We all probably have a friend or know someone who “refuses” to be single. To them, being in any type of relationship is more important than being alone.
This need to be coupled runs so deep that, even when they are dating, there’s what we call an “assistant boyfriend” waiting in the wings to become the “main man” should the current one ever mess up. And when the former “assistant boyfriend” gets promoted, they go on to find a new standby.
There comes a time in life when you’re expected to be in a serious relationship or dating with the aim of landing a life partner. The result, according to Psychology Today, is that our romantic relationships leave us mentally, emotionally and physically drained.
The answer, says clinical psychologist Dr Mpho Sepato, could be to step back and become the very thing that many of us fear — single. Trust us, it’s not that bad.
An act of self-love
“It’s about time we recognise that being single is also an act of self-love,” Dr Sepato says.
“This is especially true if you know who you are and what your life goals are. In fact, you could find that being in a romantic relationship is a distraction. Single people tend to make the right decisions for their lives, because they don’t have to account to another person or experience some of the conflict that comes with being coupled up,” she says, adding that being intentional about your singlehood can make you more productive and efficient, more so if you already know your purpose and what impact you want to have.
This is not to say we should be dismissive of romances, Dr Sepato says, only noting that relationships, by nature, are shared spaces.
“When you’re in one, you have to give your partner time and resources. For instance, when you’re single, your decisions are yours to make. As a duo, you have to consider your partner.
“You cannot exist with someone without being accountable. This is why couples fight over certain decisions and others, usually women, put their goals on hold to keep a relationship going,” Dr Sepato explains.
Think of it as ‘dying’ at the altar of love — we are taught that compromising is the foundation of a healthy relationship. So, dream jobs and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are frozen, so you can prioritise meeting your partner’s needs.
Conventional wisdom also stipulates that you are failing if you don’t consider your partner’s feelings and expectations (insert big YAWN).
“Many women who defined themselves by their romantic involvements when they were younger, are only starting to pursue their individual goals in their 40s,” Dr Sepato shares.
What doesn’t kill you makes you flourish
The only time being single is damaging is if you’re afraid of commitment, and consider the work needed to be in a fulfilling relationship a chore, instead of a necessity, says Thembi Hama, a Joburg-based life coach.
“In this case, being single is not self-love, it’s fear,” says Hama. This fear, she notes, is defined by anxiety, and holds you back from being fully invested.
Hama continues: “People who’re afraid, commitment-phobic, or those who keep more than one partner at a time can never be fully present in the relationship.”
Often, when we talk about money, we say “one shouldn’t put their eggs in one basket”, but the opposite rings true for relationships.
Dr Sepato suggests getting into superficial liaisons that lack quality and depth, if you lean more towards being non-committal. Being non-committal is sometimes self-defeating because you’ll come into a romance as the wounded party, she adds.
You may relish that you’re “free” from being accountable, but the reality is that turns you into the kind of lover whose self-definition is chopped and changed to fit in with the person you’re with at the time, instead of being grounded by who you are.
“You create a wall around yourself and nothing meaningful can come out of your romantic relationships,” Dr Sepato says.
So, what can you do if the reason why you’re single is because you’re genuinely scared of commitment or of being hurt? Hama advises: “You have to be single as a way to start healing by getting to know yourself.”
Is it really as easy as that – getting to know yourself? You have to build your self-pride and be defined by it, instead of a low self-esteem, Dr Sepato adds.
“There are many gifts in life, and these gifts don’t have to be defined by being in a romantic relationship. You can equally find fulfilment in strong ties with friends, colleagues and family,” Dr Sepato continues.
Self-love pays off
Jumping from one affair of the heart to the next, without ever giving yourself time to get over your last one, could lead to an unhealthy dependency. You lose touch with yourself and your outside personal goals, Hama explains.
“When you don’t spend time with yourself, you become a liability to others because you carry unresolved issues into all new relationships, and you could even lack clarity on how to best move forward in love,” she warns.
Worse still, you get used to settling for anyone who comes your way: side chick? Check. A partner who doesn’t prioritise you? A serial cheat, pathological liar or an abusive one? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Dating people who fit this dysfunctional profile becomes the common thread in all your romances, should you choose to avoid dealing with past pain.
Hama likens people without a sense of self to being a paper being blown by the wind. Going from one partner to the next, denies you the much-needed self-work, and you actually end up emotionally depleted.
Relationship-hoppers tend to miss out on the very thing they want. “When you’re on the path of self-fulfilment, you’re likely to meet a partner, because you’ll be better positioned to define what you want instead of making the desperate decision to take anyone,” Dr Sepato explains.
Ultimately, the most important relationship to be in – and the easiest one – is with yourself. This relationship should be defined by love, purpose and confidence.
Be intentional about breaking free from the signs below
1. You feel incomplete when you are single: Try new activities and focus on things you’re good at, so you are constantly affirmed by the things you love. Spend time with those who genuinely care for you to relearn the meaning of true love.
2. You stay in a relationship that no longer serves you: Relationships should be mutually beneficial instead of one person sacrificing everything for it to exist. Be accountable to yourself. If you do things that betray your character and vision, reconsider the attachment.
3. You hate your own company: You feel miserable and equate being alone with loneliness. Try out soul-fulfilling activities like travelling, journalling, reading inspirational books and watching inspirational DVDs. Self-affirmations are powerful tools for personal growth and development.
4. You believe that dysfunction is normal: You think drama is normal, and everyone gets cheated on, so you stay. Get therapy or find a life coach to help you undo how you define romances.