Want to know how to behave toward a romantic partner or potential romantic partner?
Catherine Gray, author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, offers a simple heuristic you can use. Ask yourself how you would behave with a friend.
Consider, for example, how anxious so many people feel when they are about to meet a potential romantic partner for the first time, and how personally wounded they feel if that person is not interested in them. Gray suggests that people should adopt the same mindset that comes so naturally when they are about to meet a potential new friend.
One of her friends put it this way:
“Why is it that I never get nervous about meeting potential friends? I don’t worry whether they’ll like me, I just think that if it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen. I went for coffee with a woman last week and while it was lovely, there was no friend spark, and I didn’t take that remotely personally, nor did she. We just didn’t…fit. So why is it that when I meet a man for a date, and the same misfit thing happens, it cuts me to the core and I think there’s something inherently wrong with me?”
The solution, Gray believes, is to adopt the friend mindset instead of the romantic partner one.
In a previous post about The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, I mentioned that Gray used to be a self-described love addict who did things like texting her boyfriend constantly and freaking out if he did not respond right away.
Now she realizes that she should ask herself the friend question: “If a friend did this, how would I behave?” Specifically:
“So if a friend took 12 hours to reply to a text message, would I care?
“Would I be wondering if that friend secretly doesn’t like me, or has met another, better friend? Would I send a melodramatic message to that friend saying, ‘It seems like you’re not bothered, so let’s just leave it.’ *Whips around and walks away*
“Nope, nope, nope, NOPE.”
The irony is that single people are consistently stereotyped as less mature than people who are married. I’ve found that in my own research and others have found the same thing, too.
My colleagues and I have also found that people judge college students who have no romantic relationship experience as less mature than those who have had such experience, and they also judge students who are not currently in a romantic relationship as less mature than those who are. In fact, though, there are important ways in which single people are more mature. For example, they have to figure out how to accomplish all the tasks of everyday life on their own, rather than relying on a romantic partner to cover some of them.
Gray calls that “advanced adulting.”
If Gray is right about her friendship idea, then even those people who are involved in romantic relationships may behave in more mature and psychologically healthy ways when they are with their friends than when they are with their romantic partners.