Peter McGraw talks to Kriss Rita, a remarkable solo and member of the solo community. They talk about her journey from single to solo and what makes her life remarkable. They also play a game Peter calls “truth or truth,” where they ask each other questions about single living and the solo project.
Listen to Episode #130 here
Truth Or Truth With Kriss Rita
In this episode, I have a discussion with a remarkable solo and member of the Solo Community. An aspiring entrepreneur as a positive psychology practitioner and coach, Kriss Rita lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find Kriss biking around Portland to meet her friends for happy hour brunch and live music or hiking and camping with her dog, Betty. She works as a special educator and consultant advocating for inclusive employment for people of all abilities.
Kriss and I talk about her journey from being single to solo, the resulting change in how she approaches her dating, as well as what makes her life remarkable. We also play a game that I call Truth or Truth, where we ask each other questions about single living and Solo Movement. I haven’t asked you about this in a while, but would you please rate and review the show if you haven’t done? Most new readers find the show through search. Your review and rating make it easier for them to find it and make them more excited to read. If you want to be a member of that Solo Community that Kriss Rita is part of, you can sign up at PeterMcGraw.org/Solo. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
I got to know you from the Private Solo Community, which people can sign up for it. PeterMcGraw.org/Solo, and from your help on the solo show on Fireside. I’d like to have a free-flowing conversation with you with the goal of getting to know you a little bit better and perhaps providing a little bit of inspiration for your fellow solos. I want to begin by talking about your transformation from single to solo.
I have updated my definition of what it means to be solo in Solo Thoughts 6: What Does It Mean To Be Solo? and highlight this notion, “Solos feel complete. They’re not half of a whole. They’re not looking for their better half in the world. They’re approaching their relationships in her life as a complete individual. They tend to embrace their autonomy. They tend to lean in a way of being more unconventional, unconventional thinkers, more broadly than just that.” The big one is this idea of wholeness. Do you feel whole?
I do in a lot of ways most days.
You didn’t always feel that way.
For a lot of years, I bought into the misunderstanding that it took another person and that the destination was another human to make me complete. I have a hard time even saying that now. It’s so cringy.
It seems absurd once you start to point it out.
With that said, it’s a striving. Maybe that’s the destination in some ways now, is that feeling of completeness, “The journey is the destination,” is the thought and a feeling that I live from now.
As clichéd as that saying is, clichés exist because they’re often true. How did that happen? What little I know about your story is that it was a process.
A long and winding road. A lot of trials.
Where does it begin?
It begins back before internet dating was accepted and the norm. I might have even put an ad in a newspaper at one point. That’s how old I am. It was an “I Saw You.” Do you remember these? There used to be Misconnections. I put one in for a guy at a bicycle shop and we went out for coffee.
He saw it and he responded. I’m amazed because I always feel like there’s shouting into the wind. What a fantastic setup for a rom-com that ends with you being solo.
I show up and he’s smoking cigarettes, and drinking black coffee. I’m like, “No, thank you.”
I assume cigarettes have more of an effect on black coffee.
For sure because I drink black coffee now, but you know the image.
The saying is, “Good from afar but far from good.”
I don’t know if that’s exactly where I started, but I did use the newspapers. My first foray into putting an ad online was Yahoo! Personals. It was in the 1990s. At the time, no photos. You just had to meet the person and be like, “I hope.” At that time, I was dating women. That was one of the reasons that I decided to go online because, in the ‘90s, it wasn’t so easy to go somewhere and meet the same gender to date.
There wasn’t a lesbian bar in your town.
There was, but we had to go into the city. I was living outside of Philadelphia at the time. We’d have to foray into the city because I was living in a small town doing summer camp work with inner city kids. That was the first step. I’ll give you a little laundry list. From there, I feel like I’ve done every one of the personal online dating things. I did speed dating and created a singles meetup group that still exists. I handed it off and it has a lot of members here in Portland and Vancouver area.
Did you get the first crack at the new people?
I always knew who was coming to the events first. I got the first viewing. I knew who to zone in on as soon as I got there. It resulted in a relationship for a bit with a guy from Scotland that came to the Winter Brew Fest. That was the outing I had to organize for the singles group.
It sounds like most of these things led to dead ends, people smoking cigarettes, and drinking coffee.
I’m like, “Words matter.” I don’t think dead end. It led to maybe another step in the right direction if that’s a good way to put it.
The goal is to couple up. They must have felt like failures, though now, perhaps not.
With my retrospect goggles on, I can look at it as a step in the right direction, but at the time, it was a dead end after dead end, “Now should I try?” That’s the type of person that I am. I don’t know if it’s ambition, striving, looking, trying to reach, or discovery. I kept trying things. I did a year of dating without the intention to couple.
That was a time when I explored I was dating most people who were polyamorous. Part of it is so I can ask them questions about how it worked. I was looking for another way because the traditional way wasn’t working for me. Now being part of the Solo Community, I know it makes a lot of sense. There’s got to be another way.
I want to pause and reflect on that for a moment because that’s a powerful idea. A lot of singles are single by chance. We have plenty of people in the community who look at you and go, “I’m glad I’m not doing that anymore.” They don’t miss dating or relationships. They are happy being single solos, but then there’s the single-by-the-chance group. Some of these people are truly struggling.
There are things about their life that makes it hard for them to partner up. If I may compliment you, I don’t get that impression from you. You’re a healthy, successful, happy person. Your heart and mind are open. Yet even someone who finds himself having all those things going for them can still struggle because perhaps where they are, what their preferences are, simply entropy. It’s bad luck that exists in the world, some things break your way and sometimes they don’t.
To recognize that there’s nothing wrong with you because this hasn’t happened, that maybe perhaps you’ve been pursuing the wrong relationship, is a big insight. It’s an insight that the average single person who’s struggling in a way that you never got to. They never consider that there might be an alternative. They may give up hope, but they never considered that there’s a new way.
One of the things that are happening for me over and over is there also exists unlearning. We talk about it all the time through the community and on your show that coupling as the destination is deep and everywhere. Marriage especially is held at this high rate. I’m realizing I’m having to unlearn some of these things that I believed were true, that were dogma for me. It’s taking a moment to question my thought, “Where is that coming from? Why am I judging myself for that? Is it because I’ve been told these things or something I truly feel inside?” That has been a shift for me. The idea of unlearning, learning, and discovering new ways is also part of the journey.
Let’s step back before we step forward because I want to know about unlearning because that’s difficult to do. It’s easier to do cognitively than it is to do emotionally. I know a lot of singles who struggle. They know cognitively that they’re okay, yet they feel this longing and this void that can be emotionally overpowering. When did the learning start for you? Do you have early memories? We jumped into you being in your 30s-ish, trying to crack the code. You’re starting to hack dating in the same way that you probably hack lots of things in your life. What was happening before that? What was your learning that led to this single-minded focus?
The single-minded focus on finding a partner was how I was brought up. It was everywhere.
Do you have a memory?
I can’t even pinpoint one memory. It just was. All of my aunts and uncles were partnered. I don’t even have a stray single aunt or uncle from my past, and I’m like, “What an interesting life they have led?”
You didn’t have the cool auntie.
I do have one cool auntie, but she was in couples the whole time in my childhood with her in our lives, too. Whenever we went to visit aunt Judy, we visited her at a different apartment, house, or town. I always thought that was cool. My auntie and I are still close because of that. Both of us have been a little bit of the black sheep of the family and we identify in that way. Maybe that’s a place that I was enamored by her lifestyle in a lot of ways.
It’s a little sliver of light. It’s diffuse and pervasive. In the same way, you were expected to go to college. That’s what you do.
I was more expected to get married than I was expected to go to college. I was the first one in my family to get a Master’s degree. Both my brothers are now educated. I’m the youngest and the only girl. I grew up in a small town where a lot of people are married to their high school sweethearts. I’m 51 and they’re still married to their high school sweethearts or divorced and married to another person from high school. That’s funny that you said that because I don’t think I was as much expected to have a career and be a successful person living on my own or owning my own home as I was expected to be married with a few kids.
I had this conversation with a previous guest, a cool auntie type, Melanie Notkin. We were saying how our generation is this in-between generation where our parents or our mothers were more or less expected to stay home. It was this generation where it became an option to go one way or another. It’s been quite unsettling, whereas in younger generations if anything, it’s expected that you’ll continue working as a mother. We’ve been in flux in, in rather, quick fashion in the United States. You were dealing with some of that legacy stuff.
I talked about my struggles trying not to be the good little boy, behaving the way the world wants me to behave, and doing what I’m told to do. You were being the good little girl. You were pursuing thankfully, both your education and your MRS Degree, and it didn’t click for you. You didn’t marry your high school sweetheart. You move to different places, did traditional dating, and then you tried all the things.
I’ve never met someone like you, who has done all the things. I compliment you for giving it a shot. In part, because you’ve created a situation that’s not regrettable. You took the shots and it didn’t happen to work out. I’m guessing that part of you is like, “Maybe that was for the best that it didn’t work out.” You didn’t force it to happen, but where did the unlearning start to happen? Most people never get there. I’m eager to know. I have my own personal story, but I want to know yours.
There’s the pivot point in my life, which my mom passed suddenly when I was nineteen. It was at that time that I was like, “Life is short.” What triggered me to tell you this story is that you said that I try and do things, so there’s no regret. That’s where it comes from. I have a true sense of life being short and life-changing at the drop of a dime. We all have that because of the pandemic.
I dropped out of college and moved to Boulder, Colorado. I was following the Grateful Dead around the country at the time. I moved West and started exploring the idea of getting over my fears, exploring the idea of taking on things that I’ve never tried before and using that as this gateway to raise my self-esteem, discover myself, and do the things that started the unlearning.
There’s that glimpse of the unconventional thinker at age nineteen, regardless of how you got there. Some people seem to be like that. In elementary school, they go on and become comedians or something because of the way they’re wired. For you, you had this emotional shock of losing a parent that need you to question the path. It started at nineteen. It’s happening parallel. You’re still dutifully pursuing this chip. What else happened?
I moved around quite a bit in that pursuit of the next exciting thing. It’s funny because I look at it like I was always in pursuit of some remarkable life. I was like, “If life can end suddenly and quickly at an early age, then I better get on it and figure out some really fun stuff to do.” I lived in Montana for a while. I worked to know trail crews and tried to do some very unconventional work for women. I did all that exploration that way.
I didn’t know this about you. I thought it was like, “I’m doing the traditional, and then at some point, it stops,” and you’re like, “Enough of that.” It sounds like you were in parallel doing the things that the world’s not necessarily telling you to do, dropping out of college, traveling with the dead, moving around, and not about growing your career because you’re working on a trail crew while at the same time, you’re trying to find the one.
All of those things were happening in tandem. I came back East. That’s when I started working at summer camps and meeting people from all over the world, international folks. Still, I’m like, “Maybe I’ll meet somebody this time. Here comes another group. Time to partner up. How are we going to partner up?” At the same time, I’m hiking, backpacking, traveling to other countries, and doing all those things.
Somewhere inside of me, there is that Bella DePaulo the solo or single at heart. There’s a little bit of that inside of me that exists. When I feel the most cozy in singleness is when a relationship ends. When I’m seeing somebody for a while and I’m like, “Darn it. That didn’t work out.” I go back to being in this life that I’m crafting along the way. It always feels comfortable, a relief, and like home.
Now that I’m aware of Bella and because of this show, I can relate to that. Years ago, I would not have been able to relate to that in any form or fashion, even though I was living that tandem life. The destination and the goal were to partner, to find somebody to be with. It wasn’t to create a remarkable life. That has been a big shift in the past FEW years, which is nutty to say in the life that I’ve led, but that is hard-earned learning to do.
It’s better now than ever.
I have a whole second act finale yet to go, “The anchor isn’t even here yet. I’m on the second set.”
That’s a healthy approach. I feel simultaneously lucky that I’ve had these discoveries. There was a little part of me that laments that it took this long. I’m glad it happened. There’s this relief that happens when you start to go, “There’s nothing wrong with me.” There are plenty of things that are wrong with me in a sense, but those are just challenges that I have being me. We all have those challenges, but I no longer let the world tell me what’s wrong with me.
That to me is unlearning. It’s like, “Nobody else gets to tell me and dictate. I get to choose.” For some reason, that takes a lot of work to do.
A lot of journaling, conversations, experiences, or in my case, some mushroom trips. I had to start an entire show dedicated to this, too, in order to pull it off. It seems easy from the outside, but it’s hard to do because it’s so pervasive that you can’t point to any one thing as a child or a teen that led you to be a single-minded focus on that.
I had coffee with a reader who lives in Denver. I was asking her questions. I would say, “How do you think about this?” She goes well, “Before the show or after?” We were in this world of BS and AS, Before Solo, After Solo. It warmed my heart to hear someone say, “Before the podcast, I thought in this way, but now I think completely differently,” and to see how liberated she is from the hard work that she was doing. I would call the show an accelerant. It’s pouring lighter fluid on the barbecue or on the fire to get it going.
There are people that will tune in to the show and be like, “Yes, that’s right. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
They’re like, “Gross.”
“How could you possibly not get it?” Those people are naughty.
There are plenty of other shows for them that are trying to teach them how to hack the system, get exactly the right profile, and behave this way on a date to capture.
Some would say to settle, but I digress.
Before we talk about your remarkable life and how unlearning contributed to it, do you have any sticky points? Do you have any points where you find yourself backsliding or you haven’t fully made the transition?
I look at it almost like a continuum. There’s single on one end and married on the other. There’s a mindset that goes with those two ends of the continuum. Somewhere in there is solo, and solo moves back and forth across that continuum. Sometimes I had a little bit more towards the marriage side. Not that I ever want to get married, but the coupling, romance, having somebody in my every day, having somebody to go shopping and do dishes with, not that people that are coupled have all that, but I have that.
That’s the story we’re told. I still fall into that at times. I still have this major longing for that. Other days, I’m so glad that I get to live by my choice, standards, and rules and the connections that I have are fabulous, fantastic, and deep. How can I invest more time in that? Those are the beautiful days when the unlearning is complete.
It’s attention. There’s the tug and pull. I had this image, as you were talking, of Kris and her partner doing the dishes. One person is washing and the other person is drying. You’re making jokes. You see that image in lots of places, on TV, in commercials, and in movies. What you don’t ever see is like, “Don’t wash that like that. Don’t load the dishwasher like that. Leave me be.”
“I’ll do the dishes.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
I’m still unlearning. Even though I know, I’m submerged, I believe, and I’m on the quest, I still have the moments where I’m like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to go grocery shopping and running errands with someone?” That can be hell. I’ve been in relationships. It’s not fun to go shopping together for groceries necessarily.
For me, it’s funny because I do like doing that stuff with the right partner. Do you know why it works? It is because that partner is not around all the time.
You don’t have like a certain standard of expectation for them to meet some predetermined benchmark. I have friends that I spent a ton of time with and we get on each other’s nerves like crazy, but not to the level that I ever did with a partner. Maybe my next thing to shift is the thought process that goes around being in a romantic relationship with someone new, a romantic coupling with somebody, or maybe the expectation. It needs to shift because why can I do it with good friends, but I can’t do it with just me?
If I can nerd out for a moment, it seems to me that there are 1 of 2 things happening there. One is that maybe there’s something different about your partners and your friends, or maybe it has to do with what are your expectations of that relationship, or both.
That’s the expectation piece. A little examination of the expectation piece is always a good thing.
Congratulations on mostly unlearning. It sounds like you were pursuing your remarkable life. There are many remarkable lives. There are people who, if they had left their provincial town and in Pennsylvania, moved to the American West, and followed the Grateful Dead, they’d be miserable. It happened to be your remarkable life, especially at that moment, but it has continued to blossom. You’ve continued to thrive. When you don’t marry, that opens up possibilities. When you don’t partner up and you recognize that being single affords you opportunities, you get to do things that you might not have otherwise done. For you, what are some of those things?
The first thing that comes to me is I moved to Portland, Oregon from the East Coast. I started my life here.
No, I just did it. I gave notice to my job. I packed up my stuff into my truck and drove across the country. I came out here on vacation and a month later, I was living here. I also moved to Bali in my early 40s. I lived in Bali for two years and that was my decision. I didn’t have to check with anyone. I had to decide whether it was the right move for me. That was the decision-making process. Do I want to go live in a developing country with not knowing anybody and see how it goes on an island for a few years? I did. It was great and challenging. It was a growth experience beyond a lot.
I’ve been in special education. I was a special educator and I work as a consultant for the Oregon Department of Education. Simultaneously, I took coursework in Positive Psychology. I have a graduate certificate and eighteen Master’s credits in Positive Psychology. I’m also in a coaching program. I’m looking at the possibility of doing a shift or a hybrid career in my 50s. I’m allowed to do that. I don’t have to consider the other person or children in those decisions. I get to just choose if they feel good for me. If it’s a big fat mistake, it’s just my mistake. It’s not affecting other people. That gives ease.
I also don’t want to say that it’s easy to make these decisions for myself because it’s not. It does take some soul searching because I’m the one that’s deciding how my life goes. It also comes with the pressure that I put on myself. Me pursuing this life takes a lot of energy. I’m not just kicking back. A lot of people that are partnered and that have children think that my life is like, “She could just do whatever she wants.” Yes, and it also takes some inner work, soul searching, decision-making, planning, and financial decisions. There’s a lot that goes into being solo and creating a remarkable life for yourself.
It’s a different risk profile and hard work to pursue these things. For the second half, let’s do something. We did a little bit of prep to do something I’d never done before. It could be fun. One of the things about you is you’ve been part of the movement from very early on. You’re thoughtful and insightful about these things. I gave you and myself some homework.
That was we are going to create three questions for each other, two of which we were going to share with each other, and the third is going to be a surprise. I call this Truth or Truth, rather than truth or dare. So the expectation is the questions are answered 100% honestly. I’ll start with a question for you and then you’ll do a question for me. We’ll go back and forth here. First question, what would be your ideal relationship if you want one? It’s a two-parter. Do you want a relationship? If so, what would it look like? What would make it ideal?
My 100% true answer is I don’t know if I want a relationship.
When I say relationship, I mean something romantic.
Yes, if it doesn’t happen, I’m okay with that, too. You had a guest on and I listened to her book, The Lonely Hunter.
It’s Aimée Lutkin.
What she said resonated with me. That is, “I love experiences. The experience of having a relationship that feels long-term is an experience that I haven’t exactly had, and especially as who I am now, I wonder I’m curious what that experience would be like.” I’m sorry. I can’t give you a direct yes or no answer. It’s not my style. The Relationship Anarchy episode resonated with me and you revisiting it over some of the show resonates with me as well. I went on to read the Relationship Anarchy: A Short Manifesto.
I love the idea of crafting it with another person. That seems to me almost the only avenue that I could do. To pursue another relationship in my life, it would have to be to find somebody, we click, then we discuss, decide and revisit many times over the time we’re together how it should look, change, evolve, and what our rules are. That seems to me like the best avenue.
I now call it relationship design, because the way I practice it is not exactly as Andie Nordgren does. I also think relationship anarchy puts off people because it sounds scary and bad. When I am often talking to new partners, I say, “I would like us to co-design our relationship and that will look like this.” I have found people to be receptive to it. You have to be vulnerable. I’m not going to answer my own question, but when someone says, “What do you want?” I always want to say, “It also depends on what my partner would want. For this person, I might want X, but for this person, I might want Y, and we have to talk about it.”
Andie is the person who goes, “I’m solo poly. That’s what I do.” You go, “You’ve got a formula and it works for you. That’s fine, but it can be more complex.” It’s also limiting because if you say, “I’m solo poly,” for example, then you can only date other poly people. It’s an answer that I’m not surprised that you gave because it suggests how elevated and thoughtful you are.
It’s my turn now. As you’ve grown more comfortable in your soloness, what did or do you do to face the doubt and concern of friends and family? For example, “You deserve love. I worry about you being alone.” It’s so kindhearted from a good place. How do you handle that without too much condescension?
That’s tough for me because I get feisty with people. They’re not usually loved ones, friends, and family. They’re usually acquaintances or strangers. The people very close to me know better because they know me. I don’t encounter this AS, After Solo, as much as I did before solo, in part, because folks are like, “The ship has sailed with this one. We’re not bringing him back into the fold.”
I’ll adjust the question a bit to make it a little bit more relevant to my life, and it goes something like this, “Peter, I’m impressed by what you’re doing. This is amazing what you’ve become part of, but what happens if you meet someone?” That almost always comes from a married person, “What happens if you meet someone and you fall in love?”
The idea of being like all this hard work and all these things that you’ve done gets wiped away, like, “The escalator rules. The escalator wins.” What I say to them is, “I may not be single anymore, but I’ll always be solo.” For me, singleness is about relationship status, but solo newness is about identity and mindset.
You can be solo and partnered. You can feel like a complete individual and your partner or partners add value to your life, but they’re not there to solve all your problems. Nothing changes. I’m not going to stop being an advocate, if, for some reason, that were to happen. Moreover, I would not pass on an opportunity that felt good because it is incongruous with this identity that I’ve built.
That would go against the philosophy.
I would be a poser essentially. How convenient because I get to have my cake and eat it, too, regardless of how my relationship status plays out for the rest of my life. I feel like I’m winning because of this transition to soloness.
Anybody that truly cares about you is psyched that you have had this shift in this change and that you feel like you’re winning as opposed to, “I wish you would get coupled.”
I don’t want them any happier if I were to couple up then or if I didn’t. To me, it’s a different path. It’s not better or worse. That’s hard for them to do. The natural thing for the traditional folks is they’re still deep down like, “He says he’s happy.” When people say, “How are you doing?” I say, “Never better.”
They’re suspicious. I took a foray back into internet dating and I hadn’t been for quite a while. I almost could sense the relief of some of my friends. They were like, “Thank goodness. She’s over that. Now she can go find somebody.”
Next question. This one is self-serving. What have you gotten the most out of the Solo Show or the Solo Community? How have you benefited the most?
I could pinpoint a few episodes that made me go, “Oh.” That’s probably what has served me the most. Not that the community isn’t wonderful and fantastic. I’m more waiting for the next episode to drop. I am checking the Slack channel on a regular basis. I have had so many a-ha moments that helped to shift my way of thinking. For example, there was an episode with two women. You were doing What Makes A Life Remarkable?
That episode shifted my way of thinking. It made me start looking at, “How do I want to feel?” as opposed to, “What’s this outcome I’m trying to get to?” Not the thing that makes me feel that way, but what actions, connections, conversations, or travel. All of a sudden, life became more about, “Does that feel remarkable?” That was a nice shift for me because that was part of realizing that the cliché is true. The journey is the destination, and then you can find joy all the time because of what triggers it for you.
I think of the Bella DePaulo episodes and Amy’s The Relationship Escalator. That was the first time I’d ever heard about that, and then you did the episodes of How To Step Off The Relationship Escalator. That was helpful for me, too. It’s helped me in the unlearning. That’s a vehicle that your show has served for me. A lot of the episodes have helped me to unlearn societal’s deeply ingrained.
I often have a goal for an episode, but regularly what ends up happening, I go, “I never thought of it that way.” Along the way, it’s serving me. It’s an “I’m not just the president, I’m a member” scenario. That’s great to know because sometimes you don’t know where these things are going to go and what’s going to happen. I’m using this mosaic. Every episode is like a tile in a mosaic. I’m still figuring out what the picture is going to look.
That’s a great analogy for it. That makes a lot of sense. That’s a good way to look at it. I’ve also used some of your episodes that are instructional, like the Friends With Benefits episode at the time I had a friend with benefits and I shared it with him. We both listened to it then we got together and had a talk about like, “What happens if one of us catches feelings? What happens if one of us meets somebody? How are we going to navigate that?” Now we’re friends, not with benefits because he did meet someone. That helped. You did another one on nurturing adult friendships.
I got a whole series on making workable friends.
I’ve shared that with a couple of my male friends because you were emotional during it. It’s a stereotype, but it exists for a reason. Sometimes guys have a harder time creating deeper friendships with other guys. I’ve shared that with a couple of my guy friends as well.
It’s self-serving, but it’s useful for me to know this. Also, because you’ve listened to most of the episodes, this is good for people to read and go, “I haven’t listened to that one yet. I should give it a try.”
What do you do with the lonely energy, that longing or craving for intimacy and romance? I’m not talking about sexual intimacy, but more of that romantic, emotional energy.
The answer, for now, is different than the answer when I was a younger man. When I was a younger man, I wanted sex and couldn’t have it. Once I got into my twenties, I wanted to fall in love. I found that challenging to do because I am a world-class friend. Friendship, management, sales, and any interpersonal relationship are somewhat skill-based. You can have a natural propensity, but you can also learn. I was not good with girls. I was good at making them friends and not good at making them romantic. I wanted that to happen.
I got to have that in my late twenties. I had my first real, long-term girlfriend. We’re doing all the things. It was good, but not great. We had mismatched personalities, values, and approaches to life. Frankly, I’m an optimist and she was a pessimist. That alone made it difficult to do. Subsequently, I have experienced a number of times in my 30s and 40s in an increasingly healthy way. It’s fun to fall in love and have that connection. It’s especially so when those relationships are healthy and happy. They all ended for some different reasons, frankly, mostly not because of incompatibilities, but because of incompatible preferences
We got along great, but we wanted different things. The heartbreak is no lesser in those situations. It is in many ways more so in those situations, because you have this wonderful person who you love, you’re fond of, and you get along with. Unlike that relationship I told you about with the pessimist, I felt relief at the end of that. I felt like this weight lifted off my shoulders there.
In those other ones, I felt bad because I thought there was something wrong with me for not wanting this thing, especially the merging element to it or the children thing. Those have been the two biggest stoppings. Nowadays, I don’t feel that longing so much. I do get excited when I meet someone and I feel like there’s that potential for a romantic connection. This is a weird standard to have, but it’s the difference between wanting to go out on a date and a road trip with someone.
I find it rather easy to meet someone who I am happy to go on a date with. We’re going to have a great time, laugh, and have fun. We would do an interesting thing. They’re a good company and so on, but only a subset like, “Let’s do a road trip together.” There’s the extra level of compatibility. It feels more romantic. All things equal. I certainly would want someone in my life that I could go on a road trip. Sometimes I don’t want to go solo for everything that I wanted to, especially when there’s hotel sex involved.
It’s only an occasional feeling. It’s not a deep longing. What ends up filling that is it’s a much lower goal for me. My life is so full and rich. I have many friends. I could just throw a game night and be fulfilled, or I can just dive deeply into this project. That ends up being a compelling experience. I’m not living in a world where I’m ever bored or lonely. I don’t miss those days of wanting that thing to happen and not being able to make it happen. I don’t miss the days of relationships ending because we’re on a different page with regard to our preferences.
That’s gone because you’re honest.
I’m co-designing because those relationships never get off the ground if there’s a deep disparity.
You have the connection and freedom.
The third question. Do you feel bad for married people?
Some of them, yes. My friends are going to read this and I have a lot of married friends. Some I do feel that way for because of the way I view my life. It’s a generous answer. I used to look at their relationships and be like, “I want that,” then I started examining married relationships and going, “Maybe I don’t want that so much.”
In my growth and my acceptance of my life path, I had to do it at some point by comparing. I don’t think that comparison is the best way to operate in life. It’s inevitable. That wasn’t a defense mechanism for me. The answer to that is yes. It’s true. There are a lot of relationships out there that aren’t that successful. I have several friends that are married and I have a few of them that I’m like, “That looks like a great partnership.” For all of my married friends that are reading this, I am not telling you whether it’s you or not. Don’t even ask.
Shouldn’t they be able to?
They should be able to. I also am fortunate that I have a large group of friends. They’re enlightened and self-aware. Instead of asking me the question, they will come to me and be, “I’m one of them. I love my relationship.” That would be more of the conversation. I don’t think that any of them would shy away from having that conversation with me, which is cool. I’m super fortunate with the community. I’m rich in community, which is part of what makes my life remarkable.
You have a good team. I asked that question because I often feel bad for married people and I do so for two reasons. One is it’s hard to be married. Even with the privilege of marriage, even with the wind at your back, it is difficult to put that burden on another person to be everything to you. That’s what the average marriage is expected to do. Everything I know about people suggests that their partner is going to fail on some important dimensions. Now you’re living in a world of expectations and reality that are in conflict.
They also have had to, in some form or fashion, not completely give up, but like lessen a connection with somebody that they’ve been connected with for a long time. It’s the idea of hierarchical relationships. Everybody who gets into a marriage or a long-term relationship had to dim the other friendships in their life for a certain amount of time in order to place this other person in the hierarchal position because that’s how relationships work. You make things work by putting that first in person first.
I’m sad that I often was the person that was a little bit left behind, but I’m also imagining that it must be tough for people in long-term relationships then like taking the risk to come back around a few years later when they’re like, “I like to spend a lot more time with you now.” That’s a vulnerable ask to people that may have had a few hurt feelings. That piece also adds to it.
We’re going to keep adding to each other because I’m just not going to tolerate this mythology that we’re doing it right and you’re doing it wrong. Life is difficult. It’s challenging. Even when you’re subscribing to the dominant paradigm, it’s going to be challenging. It’s especially going to be if you ought not to be subscribing because of who you are and you still do it.
I’ve always been a flat hierarchy person. I have lots of friends and I’m reluctant to rank them. You were saying how you may diminish or may ignore other relationships because the one comes along. There’s another element to this. There are people who, every time a new potential one comes along, diminish their friendships. They disappear.
It’s not just for this person. The entire process is designed to make other important people less important. In the episode that you had mentioned me getting emotional about, we were talking about male loneliness, the middle-aged men in particular who have no one. They are yearning for some intimacy and closeness that are there. Some of those men are divorced men. These were men who let all those other relationships go because their wife was so good at providing everything to them.
It’s a mixture of laziness and defaulting into the hierarchy. Women can experience this, too, but mostly men, statistically at much greater risk. The downstream effects of those things are devastating, alcoholism, suicide, health issues, and so on. My heart goes out to them. I see them as brothers, not as enemies, in that sense, especially because they find themselves single sometimes suddenly.
Stereotypes exist for a reason, but it’s also part of that coupling expectation for male-female relationships. The wife becomes the camp director that organizes all the parties and where we’re going. That antiquated norm still exists. Back to your first question, if I do go and enter into another relationship, this is where my friends will be and there will not be a hierarchy. I’m holding my hands next to each other. That will be something that I’m straightforward about from the get-go.
I have a great group of friends and they will continue to be my great group of friends in my daily life. They will not be diminished. This will not be successful if they have to be diminished in your mind. That’s another piece for me. The last question comes on the tail of that conversation about adult friendships. What do you do to deepen your adult friendships? What are some tips that you would give people out there that are in solo life? How are you deepening your adult friendships?
This was the advice I gave back during the Remarkable Friendship series. You have to try, especially once you get into your middle years. When you’re in college, in your 20s, and in your early 30s, there are a lot of people available. Naturally, there are a lot of social things going on. The idea of being single is less taboo. You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself and doing all these things. As you start to get into your 30s and beyond, especially when people start to couple up, their availability starts to go away. The things that you tend to do change. Now people aren’t going to a bar. They’re going to a dinner party. The dinner parties tend to be couple focused, for example.
I’m constantly trying, reaching out, texting, calling, and making plans. I do so disproportionately to my other friends. I have friends who are an exception, but in general, I’m not too proud to ask, text, or call back when I haven’t heard from someone. I’m not going to test your friendship to see how long you’re going to go before you call me. I’m constantly trying, and that alone helps. I get in the car. I’ve got one hour drive. I call this person. They’re not available. I call the next person. The thing is I leave them a message and then they eventually get back to me on their schedule.
It helps that I’m someone who’s trying to develop his hosting skills. I’ve always liked to host. I’m not too proud. There’s an asymmetry that comes from hosting. There are people who have been to my apartment half a dozen times for various events. I’ve never been to their house. I’m not going to hold it against them. For whatever reason, that’s not the case, but I still value them and care about them.
The last one is I’m not afraid to go deep with someone about intimate things in their life. It’s easy with friends to be surface level, especially as a man. It’s easy to talk sports, business, or these things versus to talk about things that are vulnerable and intimate. One of the phrases that I have gotten much better about using is, “How does that make you feel?” I say that a lot now versus what my younger inclination was, “Let me just help you solve this problem.” Asking someone, “How does that make you feel?” opens up a whole different dialogue that I feel creates intimacy and deepens your understanding of someone.
It’s like lofting it over the plate for them to knock it out of the ballpark and you are the listener. You’re going to listen. It’s a practice of curiosity.
It took a long time for me to recognize that it’s a simple thing to do because I’m a problem solver. It creates a different dynamic. II want to turn this around and ask you because I want to learn from you. What do you do to deepen your non-romantic and non-intimate relations?
First, I want to be impressed with that answer, because I wrote down, “Not too proud.” That is a good tip because we do have the time and energy in a lot of ways as solo folks to reach out, and not take it personally because it’s not personal when they don’t get back to you right away or for weeks. If your intention is to connect, then you hold the expectation or the pride back.
If I could do a quick lesson, when I was early in my career as an academic, I did research on these different forms of social relationships. There are four of them. I’ll just talk about two. There is what’s called equality matching. These are tit-for-tat relationships. I give you a ride to the airport, and then you owe me a ride the next time. A lot of friendships are built on tit-for-tat, and there’s clear score-keeping. When you get out of balance, that becomes a problem.
Romantic and familial relationships tend to be built on what’s called communal sharing. The overarching norm is, “Give as you can. Take as you need.” The idea is this is like when it’s my sister, I could take her to the airport 100 times and I’m never like, “You never take me to the airport.” I feel like that’s a false dichotomy. Maybe friendships tend to fall into a quality matching. I treat them as communal. I have friendships that are so out of balance. I’ll never be able to do enough things to ever equal my status within this person.
I have friends who give to me way more than I can give to them. They don’t resent me for it because we love each other. I have friends where I give more and I’m not there with like little tick marks on the wall saying, “This is getting out of proportion,” thing. That’s where that idea comes from. I try to be communal with the people I love without regard to whether they’re friends, family, or romantic partners.
Is that something that you’ve learned to do or that came pretty naturally for you? For me, that feels like another unlearning I’m going to need to do. I still have the tit-for-tat. Not all the time I’m generous, but I think sometimes I have that like, “I’ve done enough for you. Who’s going to help me out?”
I don’t know if I can answer that question fully. I have always leaned so incredibly heavily on my friendships to survive because I had a chaotic family life. I had no money. I never was worried about being homeless because I always had a couch. I was generous and appreciative of these people who were generous and appreciative of me. It became a flywheel effect that I don’t even have to worry about it because the people I attract and attracted to me tend to share that perspective.
There’s so much unlearning to do.
For you, how do you deepen those friendships, those relationships?
I thrive on connection, communication, and those deep conversations. I reach out a lot and am available a lot. I ask questions. The practice of curiosity has helped to deepen a lot of friendships for me, learning over time to be an active listener, make sure that I’m hearing things the way people are saying things, and support. I feel like my friends know that they can reach out to me.
I’m also somebody that often will be the organizer of a time together, “Let’s all come together and do this and that.” Asking meaningful questions is important like, “What do you think would make our relationship stronger?” I asked a friend to be closer friends with me. I said, “Sometimes I feel like I like you more than you like me. I wonder if you would be interested in like boosting our friendship up a bit?” She was thrilled. It was a great conversation.
That’s a vulnerable thing to do.
Even when your intention is to connect, people can find defense in it. That was great. I intentionally ask that question during one of my Positive Psychology courses. This was my project. I asked that question to a lot of people that I know to gather the data, “What are people doing to get closer?” Also being there for people both in times of strife and times of celebration, deepen friendships.
I’ve recently had a good friend Rachel on. She was for the Relationship Sponsor episode. I remember the moment our friendship went to the next level. It was simple. I was sitting on my couch, my phone rang, and she said, “What are you doing right now?” I said, “I’m sitting on my couch watching television.” She said, “I got into a car accident. Can you come out here and give me a hand?”
I said, “Where are you?” She said, “I’m here.” I said, “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” That was it. It went supersonic. I’m sure I wasn’t her first call for whatever reason, but I picked up and showed up. I did because I know exactly what that would be like on the other side. That’s a good piece of advice for folks. It’s inconvenient to be friends sometimes.
It’s worth it every time for the chance to connect and deepen something.
I’ve loved getting a chance to talk to someone from the community because we share our language here, a bit of a perspective. It’s also useful for people to read these transformations that are happening obviously independent of the show, but that might be accelerated a little bit. Thank you for sharing that.
I loved this conversation. I feel honored that you asked me to come and have this conversation with you. I hope I shared some good tidbits for people and I learned some stuff too. It’s a great way to spend time. Thank you so much.
- Kriss Rita – LinkedIn
- Solo Thoughts 6: What Does It Mean To Be Solo? – Past Episode
- Melanie Notkin– Past Episode
- The Lonely Hunter
- Aimée Lutkin – Past Episode
- Relationship Anarchy – Past Episode
- Relationship Anarchy: A Short Manifesto
- What Makes A Life Remarkable? – Past Episode
- The Relationship Escalator– Past Episode
- Friends With Benefits– Past Episode
- Relationship Sponsor– Past Episode
About Kriss Rita
An aspiring entrepreneur as a Positive Psychology practitioner and coach, Kriss Rita lives in Portland, Oregon. You can find her biking around Portland to meet friends for happy hour, brunch, and live music or hiking and camping with her dog Betty. She works as a special educator and consultant advocating for inclusive employment for people of all abilities.