There are many things to love and enjoy about being single. Being single, as I have said before, is not a bad thing. However, as with anything, being single is not always fun or easy.
There are cultural and societal pressures/judgments/beliefs associated with being single that often weigh heavily on single people. In our culture there is a very real pressure, whether spoken or not, to be married; an expectation that at a certain point in life people should or want to be married. However, it is not always the external pressure or presumptions that are the hardest for single people to bear or the most dangerous; often the toughest challenges and most significant pressures of being single come from within.
Many of us internalize the external pressures and expectations around us – we adopt or over-identify with the issues of other people and society. We aim to please or meet the expectations of others rather than focus on our own expectations and desires. If enough people ask you “what is wrong with you” because you aren’t married, eventually some folks will internally conclude that something is wrong with them because they are not married. Who knows how many family, religious, or regional cultural beliefs and traditions that we tattoo on our lives to our own detriment.
So, instead of enjoying the wonderful things about being single we focus on the expectations of others. What so-and-so thinks about us since we are not married can sometimes become what we think of ourselves. One of the dangers of internalizing the beliefs and pressures of others is when those feelings start to drive life decisions. I think this happens most often when the internalized pressure to marry mixes with the occasional loneliness and/or fear that comes along with being single.
Merriam-Webster defines lonely as
1. a : being without company : lone
b : cut off from others : solitary
2 : not frequented by human beings : desolate
3 : sad from being alone : lonesome
4 : producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation
Of course, not every single person is lonely. There are married people who are lonely, despite their not being without company. Even though we often equate the words alone and lonely, being alone is not the same as being lonely. Aloneness always means solitary, but it does not mean you are feeling sad, bleak, or desolate. So, we can be alone and not lonely, or we can be alone and lonely. Being single/alone and not lonely can be a great thing. But, being single and lonely can create problems.
When you are single and not lonely it is easier to ignore the external pressures surrounding getting married and enjoy being single. But, when you are single and lonely, it is much harder to lay aside the pressure to be what others expect. It is easier to accept that there is something wrong with you or to feel hopeless because you are not married. If we take no action to address our feelings of loneliness and stay in that spot too long those feelings can start to drive our decisions. In lonely we can, if we are not careful, focus on curing the short-term loneliness problem, rather than patiently seeking long-term happiness.
At 30, and by nothing short of a miracle, I extracted myself from a relationship that I, by the grace of God (and three good friends), identified as going nowhere. One of the shocking responses I got from friends after that break-up was how “brave” I was for ending the relationship. Brave? I asked. Yes, because “most women at your age would have just stayed in order to have someone.” I was stunned. I could not imagine staying in an unhealthy relationship just to avoid real or perceived loneliness or being single. I was lonely and sad in that relationship; for me, the result of continuing that relationship would not have helped me to avoid loneliness – I would have ended up lonely and married.
We not only stay in bad relationships to avoid loneliness, but we initiate relationships as a solution to our loneliness. We get involved with people that we would never date but for the loneliness. I had a friend who once took up with a man who lived in a basement room with no windows, had once been a mortician, and admitted to her almost immediately (within 10 minutes) when they met that he has shot someone. This fella was so scary that I asked her to not let him know where I lived. Seriously.
We tolerate unacceptable behavior from friends, family, and partners to abate loneliness. I made a deal with myself a long time ago that I must avoid selfish people, even if they were the only people I knew. Like the friend who does all the talking and can’t talk about anything but herself; a meal alone is so much better. I can’t achieve long-term happiness by engaging in unhealthy and unhappy relationships of any kind. Of course, there are countless other ways people respond loneliness and the pressures to be what others expect. These are just some of the things I have witnessed or done.
Feeling loneliness or fear from time to time as a single person is normal. In fact, it is normal for everyone. Problems arise when loneliness and pressures to be married collide in life and lead people to make poor decisions – decisions that are designed to provide relief of temporary issues, like loneliness, but ultimately have long-term or permanent negative consequences. The desire for instant gratification rarely produces the best results.
Lonely is temporary and being alone is not a bad thing (it can be a great thing), it is just not being married.