This summer I turned 40. When I was younger, I never thought that I'd still be single at 40. In fact, I probably would have laughed in your face if you had told me I'd be a never-married-40-year-old. Not to be rude or anything.
But here I am: 40 and single. I've spent a lot of the past two decades flitting from relationship to relationship, some long ones, many flashes in the dating pan.
I've also spent a lot of the past two decades blaming my singlehood on the city I live in, on my age, or on the (false) belief that men these days just don't want to settle down. I also spent a lot of time in "fixing mode," thinking if I just fixed X about myself, everything would work out and I'd find lasting love.
But three years ago I had an a-ha moment. For me, this a-ha, although deceptively simple, shattered the paradigm I had been operating under for decades. Here's how it went: although I would love to blame my singlehood on external forces, the truth was that I was the only common denominator in my story.
Sure, blaming the external feels so much better than looking inside. As a society, blame is one of the most convenient go-to coping mechanisms.
But when I took the focus off what was "out there" and looked inside — when I took an honest look at what my singlehood was showing me about myself and my subconscious beliefs — my inner life totally changed.
The most powerful discovery in my self-exploration was that being single kept me safe.
Being single, although uncomfortable in its own way, ultimately is a safety zone, a defense against myriad fears and doubts we may feel, but not necessarily want to deal with, when it comes to love.
When we stay single, we prevent ourselves from being disappointed. Entwining our lives with another person, who is as flawed as we are, means that that person might let us down, or, worse yet, stop loving us some day.
By contrast, the single life is predictable. Unattached, single people get to make their own choices about both big and small things alike without ever having to consult a partner. They get to decorate the house the way they want it. They get to sprawl across the entire bed. They get to cook whatever they want for dinner. Even though we may feel like this predictability is boring, to our subconscious mind, it is safe. Let's face it: there's little room for disappointment in the predictable.
When we stay single, we protect ourselves from being truly, deeply known. Even though logically we would all claim to want deep emotional intimacy, many of us are unconsciously afraid of it. To be truly seen means to show all of our "uglies," potentially exposing us to the other side of the fear-of-intimacy sword: abandonment.
Many who fear intimacy, also fear abandonment. If we allow another to see our naked soul and that person leaves us, then our ego feels doubly damaged. Some never recover from this betrayal; that damage to the ego then disguises itself as bitterness or brashness, both just cloaks for the pain.
But the irony is that when we are single, we can still abandon ourselves. Often when we stay single, we avoid learning more about ourselves. I know this sounds contradictory: if a person is single, doesn't she have all the time in the world for self-exploration? Of course she does, but the truth is that we learn the most about ourselves through dynamics with other individuals and communities, not in a vacuum, through feelings of isolation.
Every person we interact with holds a mirror up for us to see ourselves more clearly. In an intimate, romantic relationship, we are bound to be triggered by something our partner does. In truth, our reactions to these triggers reveal much more about us than they do about the other person. If we stay single, we don't have to face some of these darker parts of ourselves because we can more easily remove ourselves from situations that are setting us off.
None of this is logical, of course. We all think we want love. It is human nature to crave it, but love can be scary to our subconscious mind. If you are a singleton and you find yourself reading this article, I encourage you to take a few minutes out this evening to pause. Get quiet. Close your eyes. Ask your intuition what your singlehood might be protecting you from. And breathe.