It is a Monday mid-morning and the coffee shop is bustling. Cafe tables are full, couches are lounged upon and the baristas are quickly grinding, packing, frothing and espresso-ing with job requirement coolness. My friends and I slide into a picnic table on the front walkway braced against the cold air of the shade and rebelliously staking our claim on Summer in Portland despite the fleece and hot beverages that have joined our party.
Being three, single, thirty-something females, the conversation quickly inhabits the realm of confusing relationships, questions about motives, recent revelations and discoveries about the opposite sex (which will quickly be disproved on the next date or in the next conversation) and proclamations of contentedness that teeter on the edge of self-convincing and, well, flat lying. The common mantra of my single female friends is some variation of “What the hell is wrong with these boys?” and that is where the conversation starts again.
In the world of single woman there is mass illiteracy on the behaviors and thought processes of the average adult male so the subsequent female responses make them seem crazy. A man’s attention or inattention is constantly throwing us for a loop. Their gentlemanly behavior is mistaken for flirting while their disgusting behavior is mistaken for interest and their interest is put to unwritten test and mysterious scrutiny. If a man’s current process doesn’t seem to fit a long term plan, they can be written off without warning. If their long term plan doesn’t fit a current process, compatibility comes into question and once that happens it is over abruptly. I have listened as my single female friends complained, ranted and raved at the latest misstep of their male interest and I have heard over and over again how confusing it all has become.
The guys navigate to the same sea of confusion. While girls are analyzing and over analyzing, the guys are on and off. Hot and cold. Many are absolutely and resolutely against growing up or growing deep and buckle under any kind of stress or pressure. They refuse to treat women well, act out of extreme selfishness and flee quickly if it looks even slightly like a commitment or relationship could be thrown into the mix.
No wonder there are a lot of unhappy, dissatisfied men and women. I sympathize with these stories and have done my share of contributing to the confusion and the analysis of strange behaviors.
I would say this is all just a learning process and male and female relationships will grow and work themselves out in the long run, but there is a deep, serious issue evolving in many of the hearts I hear from. These questions about love, relationships, the role of singleness in our season, the pressure and questions from society, the pressure and questions from our own minds mixed in with the confusion of today’s accepted behavior creates a terrible recipe that battles against self-acceptance and threatens to tear everyone down. I don’t say that lightly. I sit with women that are amazing, talented, loving, caring women that would make great wives, exciting lovers, award-winning moms and fun spouses and they are battling feeling worthy and valued in a society that looks down on them because they are unmarried and a culture that places blame on them for not being what men are looking for. I sit with men that are intelligent, humorous, intentional and would bring out the very best in a woman and they feel like the battle for relationship is too hard and too uncertain to fully engage. The risk is too great and they can’t move forward.
Something is askew here because the math doesn’t make sense. I have a theories….let me know what you think about these contributing factors to our perpetually single (and perpetually unhappy about it) subculture.
1. Affluence – for the first time in history we are not forced into the job, lifestyle or economy of our parents and grandparents. This doesn’t immediately point towards the single-forever trend, but think about it. We are given whatever we want, for the most part, we work very little for what we have and mostly things are easy, especially in comparison to the recent past or other countries. This life of ease means we expect all things, even relationships to be easy. It also contributes to the always-wanting-more part of our psyche. Never satisfied and wanting everything to come easy is a terrible recipe for long-lasting relationships.
2. Extinct Rites of Passage – We no longer have markers that help us engage with our age and abilities and move us down the trajectory of growing older and wiser. We are stuck in youth and immaturity as we are given all the space in the world to find ourselves or are forced towards aspirations at the expense of relationship and family. We don’t pass from one season of life to another without lots of ambiguity and ambiguity breeds insecurity and a lack of gumption when it comes to super grown-up things like relationships and marriage and kids.
3. Growing up is looked down upon while “freedom” is idolized – I don’t think this one can really be argued against. Our culture is all about idolizing freedom. Get what you want, when you want it, don’t think of repercussions or costs, flee from anything that would tie you down and make all decisions towards the kind of freedom that keeps you out of commitment, away from black and white thinking and free from actually holding any convictions. Please, make everything as wishy washy pie-in-the-sky as possible and, especially, stay out of monogamous relationships in exchange for lots of immature experiences. This basically says that your self-interest, wants, needs and desires trump the needs of others.
4. We cannot juggle the opposing forces of rigid independence and dying for another person. Face it, dying for someone doesn’t sound very appealing when it is set up against a life of living for oneself and obtaining the ultimate American dream of complete freedom from any responsibilities that would tie you down. The two don’t mesh and if you are (consciously or subconsciously) fighting for your own way, you are sacrificing something. That something might be a person that will love, stand beside you, encourage you, support you, and more.
5. A lot of broken families also contribute. I read an article the other day that said that parents estranged from their children is currently known in some psychological circles as a silent epidemic. So many are walking the hard roads of divorce, estrangement, lies, broken homes, abuse, neglect from within their families, their churches and their communities. I get it. I have been there and am still navigating the broken waters of my past. All these broken relationships don’t really set us up for success in the long-term relationships we desire.
What are we really holding on to here? What are we willing to let go of? I am convinced that a shift in our thinking, an admittance of our faults, some honesty and vulnerability, might just get us on the same page and more open to making lasting relationships work in the face of a lot of brokenness. But, really, I need your input.
What is contributing to perpetual singleness? What advice do you have to give if you are on the other side?
This post is part of the 100 day challenge and covers the topics: 17/100 // Acceptance; 18/100 // Sympathy; 19/100 // Holding