Recently, while standing in line for dinner at a single adult conference, I met a single man. Immediately after shaking my hand, he said to me how embarrassed he was that he was attending the singles conference and how he wished he were married. This statement shocked me, not because of the sentiment, but because of its intensity and that it was so freely given to a stranger whom he had just randomly met. Inwardly, I wondered what was so difficult about being single that made this man embarrassed to attend an activity that was intended for his benefit. I also asked myself whether this man was viewing the activity positively or negatively simply because or his relationship status.
Single adults, especially those who are older, may feel like we are stuck, prohibited from achieving happiness based solely on the fact we are not currently married. Some of us may feel incomplete not only in our surroundings but also in ourselves because we do not have a companion in our lives. Like my single friend above, if we view events and circumstances through the negative lens of what we lack or what we don’t have, we may be less satisfied in our current situation. On the other hand, if we can see the goodness of our lives, the benefit and contribution we can make as individuals, and the individual worth for each of us, we are more likely to receive greater benefit and joy from our everyday experiences.
After my divorce, I was faced with a stark and difficult choice: do I allow the negativity of a failed relationship impact how I see myself and how I view the world or do I look for positivity in the journey despite its difficulty. Certainly, being angry at my situation was the easy path. I also knew developing a positive view point was challenging and required individual work and effort on my part as I had to relearn how to stand in my pain, accept it, and move forward.
I realized that developing a positive viewpoint wasn’t a magical overnight event but rather a continuous and conscious choice of picking myself up when I failed and putting myself on an upward rather than a downward trajectory. I intentionally returned to locations where events, difficulties, or traumas in my marriage occurred just to create new positive memories on which I could lean. It wasn’t about replacing the old the memories but about enabling myself, for the first time, to choose which memory to think about and upon which to base my emotions. It was about learning to recognize my physical and cognitive responses to difficulties and to manage them in a positive manner that did not control me.
I realize today, positivity is a fickle thing—easy to lose and difficult to obtain. It is like the stock market, where returns grow slowly over time but can be lost quickly and in large amounts. I failed many times trying to develop a positive mindset in my life. Each time I failed, I would stop and look at a situation and ask if I saw that situation in a positive or a negative light. If it was negative, I did not get down on myself, I simply reminded myself how I could view things in a more positive light the next time a similar situation occurred. Gradually, a positive perspective developed, my sense of identity returned, and I found a strength and capacity to see potential where I once thought only hopelessness existed.
As single adults we face feelings of loneliness, rejection, isolation, and not fitting in. These feelings do not go away simply because we want them to. I have asked myself many times the question, am I ok without a relationship or companionship in my life. While the answer to this question is not simple, my goal for myself and for us is to begin to recognize the positive things in our lives despite being alone and single.
I have learned that developing the ability to see positivity rather than negativity will help us enjoy our lives and our experiences as single adults. I have also learned that despite the difficulty, it can be accomplished, and it is far better than the alternative.
You can find other topics and discussion about being single in my book, The Greatest Worth. This book is an excellent resource for single and married people. It is worth the read and I would love to hear what you think about it.