A couple of months ago, I posted a letter from a woman who was having a tough time dating and felt disheartened because her coupled friends were judging her for it. She had written me several weeks before, and by the time the piece posted she had mostly worked through the issue herself.
She wrote to say she was feeling much better about her single state because she realized she didn’t need a romantic partner to complete her.
“Unconsciously, I have been driven by this thought my whole life: That I am not complete the way I am. Only when I meet a man and am devoted to him alone would I be complete,” she wrote.
That idea was so strong for the reader that it made her unable to see the many things she loved about her single life. But after doing some research and hard thinking about singlehood and marriage, her attitude started to shift.
“I made a list of advantages and disadvantages of both. The conclusion is that I enjoy my life the way it is. I have so much freedom on my own to meet many different kinds of people. I love living on my own,” she said.
She also noticed that, as a single person, she was open to many different forms of love, not just romantic: “I was at a writers’ course and looked at the people and felt such love in my heart for them. Thoughts like: ‘Wow look at you! You are such a beautiful, wonderful person.’ I could feel myself radiating this love to them. And that was what made me really happy.”
Being single in our couple-centric culture can be tough at times, but it can also lead to sublime moments like this one. When you aren’t pouring all or most of your love and attention into a partner or nuclear family, you often find there is space to love and appreciate many people in many different ways. As University of North Carolina psychologist Barbara Fredrickson points out, this kind of love is physiologically identical to the kind we feel when we’re with a romantic partner.
“I am not saying that I will never marry,” the reader wrote. “But I am saying yes to love in general and to meeting people and loving them. I feel a new sense of freedom to discover life in new ways and develop myself in all areas. Life is an adventure. I feel blessed to be a part of it.”
I love this letter for many reasons. First, because it illustrates that no one has one single reaction to their life circumstances. One day you hate being single; the next day you love it. Another day you don’t feel particularly strongly at all.
Single or married, our lives have many different rhythms, twists, and turns. It makes sense that our feelings will ebb and flow—they should shift, ebb and flow.
But mostly, I’m happy to see the reader moved past her need for Status Love—you know, the kind that says Hey look at my devoted husband and my adorable kids! She discovered that love isn’t something you find; it’s something you do. It’s not a treasure to hunt for; it’s something you already possess.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.