If you are single and you don’t want to be single, you probably get a lot of advice. A lot of it. Friends, family, commercials, tv, Dr. Phil, Steve Harvey, and your Mom all have great advice:
Whatever the advice, the message is: “It’s your fault you are single.” But is it? Go to a public place and watch all of the couples. Is it only thin, lipstick-wearing, nicely dressed, interesting, but not-too-interesting, correct-standards-having, available-but-not-desperate women who are coupled? Are all of the coupled men princes? When I observe, I see a wide variety of coupled people and it does not seem to have much to with the standard advice that is thrust upon singles. I would argue that coupling has more to do with just happening to meet someone who does it for you (and you for them), at the right time, in the right place, under the right circumstances. It might also mean choosing a frog. It may seem easy if it has happened for you, but it can seem impossible if it has not.
Many single women practice a great deal of self-blame for being single. Why wouldn’t they when media, friends, and family make couple-hood seem like an easy enough achievement (if one is wearing the right lipstick). The reality is that 50% of women are single and 50% of married couples, un-marry. In this environment, the chances that a single woman will find the right guy and live happily ever after are small.
So, I’m going to offer single women some different advice. This advice is NOT about how to land a great guy. (BTW, great guys come with their own set of challenges. Check out all of the marriage blogs to learn about that.) This advice is about making peace with what is right now and releasing the inner struggles around single-hood.
1. Your single status is not your fault. Nor is it the fault of the happily coupled that they are so. You have not failed. Coupling is about chance. Create a new story that is positive (beware of self-pity!). You are just like many millions more who are just like you. You are worthy of love and intimacy.
2. Acknowledge ambiguous loss. This is the type of loss that is uncertain. Singles (who want to be coupled) struggle with ambiguous loss because they know they haven’t found a partner and established a family…yet. Will I or won’t I? It is hard to grieve and move on when you don’t know if you’ve actually lost something or if it just has not come to you yet. So, single women can have the sensation of always waiting, of life never moving on. Explore this loss with a trusted friend or therapist. Allow yourself time and space to experience grief, and explore ways to build meaning and wholeness that includes this uncertainty. I want to be clear that engaging in a grief process does not mean that one has given up on welcoming a partner into one’s life, but it does mean moving away from a state of “waiting.”
3. Acknowledge and explore normal adult relational needs. It is natural and normal to want (desperately, even) intimacy, physical/sexual affection, companionship, shared experiences/stories, and children. Unfortunately, as a society, we only have one storyline for how to fulfill those needs. Yet many people, even in couple-hood, struggle to get all of these needs met. Developing emotional flexibility around how to meet these needs is critical. Be willing to find alternate storylines for meeting these needs.
4. Practice present-focus and gratitude (which is good advice for anyone around anything). Everyone’s life can change in a moment. We all only have what we have until we have something different. By living fully today, we feel, well, full. When we focus on the future or the past, we are bound to feel empty, longing, or incomplete. There is fullness in the present.
The paths that our lives take each include joys and losses. It is our ability to acknowledge and process loss that enables us to fully access the joy. If you are single and feeling stuck, reach out for help. Notice your feelings about being single, notice the things you desire. Can they only be fulfilled by a partner? Create new storylines that honor and uphold the life you are living. If nothing else, put on a little lipstick. It will make your mom feel better.
Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C
For more information for single women, please check out Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, long-time therapist, researcher, author, and advocate for single women!
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...