It hit me like a ton of bricks the other day when Iw as reflecting on “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons Why You’re Single” by Sara Eckel. Even though I have been doing a ton of work around being a proud single woman and living my best life, I was still ashamed to be single. How did I know this? I get incredibly defensive when anything around the possible topic comes up.
Like many single women I know, I have made up a series of stories to explain my singleness if the uncomfortable situation arises. I have probably done more than my fair share of bragging of what “a fabulous and fun-filled life I lead as a single woman! Oh all the things I get to do!” I have probably over-celebrated the late nights drinking and slipping into the warm yet unattractive fuzzy pjs alone in bed. All just things to make me feel better about being alone despite the fact that in my heart of hearts sometimes I just want a partner. I have quips to respond when people ask “Why are you single, you’re so great?”
And all these defenses are really just covering up the shame that I think that maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe something is wrong and that’s why nobody wants me. I feel ashamed to be single because it looks like nobody wants to be with me.
Eckel points out that there is nothing wrong with you if you’re single, it’s just a matter of coincidence. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to stand tall and say “I don’t know why I am single.” It is honest, and scary.
I was sitting with a good friend the other day and somehow I made a turn in the conversation about how my life has turned out so far. I made some self-deprecating joke, and jabbed at myself for being thirty and “having nothing to show for it.” Tenderly, he pointed out that it takes a lot more courage to be living a life that is truthful, eliminating the things that aren’t right for me rather than sticking in a career and a life that isn’t right even though it would probably lead me to all the things people think they should have by thirty- a nice car, a home, a family. That gives me so much more to show for my life than a pile of stuff.
Even though he is right, sometimes it feels like I would feel better about my life if I had the physical pile of stuff to point at and say “look, things aren’t so bad! I have things!” Instead, I have my sparsely decorated studio apartment, but nothing comes into that space unless I have thought about it for a very, very long time. I guess that’s how my life is, I don’t keep people around unless they make me feel really good. Why should I feel bad about being single if I know that I am keeping only the people that I truly love?
But, sadly, I do feel bad about it sometimes. Somehow our society has conditioned me (and probably everyone else for that matter) to cherish coupled up statuses. Sometimes it feels like the world revolves around the couple. People that have things figured out in their own lives so they could find each other! Like that old standby “no one can love you unless you love yourself.” That implies that if no one loves you, then you must not love yourself. So you start to try to prove that statement wrong, “look how much I love myself! Look how great I treat myself, I am learning so much and growing and changing!” And yet, doing all the self help exercises, and yoga, and meditation, and praying, and all the other things we do to improve doesn’t seem to bring us any closer to a relationship. I start to wonder about my coupled up friends and wonder if they have things more figured out than me, are they more evolved? Is their life better? What do they have figured out that I don’t get yet?
These roots of comparison are part of what poisons my shame and makes it spread deeper in my brain, making me feel worse about myself and my life. Brene Brown tells us that empathy kills shame. And it’s true. Comparison separates me from everyone else, it tries to figure out what they have that I don’t, what am I doing wrong? Instead, if I used a little empathy to look at the situation and realize we are all the same we are all in it together leading imperfect lives and some people have had the luck of meeting a partner while I haven’t had that luck.
Instead if comparison, I should have a little compassion. Compassion and forgiveness for myself. Let myself off the hook.
I am not sure how to stop my single shame yet, but I think a big part of it is being honest and seeing that sometimes I do protest a bit too much about it and that is me trying to hide some pain and shame. Instead maybe I should just let myself be honest. My life has ups and downs, sometimes I am happy to be alone and sometimes I wish I was able to share with someone.
I bet my coupled friends would say the same thing. So no life is perfect. One is not exempt from feeling some pain and shame even when you are coupled up. We all suffer from that sometimes. And what we really need is compassion and empathy to help each other through.