As Valentine’s Day is on the corner, I already see my single friends freaking out. Everyone wants to jump head first into a relationship, basically with just anyone so they don’t have to celebrate this day alone, feeling shamed for not having a partner, especially if they passed the magical 30th year.
I personally didn’t have many romantic relationships in my life of 30+ years, but I’ve been on plenty of first dates. I lost count of how many times I was asked “how come you are still single?” , with a weird tone in their voice indicating that there might be something wrong with me. So for a while I wondered: Am I not pretty enough? Not clever or funny enough? Am I way too picky? In my teens and 20s I was trying to make sense of my singleness, I read thousands of relationship advice articles in magazines and on blogs, did too many “why am I single?” quizzes, and compared myself constantly against my loved-up friends.
Single people are often perceived to be more lonely, unhappy, and selfish. Despite such misconception has been disproved by researchers, the relentless single shaming continues. In Chinese culture, women who remain unmarried in their late 20s and beyond are often called sheng nu, which is translated as “leftover woman,” comparing them to leftover food. But you don’t have to go that far to be treated differently, just because you decide to walk a different path. Even in Europe, people seem to think that if you’re single and never been married in your 30s, there’s something wrong with you. Derogatory terms like “spinster” and “old maid” are often used to describe women who are unmarried and childless and passed their 30th birthday.
Despite these societal pressures, I never wanted to have children, I always felt good on my own and often found myself dating a guy but secretly thinking I’d be better off alone (since it was the wrong type of guy I was into). I never wanted to have a huge house with white picket fence and compete with my neighbors about the size of our TV. And trust me, I’ve been there. My first serious relationship happened when I was 27 and we got engaged. My then-fiancé was into these things: the house, the TV, the car, the children, cutting grass in the backyard. He even fantasized about my wedding dress. Eventually I gave in, because I thought this is what I should want, but deep down I knew I never wanted it. I was actually panicking secretly. When we broke up due to his infidelity, I was heartbroken but at the same time felt a relief because I no longer had to do all those things. It has dawned on me that my singleness before had nothing to do with my lovability, my look, my body, my ADHD, my introversion, my intellect, or my quirks.
My singlehood is not a curse, but an unexpected gift made by my young, unconscious mind with the purest intention—to protect me from the perceived pain and suffering associated with love, connection, and intimacy. This protection, like everything, has a shadow side. I didn’t grow up with many (now as I think about it, any) happy couples or romantic relationships around me. I remember my first psychologist asking me if I know why my parents love each other or why are they together, I simply had no idea.
Pema Chödrön once said, “When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.”
To undo this armor, I had to be brutally honest with myself about my wants and needs and those aren’t the usual, conventional things. I figured that having my heart tucked away for 26 years kept me safe from bad relationships, heartbreaks, and rejections, which are inevitable in life. But this has also blocked me from feeling joy and sweetness, from fulfilling my hopes and dreams, and from building genuine connections with other people. Best of part is, this has given me the one and only gift I ever needed: How to be my own best friend and love my imperfect, weird self with a full heart.
I remember the day when I realized what I was really doing wrong. My whole life I was looking for love outside of me, and my fear of rejection and abandonment resulted in an unhealthy coping mechanism—either being the one rejecting others, or choosing emotionally unavailable people to date, only to put myself in familiar situations where I feel rejected and abandoned. That time I was meditating and I suddenly broke out in tears, I just knew—the whole time I was looking for love, acceptance, belonging at the wrong place: outside of myself. I am fully capable of providing for myself, to love myself, to accept myself, and to connect and belong with me. I do not need these from anybody else. Since this a-ha moment I stopped feeling the need of looking for someone, to wait for someone to fulfill me or make me happy.
So I went back to my singlehood and started to create the life I always wanted to have, the life I have now. It has inspired me to define my version of success and create a life that is meaningful to me. And if you wonder, yes I still date. I still try to find a life partner but not for any cost. I work on my limiting beliefs, my fear of abandonment and rejection so when the right person comes along, they won’t be able to get in my way of deeply connecting with him. I believe it’s way better to stay single than to be in a relationship with the wrong person but we have to stay open for the possibility of the right person. I’m working on my life, enjoying the moments and people life presents and leave the door open for those who may want to come in to my life, but I am still very picky about the people I allow to stay. In the end, it’s my life and I want to find someone who’s compatible with my lifestyle, who’d grow with me.
And once you realize that you were the one you were always waiting for, everything falls back to place.
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Photo: Jeffrey Erhunse via Unsplash