Owning Your Singleness: ART
In 1984, my mom married my dad and a year later my brother was born. She was 22 years old at the time. In 2019, I am graduating from UC Berkeley and still living with my parents. I will be 22 years old in a month.
Realizing this was unsettling at first. My urge to compare myself to my mom at 22 and criticize myself slowly crept in. It was peculiar because I know that I am nowhere near wanting marriage or a family of my own. At the same time, the expectation to settle down still looms over my head like the last cloud lingering after a rainy day. Is there something wrong with being single? Will I ever find a partner capable of fulfilling me emotionally and physically? These questions come and go on occasion, mainly out of curiosity. My proclivity toward being single, however, remains constant: I have grown to like it… to love it, really.
Owning your singleness and truly enjoying it can be challenging in a society that continuously pushes us to couple up. From hand-holding Instagram photos to our obsession with sappy rom-coms to family members setting us up on painfully awkward blind dates, the message is clear: being single is undesirable and must be avoided at all costs. There are entire Youtube channels dedicated to tricking people into falling in love with you (which is creepy) and videos labeled “How to Get the Guy/Girl.” Some call it cute. I call it Love Neurosis. It’s obsessive. It’s compulsive. And most importantly, it is not feasible.
Instead of fixating on romantic love and searching for a soulmate, I propose a radical idea: invest all of that abundant energy into the body that works 24/7 to keep you breathing in the neglected part of your soul that is vying for your attention. This is no easy task. In fact, it is a progression of many, smaller, uncomfortable tasks. It is an art. Hence, the acronym for the strategies I offer: ART.
1. A is for Accepting
This may sound cliche, but it is also essential. Accept yourself. Sit with your shit; that agonizing internal shit that shreds your self-worth to pieces. The type of shit that says, “You’re not good enough. You’re broken. You need someone else to make you happy.” This is the inner work we attempt to avoid by getting into the first available relationship and hoping it will cure our problem of self-worth. Marinate in that. And then… let it go--like Rose let go of Jack in Titanic. Acknowledging your demoralizing thoughts and the negative feelings that accompany them is great, but noticing them without judgment or fixation is where true power lies. I believe there is nothing more powerful than recognizing our thoughts and emotions as small flexible fragments of ourselves. Let’s say I have a negative thought about myself and I feel sad now. I let myself feel sad. A few hours later my sadness starts to fade (of course this may not be applicable to serious mental health issues such as depression). Maybe I begin to feel joyful or anxious, but most likely hungry. Either way, it will pass. I hold no judgments about myself or my sadness at this moment. I fully accept who I have been, who I am now, and how I feel. Aligning my fragments only solidifies that I am already whole. I was not born incomplete. Therefore, there is no elusive “soulmate” to complete me.
2. R is for Respecting
Respecting yourself is not just face masks, working out, or doing bikram yoga (which I’ve had many quarrels about because I sweat buckets just by standing in a room at 68 degrees Fahrenheit).
Respect is earned, not given. This phrase indicates a level of admiration and regard that needs to be established… and you know what quality is really worthy of admiration? Setting boundaries. I know. That’s hot (read in a Paris Hilton voice). In all seriousness though, setting boundaries both internally and externally is the most rewarding self-work we can do. To be more concrete, internal boundaries are agreements we have with ourselves, such as: I will not go to sleep after midnight because it will impact my ability to focus the next day. The only difference between internal and external boundaries is that the external form occurs in relation to another person.
For example, it’s 10 o’clock on a weeknight. Someone asks me to hang out right now. I have already set an internal boundary about going to sleep before midnight. I respond with, “I would love to see you. Right now is not a good time for me. How about we plan for eight in the evening tomorrow?” My boundary has been externalized. A request has been made. Here comes the crucial and probably most difficult part. This other person insists on seeing me tonight. They say it won’t take too long, or that they cannot see me tomorrow. Maybe I want to see them too. Maybe this hypothetical situation is a late night booty call. Do I agree just this once and screw the boundary I set? That depends on the answer to this next question. What matters more right now? My commitment to myself or the temporary relief I may feel if I indulge? This question applies to anything and everything; working out, eating healthy, getting work done on time, ending a relationship, etc. Keep in mind, there is no right or wrong answer. In fact, the answer may look different each time I encounter this situation.
The ability to adhere to boundaries communicates our level of self-respect, more than our words ever could. Think of it this way: with every time that I honor myself, I am teaching others how to honor me as well. I am earning my self-respect, while simultaneously communicating my value to the external world. I remember that others may not agree with my boundaries, and that is completely ok. My job is to communicate and honor. The rest is above my pay grade.
3. T is for Trusting
Trusting oneself becomes much easier once you have earned your own respect. It is like that with any relationship. When someone keeps their word consistently, I learn to trust that person. Disclaimer: this does not happen overnight. Just like building a muscle, it takes time, repetition, and even rest. So, enjoy the process and remember, the goal is consistency, not perfection.
I hope that by now I have convinced whoever is reading this that being single can be desirable... and that my pop culture references are impeccable. For some, like myself, it is even a preference, despite the pressure we may feel to conform. Singleness is where our power can be found. It allows us to dig deep and confront our innermost demons, if we choose to do so. And from this space, we can create healthy relationships in the future, because we know that regardless of the soulmate addiction being shoved down our throats, we are whole and need no completion. So, don’t avoid being single at all costs. The only thing we avoid, in this case, is facing ourselves.