As wedding season approaches, it strikes me that considering the reasons why not to rush into marriage is timely. I distinctly remember being a college student in the 1970’s and feeling pressured to tie the knot while many of my friends were racing to the altar with record speed. I didn’t feel that I had much of a choice. Hopefully we are free of the stigma attached to being single in the 21st century and can openly refute the notion that marriage is the solution to personal unhappiness or loneliness.
It appears that ambiguity in romantic relationships is on the increase in the past decade and options range from friends with benefits to indecision about permanent commitment. According to Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, “Ambiguity is now the norm as opposed to clarity.” Author Jessica Massa, who interviewed hundreds of singles and couples for her book, “The Gaggle: How to Find Love in the Post-Dating World” informs us that many couples claim exclusivity but won’t call it a relationship.
Multiple factors have merged together to create a generation of ambiguity. However, one the most compelling reasons is cultural since the first generation of children to grow up witnessing mass divorce are now young adults making their own decisions about love and commitment. It makes sense that people in their 20’s and 30’s might hedge their bets and see relationships as risky if they watched their parents’ marriage fail or even relatives and friends parents’ marriage collapse.
Richard Settersten, Ph.D. and Barbara E. Ray, authors of Not Quite Adults speculate that many people harbor misconceptions about a recent trend to delay marriage, believing that young adults are afraid of commitment and are abandoning marriage. They write, “Marriage is on hold for this generation, but it is delayed, not abandoned. The majority of young people eventually marry. They are just getting their ducks in a row before they do.”
For instance, Kayla is an attractive, athletic, twenty-seven-year old that is attending graduate school to become a nurse practitioner. She’s happily single and has made a decision to stay unmarried amidst the pressure to be part of a couple. She puts it like this: “I just haven’t met the right guy yet and won’t settle until I do.” She pauses and says, “I’m fine being alone and don’t need a partner to feel good about who I am.”
A groundbreaking study by Stephanie S. Spielman demonstrates that fear of being single is a meaningful predictor of settling for less in relationships and staying with a partner who is wrong for you. The first step in facing your fear of being alone is shrugging off any stigma attached to being single. In her Huffington Post article How to Be Alone (And Not Be Unhappy) Poorna Bell writes, “There is a problem, a serious cultural problem, about solitude. Being alone in our present society raises an important question about identity and well-being.” Bell posits that there is a contradiction in US culture since we value individualism and autonomy, yet we both fear and dread being alone.
Growing up, you probably weren’t given good examples of how to be alone. Everything you see in the media promotes how to find the right partner, and make it work. There’s nothing wrong with seeking love, because it’s beautiful and can bring about some of the most treasured moments in our lives. But very few people know how to be alone and do it well. They aren’t happy to be alone. They fear it and seek love wherever they go. Too often the pleasure they find with falling in love is the sweet release of no longer being by themselves in the world.
Often single women may be especially reluctant to acknowledge the challenges of being alone for fear of being seen as desperate or needy. According to author Sara Eckel, many of the stereotypes we have about single women are misleading. She writes, “The single life isn’t a prison sentence nor is it a cocktail party. It is simply a life – a life with responsibilities and rewards, good days and bad ones, successes and failures. In her article “Stop Telling Women They Are Fabulous,” she reminds us that we need new norms for understanding single women in our culture because in times past they were seen as lonely spinsters, quietly languishing in their studio apartments.
Maria Shriver, author of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, is attempting to educate young women about the value of being independent while seeking equal partnerships. She says, “I’m trying to teach my daughters that they have to think of themselves as providers and not being provided for. I want to talk to them about being smart about relationships and about money and their futures. I’m trying to teach them not to look at boys as the enemy but to look at them as somebody who will be a partner in whatever they do.”
According to author Whitney Caudill, “Feeling loneliness or fear from time to time as a single person is normal. In fact, it is normal for everyone.” The key is to recognize this and realize that these are just feelings. Staying in a relationship that is going nowhere to avoid loneliness rarely produces good results.
Here are 5 reasons why remaining single is a good idea:
- You are in a relationship that brings you down or you are often dissatisfied with it. Ask yourself: Does your significant other inspire you to do your best? Perhaps he or she is overly critical or too focused on his or her needs to be supportive of you.
- You feel you have to change yourself – your values, goals, or dreams for your partner to accept you. Since your partner is unwilling to compromise – you morph into someone else to accommodate their needs and subsequently lose vital parts of your identity.
- You want to take your time to pick a partner who shares similar values and interests – this will enhance your chances of staying together.
- You have a healthy respect for commitment and just haven’t met someone you want to make a permanent commitment with. Avoiding marriage before your late 20’s and dating a partner for at least two years will reduce your risk of divorce.
- You’re content being single and don’t have a compelling reason to tie the knot.
In closing, there are real pressures and judgments in our culture associated with being single that can weigh heavily on people. Congratulate yourself for your decision to withstand the social pressures and expectations to be part of a couple or race down the altar. Embrace some of the pleasuresof being single. When you remind yourself about what you like about yourself and what you are good at, your need for other’s approval will fade away and you’ll feel more self-confident in your lifestyle choice.
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