I’m reading a book by a woman who was once a love addict. Catherine Gray, author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, used to be that person who always had a boyfriend, was obsessed with those boyfriends (messaging constantly, for example), and devastated when the relationships ended.
Among the many steps she took to deal with her addiction to romantic love was to take a year off from dating and then spend some time in therapy trying to understand her experience.
Of course, Gray’s therapist asked her how she felt during that year of not dating. Her answer: “Amazing. So chilled.”
Ordinarily, dating is the one aspect of single life I never discuss. But Catherine Gray’s perspective is well worth sharing. Although the author has started dating again and probably will continue, she realized that there are some important ways in which not dating is a better experience for her than dating.
Here are three of them.
You know how single people are, stereotypically, supposed to feel incomplete? How they are supposed to find that person who inspires them to say, “you complete me”? Well, for Catherine Gray, it was the opposite. Romantic relationships can include wonderful emotional highs, she notes, but “when it’s not going well, when I’m not getting what I want from them, I feel hungry, bereft, incomplete. I feel more incomplete when I’m single-and-dating than when I’m single-and-not-dating.”
Now let’s consider the stereotype that links marriage and romantic coupling to stability, including emotional stability. Single people who are not tethered to a romantic partner are supposedly the ones with psychologically turbulent lives. Again, Gray disagrees. “Not dating is predictable, grounding and lovely, while dating is “up, down and all around.”
Romantic relationships are so relentlessly associated with happiness that when people look for romantic love or find it, others say things like, “she deserves to be happy.” Gray used to think that way, too. Looking back at her romantic relationships, she remembered times when she was very contented. That usually happened “deep into the relationship, probably over six months in, when I reach that ‘Ahhhh’ stage whereby I genuinely feel anchored, solid, secure.” That experience, though, was rare. When Gray compared it to her time spent not dating, she realized something that surprised her: “I wasn’t happier in the relationships, even during the ‘Ahhhh’ stage, than I was being single.”
In The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, Catherine Gray is only describing her own experiences when she talks about the ways in which not dating is better than dating. But as it turns out, there is some relevant research. For example, a study comparing people who were married, cohabiting, single and dating, and single and not dating found that for the women, those who were single and dating tended to be more stressed than those who were single and not dating, which was the opposite of what the authors had predicted. (The men who were single and not dating were not any more or less stressed than those who were dating.)
As for happiness, most studies are about marriage rather than dating. The results validate Catherine Gray’s experiences. More than a dozen studies have shown that in the long run, people who get married typically do not become any happier than they were when they were single. In fact, if they marry and then divorce, they end up less happy than they were before they married.