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Single? You'll never learn more than during this time of your life

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The desire for love can be so strong that it seems to overshadow everything else. Why is it so hard to be single? How can we get rid of the feeling that we’re in a waiting room, and start making use of our time ‘alone’?

Hunger for love is the deepest, most powerful hunger. Once there is food in your stomach and a roof over your head, you want someone in your life who cares about you. Who’s there for you, for whom you’re special – and will remain special. The desire for a partner can be heavy and overpowering. We keep searching, until we fall in love. After a while, it turns out he or she isn’t the one and we’re alone again – or at least, that’s what it feels like.

Status: single

Friends and family who are there for us, can’t take away our feeling of loneliness, no matter how sweet, thoughtful and compassionate they are. A while after the breakup, we start looking again. We look even more carefully, schedule dates, get more agitated and more desperate. Why don’t we succeed? Why do other people have lovers, and not us? What if we’ll be alone for the rest of our lives…

We register on dating sites, have friends hook us up with their friends and go on holidays for singles. We make tons of plans for the weekend, to make sure we don’t have to sit in front of the telly on our own. Relationship ‘single’ is seen as something unwanted - and very temporary.

Why are we so afraid to be alone?

Why are we so afraid to be alone? Carolien Roodvoets, relational therapist and writer: ‘For many singles, being alone feels like a disgrace. They feel as if, despite their interesting job, big circle of friends and interesting hobbies, they’re ‘failing’ at life. It’s not something that’s easily discussed, because there is a lot of shame in it. Besides, there’s an intense, powerful desire to share life with a partner. The desire to have everyday intimacy and to grow old together makes people gloomy, because fulfillment sometimes seems so far away – even unattainable. If this desire gets frustrated for a long time, that’s a difficult thing to bear.’

Acting like a ‘happy single’

If you believe that ‘what’s happening right now is exactly what needs to happen in order to learn’, you’ll probably feel a lot more relaxed. From this starting point, you make choices in love that are more pure, and, ironically, you’re more attractive to possible love interests. This doesn’t mean that you have to ignore your love hunger and act like a ‘happy single’ if you don’t feel like one. The desire for a partner is human, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Being single is not queue time

The trick is not to look at the single times in your life like some sort of second-rate ‘queue time’, but as a fruitful and valuable period. Duindam says: ‘Make it quality time. How to do that? By being attentive. Compare it to waiting for a friend in a café. You candrum on the table, check your watch and feel frustrated. But you can also decide to be in that café fully aware, look thoughtfully at the prune trees in bloom and let your mind go blank for a while.’

What being on your own can teach you

Being on your own can teach us things. It’s an opportunity to grow, just like every relationship is. Being single is a way to learn to know yourself better. You don’t have to focus on a partner, so all your attention is for you. This can be confronting: old pain comes to the surface, there are projections, memories, unrealizable desires that impose themselves upon you. You might encounter your own history. And if you don’t push this away, it might give you a clear image of your family situation during your youth and how this affects your choice of partner. You can come to terms with the pain that loved ones have caused you – and the pain you’ve caused others. You can stop playing the victim and forgive others and yourself. In other words: face your personal demons.

You can’t find true love if you don’t know who you are

Swiss psychologist Mira Kirshenbaum writes that being on your own for a while, and being introspective, is the best way to learn to love again. In her book ‘Women and love’ she writes: ‘You can’t find true love before you’ve found the real ‘you’. The more you find out about yourself, the more likely you are to find the one.’

People who feel calm and joyful on their own, tend to have more realistic expectations of romantic love. The thought of ‘make me happy, make me complete, tell me who I am’ has disappeared to the background. You no longer put future lovers in charge of compensating your shortcomings and flaws. From the Buddhist point of view, a love relationship is a sadhana: not primarily a situation that makes you happy, but a situation in which you’re able to grow. This growth is what will make you happy.  

Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Éva Balogh