I don’t understand why the standard response for a friend who has become newly single is, “Oh, don’t worry, honey, you’ll find someone better someday. The right person will come into your life at the right time. In the mean time, just focus on yourself and learn to be happy!” Or why being happy with your partner is considered needy. Or why someone who is actively looking for a partner with some meaningful vigor is tagged desperate.
I understand that there are many people who are perfectly happy, or prefer, being single. If this is you, then great! However, I’m not writing this article for these types of people–I’m writing this for the types of people who genuinely like being in relationships, and like having a significant other, but can’t seem to genuinely express or pursue this desire without being labelled unhappy, unstable, or insecure.
I want to draw an analogy to career: there are large similarities between the two. Both have been shown to increase quality of life and happiness; however, the same way one doesn’t need the perfect job to be truly happy, one doesn’t need the perfect relationship to be truly happy (that is, you can build a good life with a person who is not necessarily your ideal match). And both can be pretty devastating if you have it, prefer to have it, and then lose it.
If a friend recently lost a job, you probably wouldn’t tell her, “Don’t worry, honey, the right job will come into your life at the right time.” Such a response would be considered downright bizarre. You might encourage your friend to take a few days to let the shock settle, and manage her finances, but you’d probably agree that the first thing your friend needs to do would be to get right back on her feet and start looking.
And you probably wouldn’t call this friend desperate. Just because your friend is looking for work doesn’t mean she’d be willing to start flipping burgers at McDonald’s tomorrow.
And you probably wouldn’t say that she needs weeks or months or “half the time she spent in her old job” to be ready for a new one. In fact, you’d probably argue that the best way to move on from her last job would be to begin a new one.
So why do we make these sorts of assumptions when it comes to relationships? Perhaps, you might say, it’s because a career is different–you need a career the way you don’t need a relationship. You need money, but you don’t need love. And this may be true–yes, we don’t need close companionship; yet, studies have shown that stable relationships lead to increased happiness and increased health and life expectancy. So even if relationships aren’t vital, they can be pretty important.
Or you might say that someone who’s actively looking to find a partner hasn’t spent enough time on themselves–but if job hunting doesn’t erode a person’s career skills, why would dating? And there’s no guarantee that the right person will fall into our lives at the right time. It’s silly to assign love to the hands of fate when we wouldn’t for our career or our families or our hobbies. If a meaningful relationship is as hard to come by as a meaningful career, then it’s all the more reason to start looking.
I think it would make more sense to start pursuing relationships the way we pursue other goals–or, as Meg Jay said in her Ted Talk, “with as much intention as [we] do work”. There’s nothing about relationships that makes it inherently more mystical or unknowable than our other ambitions. We can get just as attached to our hobbies and our careers as we do to our relationships. And just like our other ambitions, we get better at relationships–better at looking, better at knowing what makes us happy, better at learning how to give and take from our partners–the more we work at it. We’d have more chances at more successful relationships if, like careers, we started by figuring out what we want (i.e., what sort of people we’re attracted to), and by creating opportunities instead of waiting for them (i.e., looking for these people in places they’re likely to be in–whether that’s at a hobby hangout, in friends’ circles, or online).
So, if a friend became newly single, I think it would make more sense to say, “That must be really hard. Why don’t you take a couple of weeks to yourself?” And once that time is up, encourage said friend to try looking again. If it doesn’t make sense to wait for a perfect career to fall into your lap, then it doesn’t make sense to wait for the perfect relationship either. It’s not being desperate–it’s being probabilistic. And you can’t mark ‘someday’ in your calendar.