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I wanted to dive into the topic of long term singleness because although we’ve come a long way regarding attitudes about being single there are still misconceptions about it. I’ve noticed a trend in the personal development, self-help and spiritual communities/industries where love troubles seem to be more than common.
By “love troubles” I’m referring to those not following traditional structures, patterns or expectations in love. For many this has manifested as long term singleness replacing romantic relationships. Why is that ?
In order to answer this question an important piece of the puzzle is understanding some of the signature themes long term singles face. To do the long term singles justice, we need to take a few steps back, break down invisible processes and offer backstage insights to show how the path is distinctively different from others.
So let’s begin with the basics, shall we? What is a long term single?
The million dollar question is of course: when does a person qualify as a long term single? It’s obviously not set in stone and can be influenced by many factors. I’d say the cutoff point would be somewhere around 4 years of singleness. That’s when the true effects of being single begin to surface, typically more and more so with time.
I’d also like to mention that singleness involves an endless spectrum of expressions. At the heart of singleness is the (assumed) access to alone time or solitude. But the feeling one has regarding solo time can vary immensely, single or not! There are those who love, prioritize and prefer being secluded and individuals who feel distressed or even fear it all together and then we have everything in between.
Those uncomfortable with alone time typically use distractions as a strategy to avoid being alone. Common distractions include overindulging in screen time, overworking, over partying, over shopping, over dating or simply exaggerating socializing altogether. I’m sure you know the type I’m referring to; the single constantly busy on the go!
If you saw their life in the form of a schedule you’d notice it’s always packed. And if/when they meet a partner that mysteriously seems to change. The schedule “clears” so to speak. More accurately, what’s taking place is that the calendar has been replaced all together.
Now meeting a partner will understandably lead to change in one’s life. But I can’t help but notice a correlation between the amount of distractions when single counter the portion of life change happening as a result of entering a relationship, it’s usually quite a drastic one. And no wonder! In this sort of scenario both serve the same purpose, it’s a form of escapism from self.
And yes, there is a reason why I’m mentioning this. The truth is, the relationship to alone time and what one chooses to do with it, is the essential component or theme in the long term single life. It’s as if life is arranged for you to hang out with yourself (if you know you know). You can choose to distract yourself all you want or you can face the music. However the choice to be in solitude is usually more accessible for singles and for good cause, I might add (as you’ll later find out).
Besides variation in attitudes regarding solitude, there are additional categorizations to be made within the singleness scope. One of the important discernments is between short and long term singleness. To put it simply, short term singleness is an “in-between” or temporary state while being partnered is the standard condition. For the short term single, singleness simply serves as the waiting room before getting called into the relationship “office”.
Long term singleness on the other hand, indicates singleness as the normality. Even if an individual might have had situationships or other relations with a romantic component, I’d still lump them with long term singles if the commitment element is continually excluded.
Although short term and long term singles share similarities, it’s primarily on a superficial level. There is way more than meets the eye. Long term singles face a range of different experiences in comparison to short term singles and couples, both good and bad. To clarify my point, I’ll take a few steps back and show how the long term singles path is distinctively different from others.
As humans we like to make quick, effective judgments. We often do this by (1) categorizing (2) comparing and (3) ranking.
We (1) categorize by sorting, dividing and organizing things, people, situations etc. into clearly labeled boxes. As an example, two of the most frequent categorizations “boxes” are classified as “good” and “bad”.
Often when placing one thing in the “good” box its opposite automatically gets thrown in the “bad” one (and vice versa). In some cases this is an accurate assumption yet other times it’s a flawed conclusion made by default, thanks to an overly simplified categorization process.
To determine which box something goes in, a set point is necessary. The purpose of a set point is to serve as a reference of (2) comparison. After a comparison is made to the set point it’s easier to determine what box something belongs to.
I want to highlight the key role collective norms play in the comparison game. Norms form through culture, traditions, societal structures and are taught, or as I like to put it, programmed, from an early age. Typically, the norm functions as a valued guideline and can be viewed as a general public opinion. Norms lay the basis of everything perceived as conventional, “normal” and desirable! Lastly, what’s good to keep in mind is that norms are slow moving and not very malleable in nature. So it can take a bit of time for them to change and reflect developments in society. To many, norms operate on an unconscious level and are ingrained to the extent of no questioning. Instead many unswervingly abide by norms and allow them to steer life which in turn reinforces the norm, continuing the cycle.
Norms are not necessarily negative in and of themselves. However, it’s important to note that if a person isn’t aware of them and asking questions, the norm can quite effortlessly transform into unconscious motivation, molding life according to lifelong programming rather than conscious choice.
Side note: this could explain why many seemingly live identical lives and follow the same patterns (seriously, have a look around).
An additional byproduct of norms is the setup up of a (3) ranking system based on the proximity to them. In other words, the gap to the norm creates an order where a slim space equals higher status and greater distance to the norm translates into a lower social position.
Just to be clear, (1) categorizing, (2) comparing and (3) ranking don’t require prolonged active evaluation processes. More often than not, it’s a split second judgment call.
A short recap: norms represent an invisible collective parameter yielding a positive or negative inclination about a subject and its hierarchical placement (determined in relation to the norm). The big question is..
How does this apply to long term singles?
It goes without saying that partnership is collectively more valued and put in the “good” box which often automatically places single life in the less desirable one. That’s a given. So I’ll quickly move on and look at short term and long term singletons, because here we can begin to spot the differences. Although all singles get squeezed into the “bad” box it includes its own “class system”.
In the (civil status) context there are two fundamental variables I’ll be focusing on where general opinion (norm) sets the groups apart.
The first has to do with the categorization of the two. Short term singles commute back and forth from the valued norm and have the “privilege” of now and again residing in the ”good pile”. The long term folks stay put in the less desirable corner.
Secondly, simply being in a partnership isn’t enough to have achieved a “successful” love life. The norm has constructed a role model template to follow. This entails the pace and developments of a romantic relationship while correlating with a certain age and hitting relationship milestones within appropriate intervals of time (certain time and for marriage, child nr 1, child nr 2 etc.). The closer a couple follows the normative pattern “the higher the points’ ‘ (and less questions asked by the public).
As I previously mentioned, the urge to follow the normative schedule doesn’t have to be a conscious act at all. It’s all part of an indoctrination presenting this pattern as the finest form of progression, and we see it all around us plus it’s constantly celebrated! Therefore the drive to move towards the norm will be strong yet the reasoning behind it can be steaming from unconscious programming.
If you follow this line of reasoning it means: the longer a person has been single the longer they have been in the “bad” box and the further away they’ve swayed from the normative story. With time, the singles road might appear so far off, the normative box is seemingly beyond reach. I guess this is what people refer to when a single has “missed the boat”.
Short term singles might be able to relate to what I’ve described but they have more leeway and less social repercussions when diverging from the norm since they ultimately line back up with it (the good box) and when they do they also higher the odds/prospects of getting back on the bandwagon and catching up with the normative schedule.
Meanwhile, the long term single seems to be drifting further and further away from the norm and its patterns…
Whats the shadow side of long term singlness and the point of it all? Coming up next!