What Singles are Sick of Hearing (Part 1)
5 Pieces of Advice Singles are Sick of Hearing (Part 1 of 2)
As if being in your twenties, thirties, and beyond isn’t hard enough, for many of us there is also that longing to find a spouse. This time of waiting and dating can feel burdensome as we cycle through different strategies and a range of emotions. I know for me, there were times I felt perfectly at peace with being single and others when I felt severely frustrated. One thing that bothered me most about this time was the never-ending parade of cliches people would throw at me in an attempt to help, but really, they just sounded placating – or even worse, pitying. This may be my chance to get some revenge on these pesky platitudes, but my true purpose is to get real about being single and hopefully provide some words of advice (backed by some basic psychology) that are actually helpful during this time. So let’s dig in to some bad advice!
#5 “You should enjoy this time!”
Ugh, I’m annoyed already. Firstly, even if you are at peace with being single in your young adult years, being told to “enjoy” them just seems to add unnecessary pressure. Our young adult years span over a decade of our lives and we are supposed to appreciate every moment? In reality, it’s still just life and life has its enjoyments and its heartbreaks. Plus, we have enough going on in our twenties – school, jobs, moves, changing family and friendship dynamics – without adding “take time to enjoy being single” to the list. Furthermore, who says we’re not already having fun?
I think what is most invalidating about this sentiment is how it implies that being in a relationship comes with hardships single people have no clue about. We all know that relationships take work. People who say this seem to be struggling with their own views on “lost time.” Meanwhile, someone who is in a place of genuine longing for a spouse, has a right to their desire without having to be reminded that it will not be all sunshine and rainbows – we know and we still want it. In fact, there are psychological theories that say struggling with these desires is exactly what this stage of our lives is supposed to be about, which brings me to…
#4 “Use this time to focus on yourself.”
As often as I heard the first version of this advice from others, I am also guilty of saying it to myself. During our young adult years, there is so much to “focus on” that it is overwhelming and so we try to prioritize. “I’m just really focused on my career right now.” “School is really all I have time for.” “I need to get my finances in order before I even think about dating.”
According to Erik Erikson (I kid you not, that is his name), a German-American psychologist of the 1900s, this season of our lives – which he broadens from 18 to 40 years old – is all about finding and growing our connections with others. He called it the “Intimacy versus Isolation” stage, meaning it is when we are naturally inclined to be seeking and forming intimate attachments with other people in order to avoid being alone for the rest of our lives. Despite other milestones that tend to occur during this period of life, this is our primary goal of development during this time. This stage is 6th in Erikson’s theory so we have already had 5 other stages to work through, which focus more on ourselves, and we only have 2 more to go after this. That means this is kind of important. It also means we have permission to make dating a priority without feeling guilty about it “taking away” from time spent working on other pursuits. Psychology actually says, “This is the time!” We are allowed to feel this way and even feel good about it because it is a natural desire during this time of our lives. It is nothing to be ashamed of, which is why the next piece of advice pains me so much when I hear it…
#3 “Don’t be upset about being single; you’ll seem desperate.”
There are many variations of this type of advice, and it usually implies that wanting to be in a relationship means you are weak/needy/unhappy. I know this is the attitude of many because countless clients of mine enter the therapy room and, with down-turned eyes, tell me they want to be in a relationship – as if they are confessing to a serious crime! We have probably all felt this way at some point: shamed for wanting a significant other. And it is so wrong.
As Erikson showed us, this is a perfectly normal and natural desire to have during our young adult years. Plus, consider the following:
We can be happy and still in search of more happiness, as well as someone with whom to share it.
We can be strong and still acknowledge our desire to have support from someone else.
We can express a need – the need for intimacy – and not be ashamed about it. Identifying and expressing our needs is actually a great ability to have!
Usually, the reasoning I hear for this advice is another classic cliché, bringing us to #2, which will appear in Part 2 of this blog post later this week. In the meantime, Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development have remained in the field as one of the most respected theories on human development and you can read more about them here.
Yours in Christ,