I’m 38 years old, still single, and have been single—apart from a few brief interludes—for most of my adult life.
Yet, as an adult who chooses to be single—and is enjoying being single—I feel constant pressure to justify my choice. Pressure comes from first or second dates when discussion inevitably shifts into a cross-examination about why I am the way that I am. It comes from my parents who understand that my single state is the key roadblock to them finally becoming grandparents. It comes from friends who have settled down and wonder whether I really want to be single forever.
In the face of all this pressure, a few questions come to mind:
Why am I the one who needs to justify my desire to be single?
Is it normal that we see romantic relationships and eventually marriage as some kind of “success”?
Shouldn’t we judge the desire to be in a relationship just as critically as the desire to be single?
I think there’s too much societal pressure on single people to change their relationship status. The result of this pressure is that many people end up entering relationships based on expectations that are difficult to live up to.
By the time we arrive at my closing remarks, I hope to have convinced you that there is no shame in choosing to remain single, just as there’s no shame in choosing to be in a relationship.
The key point is our decision should come from our own choices and not from outside pressures that make us fearful of what’s happening in our life.
Let’s begin by first exploring the myth of “romantic love”. Or watch the video version of this article below.
The myth of “romantic love”
Us Westerners have come to be bewitched by the lure of “romantic love”. We grow up with images of a romantic couple walking hand-in-hand along the beach with the sun setting gently over the ocean. The couple is, of course, poised to live happily ever after.
The idea of romantic love is an attractive one.
Romantic love brings to mind the pure and emotional intimacy we feel when the passion for the other person elevates “above” our animalistic sexual desires.
Romantic love seems to represent a boundless desire that is limitless in depth. It’s a rarefied spiritual passion that lifts the two partners into a union that is quite literally out of this world.
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It’s a beautiful idea. But where does the notion of romantic love come from?
The School of Life points out that the concept of romantic love is very new to modern-day society and is likely only 250 years old.
Before this, people did, of course, live together, but more so for practical reasons. They didn’t expect to become blissfully happy for doing so. They entered into their partnerships for the sake of survival and having kids.
A partnership that brings feelings of romantic love is certainly possible. Perhaps you’ve even experienced something akin to it in your lifetime. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking it’s the norm.
It’s more likely that only a small percentage of romantic partnerships will be successful by the standards of romantic love. And why should that be a problem?
The problem isn’t the relationships we form in modern-day society. The problem is that as a society we’ve made something that is, in fact, a remarkable anomaly—romantic love—into the standard by which we judge the success of relationships.
The vision of romantic love is an unrealistic standard for us to aspire to. Therefore, I’ve decided to accept from the outset how difficult it is to experience romantic love and focus on other kinds of emotional relationships that bring me fulfillment.
Single people are romantic, too…
At this point in trying to understand why someone chooses to be single, you may be forgiven for thinking that I’m a little jaded by love and not interested in romance.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reality is that I don’t judge the success of my relationships by the unrealistic standards of romantic love. But I do love to experience moments of romance, whether these moments come from committed relationships or from beautiful moments with new people in my life.
This is one of the reasons I choose to be single. I love to experience romantic love, and I’m fully aware that most relationships fall short of these idealistic standards.
Yet, many of the opportunities before me aren’t likely to bring the wonderful feelings of romance. Therefore, being single keeps me in a realistic state, while still being open to experiencing romance if it comes along.
Ultimately, I’m not interested in chasing an illusion. I’m interested in what’s real, experiencing the fullness of emotional connections. Staying single keeps me grounded.
I think that people who choose to be single have come to terms with the reality that romantic love is an illusion. They’re open to experiencing romantic love, but they’re also realistic about how difficult it is to find.
… and can be emotionally mature
It shows emotional maturity to commit to a relationship, learning how to love someone and be there for them through thick and thin.
But isn’t it the case that it also takes emotional maturity to recognize how difficult it is to be fulfilled in a romantic partnership?
Relationships can be hard work. People enter them with all manner of expectations, many of which are very difficult to live up to. In a relationship, I’m exposing someone to my flaws, and I’m committing to living with her flaws as well.
As a single person, I’ve got the freedom to focus on learning and growing. I’ve got the space to really get to know myself and figure out what I want in life. I’m able to work on becoming an emotionally mature person.
When I’m in a relationship with someone, it’s difficult to do these things. I need to compromise. I need to give up a part of myself for the sake of the union I’m creating.
As a single person, I have more freedom to develop strong relationships with a wider range of people than if I was in a relationship. This is because being single increases social connections, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Experts agree. According to Roxy Zarrabi, a clinical psychologist, “there is no doubt that when you’re single you are able to spend more time deepening the friendships that you find most valuable.”
Being single has provided so many opportunities to develop my understanding of self while building a number of very meaningful relationships. Being in a relationship would have given me an opportunity to learn about a different side to myself, but I’ve learned about myself while being single in a way that makes me highly value my freedom. I’ve learned to be accountable for my own choices and make them in a way that makes my life “whole” and “complete” without needing a partner to complete me.
Ultimately, being single has enabled me to develop my emotional maturity in a way that doesn’t rely on someone else’s perception of me or their approval.
As Charles Bukowski once wrote: “There are worse things than being alone. But it often takes decades to realize this. And most often when you do, it’s too late. And there’s nothing worse than too late.”
It’s about loving yourself, first
I recently had a remarkable conversation with the shaman Rudá Iandê about breaking through toxic relationships to find true love. We recorded the conversation and you can watch it here.
Rudá made the key point that in order to develop a healthy and nurturing relationship, you first need to develop a healthy and nurturing relationship with yourself. If you don’t have this relationship with yourself, then you increase the likelihood of developing toxic patterns in your relationships.
When there’s so much emphasis in society on being in a relationship, we deny ourselves the time and space to develop a healthy relationship with ourselves.
For me, I choose to be single because I value this relationship with myself. I take responsibility for my own fulfillment without relying on a partner to make me feel whole and complete.
While being single, I’ve learned to trust myself and chart my own pathway forward. My actions come from a place of personal security and power. I have no fear of continuing to be single in the years ahead.
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The pressure of having kids
Finally, I want to share a few brief thoughts about the pressure of having kids.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I’m 38 years old and I’m happy to be single. I hope you agree with me by now that we shouldn’t bow to societal pressures when it comes to our relationship status.
But there’s another kind of pressure that many people my age face when they’re single: the biological pressure of having babies. Specifically, pressure from ovaries.
I’m a man so I can’t directly relate to this. But I know many women my age who are single, enjoy being single but still feel a lot of pressure to find a relationship so they can have babies before it’s too late.
Personally, I think it would be nice to have children one day. If I do have children, it would be nice if it happens before too long so that I don’t end up being an old father. So, in a sense, I’m feeling some biological pressure to have children.
The unfortunate reality is that feeling pressured into entering a relationship is a recipe for disaster, even if the biological pressure to do so feels overwhelming.
Instead of bowing to this pressure, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective.
If you’re running out of time to have children but haven’t found someone you truly love and want to enter into a partnership with, there are other options.
If you have the financial means to do so, you can freeze your eggs and take the pressure off yourself. You can adopt if you truly want to have kids one day.
Or you can accept that you may not end up having kids. It may initially be difficult to accept. But embracing the uncertainty of what will happen in your life opens you up to a whole range of new possibilities and adventures.
You’ll have a completely different aura if you embrace being single without needing to have kids one day. You’ll likely start to attract new people into your life who are also open-minded about their future. These people will bring new opportunities, and you may end up having kids in a way that you never expected.
Single people encounter a chorus of voices urging them to find someone to fall in love with so they can leave their single life behind.
Many people fall into the trap of listening to these voices, rather than deciding for themselves what is best for them.
I’m not telling you to avoid getting into a relationship if you’re currently single. I am telling you that you shouldn’t get into a relationship because of external pressure to be in a relationship.
Personally, I won’t define who I am by my relationship status.
Over the last few years, I’ve developed a relationship with myself where I live life on my own terms. Being single has been important for my journey and has supported me in living by these ideals.
But it doesn’t mean I need to remain single to continue my journey of self-discovery and living a life of purpose.
I don’t know what the future will bring. I may meet someone tomorrow who shares my ideals of independence and freedom, and we’ll decide that being together opens a new chapter of our lives and our personal growth.
The key point for me is this:
I’m not committed to being in a relationship just as I’m not committed to being single.
I prefer to live my life without knowing what comes next, without having an image in my mind of what kind of relationship brings me fulfillment. The vision I’ve got for myself is simple to live life with emotional maturity, treating people with honesty, and hopefully adding value to people’s lives with my actions.
Ultimately, I think the key point is this:
You have to learn to love yourself before you can let someone else love you.
If you found this article thought-provoking, I recommend checking out my masterclass with Rudá on breaking through toxic relationships and finding true love. Also, please share your reactions in the comments below so we can turn this article into an interactive discussion.