Do you know what is the most common cause of failing relationships today?
No, it’s not that men lie. Nor is it that women are too needy.
The mythical but book-selling “battle of the sexes” is not to blame either.
Men are not from Jupiter and women are not from Saturn. They are both from the same planet, and many of them have not dealt with the same core issue. They have not learnt to be alone.
Good relationship partners are people who don’t need a relationship.
Sounds paradoxical? Let me explain.
How many of your friends and acquaintances are walking around battle-scarred and disillusioned from many unsuccessful romantic skirmishes? How many are in relationships that aren’t making them happy? How many are yearning and looking to no avail for a significant other? How many have grumpily resigned themselves to being partnerless?
I’ll bet that most of the people you know fit into one of these categories.
The sad fact is that a good, healthy, happy relationship is a rare commodity these days.
Here’s another question. How many of your friends and acquaintances have problems outside of relationships – be it dissatisfaction with their careers or physical appearance or difficulty getting along with work colleagues or family members?
What I’m arguing is that relationship problems are actually an extension of unexamined neuroses, insecurities and frustrations, some of them deeply hidden.
Instead of facing them honestly and dealing with them fully, we use a relationship or a lack of one as a scapegoat. If only I could find that special someone I’d be happy.
And how do we exorcise the bogeys that plague us? Well, if they’re not too severe, through good old-fashioned introspection-through time spent alone, focused on you, not on worrying about a relationship or why you’re not in a relationship.
That there is too much focus on romance is the premise of German philosopher Erich Fromm‘s best-seller The Art of Loving. According to Fromm, you have to be able to experience other kinds of love-including self love-in order to genuinely experience romantic love.
For Fromm, love has four elements: care, responsibility, respect and most importantly knowledge.
How well do you “know” (love) yourself? And not just the superficialities like favourite movie or artist (although some people can’t even tell you this when you ask them!). What are your values, the principles you hold above all else? What repels you? What fascinates you? What do you want to accomplish in life? And are these beliefs, aspirations and responses to things justified and healthy or are they based on false premises? It’s not enough to reach a conclusion about yourself, you have to rattle it, search for holes. So knowing yourself, contrary to what most people think, is really a complex process.
It’s, as Fromm says, a skill that you have to constantly work at. And, as with practising any skill, you need to concentrate. And you concentrate best without distractions. You concentrate best alone. (Fromm recommends meditation, but that’s incidental to the point.)
Being alone can have other advantages.
One of the movies that had a big impact on me was Groundhog Day. (Although I doubt the creators intended it to have such profound effect!).
In the movie, Bill Murray is doomed to live the same day in a small town again and again until he does the right thing to get the girl (Andie MacDowell). At first he’s giddily irresponsible-saying and doing mean things because he knows he won’t have to pay for them later. Then he becomes dejected, suicidal. When will this day end!
He eventually accepts his fate. He in fact sees the advantage of it. He learns to play the piano-a skill he later uses to dazzle his love interest. He achieves the same response by finding out her likes, dislikes, about her past and dreams. He’s kind and helpful to everyone and they reward him with affection, which also impresses her.
The moral is obvious.
We all feel stuck in a “groundhog day” sometimes. That period when we think we should be moving forward but we’re not, when we’re not sure how to make the good things happen for us.
For single people there’s the added pressure-from others and ourselves-to find a relationship.
I, however, see it as taking an opportunity to learn things I’ve always wanted to learn while I don’t have the distraction of relationships. And I’m not using the word “distraction” negatively. It’s just that there are only so many hours in the day. When you allocate some to interacting with others it goes without saying that you’ll have less time to do anything else.
Some of my “alone” activities are in fact part preparation for relationships I aim to have.
I’m jogging and practising yoga to become more focused and disciplined, but also to be more physically attractive.
I’m reading more, listening to music and absorbing other forms of creative expression because I want to be more intelligent, a better conversationalist, and a more interesting person overall. I want to be like the kind of person I would like to have a relationship with.
This may sound vague, but I also want to became a more “fully realised” person before I expand my life to include someone else. I’m not anywhere near to fulfilling much of my potential and being confident about who I am and what I am. Until I settle all this, any relationship I have will be doomed or at least destructive to my development.
Some might argue that being alone could become something you get so used to you don’t have the time or inclination to let another person into your life. And the reality is that many of us-including possibly me-will spend our lives alone. (And for emotionally healthy people this is quite all right.)
But I haven’t become a cynical single. I take advantage of opportunities to meet other people. I want a relationship and I believe this desire is enough to make sure I won’t become shut within myself. A long, committed, happy relationship, I think, is the greatest of human accomplishments.