The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center offers Individual Therapy for folks who are exploring single life or who are struggling in relationships.

The San Francisco Marriage and Couples Center offers Individual Therapy for folks who are exploring single life or who are struggling in relationships.

Single Life as Self-love

            I got some sage advice from colleagues yesterday about this blog. I was told not to include any cheesy references to taking yourself on a date or sexy solo baths. Apparently, some things have been said enough. So I won’t be talking about any of those (rips up notes). I will try to go a little deeper into the psychological case to be made for staying single, at least sometimes, but also, if you want, why not always? In our conversation yesterday one single friend said, “If one more person asks me if I’m dating, I’m gonna strangle them.” And this is the crux of the issue for many people who would otherwise be perfectly comfortable on their own  – how to navigate friends, family and other well-intended folks who seem somehow affronted or concerned by someone who chooses to remain un-attached. Hopefully, this blog will offer some talking points for those folks to push their noses back out of your business. Other people, who find themselves on the outside of relationship, are not there because they want to be, and find lonely isolation painful and unbearable. I will speak to that meaningful struggle as well and how to deepen into self-love while wading through despair and maybe even the purgatory of on-line dating.

            First, let’s tackle the obvious question (many of you have already answered this so bear with me) – Is being single a psychologically healthy choice? Is staying single ok? Yes. Of course. To go the long way around to give you an explanation for my thinking I will invoke physics (plot twist!). Newton came up with basically all of the ideas we still live with about how the universe works, how time works and how gravity works. Einstein, Planck and others then unrolled quantum physics which shattered Newtonian physics and introduced new ideas about time, space and gravity (more on this here). Though the principles of quantum physics have been tested and proven, they don’t sit well with us, so we largely haven’t incorporated them into our daily worldview. It is hard to reconcile that past, present and future co-exist with our experience of life, so we live in relative denial of relativityJ In a strikingly similar way, we have old traditionalist values that govern society, which we still operate out of, though they fly in the face of demonstrable current reality. Marriage and kids are the way to grow a society. Marriage was made as an institution to tie families together so that assets could be shared and property expanded. Producing many children was necessary because so many died in childbirth, and they were relied upon for their labor. Not having sex outside marriage made sense because sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis were brutally disfiguring and deadly until the early 1900’s. Look at where we are today, on an over-populated world with real resource distribution issues, which make having children an incredible financial undertaking and most sexually transmitted diseases are easily treatable. It is a different world. Yet, when your mother or aunt, cousin or best friend comes asking when you are going to settle down, you can almost palpably feel the echo of all the generations of people before you subjected to the same inquiry. These questions have been parroted for centuries to reinforce societal norms, which no longer make sense.

            I am ever grateful for the millennial generation, who seem to be moving us in the right direction. They seem less interested in dating and sex than the two previous generations. Millennials seem to understand that there are just other priorities right now. They are up against harder than ever job markets, requiring many to work in poorly-paid or unpaid internships. They may have watched their parents, grandparents and other elders struggle in relationships and with divorce. They have been raised on a planet, which has been in serious environmental danger for their entire lives. They grew up with the internet, which offers different kinds of connection. Millennials know on some level they are going to have to find the answers to how to change society that we (X-ers and boomers) failed to find. Maybe, it could even be argued that we failed because we have been so self and partner focused. Millennials seem to instinctively know they are going to have to think bigger than that. Yet, of course these folks will also be asked, “So when are you going to get married?” Maybe even by an Aunt/Uncle or parent who has been married three times and found only heartbreak.

            If we are to shake off the archaic detritus of tired social customs and face the world as it is, we have to get real about what our needs and desires are as individual humans. Underlying many of our flawed conceptions about relationships is one big flawed concept – normal. Here is a great article about how we came to believe normal is a thing. I won’t go into that here, except to say – normal isn’t a thing. We are all different and have different needs and desires, and that also means there are no ‘normal’ relationships. So, let us take a look at an imaginary person – Joe. Joe is 27, happy at his job, but doesn’t make much money yet and works long hours. He has a large group of friends with whom he socializes 2-3 times a week and a close-knit family 2 hours a way, who he visits often. He only has 1-2 nights a week available for dates. Joe doesn’t really find he has too much interest in dating. He uses dating apps for hook-ups once or twice a month, and watches porn and masturbates a few times a week. Joe feels some sense of emptiness and loneliness and believes this is because he should find a relationship. Every time he talks to his mother she emphasizes this. What are Joe’s actual needs? He seems to be getting what he needs sexually. He could probably benefit from the financial help of having a partner to share expenses, but could move in with a close friend and get almost the same thing. It is that pesky sense of emptiness that compels us to think Joe needs someone to love. But, maybe that someone is actually Joe.

            All references to dating yourself and taking baths aside, the pursuit of self-love is so worthy! Easily equally worthy to loving others, though less supported societally. I love to go to movies, theater, concerts by myself because I can immerse myself fully in the experience. I can follow the little impulses to move, to leave early or whatever I effing want. If Joe starts to invest a little of his time each week to parts of himself that he hasn’t seen in a while or maybe ever, the loneliness may alleviate. In relationship we often find parts of ourselves we don’t know at all. As I have said in a previous blog, this can be the hardest and best work of relationships. But, this is work you absolutely can do with yourself. Imagine your opposite, the things you shy away from, try to reach toward those things. Grab a friend who loves art museums (if you do not) and have them take you. In other words, Joe’s (or your) feeling of desire for more in life is really a desire for the self to expand, to open up to parts that have been rejected or ignored. Relationships are one way to do that. But, they are not the only way and they may not be the best way for you. If Joe found someone he liked and started a relationship, he might find that he doesn’t have the time his partner wants from him, that he is losing touch with his friends or that he is spending way too much time in art museums. The longing for more may not go away. At this point, as Joe’s therapist, I would find myself wishing he could just be ok with the fact that he is ok being single and tell his mother he will settle down later, maybe, if he feels like it.

            The other side of the story is people who are single, but really don’t want to be. How can folks who are really looking for partnership steer through the pokey questions, the on-line dating, and the world of people with their faces in screens to find true love? Well, first, just to eliminate any undo stress, ask yourself why you want a relationship. Is it for you? Does it make sense for you? Or is this really a case of thinking you ‘should’ be something or have something else? Then, let’s follow the inquiry. It is really, really you that wants a relationship. Why? What do you imagine this relationship bringing you? How would you feel differently? Write these needs and desires down. Is there any other way to cultivate them? If you believe relationships will make you feel more loved, and this is a burning source of longing for you, there may be an underlying wound in how you were (or weren’t) loved as a child that will likely emerge in your relationship as well. So why not work with that now. Practice receiving love from those who do love you, friends, colleagues, roommates. Practice loving yourself (baths, dates, adventures, presents). Maybe do some therapy on how it is hard for you to feel loved if you find either of the above difficult to do or imagine. If you believe a relationship will help to ground you and solidify your material life. Ask yourself how you can balance things in your life yourself. How can you stop maxing your credit cards is a better question than how can you find a partner who will have money, or help you organize yours.

It is tragic really, how many of the problems we hope will resolve in a relationship actually just show up there. That is why I am not suggesting you do this self-inquiry instead of looking for a relationship. Keep looking, but don’t forget to be actively loving and growing yourself in the meantime. There is some really solid help offered in Calling in “The One,” a book by Katherine Woodward Thomas. Woodward Thomas delineates a process of examining one’s patterns and getting through your obstacles to love. I believe the pain of loneliness and longing can be a powerful drive to open us into parts of our self. The image we create of a perfect partner is (according to me and Jung anyhow) really the parts of our self we hope to find outside, because those parts are difficult to find within. But, it is not impossible. So imagine your perfect lover. Can you be more like that person? What would that take? Give it a try sometime, even in small incremental steps. It is not the same as being with that person. Though, I believe it is easy to see how it will bring you closer to meeting them.

I will save on-line dating for the next blog. It feels too big to get into here.

 Completing a Master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Alice has learned to combine modern insights in attachment, mindfulness, trauma, gender and sexuality with an auto-didactically accumulated knowledge of Jungian psychology, and a wide variety of mystical and spiritual traditions. They currently practice as an MFT Trainee at the Integral Counseling Center. Alice is also a content writer and blogger for the SF Marriage and Couples Center.

Completing a Master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Alice has learned to combine modern insights in attachment, mindfulness, trauma, gender and sexuality with an auto-didactically accumulated knowledge of Jungian psychology, and a wide variety of mystical and spiritual traditions. They currently practice as an MFT Trainee at the Integral Counseling Center. Alice is also a content writer and blogger for the SF Marriage and Couples Center.

           

           

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