“Do you think living on your own for too long is bad for you?”
That was one of those kinds of questions my best friend asked me that I hate the most — the kind that makes me reexamine my own life while I assess her current circumstances. Her present dilemma was a realization that all of her socializing pretty much comes to a screeching halt once her work day ends, and that even when presented with opportunities to connect with people outside of her day job, the motivation usually isn’t there, even when the loneliness is. There’s a comfort to being in her home to do as she pleases in those rare moments of downtime — a comfort she considers to be disrupted when even men she’s romantically interested in threaten to encroach upon that space. Personal time and personal space are something she’s come to cherish since entering the workforce and living on her own for nearly a decade and the thought of giving up either of those in a non-theoretical sense for the right partner has never been a pleasant one. Hence the concern that she might never be able to turn that negative train of thought off.
Giving up my time has never been much of a concern for me — likely because the poorly chosen men of my past never quite requested enough of mine. But having waved an eternal goodbye to roommates at the same time as I received my undergrad degree, I can’t say a fear of not knowing how to share a space with another able-bodied adult hasn’t crossed my mind as the single years continue to roll by. As has a general concern about mine and my partner’s ability to compromise. While friends of mine who have already crossed the marriage threshold have assured me how great it is to be dating in my 30s because “you know what you want,” it’s also true the more you know exactly what you want, the less compromising you’ll be when 80% of it shows up and you decide it’s better to throw out the baby with the bath water than work with that 20% gap. Or when you get in a relationship and have been doing things your way and on your own for so long that you don’t know how to actually operate as a team.
Peter Thomas argues that’s what led to the demise of his relationship. In an interview with Wendy Williams, Thomas talked about the demise of his marriage to Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s Cynthia Bailey, saying while he loved going to bed with and waking up to one woman, when it comes to his soon-to-be ex-wife, “I don’t think she embraced it as much for the fact that she had been single all her adult life and been independent all her adult life,” Thomas said. “Getting married at 42 when you now have to compromise and you have to share decisions and all of that, I don’t think she really embraced it, especially when you’re a successful black woman.”
And there comes that universal rub: trading independence for interdependence and not losing one’s self — or assets — in the process. While I fantasize about having someone to travel with and even sharing a home with someone, provided we have enough space, the thought of my opinion no longer being the only one that counts in matters of my career — like taking a job across the country — and finances doesn’t quite spark the same cheer. And it isn’t just a woman thing either. I recently dated a guy who couldn’t break with his Sunday afternoon work-week prep routine to spend time with me before I went away on a trip. As I questioned his inability to make a reasonable compromise that didn’t involve me sacrificing my time ahead of a busier-than-normal week so he could go about business as usual, he told me: “This is just how I’ve always done things. I’m stuck in my ways I guess.” He was 33.
When you’re not used to having to explain yourself to someone or consult with another person just as invested in your life as you are, that requirement can be daunting, and the forgetfulness to do so, a stepping stone toward a breakup. While many of us say we want relationships and are even tired of the single life, few take the time to examine the practical aspects of being someone’s partner that lead to a successful union. Or how comfortable we’ll really be with doing those things, particularly when the need to change feels more like a theoretical concept than a tangible reality. The longer you stay in any state, the less easy it is for you to adapt. And it can’t be expected that the other person will be willing to wait out a long adjustment period. Still, there’s also something to be said for people who know if they want to get a different result (not being single) they have to do something different to get it (compromise) and who rise to the challenge of blending their life with another person’s after years of being on their own. In the end, how long you’ve been single may be irrelevant to the success of your next long-term relationship. Maybe the real measure of potential is how quickly you’re able to adapt to being a unit rather than a singular entity and what you’re willing to give up in order to gain.