“It took me a long time, but I’m very happy (being single). I call it being self-partnered.”
According to CNN, Emma’s statement “launched a flood of tweets, think-pieces, and water-cooler conversations.” As a lifelong Harry Potter fan, I’ve always looked up to Emma. She continues to be as inspiring to me now as she was back then. Thank you, Emma, for publicly unknow-ing that the ultimate symbol of (feminine) success needn’t be marriage and babies.
I’ve always been happy to be single. I’ve also always received the message that I was weird for feeling that way. To be clear- I don’t have a problem with relationships, marriage or parenthood. It’s the expectation that these are things that everyone must aspire towards and achieve (by whatever arbitrary age) that is irritating.
There’s been far too much fear and misery caused by the stigma of being single. This stigma is enough for people to get into relationships and have kids even if they weren’t all that keen in the first place. Marriage and parenthood are the two biggest decisions that we make in our lives. Going ahead with them mainly because everyone else is also doing the same thing and we fear being left out is simply put, a terrible idea:
- When we have felt pressured to do something, we’re especially prone to the “grass is greener elsewhere” syndrome. We might try to convince ourselves that we made the right choice, but we still have a lot of moments where we envy single people their freedom. This is why the person who is always the first to ask others why they’re single is usually the one in the most miserable relationship. They’re just trying to justify their choices to themselves.
- Being in a relationship to escape the fear of being alone guarantees us a certain level of misery. At best, we have a moderately bearable relationship. At worst, we put up with terrible behaviour from our partner that would be unacceptable to most other people.
- Our general lack of contentment means that over time, we become ghastly to be around. Through our resentment, we cause a lot of emotional damage to our partners and kids.
The strange things about relationships
Paradoxically, the people who stand the best chance of being truly happy in a relationship are the ones who are also perfectly content being single. Should they ever choose to be in a relationship or get married, they know for sure that:
- They’re doing it for the right reasons (i.e. because they truly want to, not because they feel they must)
- They won’t need their partner to be the major cause of their happiness, which is too much of a burden for any person to bear.
- The person that they’re with is someone worth giving up the gift of single-dom for.
And make no mistake, being single is indeed a gift. According to research, the happiest and healthiest population demographic out there is single and childless women. These women are on average more content than married men and women because they have the time to work on themselves, their health and do the things that are most fulfilling to them without any need for compromise. (Single men, apparently the research says you do benefit from getting married. Sorry about that.)
But there’s more to life than just being happy!
True. You can make a very good argument for having a meaningful life, rather than just a happy life. And it’s true that children especially, despite causing a load of worry, also provide the single best source of meaning in life.
I don’t dispute any of this. But right now, I have other sources of meaning in life that make me feel fulfilled. Maybe one day that will change, maybe it never will. As a society, if we focused on helping people feel fulfilled in themselves rather than just nagging everyone to settle down as soon as possible in the hope of finding fulfillment- well, the world would be a far less shitty place.
“But be practical! Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old and sick?”
I’ll be honest- I have no idea what’s going to happen to me when I’m old and sick. But I do know that having kids for the sole reason of having caretakers around in my old age would be the most selfish thing I could do. Also, there is no guarantee that any kids I do have will take care of me. By the time my generation gets old, the standard thing to do with ageing parents might be to dump them in the nearest old-age home, even in eastern cultures.
“But won’t you get lonely?”
Having strong social bonds is key to living a happy life. This needn’t come from marriage however; close friendships are just as valid. Research shows that couples tend to neglect their friendships in favour of spending time with each other. They may become socially isolated over time. People who are single and happy about it however typically spend a lot more time strengthening their friendships and other relationships. Overall, they have higher quality social ties.
Also, marriage is not a solution to loneliness. As Carl Jung said:
“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”
In short, loneliness is about feeling unconnected and misunderstood by the people around you. This is why some of the loneliest people are those in long-term relationships and marriages. They have grown apart and have nothing to say to each other anymore.
“You’re selfish for not wanting to get married and have kids. You’re making your life all about yourself.”
There’s something to this argument I suppose. But just because we’re single doesn’t mean we can’t do things for others. We can all learn from the example of Dale Schroeder, a carpenter from Iowa. He never married and or had children, and used the $3 million USD he saved up to send 33 teenagers off to college.
Ultimately, wanting to be alone is not any more selfish or self-absorbed than getting married mainly because we fear being alone. It comes down to different people valuing different things. So stop telling single people that there’s something wrong with them, and let people do whatever works out best in their own life.