I’d rather be married. Why does admitting it feel so shameful?
It seems like whenever a newly-divorced celebrity gives an interview, she follows the same script.
She’s enjoying life on her own, she’s focusing on her work, she and her ex are better off as friends, there are no bad feelings, and she’s perfectly happy to be single.
So when Angelina Jolie told the Sunday Telegraph that she hates being single, not quite a year after her sudden split from her partner of 12 years, Brad Pitt, it was a breath of fresh air. “It’s not something I wanted,” said Jolie – even though she’s the one who filed for divorce. “There’s nothing nice about it. It’s just hard.”
Like Jolie, I’m a single mother. Also like her, I initiated the split from my husband. And now we have something else in common: we prefer to be part of a couple. (Sadly, that’s where the similarities end.)
It’s been hard for me to own up to that, even to myself. After all, I’m always saying I don’t regret getting divorced, that it was the right decision for my family, and that being a single mom isn’t so bad. In fact, in some ways it’s easier. If I say I hate being alone, it feels like I’m breaking some sort of unspoken code: women are supposed to be strong and independent; we aren’t supposed to need men.
And I don’t. I’m okay on my own. But a lot of the time, it’s lonely. When I took my daughter trick-or-treating on Halloween and saw couples and families dressed up and looking sweet together, I felt sad – like I’d failed at the thing that was most important to me. I had to remind myself that I’d spent plenty of Halloweens with my husband, and they weren’t always so idyllic.
I remember a Halloween when my husband and I were first dating: I stayed up late sewing a costume for him to wear to a party; he was an angel to my devil. I thought it was cute, because he was the one more likely to be seen as devilish – the goateed artist and longtime bachelor, dating a cute blonde college student 17 years his junior. But he hated wearing the costume, and my feelings were hurt – along with my fingers, which I’d accidentally stabbed multiple times while making his wings.
Married and miserable, single and successful?
What I’ve come to realize lately is that although, in the end, I didn’t want to be married to my husband anymore, I still wanted to be married. I liked being married. I liked sharing a bed with someone every night, snuggling up close while we fell asleep and reaching for each other in the morning. I liked knowing I’d always have someone to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and having two families to spend holidays with. I liked having backup – liked being part of a team. I liked being someone’s partner; being a unit. I don’t want to do life alone.
But social scientist and author Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, is an outspoken advocate for staying single. As a 60-something woman who’s been single her whole life, and having conducted multiple studies of single people versus married people, she claims singles have it better than couples in lots of ways.
“Lifelong single people…do more to maintain their ties to friends, siblings, parents, neighbors, and coworkers than married people do,” DePaulo writes in Psychology Today. “They do more than their share of volunteering and helping people, such as aging parents, who need a lot of help. They experience more autonomy and self-determination, and more personal growth and development.”
However, it should be pointed out that DePaulo is talking about people who’ve always been single. For people like me, the picture is not so rosy. “Those who get married and then divorce end up, on the average, less happy than they were when they were single,” she says. And what about married people? “If you follow people over time as they go from being single to getting married and staying married, they end up no happier than they were when they were single.”
Of course, one thing we know is that we humans are pretty bad at knowing what will make us happy; DePaulo’s findings seem to fall into line with that. Psychologist Dan Gilbert cites research that found people tend to return to a base level of happiness, no matter what major life events occur. “If it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness,” explains Gilbert.
And it’s true: although I wanted to get married my whole life, and I was so happy on my wedding day, after I’d been married for awhile, all my old doubts and insecurities resurfaced. I wasn’t happy, and getting married didn’t change that. (Although part of me still wonders, if I’d married the right person, would it have been different?)
These days, I’m much happier. I’m more comfortable with myself; I know who I am. (Most of the time.) I would say I’m a much happier person than I was when I got married, more than sixteen years ago now. But when Angelina Jolie said, “sometimes maybe it appears I am pulling it all together, but really I am just trying to get through my days,” I felt it down to my bones. And I can’t shake the feeling that if I had a partner to share my life with – someone to dress up with on Halloween, to hold my hand on the street, to fall asleep next to every night – that getting through those days would be a whole lot easier. Because Angelina and me? We hate being single.
Image via pexels, GIF via bravotv.
Comment: Are you single? How do you feel about it?