The Suitable Other: I have been asked by folks, who are negotiating the worlds of post-divorce, widowhood, breakups and unwanted celibacy, to share some thoughts on The Singledom, a phrase used here to encompass a life in search of the suitable other.
What’s New Under The Dating Sun? Mainly the pace and the method of contact. With online sites offering opportunities to screen and meet up in numbers hitherto unheard of, hopes and disappointments come with a new rapidity and frequency. Yet, the themes that emerge from the subscribers are oddly familiar, taking me back thirty and forty years to the dark ages of Singledom when reliance on a blind date or chance encounter in a classroom, party or bar was all you had. Disappointment, hurt, bewilderment, humiliation and anger lace most of the conversation when women from thirty to seventy years of age describe their experiences with men of interest. The men have a different spin on the disappointment aspect, rationalizations that are more oriented toward preserving their self-esteem, often summed up in the phrase “Where are all the women?” which reads to me “Where are all the women who want me?”
No One Is Getting Any Smarter: What emerges from decades of clinical and personal listening is the sense that no one is getting any smarter about this Singledom search. How come? When women are shocked and indignant that a male, with whom they have spent time and promised to call, doesn’t, I think of the opening scene in the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Shifting from varying cultures and languages, an African village with a bunch of women squatting together over a fire, a subway station in China, several females in each scene are chatting away about why the guy hasn’t called or gotten back to one of them. Excuses abound. “He has been eaten by a tiger; he is shy; he is overwhelmed by your beauty.” Hilarious! Accurate. Finally, the real explanation emerges in the movie (taken from a book of the same name); “He’s just not that into you.” That’s it! Embrace this motto as the first step toward liberation. Denying that possibility because it appears at first glance so personally shattering means missing an opportunity to get “smarter.” It dumbs you right down to a level of ignorance that has to stem from some basic primal female instinct that warns, “He has to want me. There may not be another male around. He could be it. He has to want me.”
Survival of the species? Must be. Nothing else explains the steadfast attachment to the illusory thinking that a man, often a virtual stranger, can be worthy of so much speculation, projection and pain. While women embrace a personal explanation to the disappearance of the seemingly interested male, men utilize a different defense. Perhaps here again the primal survival strategy requires other artillery. What I hear from men eschews a personal interpretation, relying more on the deficits in the women who don’t show interest rather than imperfections in their male presentation. Perhaps the woman is money-hungry and they are not rich enough. That’s her problem. Perhaps the woman is too good-looking and not interested. Well, that is her problem too. Rather than driven to their knees in self-abasement and humiliation, the men rapidly move on. Is this a survival tool, find another cave, another gal and sow your seeds before the woolly mammoth or the next ice age gets you? No time to ponder or worry. For the man, there is always another woman around the bend, and if she too falls short of recognizing his worth, well, move on to cave number 3.
Mastery: A forceful dynamic in human survival, physical and emotional, is the drive to “master” challenges and overcome setbacks. Mastery might take the form of turning a stick into a weapon to master fear of the charging boar and puncture its chest. In the face of personal rejection, mastery might involve creating an acceptable scenario that explains the lack of interest on the part of a potential mate. Better to believe that he or she has taken ill than that they have forgotten about you the minute they left your apartment. Or suppose that perhaps you are too threatening; they are too shy; their mother died; the cat ate the cell phone charger; they are superficial and you weren’t rich enough. They were already dating when you met them, but lied.
Waylaid By Self-Doubt Or Trawling The Internet: However, time spent on weaving tales of courage or cowardice, loss or insecurity might be better expended on almost anything else, baking a cake, feeding the poor, or writing an opera. What I have noticed is that while women are waylaid by self-doubts and childlike disbelief, men have moved on to trawling the Internet for potential mates who will appreciate them. Rejection for the male seems to be a mere detour, but for the female a paralyzing blockade. My advice to women remains the same: spend time searching out a hobby of interest, a passion for fencing, being valued for nurturing the homeless, the elderly, or a renewed interest in needlepoint. Anything but spending hours worrying the mind about why someone didn’t call, or prowling the dot-com romance sites to find someone new. Addiction to online dating sites is one of the most common symptoms of a neurotic obsession with rejection and magical thinking. Going nowhere but down in the Nasty Singledom life.
To Dream the Impossible Dream: Is it the Don Quixote in each of us who gallops forth on a romantic quest? What motivates both genders, despite their contrasting defenses, to search for the suitable mate? To face the vicissitudes of challenging the Nasty Singledom? Is it simply the biological urge to be fruitful and multiply? No, it cannot be just that, or the seventy-year-olds would have stopped the search decades earlier. Women think that men never outgrow their need for sex and the one-night stand. Men are convinced that women love chains, especially around the ankles of their mates. But I have another idea.
There Seems To Be A Burning Yearning In Our Being To Share: Sharing. Yes, sharing the sunset, the sundown, the sunburn, the sunflower. Sharing everything from a great crème brulee to walking a pooch on the beach or recycling the water bottles. What hurts most when one loses a love is that vacancy…when there is something to share, no one is there. Even the most delightful moments can be filled with a profound aching pain because no true mate, for better or worse, in sickness or health, is there to say, “WOW! that is really something.” This absence hurts like hell…even when one rids oneself of a poisonous partner, the longing for someone new with whom to share crops up quickly, sometimes before the dust settles over the divorce papers.
He/She Loves To Share Too: Women are not men. Really? And their defenses are different. But strangely enough both genders have a common need, the need to share. Rather than ponder why someone disappears, ponder what you love to do, and go out and do it. Someone will be there eventually to share in the doing with you. That is our quest, the impossible dream come true…the hand that wraps around yours and takes the path with you. Waste not a moment on who isn’t here. Move along to your next moment of pleasure. He/She might be there too.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011