During this month associated with Black History and also love, many of us are still observing February 14 as “Singles Awareness Day.” In a workshop just over a year ago I asked the participants what “single” meant to them. The answers were: loser, alone, lonely and other similar words and phrases. I don’t think this is uncommon. I bought a book once titled: If I’m So Great, Why Am I Still Single? Even though more and more of us are staying single longer or becoming single again, there is still often a negative connotation to that word.
I have written before about Dean Ornish’s book Love & Survival and the role that social connection plays in our health and well-being. This post also noted that while the rise of social media has connected us with more people, the connections are not as deep or meaningful as they are face to face. Recently, I have had the opportunity to revise my thinking on this issue somewhat as I have formed a significant connection with someone who lives on another continent. While we only talk every few weeks by Skype, we have become quite close, and discovered we have a great deal in common in the way we view the world.
Social connection, and indeed love, can take many forms, and though more and more of us are choosing to live on our own, that doesn’t mean we lack community.
In fact, 50% of American adults are single and 31 million (1 in 7) of us live alone, according to the book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. People who live alone make up 28 percent of all U.S. households, making them more common even that those containing a nuclear family. This book suggests that while more of us live alone, we also tend to be more socially engaged outside the home than those with families.
There are even some activists such as Bella DePaulo, PhD, writing about how singles are “stereotyped, stigmatized and ignored, and still live happily ever after.” Her book Singled Out details the ways in which singles are discriminated against in our society (the single supplement on many trips and special event pricing for couples being two examples), the stereotypes we face and the fact that we are often labeled as selfish. She suggests that “family values” have been bastardized to leave out the vast majority of us who are raising kids as single parents, living alone or even part of same sex couples. The graphic indicates the extent of the tax discrimination singles face. I recently noticed this myself as I really scrutinized how much of my salary I never see with my 25% tax rate. It is staggering.
I believe singles have also stigmatized themselves, feeling, as the book title in the first paragraph suggests, that something must be wrong with us or we would indeed be coupled. For single cancer survivors, that stigma can be doubly or triply painful as infertility issues, scars and other body image issues, and the specter of illness and fear of recurrence all combine to make us wonder who will possibly love us NOW? We believe our past illness makes us somehow unworthy or undeserving of love, and sometimes wallow in self-pity, which does actually make us less desirable.
The truth is that all of us are whole and complete and worthy of love no matter what we have dealt with in our past. We all have something to offer, and a beautiful spirit to share with others, even if we are missing a breast, ovaries, a testicle or have physical and emotional scars from the experience of life and illness. It is truly only our own limitations that hold us back, and keep us from sharing the love in our hearts.
A Course in Miracles states that there are only two ways to be in the world – living in fear, or living in love. We are often afraid of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and share our love because we fear it won’t be returned or we will appear foolish. We hold back for fear the other person doesn’t feel the same way, or might not react the way we want them to. I am learning that the latter doesn’t matter nearly as much as I have thought in the past, and that no matter what, there is never anything wrong with sharing the way you feel with another person. It is indeed all that really matters.
We have all heard that love is the most important thing in life, and for those of us who don’t have romantic love at the moment, we have often made it mean that we are somehow lacking THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. It’s not true. We all have love in some form, and while most of us long to be loved by that one special person, it doesn’t diminish the love “that actually is all around us,” to paraphrase a favorite movie (Love Actually).
People in my life regularly say, “I love you,” to me. This is indeed a miracle, because it was only when I could allow myself to hear it and receive it that it began to happen with more frequency. At the same time, it is the most natural thing in the world to tell the people we love how we feel about them, and be so thrilled to hear it in return. What could possibly be bad about saying, “I love you?”
Who can you say “I love you” to?
What keeps you from feeling worthy of having love in your life?
What do you love the most about you?