Monday, August 24, 2015

A couple of years ago, I was having a heart-to-heart with a close mate of mine. Let’s can him Shaemus. Shaemus had just lost his job and was feeling down on his luck. “Pete,” he said, “Don’t you ever compare yourself to those people who are married and have nice houses. Don’t you want to be one of them?” Of course I wanted to throw up in my mouth when he said this, but if I’m being honest, I have compared myself to those people. I think we all do. Especially when they have something we don’t.

If you’re single, around the same age as Shaemus and don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably felt this way too. Not only that, but you’ve probably been inundated with wedding invitations, baby pictures, and bling-bling that accentuates feelings of failure and inadequacy. Sounds pretty meager, doesn't it?

Well forgive me. I’m not a narcissist. I love celebrating in my friends’ happiness and I love seeing cute babies being licked by dogs, but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. And yes, you guessed right, I’m single. But instead of sitting on facebook and acting like the Grinch who stole relationships, I got thinking about my own situation.

I live in a big city where relationships are transient and governed by convenience. Where there is a high density of young, ambitious people who think they know what they want (i.e. a stable career and a loving partner), but in fact don’t have a clue. These same young people have been spoon-fed, by loved ones, teachers, god, this practical yet completely unfounded notion: “Work hard now so you can enjoy it later, when you have a family.” So in other words, be miserable while you’re young and it’ll all feel better when you install a shrubbery somewhere in New Jersey.

For some, this is the life they dreamed of and they are perfectly happy living it. Good for them. Of course we don’t need to talk about the extremely high rate of divorce and people who marry for the wrong reasons and why it’s really beneficial to adopt a cat. That would be boring. But for all those people out there—like Shaemus—who dream of something “better”, I’m here to challenge you. In a dual. With muskets.

Being single is an opportunity because:

1. You can live in the now

You don’t fixate on the future or plan it years in advance, so you can enjoy the present moment, in all its glory. You don’t waste your time talking about it either, because it hasn’t come yet. You “Do your work, then step back.” (Lao Tzu)

2. You can build and maintain valuable friendships

How many of your friends have disappeared when they have become involved? And how many of them go to bed at 9pm? Unfortunately sleep matters, but so do friends. Technology has also changed the criteria of friendship. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I value in my friends?
  • Are my friendships reciprocal?
  • What am I willing to tolerate?
  • Do my friends have my back no matter what?
  • Could I bake hash brownies with my friends and not be judged if they taste like dog poop?

Barring the last question, how did you do? Obviously these questions have different answers for different people but if we choose friendship we must know our own, unique definition of it.

The reality of being single is that you spend the majority of your "people time" with your friends (or family, if you’re in the mood for punishment) so you are essentially forced to maintain these relationships. Or you could live in a snow cave and cast spells. It’s a free country.

3. You can cultivate self-efficacy (aka warm fuzzy feelings)

Have you ever been on a date where there is no connection and you talk about horrible things like humidity and you REALLY want to leave but the person keeps ordering cranberry vodkas on your credit card? Yes, that happened to me and no, she didn’t say thank you. The point being, dating can burn a hole in your heart and your pocket. Single dudes know this better than anyone. I’m not saying that you should be super tight and hoard your money in ziploc bags underneath your mattress, but you should invest in your own well-being, dammit! And I’m not just talking about monetary investment. I’m talking about staring at yourself in the mirror and shouting, “You are the sexy wild beast!”

But seriously, too many people look to others to tell them nice things and make them feel good about themselves. This is why relationships fail! No other human being is responsible for another's happiness. Ever.

Single people have the opportunity to cultivate positive feelings about themselves and other people, and they have the time to fine-tune their instrument so when the band shows up, they get drunk and make out with strangers.

4. You can spend time with yourself, thinking

On March 15, 2015, I was having dinner with a couple and their friend. I knew the couple quite well but I didn't know their friend, so I spoke to her like a human. After some inconsequential banter, I dug a little deeper. “What are you passionate about?” While choking on an ice cube, she turned to me, startled and said, “Whoa, too deep too fast.” The girl literally made me feel like I committed genocide. Reflecting on it later, I came to the conclusion that she had never asked herself that question. Or maybe she had but was too scared to know the answer.

When we are constantly in the company of others, we never have the time to think, or reflect or contemplate or meditate or masturbate (for that matter). Here’s a link to a super cool, inspiring speech from the late great basketball coach Jimmy V (yes, I just segued from masturbation to a dead guy):

If your crappy attention span managed to get through it, Jimmy suggests in one day, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day.”  You said it right, Jimmy.

5. You can embrace freedom

You’re “flying” on the front of the Titanic. The water is a dark, serene blue. As you breathe a heavy ploom of fog, you can taste the salt in the air. You raise one hand up to feel the chilly breeze while the other hand firmly grasps Jack Dawson’s wonderful arse. You wonder a) how many squats he does and b) why his hair stylist is better than yours.

Is that your idea of freedom? No? Well it’s mine.

I’m a teacher and the older teachers tell me, “Embrace your freedom man because when you get married and you have kids that will be the end of it all.” Of course I don’t buy into all of their skepticism, just some of it. But honestly, I’m super excited about having a family and babies shitting everywhere. Who wouldn’t be excited about that?

Besides forcing me to become a better human, teaching has taught me a lot. One of those things (and probably the most important) is that caring for a kid is HARD WORK. Spend the whole day with a three year old and you’ll find out. You are mentally, physically and spiritually SPENT. Ask any kindergarten teacher. They’re actually really interesting people and not scary at all.

I’m not a parent yet but I know that when you become one, your priorities shift. They have to. And if they don’t, your child will suffer. Especially later in life when you think they won’t remember all the times you ignored them while texting. Or why they talk with a Jamaican accent.

When you’re single and you don’t have a family, you are free to make mistakes, travel at the drop of a hat and generally act like a dickhead. Why not enjoy this time while you still have it?

6. You get lonely sometimes, but that’s okay

Before I got my green card, I asked a divorced friend for some marriage advice. In a very poignant and raw answer, she admitted that it was her own lack of self-worth and dependence on her husband that ultimately led to their separation. She also said that when she was married, she had “Never felt so lonely."

What an admission.

Let’s be straight. There are marriages out there that are wonderful and wholesome and loving. Of course there are. I’m not saying that being married is bad or that you shouldn’t do it. If you love someone and marriage is an expression of your love and commitment, you’re awesome. Same thing goes for happy, healthy relationships. If you're in one/witness a good one, it's beautiful.

But if you’re single, you have this amazing opportunity to figure out it and you do that by embracing your singleness, NOW.  

And it all else fails, fuck everything and become a pirate.