Story by Varsha Swamy
Irrespective of the length of the relationship, for many of us, friends and family often respond to a breakup with a resounding, “Oh, I am so sorry, there are plenty more fish in the sea.” While there are hardships we inevitably face after a long-term relationship ends, the more positive aspects of being single appear far less popular to talk about. Blockbusters often show single people pining over someone, visibly physically or emotionally unattractive, lonely and often engaging in undesirable life choices.
Contrary to media’s portrayal, researchers (Long, Averill & More, 2003) reveal that those who are single experience an increased sense of self-determination and personal development. Ending a long-term partnership involves retraining the brain on how to be happy by oneself. Culturally this can be difficult for some. Being an Indian-American, I know from personal experience that self-care is often incorrectly equated with selfishness. So how does one go about learning to be both happy and single?
In a world where Tinder and Bumble have taken over the dating scene, “Who is next?” becomes a question that can bring up more stress than it does excitement. For those who feel it is helpful to explore what else is out there, you know best. However, for those whose minds and bodies are telling them to slow down, sometimes it’s best to listen. Heartbreak is called so because emotional pain is real and the need to avoid it is strong. Distractions are both tempting and temporary.
There are many reasons why people end long-term relationships; one of the most common being unbearable fights. John Gottman, a couple’s therapist and researcher, describes high conflict relationships as those with ‘negative sentiment override’- a state of mind where we interpret the meaning of most messages with a negative lens (Hicks, McWey & Benson, 2004). Free from this cloud of undesirable emotion, newly single individuals have the chance to figure out what their next steps to happiness really look like. As expected, this doesn’t happen over-night, so patience is required, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Why you should be happy while being single
Consider the health benefits of being single
- Studies (Nomaguchi &Bianchi, 2004) show that singles are more likely to be fit, engage in regular exercise and eat better. With more time and energy to focus inwards, prioritizing health goals can finally go to the top of your list.
- Disagreements of how to spend, how much to spend, on what or who to spend on are common causes of conflict among couples. Whether you were the penny pincher or the spend-thrift, time alone gives you the opportunity to learn some new skills. For some there can be new-found pride associated with learning to budget; while for others a little self-indulgence has the power to remind us we’re capable of loving ourselves.
Deep empathy and connection
- Research (Sarkisian & Gerstel, 2015) shows that those who are single are more likely to keep in touch with their parents, siblings and friends. Role management is often a challenge when in serious romantic commitments. Often times, we give excuses to our near and dear ones and socially expect others to understand why we have prioritized our partnerships. Being single gives us the chance to balance out the various roles we have. Take a moment to list them out, you might be surprised.
“If only I had time” – is no longer a reason
- In long-term relationships, couple goals often rise to the top of our lists during free time. That painting you wanted to do; game you wanted to watch, but your partner wasn’t interested; class you wanted to take, or book you wanted to read just didn’t happen. Being single means always getting to pick the activity and ensuring some well-deserved endorphin time.
Understanding true happiness
- Far too many people enter romantic relationships for unhealthy reasons – scared/uncomfortable being alone, social image, or because they think that is what they are supposed to do. Being single allows us time to discover who we are, what we want, and how we plan to get it. During this process, we often: become comfortable with the uncomfortable; learn to rely on our instincts and ability to help ourselves; improve self-esteem; transform loneliness into self-reflection; and with practice, self-love. I say practice because it involves a conscious effort to love oneself just as it takes time to love someone else.
Being single is not an alternative second to being in a romantic relationship. Terms like ‘soulmate’ and ‘the one is out there’ hardwire our minds to focus on an external source of happiness. This Valentine’s Day, give yourself permission to break the mold and explore other ways to feel loved, happy, and healthy.
Hicks, M.W., McWey, L.M., Benson, K.E. (2004) Using what premarital couples already know to inform marriage education: Integration of a Gottman Model Perspective. Contemporary Family Therapy 26, 97–113 https://doi.org/10.1023/B:COFT.0000016915.27368.0b
Long, C. R., Seburn, M., Averill, J. R., More, T. A. (2003) Solitude Experiences: Varieties, settings, and individual differences. Sage, 29(5):578-583. DOI: 10.1177/0146167203029005003
Nomaguchi, K.M. and Bianchi, S.M. (2004), Exercise Time: Gender Differences in the Effects of Marriage, Parenthood, and Employment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66: 413-430. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2004.00029.x
Sarkisian, N., Gerstel, N. (2015) Does singlehood isolate or integrate? Examining the link between marital status and ties to kin, friends, and neighbors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 3(33), 361-384. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407515597564
Varsha Swamy is a first-year Marriage and Family Therapy graduate student. She grew up in Austin, Texas and later Chennai, India where she attended Women’s Christian College and completed her Master of Science in Applied Psychology with a specialization in Counseling. Her therapy interests include Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Emotion Focused Therapy, Gottman and sexual health awareness. Her hobbies include camping, watersports, exploring different cuisines and cultures through travel, and having meaningful conversations with people.
The Center for Family and Couple Therapy (CFCT) is a part of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in CSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. As a commitment to campus partners, the CFCT welcomes the opportunity to support you and your family in increasing mindfulness and effective self-care in your lives. Please call 970-491-5991 or visit our website for more information.