“Sometimes I want to be single.” That’s what a reader wrote to the author of a “Love Letters” column, in an exchange that drew a huge response (for example, more than 1100 comments and a special segment on Boston’s NPR station). What so many people found intriguing about this reader who wondered whether single life suited her best was that she was in a long-term relationship with a person she described as
“an amazing, wonderful man. We have a fantastic relationship. Communicate well. When he kisses me, I still get goose bumps. When he walks into the room, I am always mesmerized by him.”
But here’s the rub:
“So then why, at times, do I feel that I should just be alone? Let me clarify this. Maybe every six months or so, I wonder if I am just not meant to be in a relationship. I have always been kind of a free spirit, independent, spur-of-the-moment kind of woman…These feelings, I have noticed, tend to come up when I am driving up the coast alone with the top down.”
I was one of the guests on the NPR show about the reader and her question, and I wondered whether she might be single at heart. What I want to write about here is something else: the experience she describes as best capturing the allure of single life – “driving up the coast alone with the top down.”
“Back when I believed my mother had a happy marriage…she surprised me by confiding that one of the most blissful moments of her life had been when she was 21, driving down the highway in her VW Beetle, with nowhere to go except wherever she wanted to be. ‘I had my own car, my own job, all the clothes I wanted,’ she remembered wistfully. Why couldn’t she have had more of that?”
Two single people from two different generations alighted on the same image of the joy of single life. The image captures freedom, and the idea of going places – those places being whatever you want them to be. An awesome car is part of it – either a convertible or a snug bug. There’s also sunshine and a great view.
In years of doing scientific research on perceptions of single people, I’ve found that most beliefs are negative stereotypes. There is one exception: In just about every study, people say that they see single people as more independent than married or coupled people. The person driving along the coast with the top down does seem to be the picture of independence.
As a single-at-heart person with a sunroof-topped car, living along the California coast, I can relate. Yet the image captures only a sliver of the allure of single life. The person in the car is driving alone, but research shows that most single people are even more connected to siblings, parents, friends, and neighbors than married people are. What’s more, when an ailing parent needs care, it is often the single sons or daughters, rather than the married ones, who take on more than their share of the responsibility.
For me, among the aspects of single life I find most attractive is the opportunity to create the balance between time-to-myself and time-with-others that is optimal for me. I savor my solitude, and I also love the time I spend with the people I care about the most.
The image of driving along the coast evokes an expansive sense of single life. That can be spectacular. So can a focused intensity. There are times, for example, when I am so into my writing that I just don’t want to think about anything else or do anything else. I might ignore the phone or work way past the time when I would typically go to sleep. I love it that I live alone and can inhabit my writing “zone” (or whatever else has sucked me in) for as long as I like.
If you also live single and love it (or if you once did), what is the allure of single life to you?