“I want to be in an exclusive relationship with myself.” That’s how writer Ann Friedman described her desire, around the age of 30, to put an end to her life of being someone’s girlfriend for far too many years.
She chose to spend the next years in a state she called “deep single,” in which dating was infrequent and repeat-dating with the same person was even more rare. “Those years were, hands down, the most professionally productive and fulfilling of my life,” she tells us in an essay in Marie Claire.
When people who have never really craved the “deeply single” experience try to imagine the appeal, they often come up with things like, you get to arrange your place the way you want it and eat what you want whenever you want. Those can be perks of living single, especially if you are single and also live alone (not all singles do). Friedman described some of the delights of arranging her place and her things the way she wanted them, and not the way she had settled on with boyfriends. When you make your own home, you get to savor it every day of your life, so the matter is not totally trivial.
Yet what the couple-minded don’t fully recognize are the deeper ways in which a deeply single life can be satisfying. Here are some of the more profound satisfactions of deeply single life that Friedman described:
- She pursued the professional opportunities that were most meaningful to her, whether that meant leaving D.C. or moving to Texas or moving a month later to Los Angeles
- “With only me to stop me, I was unstoppable.”
- Her social life expanded (consistent with tons of research). Instead of spending all her time with the same social group that she and her boyfriend had ossified in, she nurtured her connections with several circles of friends.
- She got to spend “a lot of quality time alone.” For people who love their single lives, alone time is rarely frightening or even boring; it is more often profoundly satisfying.
- “Being single doesn’t just make you more independent: It makes you more interesting.”
Friedman also became a bit less pliant about the “poor-me, I’m-single” conversations that went on around her. She just would not participate in them anymore. Having sampled the deep satisfactions of deeply single life, she found it “excruciating to hear women talk about how desperate they are to be in a relationship—any relationship.” Ann Friedman liked truth better than clichés, and the truth she discovered was that “your ‘real life’ doesn’t begin when you meet a partner. It’s happening now.”
There is something else Friedman mentioned, which grabbed me not because it counts as one of the deepest rewards of single life, but because it is a metaphor for single life that one person after another finds attractive and apt: She and her best friend drove along the coast, “a vacation we’d fantasized about for years.” Open road, vast ocean views—something about that says “single” in a fundamentally positive way.
I love how beautifully Friedman articulated the profound appeal of a deeply single life, but I’m not so sure she is single at heart. She talks about those deeply single years as if they are in the past, so perhaps they are. Maybe her experiences suggest something else important about the single-at-heart experience. Maybe it is not just something enduring about a person, like a personality trait. Perhaps for some people, living the deeply single life is something that is tremendously appealing for years, but not for a lifetime. We have so much more to learn about what single-at-heart really means.
[One last tidbit: The Marie Claire essay was published in the February 2014 issue—nice twist on the usual Valentine’s Day couples schmaltz. (I just discovered it now, thanks to a heads-up from a friend.)]