Monday, September 7, 2009

No Woman is an Island Either

Apologies for the length of this post. It's an article I've written for submission but thought it would make a good blog post as well.

I’ve been single and I’ve been coupled. Both states have their pros and cons of course and the characteristic perversity of human nature usually ensures that when we’ve been in one for a while we start to wish we were in the other. However I’ve been without a relationship of any substance, by which I mean one that lasted more than a few weeks, for around six years now and quite frankly I’m ready to say, with no apology, being single sucks.

My delight at all the alleged benefits of singledom has palled. I’ve exhausted the joys of freedom and independence, such as the chance to eat baked beans or cornflakes for dinner when I couldn’t be bothered shopping or cooking, uninterrupted monopolisation of the remote control, having sole executive decision making authority on everything from holidays to how often to do the washing, but now I’m over it. In fact I’d relish the chance to consult a significant other on a major life decision. No, more than that, I yearn for it. I’m sick of being totally responsible for all the lapses of judgement, crappy meals, financial blunders, dearth of clean underwear and other rotten choices in my life. Someone else to blame for a change would be great.

This of course is just another way of saying I’m lonely. Admitting to such a state however is something I’m fairly sensitive about. Overwhelmingly these days, to judge from much of the self help genre of literature and pronouncements of various experts in the field, we are made to feel that this emotion is at best a weakness and at worst a reflection of our total inadequacy as a person.

In an article I read quite recently, the writer observed in a tone of some perplexity that people living the life of a single person sometimes, unaccountably, express dissatisfaction with that state. The writer went on to not only deplore this foolishness but condemn the misguidedness of these solo self-pitiers in thinking that if they found someone, they might be happier.

To add insult to injury, with the total confidence of the singularly enlightened, the writer said that if a person admits to being miserably single, all it means is they are simply a miserable person. Presumably, according to this view, even in the remote chance that they luck out and land a partner, this pathetic excuse for a person will stay miserable and probably make the partner’s life a misery into the bargain. This sort of equates to stating that if someone is starving and has the gall to announce they’d feel happier after a bit of a nosh-up, they are just pathetically dependent on food and no matter how much they gorge themselves, they’ll never fill that psychic hole within.

The commentator is clearly speaking from the giddy heights of one who has surpassed all earthly longings and one can’t help but gasp at their superior understanding. It is truly helpful to realise that feeling a bit fed up with one’s own company and believing that life would be enhanced by sharing it with a compatible partner, means that we are in some way dysfunctional. What could be taken as self righteous pontificating, but is obviously educated insight, suggests that unhappiness with one’s lot as a single person is an indicator of emotional and spiritual poverty, lack of balance, poor self esteem, insecurity, or whatever pop psychology definition you care to pluck out of the air and berate your miserable self with.

Should this pathetic bumbling mess that is you have the audacity to imagine that having someone meaningful in your life would be great, you are kidding yourself. You are not looking for love, you are looking for a bandaid solution, a quick fix, or in the worst case scenario, if you are a completely hopeless case, an extreme makeover. The flaws are not in the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that have left you for whatever reason washed up on a desert island of solitude, they are glaringly, blatantly and incontrovertibly in you.

The logical progression of this line of thinking is that you must fix yourself before you can even contemplate in the vaguest most theoretical way, the prospect of attracting a mate. You must create your own harmony, balance and serenity. As you ascend the psychic ladder of karmic fulfilment, presumably you will start to find happiness within, tossing off all thoughts of needs, wants and desires as so much uncouth brutish baseness. In fact if you are good enough at this inner journeying and manage to reach the nirvana of complete self actualisation, people not only will start to call you God, or Buddha or Mighty Sage or something and fawn obsequiously at your feet, you will be in the exalted position of not needing anyone, ever, not even your Mum.

Hang on though. What about humanity and its (to use a nauseatingly ubiquitous term) sustainability? How would it be if we all declined to look for a mate until we had transcended to the plane of complete inner harmony and serenity, content in the certain knowledge that we were perfectly complete and whole both in and of ourselves, and no fleshly joy on earth could compete with the bliss of knowing ourselves to be at one with the universe? We would just live out our peerless days contemplating the perfection of our navels and not bother to get into all that messy reproduction or heaven forbid copulation, the two being of course somewhat interdependent. We would pretty soon become extinct.

And besides what’s so terrible about a bit of self-dissatisfaction? How else do we get motivated enough to make changes in our lives, perhaps take on new challenges, pursue new dreams, get out more, than by coming to the conclusion that we are not perhaps sufficient just to ourselves. Sometimes the blinding realisation that if this is all there is, we’ve been short-changed is just the impetus we need to get up off our butts and get out there and look for what we want. Too much inward focused contemplation often reveals things that are better left hidden, things moreover which we can do little to improve. I say forget the quest for elusive self-perfection, give it up as futile. Besides after a while, I don’t know about you, but I get bored with myself, sick and tired of hearing all that inner moaning about what a balls-up I’ve made of it all, how I’ve wasted all my latent genius on foolish misadventures and ended up in one of life’s fruitless cul de sacs, otherwise known as my day job. Yes perhaps I could have done better and regrets I’ve had a zillion, but I can’t turn back the clock and the enormity of fixing myself now utterly defeats me. Better to take it as given that most thinking people feel the same and get out there and find another flawed flounderer and have a bit of fun before it’s all too late, I say.

Mouldering away in miserable seclusion just because we have a few psychic flaws is moreover counter-productive. General malaise, if left untended in the belief that it is a sort of hair shirt we have to bear with equanimity while we strive for greater personal growth, can potentially ignite into anxiety, morbid misery or full blown depression in those who are susceptible to such frames of mind. In the acknowledged hierarchy of human needs, the need to love and be loved is pretty much up there with basic survival requirements. A longing to belong is not anything to feel ashamed of. While eschewing any suggestion that a sense of ownership should form any part of a mature loving relationship between consenting adults, I do believe a fundamental part of a successful partnership with an intimate companion is the feeling that you belong together. Whether or not it is openly acknowledged between you, if things are working well, you should reasonably expect to feel that here, with this person, is where you are supposed to be and that if you weren’t, you would both be missing something.

When you are alone, by choice or circumstance, you are lacking that connection. There are ways of compensating for that lack of course, and many do and must and can keep it up quite successfully for long periods of their lives. It is however not perhaps what they would choose, not over the long term in any case, and not, I boldly suggest, the way we, as the very social beings we humans are, were meant to be.

There is, it must be said, a difference between normal need and neurotic over-dependency on another person. If a person’s sense of self worth is not just a bit skewed but seriously out of whack, they can be lured into thinking that someone else will fix them. Here is where that inner psychic hole yawns so deeply that the sufferer is ready to grasp at anything that might make them feel a bit better, no matter how momentary or how self-destructive that panacea ultimately proves to be. Such behaviour tends to manifest itself in the development of dysfunctional relationships where one or both partners are so insecure that they end up basically tearing each other apart. That is a whole other horrifying but all too common ball game and I would not venture to suggest how best to deal with it, except to say that if you see one of the afflicted coming, run for your life.

As someone who I like to think falls within the range of the usually normal, or at least minimally neurotic, I can only look at things from that perspective. And it is from that perspective, as a single for too long person, that I have resigned myself to the fact that I must be a tad more proactive about my state of affairs than sitting around feeling fed up. As a result I have cast my principles to the wind (look where they’ve got me anyway, useless things) and decided to give online dating another go. I could tell you this decision was motivated by a need to extend the body of research for my forthcoming book on the subject, worthy ulterior motive though that is, but let’s get real. I freely admit I need to get out more. Well not get out so much as get in – into a meaningful relationship, before that old sun finally sinks below the horizon and I ascend to that nirvana in the sky, where you can bet they don’t have broadband.