Relationships: Singlehood, Companionship and Reciprocity

Be Yourself or You Will Lose Yourself

Being in a relationship can be seen as both an option and a goal in life – depending on who is being asked. The latter subtly – and unavoidably – contains the conscientious inclination of switching one’s path if so desired while fittingly injecting a sense of nearly rebellious empowerment. What makes one gravitate to or even embrace one or the other may depend on a variety of circumstances – life preferences as well as factors that may be rooted in the individual’s personal history. The basic notion of trial and error (»been there, done that – not for me») may not necessarily apply, as other elements like carrying our parents’ faults and conflicts throughout our lives (with themselves and with each other) may have an important weigth to explain why we choose a life primarily dedicated to ourselves.

»It’s time for myself»

Patrick G. is a 50-year-old sales director at GDS Group, a company that organizes events for corporations. He has Bolivian and Irish-American blood pumping through his veins and he has yet to find the answer to how to be happy being single.

Patrick says that to him »it’s too much of a matter that has to do with the unconscious.» He doesn’t know what it is that makes him the way he is, but he would very much like to be involved in a situation that inspires him. »I have a bit of an artistic soul in that regard,» he reflects. He says he is very much »drawn to the romantic aspects of being in a relationship and that just the notion of the word »romance» for him conjures up an aura and universe of its own.» he says. »Without other people, we are missing out on the essence of our relationship with the universe. We are all by ourselves, stuck somewhere floating in space, and – not realizing this – it’s hard to step forward without ever falling off, somewhere into the dark end of the multiverse,» he says.

Patrick’s comments are a firm testimony of how even in the face of adversity, one can still rejoice in evoking grand romantic imagery in their effort to find answers to etheral issues that concern us all. Patrick is divorced and has two children. He concedes that his relationship with his parents may have shaped his stance on long-term relationships.

Without other people, we are missing out on the essence of our relationship with the universe

Patrick G.
»To us»

We find a more pragmatic view in Bosco J.A., a 39-year-old entrepeneur from Madrid who says: »I don’t particularly mind being single – it is just the result of not having met the right person, or at least, the right person to be with long term. As far as I’m concerned, it’s time for me now, but I’m okay.» I found it interesting to notice J.B.’s use of the conjunction »but,» as if he were unconsciously acknowledging- or accepting – that, from the outside, being single could be construed – albeit unfairly -as a personal failing.

»Sincerity» he says, »is what everyone expects from a relationship, but what they really mean is for everyone to do their fair share of trickery to present an accessible, palatable image of themselves with the complicit silence of both parties (with the understanding that each person is doing the same thing), so that each party’s confidence in the relationship’s wellbeing is not compromised.» When asked if he would be open to be in a relationships he says – »Never say never, but it’s not something I consider important to me right now. I value other things like spending time with my my nephews, my biker friends… I am not anti-relationship, but relationships absorb a lot of energy out of you and you forget where and who you are,» he says. J.B. reminds us that many people are involved with someone else simply because they can’t stand the idea of being alone.

»When you meet someone and you fall in love,» he goes on, »you want to show the best version of yourself – and I guess that’s only normal – but, the trouble is when that relationship changes the way you are.» While listening to Bosco, it dawned on me that there are some people who voice this concern – they think that being with someone in some ways entails some type of personal readjustment so that you make your personal self more accessible to the person you are getting to know. That may be only part of the nature of a relationship – you try to show a better image of yourself (yes – particularly, and interestingly, in the early stages), but does that mean that being with someone you like changes you? We may act a little nicer in the beginning because, first and foremost, we have a natural predisposition (most of us do, anyway) to be liked; to have that door of opportunity open for us. Then, as time wears on, we feel a little more comfortable with ourselves and with the other person to be more our natural self. It may be fitting to ask, though, what constitutes adopting a more natural sense of self.

When you meet someone, you want to show the best version of yourself. The problem is when that relationship changes you.»

Bosco. J.A.
A kiss at sunset

Being in a relationship is usually associated with the idea of having a companion by your side – being able to share and do things with someone else. Not only do we expect to share – eventually and to a greater or lesser degree – our most intimate secrets, but also to have someone to understand us. Above all, we value – or judge – the capacity or predisposition of the other party to put himself or herself in our position. That’s the beat that’s going to mark our tune. Circumstances mean everything too, and people seek out to make meaningful connections, particularly when we are at our most vulnerable – that’s why it is rare to find an expat who chooses to be single.

»Single is no longer a lack of options – but a choice.»

mandy hale, author

My last introduction is for Uri K., a 37-year-old Korean-born but NYC-bred lawyer who has been with the same man for the past thirteen years. Even though when they met she was in her 20s and with no expectations that they would end up getting married, they wound up tying the knot in the summer of 2015. Before meeting her husband, Uri dated different men and, weighing in on her past relationships, she acknowledges that she has always felt closer to people who, like her, were either born abroad or had a strong family background from a non-US culture. This sought-after idea of relatability placed her on her path to Mohammed A., her husband, a 42-year old lawyer who was born in India, but migrated with his family to the US when he was only 1 year old, and grew up in Westchester, NY.

She says that being with Mohammed, she not only learned about him, but from him and about herself – she has learned that »as invaluable as companionship is, one must never forget that you need to make yourself and your partner happy, take care of both. Love yourself no less or no more than your partner [… ] Being with Mohammed for as long as I have has made me realize that,» she says. When asked what she thinks her relationship with Mohammed has brought into her life, she sighs reflectively and takes a moment before responding – »Companionship, friendship,» she says. »Someone who I don’t fear would judge me. Someone who will take my side.»

Don’t lose yourself to the relationship. You can’t be 100% all about yourself in presence of others. I need a time where it is 100% – not 89% – about me.»

Uri K.

Love in black and white

Uri struck an important chord there as aside from companionship, when we are in a relationship we seem to look for someone who will protect us – at least on an emotional level – and who will keep our fears in check. And yet, even though our fears may probably still be there, having someone to count on, to rely on, may help us cope with those fears and insecurities with a little more aplomb (no matter how irrational or unfounded such fears and insecurities may be). Uri’s comments also remind us that being alone can be a sincere way to recharge and tackle your day-to-day with your partner in a more efficient way – too much constant exposure to people you need to deal with on a personal level can be taxing. Although it may be difficult to preserve your full self when you are with other people (let alone a significant other), the key point may be to surround yourself with people whom you feel you could come as close to your 100% as possible.

When you are in a relationship, you essentially take a leap of faith in the other person’s capacity to add value to your life, you thrive in the notion that the good overpowers or overshadows the bad. This happens particularly when you’ve been on the battlefield and you’ve spent enough time fighting the adverse forces of life to then come out of that fight feeling emotionally depleted and with the weary feeling that despite (or because of) any defeats, you may have grown a little wiser and a little more inmune to pain. In the relationships vs single life dichotomy, perhaps the most significant outcome is that when you choose one or the other, you are choosing between either devoting your time to yourself or (partially) devoting it to someone else.

»There you are!»

Even though the increasing proliferation of dating sites is making singlehood more commonplace than ever before – or at least, more openly, socially accepted – there is no question than when one reaches a certain age, being single or having a history of long periods of singlehood is still considered a symptom of possible instability. Even though it is not as prominent as it once it used to be, there is still a taboo in being single. The struggle comes into play when you want a relationship (or, rather, you want to feel the companionship of someone) but still want to have the freedom to do what you want. That doesn’t necessarily mean being with other people, but for instance, not communicating with the other person with the regularity that the other person would expect (an important point of conflict in dating today). Even if you intend to remain loyal and faithful to your partner, making the other person feel that he or she is there and has a presence in your life, is essential – even when both parties are not physically together. Flexibility and freedom may go hand in hand when there is a consensus in the notion that each party needs their own space from time to time. However, when that frexibility finds itself challenged by the test of time and it enters the realm of uncertainty (because one has a concept of dealing with their time apart differently), then there may be trouble looming on the horizon.

It’s an inevitable trade-off and that may be cost of being single – freedom may well be a much-cherished trait in our lives, but when the notion of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes contradicts that very idea of freedom (not that it should necessarily), then we may be talking about something else – about pinning freedom to individualism, and that may be an uncomfortable notion to get your head around.

«The struggle comes into play when you want to feel the companionship of someone, but still want to have the freedom to do what you want»

Of course there is the notion lurking behind all of this that when you are with someone, you lose yourself in that person (for good or bad) in the sense that, being in a relationship puts you to the test – how tolerant, how patient, how giving, how receptive you are with that person and probably makes you forget »your place in the world.» Being alone, on the other hand, makes you well aware of where you are in the world and inevitably compels you to invest time in yourself. While some may deem it the primal example of a bohemian lifestyle, others may call it a symptom of inmaturity. Therefore, perhaps the key question here is not which of these two lifestyles is more appealing to you or which adds more value into your life (as each of these is perfectly complementary of the other); instead, let me put it this way – when you are in a relationship, do you ever feel as though your full self is diluted somewhat or do you think it’s possible to be with someone with whom you could be yourself 100%?

Photo credits:

Woman looking out the window at night: Photo courtesy of Marina Khrapova

Man alone enjoying view of skyline: Photo courtesy of Caleb George

Couple sharing a cup of coffee: Photo courtesy of Christopher Jolly

Couple kissing in the field: Photo courtesy of Tim Marshall

Couple kissing under an umbrella: Courtesy of Morgan Sessions

Smiling woman: Photo courtesy of David Hurley

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