People who are “single at heart” live their best, most authentic, most fulfilling and meaningful lives by living single. The concept is not well-known, so few people spontaneously say that they are single at heart. When I listen to what they say about themselves, though, sometimes I think I can tell if they are.
Consider, for example, this excerpt from the New York Times from an interview Ana Marie Cox did with Whoopi Goldberg:
Ana Marie Cox: You’ve said that, despite being married three times, you’ve been in love only once. Do you think you might have a particularly higher bar than other people?
Whoopi Goldberg: No, I think I’m not that interested. I’m much happier on my own. I can spend as much time with somebody as I want to spend, but I’m not looking to be with somebody forever or live with someone. I don’t want somebody in my house.
Ana Marie Cox: Have you always felt like this?
Whoopi Goldberg: Yes. I’m the round peg, and marriage is the square hole. You can’t have a square hole, can you?
Someone who has been married three times does not, at first, seem like the ideal candidate for single-at-heart status. But then again, the belief that everyone wants to be married is so deeply ingrained, and so rarely questioned, that it is more of an ideology than a garden-variety belief. Plus, the usual ways of thinking about marriage encourage people to just try again if their marriage does not work out the first time – or the second or the third. As I explained in Singled Out:
Think about how people talk about their marriages that did not work out. “I was too young,” they say. Or, “I had bad judgment. I read people better now.” Or maybe, “I married for all the wrong reasons back then. This time I’ll get it right.” These talking points, and many more like them, all have one thing in common: They keep the special place of marriage safe and protected. When individual marriages prove disappointing, the crestfallen spouses do not blame the institution of marriage, nor the intensive and insular way that marriage is practiced these days. Instead, they and their fellow Americans look for something much more fixable, like flawed choices, that can be pinned on imperfect individuals, rather than a faulty institution.
A person such as Whoopi Goldberg who has tried three times, though, may have a particularly good sense of whether marriage itself is right for her. She thinks it is not. She’s the round peg; marriage is the square hole. She waves off Ana Marie Cox’s suggestion that she has a particularly high bar, instead explaining that she’s just not that interested.
Although lots more research needs to be done, I think Goldberg’s feeling that she is just “not that interested” in marriage is at the core of what it means to be single at heart. Her other sentiments – that she’s happier on her own, that she likes deciding how much time to spend with someone, and that she doesn’t want someone else in her home – are probably characteristic of many people who are single at heart. The heart of the matter, though, is that deep, fundamental sense that single life is right for you, and married life is not.