When I first heard about the concept of a “super single,” I was psyched. I thought it was going to be a close cousin to my own concept of “single at heart,” which I coined to describe people who live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful lives by living single.
The term “super single” came from the TV show on FX, Better Things (season 2, episode 4). I haven’t seen it but I’ve now read about the “super single” episode in New York magazine and the Washington Post.
According to New York magazine, a “super single” is “a person who is not in a relationship, but has figured out how to be a self-sustaining ecosystem. A person who is good at being alone.” Super singles “are incredibly happy having figured out how to stay home alone on a Sunday and not sink into despair, how to kill their own roaches, and how to look over the landscape of the lives they’ve built for themselves, by themselves, with a protective appreciation.”
Sounds good to me.
The Washington Post story is a first-person essay by a woman who identifies with the super-single concept. She describes herself as “fiercely independent” and shares some of the exciting things she has done as a single person, such as taking a 13,000-mile road trip through 33 states with her dog. “Whatever I want,” she says, “I find a way to make it happen.”
That sounds great, too.
According to the storylines so far, though, it is not a good thing. See, Sam (the “super single” of Better Things, a single mother with three daughters) isn’t just good at being alone, she’s “too good.” She meets a great guy and that makes her afraid because she doesn’t “know how to do this.” She’s tempted to break up.
The Post writer identifies with that: “The truth is: I’m petrified of love and refuse to make space for it.” She takes heart that the end of the Better Things episode “shows the main character, Sam, walking into a restaurant and kissing her dream guy.”
The essayist believes she needs to do the same thing. She thinks she needs to listen to what she calls the “rational” part of her brain, the part that “knows that an emotionally available man will add to my life and help me be my best self.”
I don’t doubt that some people really are single because they have issues such as a fear of romantic relationships. Maybe the Post essayist is one of them. But you know what? Plenty of married and coupled people have issues, too. Many just bring their issues with them into coupled life. Other people end up coupled because they have issues. For example, maybe what they are afraid of is living their single lives to the fullest. Maybe they don’t have the confidence to buck the obligatory script of finding “the one” and marrying. Or maybe they are too needy and too dependent and that’s why they are coupled.
The implication of both articles seems to be that you can’t really lead a truly good and rewarding and meaningful and complete life if you stay single. Actually, you can. (See, for example, Alone: The badass psychology of people who like being alone or Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.)
The most recent, most sophisticated research shows that people who marry do not end up any happier or healthier than they were when they were single. There’s something wrong with the stories we have been told, starting as children, about how it is the people who marry who become their “best self.”
There is no one royal road to the best possible life. That differs for different people. If we continue to insist, in the stories we tell, that only romantically coupled people are living their best lives, we will be selling a lot of people short. We humans are a diverse lot. We need to encourage and celebrate the many ways to live a good and happy and meaningful life, rather than trying to shoehorn everyone into the same life. We’ve tried that before, as, for example, when just about everyone pretended to be heterosexual, even when they weren’t, and followed the heterosexual marriage script. It didn’t work out so well.
Let’s do better than that.