We are in a society where romantic love is predominantly valued over all other achievements. But whether single or in a relationship, it’s human nature to try and take actions to make ourselves feel better or superior to others.
I’ve been single for the past three years since letting go of a toxic relationship. When I reflect on how I feel about this, it’s probably a mixture of anxiety, hope, acceptance and relief – levelling out as a neutral energy, neither positive nor negative. However I’ve observed that depending on the environment that I’m in and who is around me, my feelings on being single can range from quite depressed to very satisfied. I know that given the choice, I wouldn’t go back and change anything in my life so far, so I doubt at this stage that I’d have any regrets about how my life will turn out in future. But, what I’ve noticed is the energy and feelings that other people place on my single situation.
In particular, I’ve noticed a large number of people in relationships who make it a point of trying to bring me down to feel better about themselves. This can be reflected in different ways, including pity and fake commiseration (both of which carry the connotation that a single life is somehow inferior, linking to the single person’s inability to find love or be loved). But most of the time, what I’ve observed is people unnecessarily flaunting their relationship to single friends, in a way to not only help themselves feel safer and more secure, but also to remind themselves that at least they’re in a relationship, and somehow therefore better off than the single person.
I recall the effect of this psychology when I was in my previous relationship. I knew deep down it wasn’t right for me but I was so worn out that I was ready to give up trying to leave and I wanted to convince myself that the relationship was good for me. So I would trawl through the internet for forums and articles where single women in their 30s and older would lament about their single status (and often also about the clock ticking and potentially not having children). Upon reading these forums, I would breathe a sigh of relief and say to myself, oh well, at least I had a relationship – even if it was toxic, it was better than being single.
Now of course most couples don’t consciously flaunt their relationships with the intention to make the single person feel inferior; it’s just a natural human instinct to compete and create boundaries. At times I also wondered whether I was simply dealing with my own jealousy or conflicting emotions. However, the more in tune I’ve become with myself, the more I’ve realised that every feeling has a cause; and I’ve been able to notice the impacts of environments and other people. As a single person, the subtle difference that I’ve observed between couples who are truly being at ease with each other versus ones showing off their relationship within a social setting, is that the former is inclusive (resulting in the single person feeling part of a family), whereas the latter involves setting an emotional or physical boundary and the single person is made to feel like an outsider.
Through observation, we can start to understand why certain situations or people leave us feeling down, depressed or drained. If we notice this as a recurring theme, we need to start extricating ourselves from such environments. We can contrast this by thinking of how we feel when we are amongst people who are truly at ease with their lives and who also genuinely care for us – we feel comfortable, not judged, and free to be ourselves.
We also start to realise that even those in relationships can feel unsafe and insecure, because true safety and security comes from within, regardless of whether or not we are in a relationship; or whether or not we have friends, family or children to care for. As much as we may love someone else, they are still an external being and external influence to our true selves.
We are the only ones who have to live within this mind and body.
So the more we can be at peace within ourselves and with who we are, the less we will be affected by the expectations and behaviours of others.
Chiara is the Melbourne-based founder of CIIARA.