I was just asked a fascinating question: How do you know if you were meant to be single? Personally, I wouldn't use the phrase "meant to be," but I understand what the questioner is getting at, and I've been mulling it over ever since. I'll tell you first what I think, then I'd love to hear everyone else's ideas.
To some, concluding that you were "meant to be single" may sound like a bad thing. Not to me. I'd just change the wording - I think I'm single at heart. I love living single (except for the singlism) and never did have those reveries about some lavish wedding with the bridesmaids and the big white dress.
To be single at heart, I think, means that you see yourself as single. Your life may or may not include the occasional romantic relationship, and you may or may not live alone or want to live alone, but you don't aspire to live as part of a couple (married or otherwise) for the long term.
You can be single at heart regardless of your actual status as single or coupled. Similarly, you can be a coupled at heart regardless of whether you really are coupled at the moment.
So what are the criteria? I'll start with what we know from research, then offer you my best guess about the rest. I'll pose my questions as either/or, but I recognize that the alternatives I describe are not the only ones.
Single at Heart: Research-Based Criteria
Single at Heart: Criteria that Need to be Put to the Empirical Test
One thing to keep in mind about the "single at heart" option: The deck is stacked against you. Matrimania is against you. Scholars who supposedly study relationships still haven't made ample room for you. Your grandmother doesn't get it. Maybe your own friends don't get it. But that doesn't mean that you don't qualify. You just need to think harder about the "single at heart" option than the "coupled at heart" option, because the latter is just assumed. It's our mental and cultural default option.
Single at Heart or Coupled at Heart: Maybe You Don't Have to Pick Just One
I have a friend who is married with children, and who commented once that even though she is happily married, she also was (and could have continued to be) happily single. People like that are impressive. They are the flexible ones. I'm not among them. I have lots of people I love, but I don't want to live with any of them. I'm single at heart and have never been anything else.
You May Want Your Single Life, But Can You Take the Singlism?
Once you've determined (if you have) that the single life is right for you, there's still another big question to face: Do you have the strength and self-confidence to live your single life without explanation or apology?
As long as singlism continues unchallenged, and matrimania rules the land, people living single will continue to be put on the defensive. Others will still ask you why you are single. (Not everyone will do this, but the unenlightened and the clueless will.) Some will assume that if you have stayed single past a certain age, there's something wrong somewhere. You must have issues. The same practicing practitioners of singlism will often have no problem whatsoever with the serial remarries - those people who marry and divorce, marry and divorce, over and over again. They won't assume that the multiply-divorced have issues. Can you live with that?
In the workplace, bosses and coworkers will sometimes assume that because you are single, you don't have a life, and will expect you to stay late and take the travel no one else wants and be the last to choose your vacation time. Whatever or whomever is important to you in your life will be deemed insignificant. You can try to speak out and educate others, but be forewarned: You may well elicit a nasty response, even though you are right. Can you take that? Would you be okay with staying quiet and just going along with the unfair treatment?
The Last Question
Do you believe that fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you? Ha! That's a trick question. Your answer has nothing to do with whether you are single or coupled at heart. What matters is what your fairy tale is, and whether you are living it. Personally, my fairy tale has come true. I'm single at heart, and that's how I'm living.
Since this was first published, lots of interesting comments have been posted.