Is Singleness a Blessing or a Curse?

I think many single women looking at the title of this month\’s column are likely to take exception to the thought that being single is a gift. Unless, of course, they have just extricated themselves from an abusive situation; in which case, they are breathing a momentary sigh of relief.

But in the long run, most women consider singleness, whether widowed, divorced, never married, or simply flying solo as a life status filled with loneliness, longing, discrimination (in a coupled world), extra chores, and a sense of unfulfillment. Yes, there are a scattering of freedoms from having to consider another person\’s point of view or demands or desires, but these don\’t seem to counterbalance the pain.

To understand how singleness might be a gift and what psychological and spiritual tools we will need to see it as such, let\’s start with the other gifts we have been given in life.

First, make a list everything that describes your current status in life: eye color, hair color, height, weight, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation (on none), socio-economic status, personality (for example, introverted or extroverted), country of origin, employment, leisure time activities, place of residence.

How many of those demographics and attributes do you consider to be gifts? Are you proud of your ethnic heritage? Do you feel lucky to have been born in this country or to live here now? Do you just love the color of your eyes? Were any of these attributes earned? Which ones do you regard as gifts, as something for which to be grateful? Which ones do you consider to be curses, as something to be changed or gotten rid of?

When I lead small groups for singles and ask these questions, most women regard the majority of the physical and socio-economic items that define their lives as givens, with perhaps a few gained by hard work. If they have positive feelings about the item, they think of it as a gift. When they have negative feelings about the item, they often describe it as a curse, or at least, a challenge.

Gifts and curses are considered to be things which are given to us or foisted upon us-by God, by society, sometimes by ourselves (for example, by poor choices or bad luck).

Let\’s try examining one of these life attributes, eye color. Certainly we did nothing to earn or deserve our eye color. It is a given. But do we think about it every day? Do we rant and rave at God for giving us hazel eyes? Do we worry about whether we will be accepted at this evening\’s social gathering because of our eye color? Do we lie awake at night, tearful, wondering if it will ever change? If we woke up one morning and found that our hazel eyes had changed to blue, we\’d be amazed, but would we be traumatized, would we have difficulty adjusting? No-we\’d march down to the nearest drugstore and by some new shades of eye shadow and have an amazing new topic for conversation. You\’ll never believe what just happened to me!

Now let\’s add singleness vs. partnered to the list of life attributes. I think most of us use a different thinking process or cognitive frame when it comes to this particular demographic of life.

We start out accepting singleness because that\’s what we\’re all born with. No one is born married or partnered. No one is excluded or discriminated against as a single baby, a single child, even a single junior higher. We accept the gift of singleness (our current marital status) as normal, God-given, and a blessing.

But then something insidious happens. We start peeking at our life through a different cognitive frame. Society and our own biological drive tell us that we need to be partnered. Internal messages about who that partner should be begin to evolve even before the pressure to show the world that we have made our choice. As women, we often feel that the choice is not ours, except in response to being chosen by someone else. As the status of more and more of our peers begins changing from singleness to coupled (dating, engaged, married, partnered), we begin to blame ourselves, we start feeling left out, and we feel different.

Think about the young woman who rushes up to a co-worker, flashing her new diamond in her eyes, and breathlessly announcing her engagement. It all speaks to I\’ve done it right!

Imagine yourself becoming widowed or divorced or thirty-three and never partnered and running up to that same co-worker, flashing your ring-less hand in her face, and announcing, “Guess what! I\’m single! It\’s so exciting. I can\’t wait to travel all by myself. And you should see this great new photo I had taken to celebrate the occasion. I bought this new smaller bed so that I could fit a great shabby chic arm chair in my bedroom for reading late at night.”

If we can consider that our current marital/partnered status is a gift, one worthy of being announced to the world, how would that affect those sleepless nights, those bitter tears? What would happen to self-blame? Could we go through the pain of loss without feeling unworthy, unacceptable? Could we face the discrimination that exists in our society without being overcome? Think for a moment about how the Black Power movement changed both politics and self-esteem for many African-Americans, how pride, not shame, became the core of racial identity. Did the challenges for people of color end? No, of course not, but those challenges were faced in a more positive, uplifting way.

So, it\’s time to reframe singleness. Both singleness and being partnered are gifts-to be accepted for the moment, to be experienced without attributing blame to ourselves, or others, or God.

Homework Assignment: Write down what you would say to a friend upon suddenly receiving the Gift of Singleness. If you have trouble, start with a description of another gift you\’ve received and see if you can\’t portray singleness in those same glowing terms.

A REMINDER:

If you feel you have a psychiatric emergency, go directly to a family member, a friend, your physician, your pastor, or the nearest hospital emergency room and TELL THEM YOU NEED ARE IN CRISIS AND IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE HELP.

Or . . .

Call 911 or one of these numbers:

Suicide is a permanent and tragic solution to a temporary problem.
GET HELP.

Next Month: COPING WITH SERIOUS MEDICAL CONDITIONS