On Being Single, Happily

I’ve mentioned in passing many times on APW that I loved being single. I mean, I loved being single. I was completely and avowedly single for more than four years in my early twenties when very few people around me were. And even after David and I coupled up, I rather aggressively continued to live on my own for years. In retrospect, it was one of the most wonderful, healing times in my life. It’s when I learned who I was and how to make myself happy, and it’s when I learned what I wanted out of life. And it was only after I learned all that and was no longer particularly interested in coupling up that I begrudgingly fell for my husband (even if I didn’t give up my own place). Often, when I’ve brought this up on APW, people have accused me of well… lying. Like, someone who writes about being happily married can’t actually deeply believe in the importance of single life. So, I called in the big guns. I asked Elizabeth of Lowe House Events to write about being happily single. And I’m hard pressed to think of a post we’ve run on the site that I agree with more on a deep personal level. So let’s take a time-out from weddings and marriage today to talk about why knowing how to be single is so damn important. (Hint: This post REALLY REALLY applies to those of us that are coupled, too.)

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
―Mary Oliver

I spent the entire first half of my twenties in a serious relationship, a relationship that came thisclose to ending in marriage. He was not a bad guy, he was just a bad guy for me. Somewhere inside, I had known for a very long time that the relationship was wrong for me. When we would talk about planning our wedding, somewhere in my head I was simultaneously thinking about our eventual divorce. (Please note: This is, rather obviously, a terrible sign.) Ending that relationship was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We had been through a lot together—serious illnesses, deaths, births, unemployment, graduations, growing up. Yes, we fought all the time, and yes, much of the time I don’t think we even liked each other that much, but relationships are supposed to be hard, right? And the truth is? I was absolutely terrified of being single. But as utterly awful as being single sounded, when I realized that I would rather be single for the rest of my life than spend another week with him, I knew that it was finally time to end it.

And it was then that I discovered just how awesome being single as an adult can be. For the first time in my life I was making decisions based solely on what I wanted to do, not what someone else wanted. (And for the first year it turned out what I mostly wanted to do was go out and listen to live music and drink whiskey until two in the morning. It was, and will undoubtedly remain, one of the most fun years of my life.)

I was able to work on deepening my friendships, and I learned that it is possible to be held up by a community instead of by one person. I learned to trust myself and to move my life in a direction that felt true to me without concern that the decisions I was making were influenced, at least partially, by someone else. The freedom of having to worry financially only about myself made it possible for me to take huge risks (see: starting a business in the middle of a recession). And I learned that it’s actually ok to sometimes feel lonely, or more importantly, that feeling lonely when you’re actually alone is much, much better than feeling lonely when you’re lying in bed next to someone else.

I also learned how amazingly fun dating can be if it’s not seen as merely the means to an end, or marriage (because that, my friends, can making dating incredibly frustrating). Ladies—dating is a blast. I’ve developed a personal philosophy that there are only three potential outcomes for  a date:

1) The most common—it’s fine. Just fine. You don’t particularly connect, and there probably won’t be a second date, but it’s also not terrible. You get to meet someone new, and in general it ends up being a perfectly acceptable way to spend an evening.

2) The most rare— it’s awesome, you connect, have a blast, and voila, more dating ensues.

3) Almost equally, but not quite, as rare—it’s Godawful. And I mean truly terrible. You get un-ironically taken to Hooters (happened to me!) or accused of being a call girl, because that’s the only obvious explanation for why someone as young, attractive, and smart as you would be interested in him (also happened to me!). These dates become amazing stories that you can tell at cocktail parties for years. Not a loss!

(Side note: Blind dates are my absolute favorite. Please set me up with your friends.)

Of course, there are some downsides to being single. The truth is, not everyone is comfortable with single women. I lost a not-insignificant amount of friends, mostly coupled ones, when I left that relationship. The questions about when I’m going to finally settle down seem to increase with each birthday. My mother regularly makes jokes-that-aren’t-really-jokes about getting older and when she will be getting grandchildren (at which point I remind her that if she wanted to be a young grandmother she should have been a young mother).

I can sometimes literally feel pity emanating towards me when I’m at an event where the company consists mainly of couples. Luckily for me, I have always been exceedingly good at hanging out solo with couples. I’ve also somehow become the person that my married and otherwise-partnered friends ask for relationship advice, which I find slightly hilarious, but suspect is one of those “perspective from the outside” scenarios.

But perhaps the most important thing that being single has done for me is that it has made me into someone who will eventually be a better partner. I now know that I don’t have to rely on someone else to be happy, and it has let me examine what I want and need out of a partner in a way that I could never have done while actually partnered. It has let me look much more objectively at the parts of myself that are the strongest in relationships with others and at the parts of myself that I probably need to work on. Being single has also let me observe other people’s partnerships in a way that I couldn’t when I was partnered, which in turn allows me to take copious mental notes on the types of relationships that I admire and see the common threads that run through the most successful relationships. (Hint: Good communication and similar values and goals appear to be the biggest ones.)

I’ve been able to see that, partnered or not, we’re all ultimately responsible for our own happiness. That, yes, other people can contribute to our happiness, and we can contribute to other people’s happiness, but in the end, another person cannot be the sole thing that makes us happy any more than we can be the sole source of another person’s happiness. And thank God, right? Because that would be an incredibly heavy amount of responsibility.

My best friend of fourteen years told me earlier this year that he thinks I’m the only woman our age he knows who could love being a wedding planner so much while being single—that it’s unusual that constantly being around weddings doesn’t make me resent my clients or my newly engaged friends, or make me even a little bit sad that I’m not currently altar-bound. But I really, truly, love my job (in fact, I regularly say that I think I have the best job in the world) and I adore my clients—they continually renew my faith in both marriage and in love. And that’s the thing—I really believe in love, and I really believe in marriage. And most of the time, marriage is something that I think I eventually want for myself. But the difference between me-at-28 and me-at-24 is that it’s not my priority.

Because the truth is, as much as I love my job, and as much as I love helping my clients get married in as hopefully a stress-free way as possible (I cry at a majority of their weddings because I’m just so damn happy for them), I’m not totally positive that marriage is for me. I suspect that it is. I’ve been lucky enough to see, many times over, the ways that good marriages can make the individuals in them stronger. I feel extremely lucky to be surrounded by marriages that I can look at and say, “Yes, I’d like something like that, please.” So, probably marriage is for me. But being open to the fact maybe this is also it, open to knowing that not only will I be ok, but also happy (and often deliriously so) if I stay single? It’s an awesome kind of freedom.

Photo of Elizabeth and Meg from the Yay! New York photobooth by Leah and Mark

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