I am quite good at being single. Exhibit A is that I have remained successfully single for the majority of my adult life. I want to say around 75 per cent, but it might be a bit less than that. I didn’t keep accurate digital records before 2009.
Yet doing something for a long time is no guarantee that it’s being done well, especially when viewed objectively. Bob Hawke ran Australia for eight years, John Howard for twelve. You could say they were good at staying in power, but good at running the country? Views vary. And compare that to Gough Whitlam: not good at all at staying in power, but in those three short years he oversaw the end of military conscription, the introduction of free higher education and universal healthcare, and the implementation of legal aid. Will Australia ever have a Prime Minister with a greater social legacy? Current evidence says no.
Some people spend years, years and more years in a relationship before they break it off, admitting that ‘they should have done that years ago.’ That decade in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good at being in a couple. It might mean they’re really bad at breaking up.
Other people have been in a relationship for over 95 per cent of their adult lives, with an average gap of 2-4 months between long-term relationships. As equally as you say that these people are good at relationships, you can say they are bad at not being in one.
So when I say I’m quite good at being single, I know that from a particular point of view you might say that I’m bad at having or being in relationships, or that I’m not good at being single at all, I’ve just done it for a long time. And admittedly I do have solid evidence for all of those things.
As an adolescent and young adult I was terrible at relationships and related activities. I was a terrible communicator outside of the written word, which meant acting on a crush was an excruciating affair. I wrote a lot of bad poetry while listening to the Dave Matthews Band and squandered numerous opportunities to get closer to people that I was mad keen on.
Once I was in the relationship I had little or no concept of how to deal with naturally occurring conflicts, so I’d run for (single) paradise at the first sign of trouble. On the upside, I’ve always been good at listening and kissing. I’m empathetic and willing to learn (slowly, and by repeating mistakes as often as possible).
At one point I convinced myself that I needed more persistence and to stick with things for longer. This led me to pursuing a relationship for a number of months that was hugely volatile, confusing and damaging, which I should have ended on the second date when we discovered that our views on the status of Tibet were about as polar opposite as can be. But that’s another story. Sigh.
When I think about it, my friends and family that I think are good at relationships are the ones who work at it and struggle with it and talk about it. I watch and admire these people and have tried to learn from them along the way.
Being good at being single is largely about not beating yourself up about it. Somewhere along the way I transitioned from wanting to be in a relationship to being open to the possibility of one. These days I go on dates when someone asks me out or friends set me up or someone engages me on one of my otherwise dormant internet dating profiles. Or when I meet someone and something clicks and my heart starts thumping (and it’s not because I’ve just had MSG) and I REALLY need to get to know that person better.
For me it’s also important to seek out and cultivate friendships. Although I’m an introvert and a writer, I’ve always sought out communities and collaborators – people to do interesting things with: that could mean joining a political party or a book club, finding people at work to have drink with after a long week, going with friends to gigs or training courses or down to the local craft brewery for a lazy Saturday afternoon.
This comes with two crucial points. First, I needed to get better at sharing what I was thinking and feeling. Not having a Significant Other to regularly download to isn’t an issue if you’re able to express yourself honestly to a variety of people. Telling someone how you really feel and listening to them do the same is pretty great. Having struggled with depression in the past, it’s also essential to have a handful of people that you know you can check in with when the darkness begins to settle. About once a year I touch base with a professional – some whose job it is to listen to me and help me think deeply about where I am and what I’m doing.
The second crucial point for me is organisation and routine: creating social rituals. For people in political parties this means election campaigns. If you’re in a sports team it’s training and game day. For non-activity based friendships it’s the annual weekend away, the impromptu dinner party, the watching of another dumb-yet-fun super hero film after yum cha. I like to know the next time I’m likely to see my friends before I’ve said goodbye to them this time.
Really I don’t think about all this as ‘how to be good at being single’. I think about it as how to love life and get the most out of it. It’s like working smarter, reading more, cultivating my creativity and being a volunteer – this shit improves how I feel about the world and my place in it. So why not just do it?