Being Single Is So Easy That a Houseplant Could Do It

Houseplants and Clean Air

Image by Chiot’s Run via Flickr

That’s the title of a post I would write for The Elephant Journal if they didn’t happen to prefer overwrought clichè navel-gazing posts on the evil of marriage or the enlightenment to be found through singularity.

As it is 2011 and we are decades past the women’s liberation movement, one would think that the knee-jerk “men pigs and marriage bad” rhetoric would be considered – if not actually archaic – then at least too tritely tired to form the basis of any arguments where being single by choice was concerned.

But they are not.

Though Rob possesses a similarly low opinion of his gender for the most part, I don’t think that men in general deserve the slagging they get at the hands of women who left unhappy relationships and have “found themselves” as single women.

My personal opinion is that women who see themselves as better off single ought not to have married in the first place due either to inherent personality traits that make co-habitation emotionally tiring or a rather microscopic view of reality that only allows room enough for them and their needs. It would be refreshing to read someone admit that relationships just don’t suit their temperaments or the need to be concerned solely with one’s self because there is nothing wrong with that.

But the articles I’ve run across from women who are militantly single, or single after a string of relationships or a long marriage, inevitably focus on the details to the exclusion of honest explanation.

These women drone on about the maintenance of life – holding a job, running a household and even raising children – as though no female in the history of humanity, anywhere on the planet, hasn’t mastered a single one – ever.

They go on – and on – about “independence” to such a degree that I wonder if perhaps they don’t know what the word really means.

Anyone with an IQ that exceeds a houseplant can live on her own. Financially supporting yourself, taking care of the myriad of daily living details, long-term planning and even parenting aren’t independence milestones. Being a grown up isn’t something they hand out gold stars for doing.

The most recent “look at me! Am I not wonderful because I am single” post at The Elephant Journal was written by a woman two years out of her 25 year marriage. Judging from the photo, she married young, so I suppose her surprise that she can take care of most matters in her life without a husband isn’t too surprising. Though it is disheartening to think that someone in my peer group is so mid-1950’s in a Ronald Reagan kind of way.

She writes that all she needs a man for is a “good fuck and to have someone to pick me up from the airport”, though she admits that sex and a ride home are not beyond her abilities to self-manage either.

But is this a stereotype that women should be crowing about in the 21st century? That “yes, we can!” take care of ourselves?

I left home at 18 and spent the next nearly 16 years taking care of myself. Put myself through university, worked, managed the daily tasks and the crises – big and small – all by my lonesome little self without applause or cookies and milk for my efforts. It was no big deal.

And what’s more, most of the women I knew did the same thing. A fair number of my friends were single well into their 30’s and some are still single now that we are in our 40’s. Though boyfriends came and went, these men were add-ons to our lives not necessities to off-load responsibility on or fix us and our problems.

Being single is not really hard, but like anything else, it can be a monotonous grind over time despite the “freedom” of not having to concern yourself with anyone but you.

I think the point people miss in the war between marriage and single is that they are choices and that neither is utopia. People who whine about either state would be better off looking inward to figure out what is wrong than to lay blame externally.

Single was okay. It could be very lonely at times and not having someone around who had your back regardless made it lonelier. I continue to not understand people’s preference for single over married just as I don’t understand people who equate marriage with bondage.

Barring deal-breakers, if your marriage isn’t working then one or both of you isn’t doing something you should and probably that thing is communicating and coming to consensus on what needs to be done. Marriage “haters” labor under the delusion that relationships are not work or that they are driven solely by attraction and soul-matey connection nonsense that should have been discarded for reality when we graduated from Sweet Valley High.

Women will spend any amount of time nurturing their relationships with sisters, mothers, friends, co-workers and children, but barely a second thought for their husbands. Romance to too many is about “what’s in it for me”  and not about “how can I show this amazing person who shares my life how important he is to me and how special he is”.

I don’t really have many close female friends and perhaps my impatience with articles like these are the reason why. I am too practical and male in my approach to relationships. But, being single is not an accomplishment because taking care of yourself is – or should be – a given, so quit giving yourself “high five’s” already. You didn’t do anything that millions of us haven’t already done or continue to do.

20 responses to “Being Single Is So Easy That a Houseplant Could Do It

  1. “…But, being single is not an accomplishment because taking care of yourself is – or should be – a given, so quit giving yourself “high five’s” already. You didn’t do anything that millions of us haven’t already done or continue to do.”

    Ummm, no. Actually not as simple as you’re trying to make it out to be…
    If it were only as one-dimensional as “taking care of yourself”, perhaps…But in reality, it takes a healthy amount of intestinal fortitude to not take the path of least resistance, in the face of cultural and societal expectations, and to be true to one’s inner compass.
    In our couples oriented world, it’s pretty doggone ridiculous when a single, never married, individual is seen as more emotionally flawed than a multiple divorcee,
    and we come up against this type of prejudice on an annoyingly regular basis.

    • I think you misunderstood where I was coming from – a marriage that ended rather quickly due to death – and a great deal of criticism for my choice to date again and remarry due to the mistaken idea that one must “learn to be alone” and “find one’s self” as though being single was some monastic journey to enlightenment.

      The practical matters of being on one’s own aren’t rocket science and plenty of people chose to do, however, in my experience, a lot of people settle for the single life after all else has failed. It doesn’t make them flawed – just practical. Single is doable. Sometimes it’s preferable. It can even be nice. And it’s no more or less lonely than being coupled, depending on the circumstances.

      At this point in my life, I have still spent more of my adult life single than married. I know single inside out. And it’s not something that one needs to practice or put on a bucket list. It’s just one state of being. I tire of it being held up as some sort of accomplishment when it isn’t.

      • “…[I received] a great deal of criticism for my choice to date again and remarry due to the mistaken idea that one must “learn to be alone” and “find one’s self” as though being single was some monastic journey to enlightenment.”

        I don’t know that I would ever be critical of anyone’s choice, especially coming from a background where I’ve been made to feel as if I lack something for choosing to remain single. I do think that there’s something to be said for the “learn[ing] to be alone” and “find[ing] one’s self” part, because there inarguably is fulfillment to be gained along the way. I don’t consider this to be “mistaken” advice. Just perhaps not for everyone.

        I sympathize with your personal loss. I feel that being thrust into sudden widowhood differs from experiencing divorce. Either way, if one meets another person with soul mate qualities, soon after a loss, I don’t see anything to be gained by “suffering” through singledom, if they have been conditioned to believe their happiness lies in sharing their lives with someone else.

        I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment: “Romance to too many is about “what’s in it for me” and not about “how can I show this amazing person who shares my life how important he is to me and how special he is”. I once had a relationship where I was viewed as an acquisition, and where the man I was briefly involved with wanted to rush headlong to the altar, more than anything else, because of the social acceptance he would derive from the institution of marriage.

        I have an adult nephew who has been divorced a couple of times, and who goes from one relationship to the next, because he “can’t stand the thought of being alone”. I find it sad that he will never allow himself to find happiness within himself that could potentially make him a better husband or boyfriend.

        • Being alone is no guarantee that you will find yourself anymore than being with someone ensures that you will learn to understand that relationships aren’t Disney princess magic and non-stop rom/com.

          That your nephew dislikes being alone isn’t a character flaw. It’s who he is. My husband has never been on his own but for the four months between losing his late wife and meeting me. But he knows who he is, what he wants, what makes him happy and how to allow the people in his life to be themselves and encourage that.

          People who are in and out of relationships often choose mates poorly and are unwilling to work when problems arise b/c they’ve learned that running is the easier option. And they don’t speak up in the early stages and make their expectations clear. A lot of people who wind up reading here are those who haven’t learned to ask for what they want and expect to get it. Doing those two things is a great way to weed those from your life that aren’t suited for you.

          I don’t believe that everyone is suited to be married. Nor do I believe that being single is what works for all either. I just object to the feminist trope that you can’t be happy in a relationship until you’ve put in time as a single person because that, in my opinion, is not what lays a foundation for relationship success.

          Knowing who you are, what you want and being able to discuss issues without falling back on manipulative behavior AND being genuinely concerned for what your partner needs and who he/she is are some of the key things. We don’t teach that to our kids – for the most part – but instead fill them up with nonsense like “you need to learn to be on your own before you can be in a relationship”, among other things.

          You can learn to be you with someone else as easily as you can do it on your own but as the Carly Simon song says “how do I learn to be me first by myself?”

        • “…nonsense like “you need to learn to be on your own before you can be in a relationship”, among other things.”

          Hmmm. I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

          I don’t view the above statement as “nonsense”. Not at all. I don’t feel as if anyone else can satisfy your emotional needs until you’ve come to know and love yourself. Not saying it can’t happen while your involved with another, but I think the chances that the necessary chemistry, and whatever other components would need to be in line behind the planets, are pretty slim.

          If one ever were to ask my nephew “who he is, what he wants, what makes him happy”, etc., I guarantee he would come up blank, except perhaps to say “A woman”. So I guess I can say “Even a caveman can do that”, but his choices ultimately don’t have any bearing on my well-being. ‘Nuff said.

          “A lot of people who wind up reading here are those who haven’t learned to ask for what they want and expect to get it.”……Okay, well, what if what someone genuinely desires is to remain unattached (and, yes, independent), without being made to feel as if there’s something not altogether normal about his or her decision? Is this not a valid choice?

          You seem too inclined to blame feminism for things that can, I think, be more accurately attributed to cultural evolution. Bottom line, if you’re happy with your choices, why hold others’ up to such critical scrutiny? The Elephant Journal clearly isn’t your cup of tea, but there’s certainly plenty more mainstream reading out there.

          I must see for myself, now, what this Elephant Journal is all about…

        • The feminist movement is still pretty much a mixed bag but not surprisingly so as it was always more about females of means than the average woman.

          But I don’t say that there is anything wrong with being single just that I don’t believe many people end up that way as a choice and if they do, it’s a choice they make after having tried coupledom. It’s still a default option.

          I haven’t read the Elephant Jounral in ages and ages. The people there live lives that are not the norm and their views reflect it.

        • “Why be normal?”
          — Alfred E. Neuman

          The “norm” is overrated. Besides, who gets to dictate for others what, and what isn’t, the “norm”? If your answer is married society, that would no longer be correct.

          It’s only a wedding band, not a halo.

        • The “norm” is still coupledom whether it is married or not, and in my experience most single people are looking for coupledom if not actively participating in some form of coupling.

          A halo? LOL. You know nothing about marriage, Jon Snow.

        • …and you apparently know nothing about singledom.

          I would love nothing more than to hang out, at a public venue, with a few other single female friends, without being descended upon by a group of casanova wanna-bes, all who automatically assume “single” equals “looking to be rescued”.

        • Did you miss the part where I said I’ve still been single longer than I have been married? I know both. Pros and cons. However, I was never someone that any man felt compelled to buzz about or offer pseudo-rescue to but the few times it did happen and didn’t interest me, I just said so. Falls under the heading of “first world problems” somewhere.

          Whatever your issues are. Take them somewhere else. I don’t buy into the tropes that some people need in order to be okay with the narratives they’ve chosen to live. If you’ve read more than just this piece, you’d know that I advocate living the life that suits you, which is why the trite cliches people spout to justify this or that lifestyle move me to write about them on occasion. Be single. Be married. Be single and then marry. Remarry or don’t. Have kids. Don’t. Be a dog person. A cat person. Or not. Or both. There is nothing about any lifestyle that is so awesome or so loathsome that it needs an instruction manual or a defense manifesto.

          This conversation is done.

  2. Marriage and single-hood are personal choices. I don’t see the need to be militant about either. I agree with you that people should examine themselves before pointing the finger at others…..I’ve always liked your voice and it shines through in this post.

  3. I think that the grass is always going to be greener on the other side. I can see where both sides may think they have it harder or easier. I wrote a book that the “singles” may enjoy called “365 Reasons Why I’m Still Single.” It’s a lighthearted and fun take on being single…and a reason for every day of the year. Makes a great gift for you or your single friends. Check it out on Amazon or be a fan on Facebook (or both!) http://amzn.to/efDMiC

  4. I agree 100%! What IS more difficult than being single is marrying a man with “Peter Pan” syndrome, as I did for my first marriage that I don’t like to talk about, which ended in divorce. Perhaps I should talk about it more, and be proud that I took care of an entire family while working full time and put myself through nursing school, while Mr. Peter Pan blew thousands of dollars at the pinball arcade, wrote hot checks, worked 52 jobs in the 9 years we were married, (even though he was unemployed most of the time… each job lasted about a week!) etc. etc.

    Yeah, you are right! Merely taking care of yourself while single is a piece of cake! 🙂

    • yeah, it’s equating the maintenance to some kind of great accomplishment that irks me. So you learned how to hook up the sound system of your stereo. So what? Or you were able to track down a handyman to do your fixers for you. Again, so what? People do this all the time – married and single. The sad thing is that women buy into the notion that just being able to “float the houseboat” is independence when it’s not at all.

  5. just like the war between ‘stay home’ and ‘working’ moms, i simply don’t understand why this is a battleground. marriage or singleness as a choice? why is anyone compelled to defend a personal choice?

    it seems that in either case – where marriage is not recognized as choice, or singleness is not the desired endstate – that people are driven into two camps.

    One – Fight to change status (and the ensuing games of “Spouse Quest” and “Any Warm Body Will Do” make my head spin).

    Two – Aggressively defend a position, while simultaneously attacking the other.

    while i can understand all this, it’s that latter bullet that annoys the crap out of me. whether it’s mommy wars or the married vs single smackdown, i’m pretty sure it’s counter productive. and i’m certain it’s pointless to argue…

    • One thing I have noticed is that it is the ones doing the slagging are usually coming from conflicted places – “bad” marriages or an inability to find a partner to marry. The sad ones are those who base their decisions on the experiences of others. “My parents were unhappy” or “My parents divorced” therefore, marriage is a bad option.

      Read an essay by a 20 ish woman last night and her argument was basically that marriage/relationships in general should be ridden hard to an endpoint. Once it took a swing south, a person should walk away b/c only the lucky, happy few could hope to make a marriage last until one partner dies. Cheery. But most of her peer group agreed. What a pessimistic lot.

      I don’t want to land flat-footed in your number “two camp” but I tire of the propaganda from the dissenters, who have this irritating manner of claiming authority from “failure” that had more to do with their personal issues than the institution of marriage itself. Our state of being is only as good as our efforts to live it fully, imo.

      • dissenters and contrarian opinions are important. i genuinely appreciate that there are those with the gumption and energy to throw the ‘bullshit’ flags. i agree that the vehement defense of the choice of “singleness” is just as egregious as the violent arguments that one should “marry or be worthless to society”. i simply long to be part of a society that can accomodate all persuasions. and i suppose we won’t get there without such discourse. i’m just lazy and tired…

        • Choice could be easily accommodated if we could just be the kind of society that didn’t have to have winners and losers in terms of personal lifestyle choices. Single is not necessarily “independent” just as marriage is not “slavery”. We seem to be a people who can’t make a choice and be happy unless we validate our choice by knocking those who choose differently. If one wants to write about the downsides of a lifestyle, perhaps they could live it first or acknowledge that they are speaking from a place of personal preference that might be clouding their perspective. The young 20 something took a tone that indicated she was authority by way of observation and while some people can learn a lot from simply observing, at 20 ish I doubt she’s observed enough to formulate an opinion worthy of publication for mass consumption. Although, she wrote it “prettily” enough.