In the spirit of the month of February, this article is is on the topic of relationships. I’m sure you haven’t come across any other relationship-themed articles or anything, right? This should be refreshing for you, then! I love being original!
But in all seriousness, your “news feed” is likely overflowing with Valentine’s Day-related articles. Understandably, you probably click on ones relevant to your relationship status at the moment (i.e. articles geared at people who are single or people who are in partnerships). There’s a plethora of articles out there cheering for singledom or partnership, each stating that one is better than the other, one has to precede the other, or one is an escape from the other. And so we segregate into opposing camps, claiming the other is in denial or rationalizing or dependent.
Like many of you who are reading this, I’ve spent significant periods of time of both sides of the proverbial relationship-status fence, hopping back and forth when I determined the hue of green on the other side was decidedly more emerald (Well, save the time I got dumped…that time I was unwillingly chucked over the fence into the dry, overgrown yard of that “haunted” house that ironically always had its lights off on Halloween). Anyhow, I always thought there was something I was missing by being in or out of a relationship that I could somehow attain if I just found the right person, or had more freedom like my single friends, or filled in that final puzzle piece to make me feel complete.
Now, like most things I write about, I know I’m not the only one who experiences these thoughts and feelings. Many of my female friends and clients ~30 feel the same way. This is not to say that men don’t experience similar feelings, but because of the norm of men generally being older in heterosexual relationships, this pressure may not be strongly felt for some time (Also, “Bachelors” are undoubtedly viewed differently than “Spinsters“). Thanks to a masters thesis that required I read pretty much every academic article out there on relationships, I attribute this phenomenon to the following reasons:
- Romantic relationships are valued and considered indicators of “success” in our society. They are painted as something to be acquired, leaving those who are not in them to believe that they are incomplete (Just think of how much flack single female celebrities get past a certain age).
- As a result of the former point, people who are single and unhappy attribute their unhappiness to being single, rather than seeing them as extraneous of each other.
- Society reminds us over and over again that women can only have children until 35 (not true), and after that we’re unattractive, dried up, perimenopausal women who are only good for providing cheap feelings of altruism by assisted street-crossings, and/or acting as cat-exclusive SPCAs. In other words, the baby clock is ticking.
- There seems to be this implication out there that if a woman is not in a relationship by a certain age, she must be either a) undesirable, b) broken, c) crazy, d) a workaholic , or e) all of the above. Either way, our relationship status immediately becomes the source of generalization.
Now it’s not just single people who get negatively labelled. People who are always in relationships tend to be viewed as Needy. Dependent. Can’t be on their own. And, similar to the false attribution to unhappiness made by people who are single, oftentimes unhappiness while in a relationship becomes unhappiness because of the relationship–despite the two often being less connected than the person believes. But, we attribute our unhappiness to our partner and decide singledom is the solution to our misery. Again, societal expectation play a role, here, in that we tend to put responsibility on our partners to fill a void (just think of how many times people ask, “Does s/he make you happy?”).
Our happiness in this world should not be dependent on another. Not to get too idealist, here, but our happiness is generated within ourselves, not as a result of another person (otherwise most relationships wouldn’t dissolve within 5 years). Now, as a caveat, if a person actively makes you unhappy, that’s a different story. No one should be expected to remain in a situation where the relationship or person they’re in the relationship with causes them pain. But there is a difference between feeling underappreciated or unsupported, and feeling unfulfilled.
So, what to do? Well, If you’re currently feeling restless or anxious or lonely, and believe changing your relationship status is the answer, maybe explore your hypothesis some more. How do you know being single or involved will alleviate these feelings? And, if you’re convinced that they will, how do you think it will impact your feelings in the relationship if knowing that without that person those painful feelings will return? I’ll answer that one for you…your relationship will be wrought with anxiety and jealousy.
Instead, why not consider exactly what it is that you think you’re missing right now in your life that you think would be filled if you were to get into a relationship or get out of your current one?
For example, do you want more excitement? Security? Connection? Intellectual stimulation? Company? Challenge? Sex? Variety? Meaning? Well, is ending your relationship or getting into one for the sake of being in one going to meet these needs? Are there other ways those needs could be met? Travel? Volunteering? An evening course? A recreational team? More time with friends? Self-compassion? Swinging? It’s unrealistic to expect one person to meet our every need, and it’s unrealistic to expect that being in a relationship will make us happy in the long term.
But I want children, you retort. The baby clock, Megan! What about the baby clock?! Yes, perhaps this was the case 100 years ago—even 50 years ago. But there are opportunities for women nowadays that allow us to delay childbirth, extend fertility, adopt, or even have a child without requiring another person now. And if none of those seem reasonable to you, then maybe it’s time to consider if life without a biological child is worth living, and what would make it so for you. If you were told by your doctor today that you could not have children, how would that change your outlook, goals, and course of life? It’s a frightening thought, I know, but it’s worth exploring. We tend to fear the unknown more than the known, even if the known is not ideal.
To sum, perhaps hopping over the fence into singledom or uninspiring partnership may not be the answer to your restlessness or dissatisfaction. To make a comparison, many people know someone who’s constantly on the move—can’t spend more than a year in a city at a time. Maybe you are that person. You go from city to city, each time adamant the one you’re leaving is the cause of their discontent. But cities don’t create our lives; we create our lives. Sure, the city can be an environment or context in which we can create our desired life, but it’s not the defining factor. Similarly, being in or out of a relationship doesn’t create our happiness; we create our happiness; the relationship is just part of the context. There are very unhappy people out there who are in relationships, and very unhappy people out there who are single. Trust me. I speak to them every day. So rather than attribute your dissatisfaction to your relationship or your lack thereof, explore what’s missing in your life that a relationship represents, and go from there :).