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Preying For Keeps

My friend owns her own home, drives a Mercedes, competes in triathlons, and is a great businesswoman, yet she’s suddenly MISERABLE because she doesn’t have a “soul mate.” She’s decided this is the year she'll find “the one,” and she’s reading dating guides, studying Dr. Phil, and attending man-catcher seminars. She used to be so cheerful and fun, but lately, I avoid going out with her because she gives off desperate vibes, is weird and competitive, and kind of a drag. When I hint that she’d do better if she chilled a bit, she accuses me of trying to “get ahead” of her, as if there’s some soul mate derby or something. (I actually think of myself as “fabulously single.”) I want my old friend back; am I just being selfish?

--Single And Sane

As you suggest, the moment your friend got desperate for love is the moment she became extremely unlikely to land any. Ideally, the seduction process should rev up desire in a man, not simulate the experience of a beetle being chased by an entomologist with a giant straight pin.

Like a lot of unpartnered types who go suddenly psycho, your friend probably seemed perfectly happy until that night she marched into some crowded bar and shouted, “I’m nothing without you!” (Who “you” is remains to be seen.) Now, maybe she never really was happy, or maybe she just hit that age where “single” becomes an adult form of cooties. In a recently published study, Bella M. DePaulo and Wendy L. Morris blame this bias on “The Cult of the Couple,” and puzzle at “the strange implication that people without a stable sexual relationship are wandering adrift with open wounds and shivering in their sleep.”

DePaulo and Morris aren’t anti-couple; they were just surprised when their data showed most people suspect single equals loser -- even single people. When they asked 950 undergrads to describe the characteristics of married and single people in general, married people were assumed to be “mature, stable, honest, happy, kind, and loving.” Singles got nailed with “immature, insecure, self-centered, unhappy, lonely, and ugly.” Of course, the truth is, sometimes two is the loneliest number. Is there really anything lonelier than feeling completely alone when you’re in relationship with somebody else?

It doesn’t help that award-winning social scientists keep making bold pronouncements about the transformative power of marriage, like E. Mavis Hetherington’s claim, “Happily married couples are healthier, happier, wealthier, and sexier than are singles.” Don’t be too quick to assume they also have bigger breasts, flatter abs, and are less likely to be abducted by aliens. The above quote from Hetherington’s recently published book was just one of many examples cited by DePaulo and Morris of couple-glorifying sloppy methodology and data analysis. DePaulo told me via e-mail, “I think that cultural notions about singles and marrieds are so pervasive, and so unquestioned, that even respected scholars do less than their best work on the topic.” DePaulo and Morris point out the rather obvious flaw in Hetherington’s claim: She compared only happily married people to all single people. Wow, imagine that: Happily marrieds are more satisfied with their lives than, say, suicidal singles.

If this “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” propaganda isn’t what’s sending your friend over the edge, it’s probably the alluring idea of “the one” as the one-stop-shopping solution to all your existential woes. Of course, expecting to get your every need met by one person makes about as much sense as going to the corner store for a quart of milk and being irate that they can’t also sell you a Persian rug, a baby ferret, and the Hope Diamond. What you can do is be “the one” -- that special person who gives your life meaning -- and then look for the other one: somebody who matches you pretty well on the stuff that matters, and well enough on the rest. In other words, there is no handsome prince. There might, however, be a moderately attractive auto parts store executive.

Meanwhile, even the “fabulously single” don’t have it all worked out. Here you are, probably content with your life and your circle of friends, and maybe even a friend or two with benefits, yet it never occurred to you to get out of a dead-end relationship? Yes, the one with your friend who confuses bringing out the animal in men with bringing out the trapped animal. You might miss the woman she once was, but until she becomes that woman again, you could follow the lead of the unhappily coupled and “take a little time off” -- at least until she better understands why people like you remain single. And no, it isn’t because your religion forbids dusting or you spend all your free time rearranging your collection of famous people’s toenail clippings.

Posted by aalkon at August 29, 2006 5:31 AM

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Great response Amy....

i have found a lot of useful information on this subject on a New Jersey divorce lawyer website (no...this is not something out of "Being John Malkovitch"). http://www.userniche.com/LoveAndDivorce/ASP/UserNicheMainPage.asp?ID=2

Heres an exerpt;

There is No Such Thing As A Soul Mate
The romantic notion that there exisits:

One person, our exact "Soul Mate", who is so perfectly matched that we would never fight, never disagree and remain eternally happy no matter what happens, is a cruel myth.

At least with Santa Claus we eventually tell our children the truth, but so many adults still believe the Myth of a Soul Mate, that it continues to be affirmed in the minds of our children and remains a significant obstacle in relationships.

The fundamental fallacy with the concept of a Soul Mate is the assumption that a soul mate embodies perfection through the exact matching of thinking, feelings and emotions.

This thinking is rooted in the Traditional View of Marriage where the gender roles are rigid and well defined. The only consideration in the Traditional Model for Adapability or Personal Responsibility is in accepting your place based upon your gender. A tremendous human capital investment has been made in our religious and societal institutions to accept unhappiness and suffering as good, natural and serving the higher moral objective of the continutity of marriage. Consequently, in this manner of thinking, happiness is only attainable when the parties are perfectly matched, as in matched in heaven as in Soul Mates.

The problem arises with the inevitability of change in modern society and the reality that a modern marriage using Traditional Relationship Roles is doomed to failure.

All of this changes when we recognize that Compatibility is only a single part of Relationship Success. The larger truth is we can create Structed Equilibrium in our relationships by understanding the truth about what we commit to the relationship and by adjusting our Needs and Preferances to allow us to be more resiliate and adapable to the inevitable change that will occur.

A more accurate and modern view of a Life Mate is:

A person of inter-dependent maturity who values their partner's contribution to the relationship more than their own preferences, and whose needs in the relationship are satisfied by the actual contribution of the other person.

Before you entertain the question of Marriage?, you should be able to answer the question Am I Prepared to be a Life Mate?

Posted by: Rob at August 29, 2006 10:47 AM

Thank you for that, Amy. I love being single, and like you I often refer to it as being "independent." I don't expect to ever find someone that's going to fill all of my needs, so I don't spend my life searching. If I meet a nice girl, that's great. If I don't it's not that big of a deal. I don't go around sulking becuase the "chicks don't dig me."

I do wish that people would stop using the term "selfish" as a negative toward single people. There's nothing wrong with using your own time to better yourself (by writing a book, learning an instrument, learning a second language, etc).

Great Column.

Alan H.

Posted by: Alan H. at August 31, 2006 7:50 PM

I loved being single when I was single, and I love being married now that I'm married. I guess the key is that I love my life, and the rest is icing. I think a lot of people get into trouble/unhappiness when they confuse the need to make a change in their life with the need to have a relationship.

The thing that drives me nuts are people who don't understand what hard work being a "Soul Mate" is! Scrumptious, delightful work at times to be sure, but there are also the times you just have to be prepared to tough out the rough times. No one would ever think that being someone's friend was always going to be smooth sailing, without any fights, yet for some damned reason that's what some people think love is! Such ideas are doomed to failure from the start.

After 13 years together as a couple, I am more deeply satisfied with the relationship my husband and I have built with our hard work than with the intense chemistry we started with. (Of course, mutual sexual creativity helps!) What we are *not*, never were, and never will be are substitutes for the deficiencies in each other's individual lives. Love, like friendship, is there to enhance life, not to be a flying buttress to prevent one's life from crashing down.

Posted by: Melissa at September 11, 2006 8:19 AM

Explain to your friend that "love" cannot go on your "To-Do" list. I used to listen with horror to every girl who announced that her life goals were to "get a great job, get married, and have six kids". If you find someone, that's awesome, that's fantastic, and you're lucky. But don't go out hunting for love like it's a job or a great restaurant. The fact is, a lot of the people who invest time in dating online, going to singles clubs, and spending time in bars endlessly searching for that elusive "one", are people who don't feel comfortable spending time with themselves. They don't realize that their not missing anything, and that having free time to make your own rules and your own space is fantastic. If they need social interaction, dude, go for it. There are clubs, programs, charities, volunteer work, committees, stuff all over the cities that you can get involved in and hang out with people. But don't sit there and look for this person who's going to "complete" you like Harry Potter looking for that "Snitch" thing. She's got friends, she's got family, and she's got herself. Now if she's unhappy with herself, then that's the real problem.

Posted by: CornerDemon at December 22, 2006 12:37 PM

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