After every breakup, I spend time — copious amounts of time, too much goddamn time – pouring over every detail, trying to figure out what I did wrong this time. I call this “taking personal responsibility.” My best friend calls it “spiraling.” Leaving yoga class this weekend, my voice trembling and defeated, I declared about my recent breakup: “It’s my fault. I pick the wrong men.”
This is when my best friend started laughing at me. Hysterically. “You’re spiraling,” she said. “I’m only going to say this once: You did nothing wrong. He wasn’t right for you, and you both acknowledged that as soon as you knew it. You did everything right. So, I refuse to listen to you if you’re going to blame yourself. You need to stop.”
She was right. I was being ridiculous. It’s no wonder my first instinct is to blame myself. The culture of single blaming and shaming is pervasive. I think the world tends to forget: being coupled is not an achievement. Not being coupled is not a failure. Being in a relationship, getting married, shacking up, call it whatever you want, is a life choice, born of opportunity. It’s two people being in the right place at the right time and wanting the same things. It’s an opportunity that’s seized. While a solid relationship can make you grow as a person, the mere fact that you’re coupled does not make you a better person.
Earlier that morning, a married friend of mine sent me a link to Tracy McMillian’s articles Why You’re Not Married and the charming follow up Why You’re Still Not Married. “Have you seen these? What do you think?” she asked. “They seem offensive.”
I have indeed seen these article and I’ve thus far chosen to ignore them because that’s what I do when I strongly dislike something. I ignore it. It’s single shaming at its most shameful. Reading them again, I knew I couldn’t ignore them. It’s time to address this bullshit.
Amongst the reasons why McMillian thinks I’m not (and still not) hitched: I’m a bitch, I’m a slut, I’m selfish, I’m a liar, I have low-self-esteem, I’m crazy and I’m a mess. If you’ve ever seen an episode of “Hoarders” then you know that bitchy, selfish, “crazy” people with low self-esteem get married all the time. And as you also know if you’ve ever talked to a divorced person, being married doesn’t mean you’re happily married. That’s a whole other article that I’m nowhere near qualified to write. I’m going to leave the institution of marriage alone for the moment, because not all of us in the world want to or even are legally permitted to get married. So, for now, I’m going to stick to the topic of single shaming.
Let me say this, both for my own benefit, and for the benefit of anyone out there who is feeling an ounce of shame about being single: You didn’t do anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with you. Take personal responsibility for your actions, find out what patterns you may be repeating, talk to your therapist about what may be holding you back, but don’t take so much personal responsibility that you lose perspective. Don’t internalize any wrongness about being single. Stop blaming yourself.
Let’s talk about why I’m REALLY single, in case Tracy McMillan or my friends or family were wondering. Believe it or not, there are non-blamey, non-shamey reasons. Let me unspiral myself from this “being in a relationship means you’re valid” clusterfuck. This needs to stop. Here’s why I’m really single without shame or blame or judgement:
1. I had a serious relationship before I was ready for one. I was in a serious relationship and living with someone from the ages of 22 to 26. It was a great relationship, but I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted yet in life. I could have married him. But in the deepest part of myself, I knew I had to figure shit out before I made a life-long commitment to someone else.
2. Instead of spending time figuring myself out, I got into another relationship. I jumped right into another relationship without taking the time to unpack why I felt I needed to leave the first one. When the second relationship ended nearly a year later, I had the task of getting over two serious relationships and finding myself. That took a while. A long while.
3. My career always has been more important to me. Where you put your energy, things will happen. I put a shit ton of energy into figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I was an actress from the age of four until the age of 23. I dedicated my heart and soul to it. It was more important to me than anything else. At 23, I quit acting and had to find what to put my heart and soul into again. I had no identity, no idea what I was going to do with my life, but it was of the utmost importance for me to find my calling in order to be happy. I dedicated all of my energy from the age of 23 to 30 trying to get a handle on that and when I did …
4. I dedicated all my energy to building my chosen career. I started writing at the age of 30. That was four years ago. The last four years have been sheer will and ass kicking and hard work and learning what I needed to do to be successful at my new undertaking. So, it is true, dating was on the back burner. Even when I was dating people, I felt scared (and sometimes resentful) that they were taking me away from my time with my career. So, even when I was physically there, my heart wasn’t there. Or I picked people who were distant (unconsciously) because they posed no threat to my career.
5. I had my trust broken by a bad person. There was a bad person who I let in and he really violated my trust. This made me have to take a step back and be angry and heal and learn how to protect myself better. This was not something that I could do and be in a relationship at the same time because my heart was beaten to a bloody pulp.
6. I know what I’m looking for and I haven’t found it yet. All this time that I spent figuring out who I was, building a career, dating people and having it not work out, healing from having my trust broken, was a process. It was a necessary journey which I needed to go through in order to figure out what I wanted in a partner. Now, I feel like I have a really clear vision of that. But I’m not sure I would have had I not gone through all this crap. I haven’t met that person yet. I know when I do, I’ll know and I will seize that opportunity and hope that it works out.
7. I’m not in control. It doesn’t matter what your spiritual beliefs are. Maybe you’re religious, maybe you’re an atheist. I think all of us can agree that there are things that are out of our control. You can ask to be set up, put up a profile on OK Cupid, go to parties, walk down the street with an “I’m single and looking” glint in your eyes,” do a New Age love ritual, consult a psychic, work at being the best single person that you possibly can be, but none of these things will guarantee that you will meet a person with whom you want to have a long term relationship with. That’s just the truth. And I know it. Some things are out of my control. All I can do is accept that.
That’s why I’m single. So why are you single? No shaming or blaming allowed!