Single and Satisfied: Learning to Live Life In or Out of a Relationship

Woman Lying on the Grass Dreaming

We humans are social creatures. We thrive on connection, interaction, and unions with each other. As babies, we are immediately and intimately connected to our mothers, and then our fathers or other nurturing adults. As children, we seek out our first playmates as early as two years old. Social acceptance in our peer group is key to our self-esteem when we are school age, and throughout childhood. When the hormones begin to kick in as preteens and teenagers, the pursuit of romantic relationships becomes a central focus.

In our late teens and early twenties, in the modern Western culture, it is natural to begin to think about finding a life partner. Some young adults have found “the one,” (or at least the person they think is “the one”) by the time they graduate from high school. Many more have done so by the time they graduate from college or reach their mid-twenties.

Then again, many have not! In fact, more and more people are focusing less and less on long-term relationships in early adulthood and more on friendships and career. The average age of marriage in our culture continues to get older, and many people are waiting until their late 20s or 30s to settle down. In fact, in the past 20 years, both men and women have shown a considerable increase in average age at marriage. Men are now, on average, 26.8 when they marry, which is two years older than the mean age of marriage for men in 1980. Women are 25.1, which is three years older on average now, than the mean marriage age in 1980.

However, many are settling into commitment without marriage, and there is still often a sense of urgency about finding a mate, a life partner, and perhaps starting a family, particularly among young women. There is the “biological clock” to consider for those who do want children, which can begin to tick noticeably sometime in the mid-twenties. Even for men, there may be social pressure, perhaps at a slightly older age, to “grow up,” “be responsible,” and find a life mate.

As a single, young adult, the time will come for you when many of your friends are in committed relationships, living together, or getting married. What if you are still single? What if the relationship you had in high school or college did not end in commitment as you had originally hoped? What if you are 24, 28, or even 30 years old and you are not in a relationship, or in an unsatisfying one that seems to be leading nowhere? Does the old adage, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride” seem like your motto? Are you one of the few true bachelors left at the bachelor parties? Do you feel like you need to be in a relationship to be considered normal or to feel good about yourself? Do you stay in a relationship just to avoid being single and alone? Alternatively, do you avoid relationships because you are fearful of commitment and find it hard to trust people?

Perhaps you are one of those people who are almost always in a relationship (one right after another), because you are afraid to do things without a partner, or feel you may be left home alone on a Friday night if you do not have a partner. You may settle for unsatisfying relationships just to have a relationship and avoid feeling isolated.

On the other hand, you may be someone who is fearful of relationships and dating, so you avoid situations where people might be looking to attract someone. You stay at home, or shy away from people who may be interested in you because you do not easily trust others, and you fear intimacy. Maybe you are the type that is everyone’s friend, but others do not see you as relationship material. You are always giving but not looking to get your own needs met. Therefore, others do not take you seriously as someone who is looking for a deeper connection. Maybe you are the type who is constantly expecting the next date, or next new person you meet, to be your soul mate. You try to go immediately into a deep connection, whether the other person is right for you or not. You move in too fast and too intensely and often scare others away.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being single, and there is nothing inherently good about being in a relationship.

Whatever your situation, it is crucial to look at what being single means to you and what a healthy relationship would look like. There is nothing inherently wrong with being single, and there is nothing inherently good about being in a relationship. It is possible to have a fulfilling and happy life as a single person, and it is obvious that many couples are not happy, as evidenced by the high divorce rate and number of domestic disputes. However, given our social nature, it is common to desire a relationship and to share your life with someone. Finding the right person for this type of union cannot be scheduled or planned.

The key to establishing a healthy and happy relationship is to love oneself as a single and autonomous human being first; then seek out relationship, only to add to richness to one’s life, not to complete oneself as a person. Allow time to fully know yourself, so that you do not become absorbed in a relationship, like a chameleon who simply adjusts to whatever or whoever is around him/her. Become comfortable with yourself and your aloneness.  Ultimately, each of us is alone. No other person can fully know and understand us or take away our existential loneliness. Sure, being in a relationship can keep loneliness at bay, but eventually, we all come to the realization that no one else can feel our pain, think our thoughts, or carry all of our burdens.

To get comfortable with oneself means to be at peace with being alone. It means not always needing someone to understand us, nor always needing another’s company to make us feel safe or at peace. It means not counting on one person, or even several, to take away difficult or negative feelings, such as sadness, anger, or grief. To enter into a relationship in a state of independence will allow the relationship to add meaning and depth to your life. On the contrary, if you enter a relationship needing someone to hold you up, take away your loneliness, assuage the hard feelings, or make you feel complete, the relationship is sure to eventually bend and break under the pressure. Then you will not only have an ailing self-esteem and loneliness to deal with, you will have added heartache of a breakup to your troubles and likely intensified the first two!

If you are struggling with being single, it may help to begin to look at the reasons for your angst. Ask yourself:

Do you fear loneliness?

Perhaps you feel insecure about yourself or have an underdeveloped sense of self. In other words, you may not know yourself well enough to know who you are in a relationship, and what you want from a relationship. You may also assume that since you are sometimes alone, there is something wrong with you. So you desperately try to avoid being alone, so as not to have to face this ultimate fear that you are somehow inadequate or unworthy of others’ company.

Do you fear intimacy?

For some people, getting too close to someone else is just as scary as, or even scarier than, having no one to get close to at all. If this is the case for you, you may need to look at the model for relationships you had in your family as a child. Was there abuse, distance, intense conflict? Have you, yourself, been abused, leaving scars that rear their ugly heads when someone tries to get close to you?

Are you lacking in self-awareness?

Do you feel that you are not sure what makes you happy until you stumble upon it? Do you spend most of your time with others trying to make sure they are happy so that they will stick around? Are you always so kind to others that you do not take the time to realize that you also have needs? Others likely see you as a nice person and a good friend, but they do not see you as someone they can deeply connect with, because you are not present as a whole and separate being, but rather as an extension of the other. Perhaps as a child, you lived with a demanding parent, either narcissistic or possibly addicted to a substance. You learned how to meet their needs, at the expense of your own.

Do you have little faith in life’s process?

Do you worry that life is going to pass you by? Your friends will have happy relationships and children, and you will remain the old maid. Does it feel like you need to make something happen soon so that you don’t miss out? Remember that life unfolds at its own pace, and rushing it will not bring you happiness. You can open yourself up to the possibility of a relationship and even seek out people to date, but you cannot make the relationship of your life happen on your time schedule.  Some people get married just because they want to be married, and often these marriages end in divorce. Trust that life holds good things for you if you go about being yourself and enjoying life, whether you are single or not.

Being single and satisfied or getting out of an unhealthy relationship can take courage. If you need to sort through the issues that keep you from feeling good about yourself as a single person, seek the help of a qualified therapist, rather than another bad relationship.

© Copyright 2011 by By Colleen Burke-Sivers, MA, therapist in Portland, Oregon. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 13 comments
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  • Leanne

    Leanne

    September 8th, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    As a 32 year old single female, I would consider my self “single and satisfied”. Of course I am looking for my soul mate but I don’t feel like I am missing out on the joys of marriage because I’m single. My career is my priority and I would be jeopardizing it if I was going out drinking at clubs while looking for men. A lot of women settle down to soon because they are so anxious about relationships and don’t want to pass up an opportunity, even if they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. I’ve seen how ugly relationships like these get and know that’s not what I want for myself. So I won’t be rushing into relationships anytime soon. And when I do get married, I will make sure that I’m getting into it for the right reasons. I think many other women are beginning to get some sense and think like me which would explain why the average age of people getting married is much older than in the 80’s.

  • Cody

    Cody

    September 8th, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    I’m 26, my relationship with my girlfriend of 5 years ended 4 years ago and I have not gotten into any serious relationship ever since. I think it’s fine right now I don’t feel any pressure but I also understand that somewhere down the line I will need to find the one for me :)

    Not in a hurry though, things will fall into place. I’ve given myself a good 4 years to find this one.Hope that happens.

  • george

    george

    September 9th, 2011 at 4:07 AM

    society is changing and at a rapid pace.relationships and what they mean to people has also undergone a sea change.

    people are getting married at a more and more later stage than ever before and although the question of when to get married is a personal and individual one,this shift seen almost everywhere is neither individual or personal. I don’t think this is a very dangerous trend but then people’s mental health is bound to suffer.they may have more money but being married and in a committed relationship really has it’s advantages mentally.

    also it is a well known fact that married people live longer and that they are more content with their lives than their unmarried counterparts.

  • Tobey

    Tobey

    September 9th, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    I am single and satisfied, but only for RIGHT NOW.
    That does not necessarily mean that two or three years down the road I am still going to feel that way.
    It is all about knowing where you are at this particular stage in your life and then going with that.
    Do not jump into something so big that you might not be ready to deal with yet.

  • Shirl

    Shirl

    September 10th, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    Maybe not everyone is meant to be in a serious relationship. That is not for me. I like being able to do what I want when I want and I think that we all know that you lose some of that freedom if you get bogged down in a serious relationship with someone.

  • Colleen Burke-Sivers, MA

    Colleen Burke-Sivers, MA

    September 20th, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    Thanks Leanne, Cody, George, Tobey, and Shirl for your thoughts. It sounds like all of you are at peace with where you are in life right now, and are not feeling pressure to settle down. I agree with you, Leanne, that a lot of women settle down too soon, because they are anxious to be in a relationship. Others, like Shirl, know themselves well enough to know that they are happier single. Cody, George, and Tobey, you are all pacing yourselves well and trusting that a good relationship will come when the time is right.

  • trudi

    trudi

    November 2nd, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    I fully aware that I’ve stayed in a destructive relationship as I feel so isolated when single but the problem, I think, stems more from having no family of my own thus my partner and his family become the substitute. It’s lonely being detached.

  • Colleen Burke-Sivers

    Colleen Burke-Sivers

    November 4th, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    Trudi, I understand how lonely it can get when you have no one, so you hang onto a partner who is not good for you. It’s particularly hard if you are introverted or have difficulties reaching out socially to others. Try looking at websites like “Meetup Portland” and consider doing things that might allow you to meet new people…taking a class, joining a group of some kinds (book groups, therapy group, church group, etc.). Also, look inside and consider individual counseling to better understand about your loneliness within. Just some suggestions. I am not suggesting it is easy!

  • Lonleyj

    Lonleyj

    January 31st, 2015 at 6:46 PM

    Not in a relationship. Late 30s. I want intimacy but haven’t had a successful relationship. I have 12 yr old. In therapy but not sure I want to share my feeling for sex. Also i was taken advantage of sexually, emotionally and physically. How to live happy life without a partner

  • Jackie J.

    Jackie J.

    August 2nd, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    I am learning to develop a strong relationship with myself and my Higher Power. I done the evaluation of my first roll models who learned about relationships from and it was broken marriages and abuse, alcoholism, and finally violence.
    I decided that I want to understand how to have a healthy relationship with another human being. That I depending upon for my happiness and security. I have made all of those ugly mistakes and it always left me feeling empty inside today my intention is to make a connection with an independent adult female who has a fairlygood sense of of themselves and who knows the importance of self awareness. I also would like to be connected with a woman who is interested in a spiritual life and this doesn’t necessarily mean church it can, but I am actually talking about a relationship with God more a relationship with church. My experience is that People that have a relationship with God are less apt to be judemental, impatience, and mean spirited. I don’t mind folks having Christian leaning, but a relationship with God had to come firstly in my life!

  • Teri

    Teri

    February 14th, 2016 at 9:31 AM

    So we’ll put!

  • Anne

    Anne

    June 13th, 2016 at 5:20 PM

    It’s interesting that you wrote about being everyone’s friend, but not being considered as “relationship material.” I’ve been this way since high school. I was raised by a narc mother, and actively discouraged from learning about my own needs. Plus, my parents were strict, so I couldn’t date even if asked. Now, I’m late 40s, divorced about 5 years after abusive marriage, and rarely date. Never asked out in person, just a few times online. I’m told I’m attractive, I’m working on dealing with my past, developing my own interests and life, joining things, etc., and for the most part, happier than ever, liking myself more. But it’s like the idea of me as a dateable woman never crosses anyone’s mind. I’m introverted, and the more time goes by, I am getting used to the idea of having a lot of surface acquaintances and no close friends, much less a lover. All I can do is work on being my best self, but so far, I’ve only attracted narc guys. Nearly 2 years now since my last physical relationship. When I set boundaries, nobody likes it. So, apparently I’m only wanted at all when I cater to others? It’s painful either way, but at least I’m not in another abusive relationship on top of it. It’s hard to figure out. I’m in therapy, and my therapist can’t explain it, either, lol. Any ideas? Other than “time,” I’m not sure what else to consider.

  • PHIONA N

    PHIONA N

    November 16th, 2016 at 6:06 AM

    Well i believe single life is worth living but consider a point of family pressure that i shd get married and me at 28 , feel i shd get married, but i feel i,will get hurt bse guys l hv so far met are lustful.They want sex not Love. I cant have sex or keep indulged in having sex with whoever new guy i meet. I feel used or abt to be used. I am a bornagain christian, but i feel like am pushing everyone away even my friends,both born again and non born agains. ls it right to have sex during courtship? Am confused but tired of single life.Help.

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