
Coupled people are making the choice to not connect with themselves and with us. That is a deficit in compassion.
And when we take our very personal, very Big Grief to them and they recoil and walk away, that only adds to the pain we are already feeling.
Your friend, someone you care about, someone you trust, has chosen their own comfort over connecting with you.
Pain compounded over pain.
 
You might think it’s a bit radical to to cut off your friends because they are partnered but the reality is that anyone who cannot show compassion for you is, in effect, choosing to cut you off from their heart.
 
So, the advice to live by is:
 
“You do not talk about being single with people who are coupled”.
 

What does a compassionate response even look like?

 
Like this:
“I’m so sorry this is happening to you”.
“That looks really painful, and I’m so sorry”.
“This really sucks, I’m so sorry”.
“I know you are in pain, and I’m here for you”
 
What it does not look like:
“Don’t worry, you’ll find someone!”. “Have you tried online dating?”. “Well, you’ll never find someone with that attitude”. “When you stop looking, it will happen!”.
 
Compassion accepts the reality that yes, you are single and yes, it does suck.
The present is single, and it’s painful. Here, right now.
 
The non-compassionate response is all about “going somewhere else”, either trying to fix it, or distract you, or getting you to think about the future more than the present.
You are single now, but it will change sometime in the future, so the present doesn’t matter. Keep looking forward and try to live there, when you’ll be single no more, rather than in the present, when you are single.
 

Should we cut off all coupled people? All of them? Always???

 
Yes and no.
 
First of all, it’s not the fact that they are coupled that is the problem here, but that they are either unwilling or unable to connect with you.
 
The disconnection is already happening anyway.
By cutting off communication with them on this one topic you are simply recognising that they have shown themselves incapable of holding your grief.
And we must accept that. It’s not your fault that they have a deficit of compassion.
 
You might try to see them with a kind of “benevolent patronising attitude”. As in “bless them, they don’t know”. Like that.
 
Now, it needs to be said that not every coupled person will act this way. There are precious people who are naturally compassionate, or who have worked with their own grief, and can therefore show compassion to anyone, including single people.
My personal experience tells me this is rare. Even among people who really should know better, who are out there in the world as spiritual teachers.
You will know when you run into these people anyway.
Until you do, we go back to the premise:
 
“You do not talk about being single with people who are coupled”.

You can do this everywhere in life

 
If you think this is a lot of work, let me share with you that my practice consists of doing all of this on not one but three areas of my life, namely: lack of relationship, lack of career, and lack of home. I do not talk to people about these things.
And yes, I have lost friendships as a result.
 
I can no longer connect with people I used to, and I know it’s because they have “done well” and I haven’t, and that this “not done well” on my part has led me to an understanding of life that is not palatable to those who have.
I have ditched science in favour of yoga, and ditched the dominant culture in favour of alternative philosophies. I have done away with the dream of a stable career inside “the establishment”. I have arrived at the realisation that relationships are not for me, and that I may well never have a home of my own.
 
Being my friend is extremely jarring to those who still have faith in the system, who still harbour dreams of grandeur, who believe there is more right than wrong in the dominant culture.
People want to believe that the world is fair, that the hard working and good get rewarded, etc, etc.
Meanwhile, I want to leave the “matrix”.
 

We cannot take everyone with us, and we shouldn’t try

 
It’s a painful aspect of growing up, but we come to realise we simply cannot take everyone with us. Some people follow other paths, and we cannot stop our evolution so we can be with them.
 
And if you ask me, anyone of certain age who is single in this day and age is being called to a “New Story”, something big happening in the culture, and we have to be brave and strong to carry it through. We cannot spend our lives wishing we had been called to a much “simpler” time just because others have.
 

What can we do?

 
I’ll finish on a practical note.
I already suggested you find compassionate people to talk to. This is absolutely essential to help you process grief.
 
You could also write or talk to yourself. I do that all the time. I imagine I’m talking to the most compassionate person I have never known, and I outpour all my frustrations and my sadness to them.
 
If you want to learn more about how to process grief you need to have Francis Weller’s “The Wild Edge of Sorrow”. You could try listening to interviews of him, such as this one with Charles Eisenstein.
 
And of course, you need to do something with your body. Grief goes deep into the body, so you really need to do yoga to release it. Personally, I find that yin yoga is the best for grief work.
 
 
Take heart. We are being called to something bigger. To redefining “love”, “family”, “home”. None of this is easy. But it is essential for the evolution of humanity into a new and more compassionate story.