People who need people can find love, too.
The holiday season isn’t easy for singletons. In fact, there really isn’t any season that is particularly easy for single people. All the mythology around holidays, or summer adventures, or cozy winter nights has to do with coupledom. Love, romance and togetherness.
Faced with this focus on couples, single people are given two options:
- Love being single, or
- Work on yourself.
Does anyone always love their lot? I’m sure many people in relationships sometimes miss being single and many singles wish to be in a relationship. Sometimes I do appreciate and love my singleness. I’m an independent spirit, and it’s nice to have to clean up only my own socks, take myself out for a night on the town, or lie on the couch with comfy pants that aren’t fit for public viewing. However, like everything and anything, I don’t love it all of the time.
Ultimately, I would like to be in a long-term, interdependent relationship. I’ve dated and have been in significant relationships in the past few years. But since my divorce almost eight years ago I haven’t had the partnership relationship I so desire. While being single or in relationships, I have helped my healing process through therapy, coaching, ritual, healers, reading, time alone, learning skills, trying new jobs, starting my own business, etc. But somehow all my work hasn’t landed me with the “happily ever after.”
One of my biggest pet peeves about being single is, if I dare to complain about my relationship status, my concerns are met with advice that goes something like this: “First you got to love yourself, then you’ll find someone.” As if being single is a punishment for not enough self-care.
I recently came across a powerful essay, “Being Single is Hard,” where the writer, Emma Lindsay, dares to call us all out on our bias against single people:
“To admit that you’re unsatisfied being single is almost like an admission that you’re not ready to be in a relationship; if you’re not ‘complete’ when you’re alone, you’re not worthy of a partner.”
While I am always a proponent of self-discovery, I am tired of the linear trajectory story of “I was broken, fixed myself and then found love.” Firstly, none of us are broken. Or all of us are broken. Secondly, healing is never linear. And thirdly, we don’t have to be perfect or whole to find love.
This commonly held story is also in line with our highly individualistic culture. We are told that if we want or need something, we should “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” and make it happen. We must be completely self-sufficient, figure things out on our own, and meet all our needs. If so, why would we ever be in relationships, romantic or otherwise, in the first place?
Whether our society wants to admit it or not, we are actually a social animal and our needs for emotional intimacy are as important as our needs for physical survival. And yet, at the same time, we do need to take personal responsibility and take care of ourselves. Where’s the balance between “no man is an island” and “I can’t live without you”?
Attachment theory can help us to understand our emotional needs and our deeply ingrained patterns for addressing them. Attachment theory explores how the care we might have received, or not received, when we were infants and children can impact how we approach relationships in adulthood.
Essentially, there are three types of attachment patterns: anxious, avoidant and secure. However, many people are not absolutely one or absolutely the other and can live in the “gray.”
Those with anxious attachment style feel an “emotional hunger” and need their partners to rescue or complete them. They are often seeking approval, even inadvertently, from their partners and other close relationships.
Those with avoidant attachment style, deny their needs for contact and connection, act very independently and focus on their own needs. If another person gets too emotionally close, they will often find ways to make distance or end the relationship.
And those with secure attachment, like in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, find the balance. Clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone explores the subject of “How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship” in Psychology Today.
“Children with a secure attachment,” she writes, “see their parent as a secure base from which they can venture out and independently explore the world. A secure adult has a similar relationship with their romantic partner, feeling secure and connected while allowing themselves and their partner to move freely.”
With attachment theory in mind, our cultural ideal of “be whole unto yourself” looks a lot like the avoidant style and is not a healthy foundation. Luckily, our social model, as well as our individual models, of attachment can be adapted to a more secure model.
As Firestone concludes, “By becoming aware of your attachment style, both you and your partner can challenge the insecurities and fears supported by your age-old working models and develop new styles of attachment for sustaining a satisfying, loving relationship.”
We aren’t meant to discover ourselves in isolation. Our relationships with others can often be the impetus for self-development and can support our process. As therapist Avrum Nadigel concludes in his book Learning to Commit, “relationships offer your best opportunity for self-growth.”
We don’t have to be perfect to be in a relationship. And it is often loneliness or a hunger for partnership, or, in other words, expressing our human need for contact, that is the catalyst for connection and healing.
I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions or if you’d like to learn more about how working with me can help you to get close with others without losing yourself.