Recently, it seems like my Facebook newsfeed is lighting up with couples. Couples getting married. Couples announcing their new relationships on Facebook. Couples with babies. Couples celebrating anniversaries. Couples getting ice cream. Couples running half marathons. Couples gushing about their significant other. Couples posting pictures of one another doing mundane things.
Couples, couples everywhere, and not a single one to date.
I don’t know about you, but to me, it feels like I’m the only single person in the world.
I know that’s not true. Like me, a number of my closest friends are single (some, like me, even very single with not even a distant crush). I’m quite content single. And it’s not like my current lifestyle of travel nursing allows for real dating. I don’t want to be tied down to a city or state that’s thousands of miles away from my family and friends. I like traveling alone, exploring new places, and meeting up with new friends on the weekends and weekdays. Frankly, I really shouldn’t be in a relationship or dating right now. For a variety of stated and unstated reasons, it really wouldn’t be fair to that other person. That, and honestly, I don’t want to put all the necessary effort into making things work with a significant other right now.
But it feels like I’m the only single person in the world. It would be fine, but it’s implicitly implied that I’m not enough just by myself. It’s subtly said that I need to have someone next to me to have the same amount of worth as someone who’s in a relationship.
With every ounce of my being, I am trying to not be jealous, angry, and down on myself. Those people posting couple pictures? They’re my friends, family, and co-workers. I love them and care about them. I don’t want to be jealous, angry, or sad because of their happiness. I want to be utterly happy for them.
But it feels like I’m the only single person in the world. It hurts. And it hurts all the more knowing more than anything, I want to be wanted, and no one wants me at all right now (or seemingly ever).
Being single can be painful, yes. Yet, it could (and has been) much, much worse. You know what’s more painful than being single? Breakups. Misguided romantic relationships where you feel used. Abusive relationships. Relationships that end because someone dies. Divorce.
Now, I’ve never been married nor divorced so it’s not with any sort of authority that I say divorce is awful, but the whole process sounds utterly awful. Fall in love, plan a wedding, get married, work hard at a marriage, possibly have kids, work even harder at a marriage, have the whole thing break apart, and do it all over again? And I thought a regular break up was bad? Divorce sounds like the worst.
Yet, statistically, they say it’s going to happen to me or you, dearest reader. Well, to be fair, a predicted divorce rate of 43% over 40 years, so both you and I might be fine. Still, I want to do everything in my power to have that not be me.
I recently came across the work of psychologist John Gottman. Professor emeritus of the University of Washington, Gottman studied martial stability and analyzed relationships. From his various studies, Gottman identified 4 traits that predict divorce. His fairly famous study watched newlyweds and predicted with a 93.6% accuracy which ones would divorce, so I think he knows what he’s talking about.
Called “The Four Horsemen of Divorce,” they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
- Criticism means framing a complaint as a defect in the one’s character.
- Contempt means statements come from a place of superiority.
- Defensiveness means indignant self-protection or claiming to be the innocent victim.
- Stonewalling means emotional withdrawal from an interaction.
Holy moley, the Four Horsemen are running around like crazy in my head approximately 1.5 hours into my day.
- I criticize.Ugh, that car took two spaces. What a selfish person.
- I am full of contempt. Ugh, that nurse giving me report has no idea what’s she’s talking about. What an idiot.
- I am defensive. Ugh, I can’t believe my patient is telling me it’s my fault I haven’t given that pain medicine yet. That offgoing nurse didn’t even send pharmacy a message we were out of it, and that pharm tech is taking forever to get up here.
- I stonewall. Ugh, I’m so done with this patient. Just get me through the next 11 hours.
I do all of this in my head, and some of it I actually verbalize. I am guilty of all of these horrible interactions with my co-workers, patients, family, and friends. How am I not going to do them in a marriage?
Simple, I am. I’m human. I’m going to do them because I don’t always act perfectly despite my best efforts.
Gottman’s research (some of it with his wife no less) says the story doesn’t end there: couples in stable marriages recognize these interactions and process them in order to improve them. Couples in stable marriages behave like good friends, and they work to resolve conflicts in a kind way.
I recognize when I criticize mercilessly. I recognize when I act out of contempt. I recognize when I feel defensive. I recognize when I’m emotionally distant and stonewalling. With bad patients, yeah, I might not work to repair that relationship because in all likelihood, I may never see them again. With good co-workers, friends and family though? I fight through shame, vulnerability, and otherwise uncomfortable circumstances and feelings to repair those relationships.
It’s not like we’ll never criticize, act of contempt, be defensive, or stonewall. We’re all guilty of doing these things, but that’s not the end of the story or relationship. We have opportunities every day to grow and improve our relationships, whether it’s with a co-worker, family member, friend, or even a significant other.
Being single is a blessing, and I really want to embrace this time. I have the unique opportunity to evaluate and process my relationships without the emotional entanglements of romantic affection. I hope I learn to act with constructive comments instead of harsh criticism, kindness instead of contempt, listening with love instead of defensiveness, and openness instead of stonewalling.
General information on John Gottman found here. More information on the 93.6% study found here. An introductory book to his work is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert.