10 Types of Single Guys

As long as anyone can remember, The New Lease On Life Guy had been dating his longterm girlfriend. He never seemed that happy in the relationship, but everyone just assumed they would eventually get married. Now, after a long and difficult breakup, The New Lease On Life Guy has reemerged with a bang and is suddenly acting like he just got called down on The Price Is Right. He’s not really sure how to be single but he’s goddamn happy he is, and he’s sure as hell going out tonight.

He’s also the arch-nemesis of The Resigned Fiance, who’s in an equally unhappy relationship but just kind of kept going with it, unable to resist the sweet, sweet inertia, and who most certainly does not want to hear about The New Lease On Life Guy’s latest exploits.

MORE via wait but why: 10 Types of 30-Year-Old Single Guys.

The American Psyche: Tipping Toward Solitude?

I live in the most ordinary American household – I live alone. Knock on any door in the nation and you are more likely to find a household like mine than a household with mom, dad, and the kids, or a household with a married couple and no kids, or a single-parent household, or any other kind.

There has been a surge in the number of single-person households, and a decline in the number of married-with-kids households. This is not a fad – it is a decades-long demographic juggernaut. It has many pundits and prognosticators plenty worried.

One of their fears is that we may be on the cusp of an epidemic of loneliness. Interventions, they say, may be in order. Some even present statistics in support of the link between living alone and feeling lonely. Not bogus statistics but real ones. For example, a recent report about the well-being of older people in the UK noted that 17% of older people living alone say that they are often lonely, compared to only 2% of those living with others.

That’s a meaningful difference. I do believe that many older people are isolated, lonely, and depressed (though not as many as our stereotypes would lead us to believe). Their problems should be taken seriously. But let’s not make a pathology out of a preference.

Think again about the statistic that 17% of older people living alone report that they often feel lonely.

What strikes me about this finding is that 83% of older people living alone do NOT often feel lonely.

Remember that they are old, some may have health problems that limit their mobility, others may have close friends and family who have died, and they are living without anyone under the same roof readily available for small talk or interesting excursions. Yet 83% say that they are not often lonely.

When I was writing Singled Out, I read voraciously about demographic patterns (such as the increase in 1-person households) and about loneliness, and thought a lot about my own life. I live alone and I am almost never lonely. I am also rarely bored. Then I realized something that seemed startling at first:

During those atypical times when I am bored, I am almost always with other people. I’m never bored when I’m alone.

I don’t consider myself an introvert. I love to socialize (with people who do not bore me), I love the visits (time-limited) from friends and family who come to catch up with me and soak up the sun from my deck, and I love to entertain. But I also cherish my solitude.

Introverts and loners: They are not apologizing anymore

Jonathan Rauch does consider himself an introvert. In 2003, he wrote an essay for the Atlantic magazine that began like this:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is ‘too serious,’ or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands – and that you aren’t caring for him properly.

Rauch, a prolific writer, got more enthusiastic responses to that essay than to anything else he had ever written. Three years later, the Atlantic reported that readers were still clicking their approval: Online, no other piece had drawn more traffic than Rauch’s “Caring for Your Introvert.”

The same year that Rauch’s essay appeared, the witty and wonderful Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto was also published.

Loners, notes author Anneli Rufus, are people who prefer to be alone. They are not sad, lonely, or deranged.

Contrary to stereotypes and TV-punditry, loners are not serial murderers and they are not school shooters, either. True, there are criminals who look like loners, in that they spend lots of time alone. Typically, though, they are just pseudo-loners, who never craved all that time to themselves. They wanted to be included but were instead rejected.

True loners do not withdraw in order to stew in misery or plot violent revenge. Instead, Rufus reminds us, loners “know better than anyone how to entertain themselves…They have a knack for imagination, concentration, inner discipline, and invention.”

Not all introverts or loners live alone. Their experiences, though, should give pause to those whose thoughts leap to loneliness when imagining the experiences of solo-dwellers, and to those who are tempted to swoop in with their interventions to rescue people who may be perfectly content exactly as they are.

Togetherness can also breed loneliness

The same report that underscored a link between living alone and feeling lonely also implicated divorce in the mix. As one headline put it, “Easy divorce has left elderly lonely and depressed.”

The logic is that people who are divorced, and who also feel lonely, are lonely because they are divorced. Probably a good number really are.

The reverse sequence, though, should not be discounted.

Some people divorce because they are lonely in their marriages.

In the anthology, Women on Divorce, several contributors described such experiences. Ann Hood, for example, said, “I wanted my old pre-marriage back…I remembered how at night I used to sleep well. How being alone felt fine because there was no one down the hall not talking to me.” Daphne Merkin added, “I, for instance, married a man who left me feeling lonely not because he wasn’t home but because he was.”

Preferences for togetherness can change over the course of your life

When I arrived at my first academic job at the age of 26, I considered it my great good fortune to have colleagues who wanted to go out to lunch every day. Now, 28 years later, if I had to go out to lunch every day – even with people I really like – I would go stark raving mad.

Early theorists of aging believed that with age came isolation. Some thought that older people were socially marginalized by a society preoccupied with youth. Others believed that older people wanted to withdraw from society, so they isolated themselves on purpose.

Then along came Laura Carstensen and her colleagues, who actually studied the social interaction preferences of people of different ages. Carstensen found that older people socialize more selectively. They still spend time with the people to whom they feel closest. They don’t bother as much, though, with people they do not know so well, or with people who annoy them. That’s by choice.

Tipping toward solitude

If there is such a thing as a national psyche, then I think the American version is showing signs of change. Think of trends such as the growing number of people who live alone, the growing preference for working from home, the increasing inclination for families (who have the means to do so) to give their kids rooms of their own, and the preference for older people to live independently as long as possible (instead of moving in with other family members, as they once did). There are many possible reasons for each of these trends, but perhaps at least some of the people in each of the categories have one thing in common: They like their time alone.

In all of our lives, we negotiate a balance between the time we spend with others and the time we spend alone. There are, and always will be, big individual differences. Some love the constant give-and-take of the company of other people, and others prefer more alone time.

Of course, humans are social beings. Meaningful relationships with other people, and time spent with others, will always be important. Still, if there were a national average of the solitude-sociability balance, and if that average were computed over time, I bet it would show that the American scales are tipping toward solitude.

via Living Single | Psychology Today.

Obsession

THE UPSIDE OF OBSESSION

Our happiness never depends on any one thing, no matter how important that one thing may seem.

Further, we have to acknowledge that it’s hard, if not often impossible, to achieve something great without being just a little bit obsessed with it. In fact, when properly harnessed, the increased energy, drive, determination, and resiliency obsession brings can be highly adaptive. Obsession, when made to serve us, can bring out our most capable selves, motivating us to find the creativity and ingenuity to solve incredibly difficult problems. Obsession, in short, can lead us to greatness.

HOW TO CONTROL AN OBSESSION

The challenge then is to make our obsessions function positively, controlling them so they don’t control us, extracting the benefit of obsession without succumbing to its detriments. To do this, the following strategies may be helpful:

Distract yourself at varying intervals. Using force of will to tame an obsession is like fighting to overcome anxiety by denying it exists: rarely does it do anything but make it worse. Instead, find something attractive and pleasurable to distract you from your obsession, to provide you a break from thinking about it. This will help remind you on an emotional level that other things in life are still important. Read a gripping novel, watch an entertaining movie, help a friend in distress. Do something that takes you out of your own head.

Accomplish a task that helps put your obsession behind you. Sometimes an obsession holds us in its power and refuses to let us go because we simply haven’t finished with it. Perhaps we haven’t revised a book chapter, haven’t planned the last details of a trip, haven’t asked out someone on whom we have a crush. Tell yourself that once you’ve reached the next milestone, you’re going to take a break. Often taking a solid step forward in some way frees you to walk away from an obsession temporarily to recharge your batteries. And when you do, turn back to something else in your life you’ve been neglecting.

Focus on your greater mission. As I wrote in an earlier post, The Importance Of Having A Mission, finding and embracing a mission in life will defend you against the sense your life is meaningless. And if you’re able to care about a mission that in some way brings joy to or removes suffering from others, you’ll find yourself more firmly anchored, upright, and balanced when a wave of obsessive thoughts threatens to carry you away.

Adopt a practice that grounds you. Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Meditate. Take up karate. Or dancing. Do something physical in different surroundings to engage a different part of your mind that’s interested in other things besides your obsession.

Allow time to pass. With time, many obsessions gradually lose their flavor.

Listen to what others tell you. If your close friends and family express concern over your being obsessed, they’re probably right. Be open to these messages.

I’m not arguing here that we should seek to extinguish obsession; I’m arguing we should seek to control it. Our ability to bend our emotions to our will is poor, but not our ability to manage them. We can make our obsessions work for us rather than work us over. And we can learn to let them go when the time comes.

Like my patient did with her obsession with her boyfriend. Early on, she failed in her attempts to tear her thoughts away from him. So she allowed herself to indulge in fantasies in which they reconciled, but always reminded herself they were exactly that: fantasies. She practiced distracting herself with other things she found genuinely interesting. Gradually she was able to distract herself for longer and longer periods without thinking about him, reminding herself that though he still felt like the most important thing in her life, he clearly wasn’t. She knew intellectually that at some point in the future she’d look back over her time with him fondly, without pain. She only needed her emotions to catch up with her intellect. And eventually, she reported almost twelve months later, they did.

via Obsession | Psychology Today.

Relationships: The Great Mirror

An essay worth repeating…

Sixty and Single Again

The Great Mirror

By The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Our so-called life, from the Buddhist point of view, is simply experience, and experience is relationship. Put simply, we don’t have independent existence. We cannot exist without depending on others. When I go to the grocery store and buy an apple, I might feel very independent. I walk in, grab an apple, pay with my own money, and go home and eat by myself. But in fact I can only enjoy this apple because it is connected to so many people and conditions: the store owner, the shelf stockers, the truckers, the farmers, all the way back to the seed and the Earth. There’s so much connection, all the time.

Of all of the relationships we have in this interdependent experience of ours, the most direct, most emotional, and most apt to bring great joy and suffering is a close, intimate relationship…

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On an Island

There are people that live on tiny islands in southeast Alaska, and some even live on houseboats parked in the ocean water.  They occupy all of the space around them and their only regular companions are the eagles and deer and bear.  Boats of all types pass by – fishing boats mostly, and the occasional ferry or seasonal cruise ship.  But few people other than perhaps a curious neighbor or a visiting relative ever step onto their island or their houseboat for months, sometimes years on end.

It’s not unusual to come upon such a place that has been deserted and has a For Sale sign nailed to a tree near the shore of the island.  I always imagined that the owner had pretty much absorbed all there was to get from the place, and decided to return to the mainland.  Not that they had depleted the solitude or the beauty or the soul of the place.  That remained of course.  Plenty there for the next person that needed some.

I made a pilgrimage to Walden Pond some years ago, where I knew that Henry Thoreau had lived in a cabin in the nearby woods for two years, two months, and two days.  I could feel the plentiful soul that remained of that place too.  I picked a small rock out of the pond and took it home for my sitting Buddha statue to look after.  It gazes at it incessantly, and in the process I think the spirit of Walden permeates the front room of the house.

The house on the island in the woods that I live in is not surrounded by water, but it feels like an island nonetheless.  The place is steeped with a powerful spirit of solitude, and of restful beauty, and soulful union of trees and birds and an occasional deer or bear.  I imagine that some day I will have pretty much absorbed all there is to get from the place, and then it will be time to move on to another.  There will always be plenty left for the next person that needs some, of course.

The Last Dollar

In a few days I’ll probably appreciate it a bit more, but for now I’m simply quietly celebrating inside.  Today my bank is remitting the last payment under the divorce settlement to my ex.  No further obligation exists under the agreement.  After 30 years of work, I can now hurry up and pay off the mortgage so I can afford to retire and manage living expenses with a Social Security income.

I don’t seriously regret much of the past 3 decades and the 3 marriages over that time span, although I have to say it’s been expensive.  I have 4 great kids and 2 grandkids, and I helped raise 4 stepkids and a bunch of foster kids.  The rhythm of life seemed to dance between wonderful, horrible, and then resting in OK for awhile before it started all over again.  I’m guessing it just might continue that way, but maybe not.

Maybe I can start to let my foot off the gas now and not be so anxious about the future.  I have a lazy dog for a companion, and a wonderful girlfriend to spend pleasant moments together with.  I’m teaching myself how to cook, and joined a fitness center.  I can keep warm in the sauna in the winter, garden and cut grass in the summer.

With any luck, the next 30 years can be even better than the last 30.  Less expensive at least.