Ever, as a single person, get the sense that the world is trying to convince you that there is something wrong with being single? It’s like, you’re being indoctrinated to think that there is something wrong with being by yourself and as if being alone means you're lonely. These are the words of one of my former clients. I remember her words like it was yesterday.
I only saw her for about 12-sessions, but our goal was to help her find ways to enjoy her single life to the fullest, as she was not interested in getting married, ever. Of course, part of our time together was to help her find non-aggressive, respectful ways to tell her older relatives that getting married and having children was not on her to-do list, something that was unacceptable within her Hispanic culture. Every family gathering (and there were many) both grandmothers would pull her aside and ask if she liked men, as neither could understand how she would not want to get married (to a man) and have babies immediately following, like all of the heterosexual women in the family.
So, with her backstory in mind consider this. Carmen (not her name) is one of many American women (and men I’m sure) who is happy with herself. When she wants to go on a date, she has several guys she can call or that will call her. She enjoys having her time and space to herself and says she is not interested in sharing it with anyone, 24-7-365.
So, she would ask “Why does everyone have a problem with my personal decision to be alone? “I love me some me” she’d say often. What is so complicated about that?
What is “interesting” about her situation is that Carmen’s specific cultural group and the larger American culture have norms that have the “family unit,” not singles, as the nucleus of its society. And anyone, gay or not, that does not want these things is not “normal.” The traditional nucleus family containing mom, dad and children continue to be the family type that is most celebrated. Other family make-ups are expected and respected, but the basic one is the tradition that most aspire.
What makes Carmen and millions of other singles like her seem abnormal is that they are happy with being alone but no one is accepting their choice. So much so that family members are always suggesting prospective “nice guys” to her. Or when sitting alone in cafeterias, strangers might invite themselves over, believing that to eat alone is lonely. If she decides to dance by herself at a party, some random guy will come up to dance with her. According to Carmen, all of these behaviors are annoying. “Why can’t people believe that I am not lonely?” What is so complicated about that?
The complication is that no one seems to believe Carmen is not lonely. The complication is that Carmen is content but because, she’s not “normal”--in the eyes of so many--"she can’t possibly be happy." The complication is that our mental health structures have labels for people who seem reclusive, perhaps, isolated. However, I believe Carmen. Until she tells me otherwise, I’m going to applaud her for doing what she described as taking herself out on Valentine’s dates or dancing alone when she feels like it.
For the past 5 years, this had been her tradition. The year that I was seeing her about the struggle with her family's pressure for her to “find a man” is when she decided to be her own date for Valentine’s Day. She made a dinner reservation aboard an exclusive yacht that sailed along the Intercostal from 7-9: 30 pm. She sent herself her favorite flowers (orchids and lilies) and her favorite chocolates (all with nuts) to a hotel, where she stayed the night in a luxury suite. Before ending her evening, she visited a night-life club for drinks and dancing. She had already arranged a late checkout so that she could take her time, have brunch, and then head to the park to devour her most recently purchased book. For Carmen, this was her normal, and since she was not distressed about being alone and honoring her self, I lent my full support of her personal choice--nothing complex about it.