Being single is often seen as a kind of undesirable state, something which leaves us miserable and unfulfilled, groping around for the right person. Many single people are perceived by society as lacking in some way, as though they can never truly be themselves without someone else there to provide the support and emotional backing that they need, as well as the sexual satisfaction deemed by many societies to be essential for a happy life. It is the contention of this paper that in actual fact, single life is much more complex and nowhere near as reductive as the interpretations previously mentioned assert. Single life is actually a way of ensuring that anyone can live as fulfilling a life as they want, free from the demands placed by lifetime monogamy.
A single life is often seen as being a temporary state, rather than something permanent. This is rather a binary interpretation of the state though, as if people were one or the other, like turning a switch. It is black and white, rather than the colorful state in which we usually find life. Single does not necessarily mean being without love or sex, it means being free from the traditional relationship constraints which are in place in many societies. It also means being free from the property and economic ties which tend to bind people legally together longer than they emotionally feel anything meaningful in terms of emotion. This can be especially damaging for children of relationships, where love can soon turn to resentment or even hatred under the bindings of traditional marriage and family. As Jack O’Sullivan has said about the effect of children on a marriage, “This transformation of power, tied up intricately with powerlessness, corrodes individuals and their relationship. Mothers start talking about how inept men are. Fathers complain that women are over-controlling and critical. Strangely, mothers and fathers start to poison the general debate about men and women. They can be much more vitriolic than non-parents, even when still together.” (The Guardian, 03/07/2013)
Single people can still procreate, but their children will often end up in relationships and home situations which are much more positive and loving, freed from the bonds which can often constrict and oppress people. Single people are often much happier after they have left the relationships which created children. This means that they can devote more time and genuine emotion to the lives of their children. It is also possible for children to live with single people in family units which are every bit as loving and stable as more conventional arrangements. Marrying for pregnancy has been shown to affect the chances of a divorce (Elia/Chan, chapter one). Taking a step back from the tyranny of custom can often liberating for children as well as adults, with children living in a more harmonious environment, free from tension between their parents, often developing into much happier adults.
Being single is also often perceived as a state of hunting and seeking, where the right person is just waiting to be found. What is clear, in actual fact, is that romantic love is no reasonable way to measure whether you are, in fact, compatible to live with someone else for the rest of your life. Passionate or romantic love, according to ‘Models of Love & Chemistry of Love Lecture Notes’, causes an “extreme state of absorption in another person; intense feelings of elation, sexual desire, ecstasy and anxiety; increased heartbeat, perspiration, blushing, stomach churning; and to overlook faults, idealize who they are.” (Models of Love & Chemistry of Love Lecture Notes). This is hardly a rational basis for deciding to spend the rest of your life with someone. Single people often live with long term companions, with the ties based on compassionate love and companionship, rather than by the artificial and temporary gloss of short term romance. This makes for a life which is free from constraint and based on actual emotions, rather than sticking true to someone else’s traditional view of what is right and wrong.
There are signs that ideas like this are beginning to gain more currency among the wider population. Never married singles now make up 60 per cent of the population (Being Single, Cohabitation, Marriage & Divorce Lecture Notes, Class Reader Section 6). This might also help to explain the rise in the use of internet dating sites which has increased in recent years. The use of these sites, however, suggests that rather than accepting a state of singleness, increasing numbers of people are growing increasingly desperate to find a significant other. In the view of this writer, this is an indication of how steely the grip of tradition and the commercial idea of romantic love has become. Increasing numbers of people seem to think that without the enormous expense and sense of occasion that a wedding brings to one day in their life, they can never be truly fulfilled. Single people often have great and rewarding family relationships and connections with a wide range of other people, which provide more than adequate substitutes for the daily grind of married or family life.
The reasons often given as justifications for getting married are also enough to put anyone off the idea. Marrying school sweethearts, marrying for pregnancy or marrying because one’s parents think it is a good idea all sound like terrible ideas in the first place, but add a lifetime commitment to conventional notions of what constitutes a respectable marriage makes it sound nightmarish (Class Reader, Section 8). The idea of doing what fits in with other people or society’s expectations of you has caused tremendous social problems in the past and continues to do so today. Resentment, oppression and control are not good things on which to base a lifetime’s relationships.
For these reasons, it is my intention to remain single for the rest of my life. This does not mean an absence of romantic or compassionate love, far from it. It does mean an absence of fear, stress, oppression and unhappiness though.
The Guardian newspaper, article 03/07/2013, by Jack O’Sullivan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/07/tradition-enemy-happy-families
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