Overcoming Singleness Anxiety

Throughout our entire childhood and upbringing, we were taught that we are supposed to look for love and marriage. We were taught that we should get married. We were taught that love and/or marriage would make us happy… or even that love and marriage are needed in order to be happy. This is ingrained in us by our parents, our teachers, the movies, TV shows and everything else most of us were exposed to. This is normal. And at first glance, this doesn’t seem like a problem at all. So what’s the issue?

The big issue with our pursuit of love… it makes us unhappy

If we believe that we need to find love and get married in order to be happy, this naturally makes us believe our life isn’t good enough the way it is. This subtle and often unconscious belief that “life isn’t good enough the way it is” creates a sense of lack, a sense of incompleteness, or a sense that something is missing from our lives. For some of us, this sense is very subtle and can only be noticed through continuous efforting to find someone to love us… but for others, this sense of lack is very apparent and strong.

In addition, once we believe that love and marriage are required to be happy, we naturally believe that we can’t be as happy if we don’t find love and get married. This is automatic. If we believe it is “best” to get married, of course we are going to believe that it would be “worse” if we never get married. Once we believe that it would be “bad” if we never find love and get married, we being to fear that outcome and experience stress and anxiety about it.

As long as you believe that love and marriage can make you happy, you will have this sense of lack and fear that you won’t find love

So, if you would like to feel complete now, if you would like to feel relaxed and anxiety-free now, there is a simple way to do it. Discover that another human being does not have the ability to fulfill you. If you can discover that love and marriage can’t make you happy, then you will no longer feel like you are missing something in your life, and you will no longer fear not getting love and marriage.

Let’s examine whether love and marriage can fulfill you:

All of our unwanted emotions are created by thoughts. To believe that someone else can make you happy, means that you believe another person can eliminate all of your negative thoughts. Of course, we don’t recognize this is what we are believing, but nonetheless, that is the underlying assumption. The only way we can be happy is if we don’t have thoughts that make us unhappy. If we believe that love and marriage will make us happy, we are inherently believing that love and marriage will somehow eliminate all of the different types of negative thoughts that currently create our unwanted emotions and prevent us from feeling fulfilled. But is that true? Let’s look at 7 different types of thoughts that love and marriage can’t eliminate.

1) Do you have any insecurities or judgments about yourself?

Are there parts of your personality or your appearance that you don’t like? Do these thoughts sometimes make you feel ashamed, embarrassed, lacking, or worried about others’ opinions? Nobody else can get rid of these thoughts for you.

2) Do you have aspects of your life that you think aren’t good enough?

Maybe your job isn’t good enough, your apartment isn’t good enough, or you don’t make enough money. These thoughts make you feeling lacking and insufficient, and create anxiety. Nobody else can get rid of these thoughts for you.

3) Are there people in your life which you think aren’t good enough?

Do you judge people that you come across? Do you sometimes get angry at co-workers? Do you have issues with your parents? Do you think your friends don’t always do the right thing? Do you think people should treat you better? Nobody else can get rid of these thoughts for you.

4) Do you worry about what other people think?

Do you worry about whether you have your parents’ approval? Do you worry about whether your boss will like your work? Do you worry about what others will think of your appearance and clothes? Do you sometimes not do what you want because you are afraid of what other people will think (i.e. dancing etc)? Nobody else can get rid of these thoughts for you.

5) Do you sometimes feel guilty or ashamed about your actions?

Do you sometimes do things you don’t want to do? Are you sometimes unable to do things that you really want to do? Do you still have habits that you think are bad, but can’t stop them? Nobody else can get rid of these thoughts for you.

6) Do you sometimes feel restless and bored?

When you are just sitting or lying down and your mind is constantly thinking, this creates the feeling of being restless or bored. Nobody else can get rid of these thoughts for you.

7) Do outcomes and events sometimes occur that you don’t like?

When you have negative thoughts about a particular outcome or event, doesn’t this sometimes create sadness or anger? Nobody else can get rid of these thoughts for you.

Relationships can eliminate a few negative thoughts, but they will almost certainly be replaced by new ones

Getting into a relationship will likely help you get rid of the thought “my life isn’t good enough because I don’t have a partner or someone to love me”. This will likely eliminate part of the sense of lack and shame that you had. But, it is likely to be replaced with new thoughts about how “my relationship isn’t good enough”, “they don’t love me enough”, “they don’t appreciate me enough”, “our relationship isn’t as good as their relationship” and these types of thoughts which will create more lack and shame

If you get married, you will almost certainly lose the thought “it would be if I never get married or find someone to love me”. Since this thought created some anxiety, whatever anxiety it created will likely be gone. That will feel really nice in the beginning. However, this thought is likely to be replaced with a new worries about whether they will stop loving you, worries about whether they still love you, worries about what you need to do to keep their love, worries about whether they will cheat on you, and possibly others. These new thoughts will continue to create anxiety and worry. It makes us fear that we will lose their love and constantly seek reassurances that they love us.

If you are seeking love and marriage to make yourself feel happy and whole, you are looking for someone to use.

Let me ask you a question: Why do you want to find love and marriage? Really, take a moment to answer that. If you knew with absolute certainty that getting someone to love  you and marry you would make you unhappy, worried, and angry all the time… would you still want to pursue love and marriage? Almost certainly not. Why would you pursue love and marriage if you knew it would make you unhappy?

You likely wouldn’t. If you would want to pursue love and marriage when you believe it would make you happy… and you wouldn’t want to pursue love and marriage if you believe it would make you unhappy… then it makes it pretty clear that you are just pursuing love and marriage because you believe it will make you happy. In other words, you don’t want love and marriage… you want to be happy, and you just happen to think that love and marriage will make you happy. Love and marriage is the means, not the goal.

But, here is the reason why I bring that up. If we are seeking love and approval to be happy, then we are actually seeking someone to make us happy. In other words, if we are seeking someone to make us happy, we are actually looking for someone who we can use to make us happy. This is why we tend to think that receiving love means having someone to fill our needs (or wants).

If we are using someone to make us happy, then we aren’t really loving them. We just love how they help make us feel. That’s fine, there’s no problem with that. It’s just not based on love. If we pursue someone to make us happy, then we will “love” them when they seem to make us feel good and we will hate them when they seem to make us feel “bad”. This type of “love” is completely conditional. The bottom line is that if we don’t truly love someone, then we don’t feel this love or the fulfillment that comes with truly loving… unconditionally and selflessly. By pursuing love to make us happy, we are setting ourselves up for a relationship that’s not actually based on love.

When you discover that love and marriage can’t make you happy, you can be much happier right now

When we believe that love and marriage will make us happy, it creates a whole lot of suffering. And this suffering absolutely doesn’t end when we find someone to love us.

But, if you are able to see that love and approval can’t make you happy and fulfilled, then you can stop feeling like something is missing from your life and stop worrying about whether you will ever get it. Then, you will be left feeling much more free and happy right now.

If you want to feel whole and happy, you need to identify and address the thoughts that make you feel this way

Since other people cannot change all of our negative thoughts to positive ones, we need to question the truth of our negative thoughts if we want to be happy. If we don’t believe the thoughts which make us feel unappreciated, insufficient, or unlovable, then we will be completely happy regardless of whether or not others love us.

In addition, once you are already happy, then you can enter into a relationship without wanting anything from the other person. When you are fulfilled, you can enter into a relationship without an ulterior motive… without using them. Then, any relationship will be much more enjoyable. It will be based on love.

Therefore, somewhat paradoxically, discovering that a relationship can’t make you happy will make it much more likely that you will end up in a happy relationship.

Now, I would like you to ask yourself a few questions:

Can love and marriage eliminate all the thoughts that create my unwanted emotions and make me feeling lacking and unfulfilled?

If love and marriage can’t eliminate all (or even many) of the thoughts that make me unhappy, is it true that love and marriage can give me the happiness, wholeness, and fulfillment I want?

If love and marriage don’t have the ability to fulfill me (or anyone else), then is it true that my life isn’t “good enough” just because I don’t have love and marriage?

If love and marriage can’t fulfill me, am I sure that I would be happiest if I got married?

If all of my unwanted emotions and sense of lack are created by thoughts, then is it true that I need to get love and marriage in order to be happy?

Is it possible for me to feel completely whole, happy, and fulfilled without getting married (by addressing my thoughts)?

If I can be fulfilled without getting love and marriage (by addressing my thoughts)… and love and marriage don’t have the ability to fulfill me… then can I admit that it wouldn’t necessarily be “bad” for my life or my happiness if I never get love and marriage?

via How To Stop Feeling Lacking and Worried About Being Single.

Emotional Independence

Stop waiting for people to approve of you. It’s a waste of time. If you don’t approve of yourself, having other people’s approval will make you question their judgment. The thought is, “If they knew me, they wouldn’t like me or approve of me.”

Emotional independence is simply another form of independence. It’s tough to be emotionally independent while waiting for someone else to pay your rent. To be emotionally independent requires that you take responsibility for every other area of your life as well. It means keeping your desires in check, taking care of where you live, having skills that employers want (so you aren’t dependent on the financial security of the place you work at or your boss’s temperament), and treating everyone (including yourself) well.

via Emotional Independence | bardoinbetween.

wholesome to be alone

“What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary?

I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another….

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.”

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Happy anniversary to me!

One whole year on my own, and divorced 11 weeks.

Best thing that ever happened to me.

Being the only one in the house for that long of a period has been a whole new experience.  In fact, I’ve never lived alone for that long in my entire life!  It would have been really healthy for me I think to have had the alone experience earlier in life.  But better late than never, eh?

Well, I’m not in the habit of writing too much about myself, as you know if you follow this blog.  Maybe if I get closer to realizing more of what the intention of this blog was/is, I’ll be able to reflect on it and share some learned lessons.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to year #2.

The Idea That Women Can Tame Men

In a (not surprisingly) depressing post railing against equal marriage rights over at National Review, Maggie Gallagher, the founder of the misleadingly-named Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, quotes an anti-equality speaker who argues that

“Only one creature has been known to calm men down into faithful and stable relationships since the dawn of time — a woman.”

What makes that attitude so sad is the low estimation in which it holds men, an attitude reflected in the hysterically angry reaction to the idea that men can play a role in stopping sexual assault. To different degrees on the same spectrum, these views both agree that men are not particularly in control of themselves, and that if they are to be tamed into monogamy and consensual sex, women will have to do a sometimes enormous amount of work, at great expense to their own expectations and personal liberties, to bring about those outcomes.

These views are very sad, but part of what’s depressing about them is that they aren’t necessarily exceptionally marginal. The idea that it takes a woman to tame a man is at the core of an enormous amount of popular culture—particularly culture aimed at women.

One of the most prevalent arenas for the idea that men need to be tamed by good women, and one of the places where that trope has evolved most, is in romance novels. As I wrote at Slate last week, that genre’s evolved from its earlier reliance on character arcs in which the heroine would be seduced, ravished, or outright raped before winning over the heroine to one in which the rakish hero, whether he’s seducing opera singers in the Edwardian era or dating hotties in contemporary Cleveland, meets the woman who makes him realize that monogamy isn’t just socially acceptable—it will make him happier than he’s previously been tomcatting around. These men in contemporary romance novels are rarely as repulsive as their earlier counterparts, or as profligate as Gallagher and her ilk might make them out to be. But there’s still an air of condescension operating there: it seems to have never occurred to any of these otherwise smart, handsome, and professionally adept men that their own behavior might be causing their unhappiness. And often, rather than being truly responsible for their romantic and sexual choices, romance novel heroes are broken in a certain way that can only be fixed by the ministration of heroines whose value was previously overlooked: often they had cruel or absent parents, particularly fathers, who damaged their ability to connect, and rather than seeking out therapy or staring their own deficiencies straight in the face, its up to women to give them the love they were previously denied.

Romantic comedies often follow the same script, with women required to correct for behavior even less attractive behavior than womanizing. Gerard Butler played a grotesquely misogynist radio host (who of course really just suffers from a bad case of heartbreak) in The Ugly Truth, a role that NBC trotted out and then abandoned in its failed Dane Cook sitcom, Next Caller. Matthew McConaughey needed to be literally dragged out of his parents’ home by Sarah Jessica Parker in Failure to Launch in one of his many slacker romantic comedies. The profoundly strange The Invention of Lying even tried to make a virtue out of the manipulative dishonesty of Mark (Ricky Gervais). Maybe making men into utter messes who need to be revitalized by the love of good women is a way to introduce new obstacles to couples’ happiness as the kinds of social pressures that made it harder for couples to come together across class lines or in spite of the bad reputation of one party have melted away, something Chris Orr pointed to as a factor in the decline of the romantic comedy. But the degradation of romantic comedies from battles of complicated equals to stories about broken men who need to be rescued about women doesn’t just make for depressing, and even sometimes infuriating storytelling—it reinforces the larger version of the battle of the sexes Gallagher and her ilk promote, that rogues and slackers are in need of vaccination by good women.

This narrative is dismal on and off the page and screen because it builds disrespect and inequality into the narrative of both real and fictional relationships. To suggest that men are inherently hounds—or worse—and to make that the most salient part of their personalities reduces all of men’s good qualities in comparison to their venalities. To demand that women save or fix men makes us perpetual nags or mommies.

Women should be repulsed by the relationships Gallagher is telling them to pursue, and men should be absolutely furious.

I’d feel bad for Gallagher for promoting those tropes as traditional gender roles worth emulating, if milder presentations of that rotten product hadn’t already proved so effective.

via Maggie Gallagher, Rape Culture, And The Idea That Women Can Tame Men | ThinkProgress.

Autonomy and individuality, and our need for stability and constancy

Lest you think I’m on a personal vendetta against marriage, may I present this article written by a family therapist:

As an alternative to marriage, serial relationships and casual encounters constantly create new and unexpected challenges calling on us to reach more deeply in order to navigate the demands of different experiences. Every relationship with its particular intimacies and requisite ending, will enable or force us to develop all the different aspects of our identities. Our capacity to handle the vicissitudes of life is enriched by our openness and we develop a sense of individual strength and power in mastering such challenges. Unfortunately, many people see the world as dangerous and so they hide in marriages and settle because the fear of being alone is so overwhelming.

It’s worth noting that I’m not a huge fan of Psychology Today and I lit into them, along with about 20,000 other black women, when they published a bogus article not worth linking to about the unattractiveness of black women compared to women of other races based on really ignorant science. That said, I think it’s important to have a dialogue about the ways people’s fear about being alone lead them to stay in relationships that don’t serve them. When it comes to women, this takes all kinds of menacing forms that are not quite summed up by using the word “unhappy” including abusive relationships (physical or emotional), co-dependent relationships or marriages that are mostly for show and end up rotting their souls from toxicity.

It sucks even writing about this topic, frankly. I was just watching Beauty and the Beast in 3D (I was with two other women in their thirties, thank you, and one of them is in a happy marriage) thinking about all of the fairy tale weddings and romances Disney programmed me with as a child. The romantic in me is torn and wants to believe that despite data and anecdotes about the downsides of marriage, it is completely plausible to be deeply in love, make a lifelong, government-sanctioned, IRS-approved commitment and not have it end up with half of your life in someone else’s pockets, your heart hardened against future failure. But Stanley Siegel makes some great points about autonomy and marriage “defying the laws of nature” that I’m not sure I can argue with:

One of the greatest existential crisis of our lives is the struggle between our need for autonomy and individuality and our need for stability and constancy. All life engages this balance. Many argue that marriage matures us because we develop a sense of responsibility to another human being and transcend our own selfishness. But working through problems over time, experiencing loyalty, commitment, intimacy and friendship, even raising children, can all meaningfully and successfully happen outside of marriage. It’s the exceptional couple who can form an ongoing intimate partnership that can withstand the oppressive forces of marriage and not lose their individual identities.

via Psychology Today: The Case Against Marriage | Single & Happy.

What Smart Women [and men] Do After Divorce

Smart women [and men] channel their energies post-divorce into examining their life, their goals, their mistakes and how they can learn from the past. Instead of jumping into another serious relationship (or spending their time complaining about their ex), they focus on their own life issues. They redefine their priorities and discover what’s meaningful to them. They mature fully into themselves as women whose identity is not tied to the role of mother or wife.

We’ve seen this or been there ourselves — how men and women “lose themselves” in marriage. For many women, their identity becomes tied to their husband or children early on, and so when the marriage ends and these roles are lost or diminished, the woman feels unsure of who she is. This is one reason divorce can be a real moment of crisis.

The smartest women I’ve observed use their divorce as an opportunity for growth and maturity. They take inventory of their life, mistakes and all, and devote time and energy to discovering who they are and what they want for their future. This process takes time, patience and dedication, but in the end, these women are able to put their divorce behind them. They go on to be centered, stable, self-assured, capable women who find the happiness they felt they had lost. In fact, when I asked these women if they could turn back the clock and stay married, the answer was overwhelmingly a heartfelt “no” — they would never go back, even with all of the known challenges.

What would be on your list for recovery?

MORE via Alison Patton: What Smart Women Do After Divorce.