By Roland N. Gilbert
Why am I still single. It’s a question more than half of American women ask themselves, according to a report the New York Times put out in early 2007. This data includes women who live apart from their significant others, but all independent variables aside it’s a figure that has shot up significantly in the last couple decades.
Even as those 57.5 million women gather round wine bars with your girlfriends, enjoy Waiting To Exhale nights in sweats on the couch, or pack four different guys into one week (yes, you know it happens), you’re likely to be puzzled over:
1. What you may be doing wrong: “That one wearing three carats with the husband more loyal than a pit bull—what does she know that I don’t?” or
2. If we actually need partners, as tradition (and Mom) seems to imply.
Jean Twenge is a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable—Than Ever Before (Free Press, 2007) and co-author of the upcoming Narcissism Epidemic with W. Keith Campbell.
Based on recent research conducted to learn about current attitudes toward relationships, Twenge confirms, “There is in fact a massive cultural shift at work here.” She says the number of women who are romantically uninvolved is a result of one major factor: our culture tells us we don’t need relationships.
Call it the “singular-single syndrome”: We have it. Twenge recently conducted a study of 200 student participants at San Diego State, and 90% of them answered the questionnaire stating they live by grand individualistic philosophies like, “You shouldn’t ever need anyone else to make you feel complete” and “You have to make yourself happy.”
Based on this study and a handful of others Twenge has conducted in the last few years, she concludes that today’s young adults feel they need to be completely self-sufficient in their happiness.
The fact is, many adults view deep emotional involvement with others as weakness and dependence. It’s not just that our culture accepts and accommodates the single lifestyle now—it’s that it actually “hates on” the individual who isn’t focused solely on her own personal advancement.
The collective teachings from our capitalist culture media, Boomer-generation parents who struggled to teach us the importance of pursuing personal goals, and teachers in an increasingly survival-of-the-very-fittest education system—all these emphasize the individual and her goals, not her need for involvement with others.
Twenge also said that a study she’s currently conducting with W. Keith Campbell leads to the conclusion that narcissism in America is higher than it’s ever been before, and by definition of considering themselves more important than the people they associate with, narcissistic people make terrible relationship partners.
This spike in narcissism is caused by societal teachings like those aforementioned but also on social networking devices like MySpace and Facebook which are less a method of connecting with others than a means of shameless self-promotion giving the individual limitless opportunity to think about themselves and advertise why other people should want to know them.
Some people even use social networking sites out of romantic malice, trying to provoke jealousy or track the whereabouts of an ex. And for some couples, being on each other’s friend lists is a topic more taboo than first-date sex! “No way would I add (my new girlfriend) to my page,” says Kevin, 30, an engineer near Pittsburgh. “I think she’s pissed about it but if it ends, it will be too awkward if we’re able to keep tabs on each other.”
Any way you slice it, we’re all looking out for Number One. Here’s the trouble: the more time we spend thinking about ourselves, formulating clever responses to friends’ online comments about us, posting our most attractive photos, and “pimping our profiles” to leave impressions on our contacts, the less time we spend actually interacting with and caring about others.
Even the word “friend” has transformed from an endeared noun used to describe an intimate, trusted companion to a verb that implies a quick click of the mouse. “Listen, I gotta run, it was nice to meet you. Remember to friend me tomorrow.” We lack the basic fundamental of all relationships – spending time together – and personal eye-to-eye contact continues to grow more rare.
Chris Morett is a sociology professor specializing in family and marriage at Fordham University in New York City. Morett echoes this cultural emphasis on the individual.
He says our communities and peer groups have broken down significantly in the last decade, and our consumer culture promises the singular single that you can “Have it your way.” Thus Americans adults are less willing to compromise their own desires than ever before, and Morett goes so far as saying that the American dating process has become similar to other means of shopping for a product.
Because women don’t need marriage for the economic stability and source of identity the institution provided decades ago (because the majority of American women nowadays were not raised simply to be wives but to value personal advancement by self-sufficient means, and women are economically independent deriving their identity from their work and other societal roles, not just from being a wife) marriage is not a necessity but a choice.
So when a woman dates a man and he doesn’t possess all the “features” she requires, she briefly deliberates and continues shopping (Is passionate about his work, check. Loves to travel, check. Forgot to ask how my meeting went, uh-oh. Completely unacceptable.) No longer does a woman need a man or a marriage; now she wants a soul-mate, a partner to share her interests and values and who provides passion and support and fun. She desires a man who won’t require her to sacrifice her identity or every aspect of the single lifestyle she’s come to enjoy.
But until you meet him, the solution to the single person’s isolation may be simple: shut the lid on our laptops and get over yourselves–you don’t have to do it all on your own. You’ll only find the comfort to your singles’ loneliness by spending time in the physical presence of people you love. If you want love, you have to love. You have to open your hearts to connecting again.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roland N. Gilbert works one-on-one – via phone and face-to-face – and with MasterMind Groups. Through Couples Coaching Roland helps clients communicate better, find the love they want, and create relationships of significance. Contact Roland at 800-974-3692 or firstname.lastname@example.org to determine if coaching is right for you.