Till Quarantine Do Us Part: Save Your Marriage (and Sanity) by Acting Like a Single Person
While flattening the curve through social distancing, married people may think, “Damn, this would be a tough time to be single.” Yet singles who are living a remarkable life are feeling the opposite way.
Being stuck in close quarters with one person (even your person) will test the strongest relationship. Indeed, as Chinese couples emerge from isolation, the divorce rate is skyrocketing. I know we can’t trust the data out of China, but still.
So rather than feeling sorry for single people, here’s what married folks can learn from a solo lifestyle to survive and (dare I say) thrive during tumultuous times.
Singles Have “The Ones”
Jane Austen novels notwithstanding, the idea that there is “one person” who will meet all your needs is a tall order — and a relatively recent concept.
It is simply unfair to expect one person to be your everything. Especially if you are practicing til-death-do-us-part monogamy.
Meet Bella DePaulo, the scientific expert on single living and the first guest on my podcast Solo. She has spent years debunking mythology that marriage is blissful and singlehood blows.
DePaulo told me, “Research suggests that having a variety of different people in your life, who are emotionally helpful to you in different ways, is a good thing — even before the pandemic.”
In her words, single people have the benefit of “The Ones” rather than “The One.”
Singles tend to have an array of relationships to lean on: friends, siblings, parents, peers, neighbors, even barbers. (As I say, “Have a team.”) According to DePaulo, singles are more likely to invest in and care for these relationships. “When couples move in together or become married,” she told me, “they become more insular.”
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t seek a loving, committed relationship built on mutual respect, but expecting someone to fill every role you need is untenable except in rare cases (you know those couples). These fictitious expectations, especially in quarantine, put undue pressure on a marriage.
Branch out or lose out. Instead of being disappointed that your partner isn’t excited about Tiger King, find others in your circle who are. If you are struggling with work, call an old co-worker who is happy to talk about what a career change would look like.
Partnered or solo, we need people. Lots of people in lots of different ways. So say yes to that next Zoom happy hour.
Singles Give More
Singles are stereotyped as selfish, but when it comes to generosity, singles outshine their married counterparts.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data on volunteers, for example, reveals that single people volunteered more than married people in almost every category, including educational and youth services, which is striking because more than 90% of married people end up with children.
“[Singles] give more of their time and money, and they are the ones who step up to care for others, such as their aging parents,” DePaulo says.
Not only does this shift from self to others benefit the receiver, the experience is also highly fulfilling for the giver. Research reveals, for example, that spending money on others creates more happiness than spending money on oneself.
That’s a big deal. Giving generously (from a safe distance) may help you and your community get through hard times — and you just might meet a cool (single) person who wants to discuss which tiger Carole Baskin fed her husband to.
In the same way that single people give to others, they are also good at giving to themselves, whether through hobbies, creative expression, or simply solitude. (And yes, single people masturbate more often.)
Living alone does not equal loneliness. “Although social scientists have been obsessed with loneliness for decades,” DePaulo says, “They are now starting to understand that being single, living alone, and having time to yourself are all very different from loneliness. Each can be experienced positively.”
Intuitively known for centuries, the psychological value of solitude is only starting to be documented. Taking time and space for yourself is essential for creativity, deep thinking, spirituality, and rejuvenation. Though twice married, Albert Einstein said, “Be a loner. That gives you time to wonder, to search for the truth. Have holy curiosity. Make your life worth living.”
Even if you’re the most extroverted of extroverts, take some time for yourself to read, write a business plan, or simply go for a walk. That way, you can show up as your best self for others — your partner, your family, your community.
Not at Odds
Of course, it’s probably best not to emulate everything about single people — for example, they drink more — and this is not a good time to be drinking. It’s important to stay healthy.
With 110 million singles in the US and growing, they can’t all be wrong about how they choose to live their lives. By embracing a solo mentality, married people can release each other from relationship pressure and get through this time, together.