Why I Stopped Reading Nearly Everything Written For Singles
I’m 36 and single.
Since I was a teenager reading Seventeen magazine I’ve read about how to date, 7 ways to get a man, 3 secrets for keeping a man’s interest, 4 "killer moves" that “wow” every man in bed, 21 reasons I’m still single, what all guys want (but won’t admit), why the majority of smart women, and black women, and successful women will never marry, how to be a Proverbs woman, and the "The Rules" for dating.
I’d read it all.
By 2009, the year “Act Like A Lady, Think Like a Man” was published, I was 30 and had stopped taking dating advice. The only reason I’d skim dating books and read singles articles was to prove that I was right about the conclusion I’d gradually come to over the years about mainstream dating and relationship advice: as well-meaning as it is, it is mostly all bad.
Messages range from downright silly to exceptionally confrontational. I find this trend to be especially true of articles more so than any other pieces of writing. There are a few reasons that might explain why so many articles targeting singles miss the mark.
One thing in life is inherently true: our individual experiences shape our points-of-view.
Our social and family structures, our gender-based experiences, our religious beliefs, our cultures, the environments in which we live, the breadth of our experiences make us profoundly layered and complex. Our unique set of circumstances shape the core of us--make us who we are--and play heavily into how we relate to others and how we live our lives.
It’s the core of us that’s engaged in the relationship process, including the part that decides we want a relationship in the first place. Without having a basic understanding of an individual's personal experiences and what they want at their core, it’s nearly impossible to offer any meaningful relationship advice. It's like someone giving directions to a place that they've never heard of. Romantic relationships are just way more complicated than any basic article can tackle. It can only touch the surface--and most do just that.
We must understand the nature of articles. Simply, they are one-way conversations written to a mass audience, unable to know you or understand you. And it's no wonder, as Steven Pinker reveals about us writers:
"...we cast our bread upon the waters by sending a written missive out into the world. The recipients are invisible and inscrutable, and we have to get through to them without knowing much about them...At the time we write, the reader exists only in our imaginations."
And that's exactly where things fall apart for me, the reader. The part where the writer clearly imagines me to be single, therefore, wrong and in need of a tough-love, tell-it-like-it-is chit-chat. Or more horrifying, the earnest writer, with good intentions and "research," imagines me to be statistically hopeless.
The pervasive notions that my being single can be explained, with horoscope-like accuracy, using an arbitrary menu of baseless critiques and imagined shortcomings and with data-supported pessimism continues replicating itself like a virus.
But do the critics have a point? Is it really my fault that I'm still single?
Let's start here: being single isn't a fault. Being single is an opportunity. Admittedly, our single opportunities are difficult to see, particularly when our brains are being regularly trained to view our current existence as flawed.
Over the past decade, I've kept a running list in my head of popular tactics used in a high number of singles articles:
• Manipulation and Fear
If you don't take my advice, get ready to be single for the rest of your life.
Oh, they love this one!
The most common assumption is that you want marriage.
Some do, but some want singleness. I think if the emphasis shifted from how to get married to how to create and sustain a healthy and loving partnership, the tenor of singles conversations would improve...so would relationships.
If you're over 30 and still single, there's definitely something broken.
And 1 + 2 = 5. Exactly.
• Insults to gender and racial groups
#1 - A woman's primary concerns are looks and money.
Yep, we don't care if he worships the devil, just make him rich and hot!
#2 - With so many black men in jail, down-low, unattractive, broke, dating outside their race, non-committal, and uneducated, there are not enough good ones to go around. I'm dedicating an entire blog post to this steaming pile of s...statistics.
After 30, you don't get to be choosy; just be happy to meet someone who isn't a serial killer. Just...no.
• Absence of end-to-end logic
Learn from married people.
Nevermind that a high percentage of married people go on to divorce. As an aside, I believe that one day we're going to marry and will humbly discover that no matter how wonderful our union is, that our relationship expertise is narrowly limited to our own marriage. And even then, it may teeter on the brink of collapse every now and again--so I hear.
The accusation: you're not good as you are. The proof: you're single.
Relationship status is not proof of decency and worthiness.
It was clear to me back then as it is today that most articles written for singles take a hurried and basic position that if you are single passed 30, you are doing something wrong.
Let me state an obvious and basic truth that often goes unacknowledged: doing right won't guarantee your entrance into a relationship nor is doing wrong going to keep you out of a relationship, so the idea that being single passed a certain age proves wrongdoing is erroneous, at best.
I've yet to see the position explored that if you are still single you are doing something right.
It makes me wonder why some writers choose to go negative. Perhaps it's not a choice, but points to how we've been socialized to think about oneness. How we see the introvert (who wants nothing more than time alone) versus how we see the extrovert (who loves time with others). I might argue that next to public speaking, eating alone at a table in a restaurant is another of humanity's greatest fears. I know many, some married, who are absolutely terrified of dining out alone because of what other diners may think of them and how that makes them feel about themselves.
This discomfort with singleness is reflected in questioning from friends, family, co-workers, and strangers about why we are still single, quite often followed by "problem"-solving (You must be too picky!) or generalizing (All the good ones are gone, honey!).
As we join those around us in asking ourselves this question, the nature of our identity weighs heavy on our minds seconds before we click on another article. Deep down, there may be a small part of us that believes what's been drilled in our heads because here we are bewildered that we're smart, attractive, and successful (however we define those things), yet single. Perhaps we're hoping for an answer, encouragement, or a little inspiration. So, with interest and optimism, we click. Very quickly, we're flooded with accusations. Faced with yet another someone who doesn't see one as a whole number.
Our anxiety about the future we long for, our weariness from searching for answers, and our own gloomy narratives we hold onto for why we are single can make us vulnerable to negative and false interpretations about who we are. At some point, we must make a decision. Do we go on subjecting ourselves to the opinions of strangers or do we look to ourselves to define what this time in our lives is about?
These patterns that I recognized--these realizations that had taken me years to come to--finally made it clear that advice for singles had nothing to do with me at all. It didn't reflect my world views, it didn't share my optimism, it didn't believe in the power and gift of timing, it didn't honor who I was in this moment, and could not conceive that being over 30 and single was the exact right thing for me to be.
Even still, not all articles written for singles are bad.
The advice that resonates with me are ones that serve as gentle introductions or reminders about setting healthy standards and boundaries, self-love, acceptance, kindness, and adventure. Like this short article from eHarmony.
There are also powerful pieces written for singles who are trying to leap over significant hurdles--healing from abuse or rebounding from heartbreak--that offer compassionate guidance and encouragement.
The type of advice that is usually life-changing and affirming for me isn't about being single anyways. Like the audio book I stumbled upon about three years ago, "Excuses, Begone" by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Changed. My. Life.
I believe in self-evaluation and improvement, but singles don't have a monopoly on making efforts to improve knowledge, character, and our relationships. That's something we're all called to do. I believe we owe it as a gift to ourselves, those around us, and those who will enter our lives to continuously answer that call.
Nowadays, I still occasionally skim singles articles to humor myself, but I devour in-depth pieces that expand my spirit to evolve myself.
The next time you read something written for singles, ask yourself: Is this offering a perspective that rings of truth for me? Does it challenge me to grow in a positive way, without manipulation, accusation, or judgment? Does it inspire me to be a better human being? Or, is it talking at me, finger-pointing, or laboring to convince me that the essence of who I am, my intelligence, my race, my gender, my hard work, my personality is a detriment?
Take note of how you feel. Energized or hopeless? Enlightened or discouraged? Then, make a decision to file it under garbage or gold.
Also, take note of a much-needed, but missing disclaimer for [some] singles advice. You'll know when to use it:
"The advice and numbers I've given you are trivial because human beings are complex and unpredictable creatures. For example, see tip number 3? Stop being a bitch? Well, there are millions of bitches around the world who get engaged and go on to be happily married. Not that you should be a b-, but this proves that some of the things I tell you to not do won't stop you from getting the relationship you want. Oppositely, some of the things I tell you to do won't necessarily produce a happy relationship either. In truth, all my advice is a crap shoot. Good luck."
Note: While writing this post, an article popped up in my newsfeed about how being single puts your health at risk. I didn't even bother.
Photo Credit: Michael Newman via Compfight cc
Excerpt from: "The Sense of Style" by Steven Pinker