Alan, a Living Single reader, left a great comment in response to my post, Couples just don't know how to be married? My piece was one of several on the Washington Post story suggesting that coupled people have trouble not so much because they picked the wrong partner but because they just don't know how to be married. (The other posts are here and here.) Marriage education classes, the newspaper suggested, could be the answer.
Here's part of what Alan said:
"...has anyone considered the possibility of a "single education program", in order to help people be single more successfully? I mean, if there are people who could be happily married if they just understood the secrets of successful marriage, couldn't there also be people out there who could be happily single if they knew the secrets of being happily single?
Maybe those singles who describe themselves as unhappy or lonely just don't know how to make singlehood work. I've always thought it just a matter of personality...some people are meant to be single...but now that I think about it, maybe more people could be happy as singles if they just knew how to make it work."
There are many programs and classes aimed at single people, but they are overwhelmingly lessons in becoming unsingle. At best (with few exceptions), they offer instructions in learning to like your single life while waiting for The One.
When I suggested previously that some people are single at heart, I guess I was describing what Alan calls a matter of personality. I still believe that. Some people live their happiest, truest, most fulfilling lives as singles, and if you try to squeeze them into a coupled mold they are always going to feel prodded and pinched and maybe even provoked. But I like Alan's point, too, and I should have come up with it myself because it is so social psychological, and that's my training. Maybe it's not just about personality. Perhaps more people would be happily single if they had an agreeable context or environment. That could include, as Alan suggests, opportunities to learn the secrets of being happily single. It could also include bigger, societal level factors, such as a cultural discourse that is not so dominated by matrimania. Imagine if it seemed obvious to just about everyone that some people live their best lives as singles. Then there would be no wondering if there was ‘something wrong somewhere' when some people stayed single because that's how they wanted to live. We'd all expect some people to live contentedly that way, just as we now expect that some people live their happiest, truest, and most fulfilling lives when they are coupled.
If we ever do create enough singles education programs to evaluate them scientifically, I hereby promise you this: If they don't work, I'll say so.