Recently, Singular City editor Kim Calvert commented on the negative tone that many people take when writing about the single life, noting my work in particular. Calvert cited a recent newsletter of mine, in which I expressed my belief that our positive-thinking culture often makes people feel worse because it pressures them to deny their genuine feelings and paper them over with something more socially palatable. The newsletter also included links to some eHarmony Q&As about breakups and couple envy, as well as the Strangers podcast series “Love Hurts.”
In a Psychology Today post, Calvert said she thought I was encouraging singles to wallow in their misery. The fact that I answered questions from distressed readers suggested to Calvert that I was courting the attention of unhappy singles while ignoring the satisfied ones.
“I have the uncomfortable feeling that providing a platform for single women to console and obsess on the negative, rather than consider more difficult options like changing thought habits into something positive, totters into a place we need to avoid, even if misery does love company,” wrote Calvert, who is happily single by choice.
Encouraging negativity and self-pity was certainly not my intention, but I can see how the contents of that particular newsletter could lead someone to this conclusion, so I’ll clarify.
The first part is logistical. I have a job blogging for eHarmony, so by definition I’m addressing people who are making an effort to not be single. I like responding directly to readers’ letters because it connects me with the issues people are thinking about and struggling with. But again, I’m working with a self-defining group. People don’t write to advice columnists when they’re feeling happy and content—they write when they have a problem.
The meatier issue that Calvert raises is something I have contemplated myself: What is the difference between being honest and kind to yourself—that is, accepting your feelings—and just plain wallowing? This was one of the first questions I asked my meditation teacher after I started learning to sit with unpleasant feelings.
It’s a fine line, and obviously not one confined to the challenges of singledom. Again, I generally focus on the problems of singles because that’s my job, but today I’ll use an example that’s unrelated to relationship status: money.
When I’ve had money problems, I’ve dealt with them in both productive and unproductive ways. When I’m being productive, I contact editors about work, brainstorm ideas for future income, and trim my budget. When I’m being unproductive, I stew about how this shouldn’t be happening to me. Because I work hard! And I’m frugal! And I’m good at what I do!
When my mind starts spinning like this, I have found that the best way to reclaim my sanity is to take few breaths, sit very still, and connect with the underlying hurt: feeling undervalued. I drop the mental speeches about how unfair it is and instead connect with my body—the clench in my jaw, the hollowness in my chest.
Sitting with these sensations is very uncomfortable, but in my experience it doesn’t encourage self-pity or perpetuate negativity. Instead, it’s a way of dealing with the pain head on. When I stay with the raw emotion, what I discover is … it’s not that bad. I can handle it. That doesn’t solve the financial problem, but it does clear my head and get me back to managing it in a productive way, whether it’s looking for more work (for example, a terrific gig with eHarmony) or a new recipe for rice and beans.
When you genuinely feel bad, denying those feelings won’t work. But when you allow them to be there, when you aren’t afraid or ashamed of them, they lose their power. That’s the point where I can collect my wits and remember that I live in a nice house and have never gone to bed hungry. That’s when I can just get back to work.
So when I tell readers to allow themselves to feel sad after, say, a bad date or the umpteenth wedding invitation, I’m not suggesting they drown themselves in woeful ruminations. I’m suggesting they dive into those difficult emotions so that, paradoxically, they lose their grip. I’m suggesting that they don’t waste another second feeling ashamed of their pain—because that only escalates it—that they instead acknowledge it so that can they eventually move on and return to enjoying their lives.
But perhaps I don’t stress that last part enough—the enjoyment, the gratitude.
So help me out. Write and tell me what you love about the single life—and what information or insights would help make it even better. I won’t stop talking about the challenges of singledom, but if readers think this column needs more joy, I’m happy to oblige.