The Paradox in Being "Single"
Updated: Aug 10
Marisa Guerin, PhD – August 9, 2021
Many truths of individual and group life appear as paradoxes; I propose that one of them is that relatedness flows from single-ness.
This idea first started rolling around in my mind recently when I awoke from a dream that stuck me as odd. In the dream, I was telling someone that I – “69 years old and always single” – had learned a lot about love in the course of my life. I woke up to the thought that, yes, I have learned a lot about love, but I’m definitely not single – I’ve been married for almost 35 years to a kind, fun, and loving man. What could the dream be about?
Once more, I realized with some awe that my dreaming self knows a heck of a lot that is true. My dreaming self was remembering that I only ended up as a married person after I had genuinely made peace with the real possibility that I might always remain single (after too many heartbreaks). I had finally given up looking for something that apparently wasn’t possible to ask for. I knew I would have to be able to bear life without the romantic illusions I had been chasing to meet my inner needs. When I accepted my own real self as good-enough company for a lifetime, I became able to consider and to make real a mutual partnership – as a choice, an option, not a compulsion.
My dream was spot-on! It is the “single” person in me that has come to understand love.
I suspect the dynamic is similar when we first begin to venture out from under the protective wing of a valued mentor, striking out into new thoughts or projects that we ourselves have chosen. Or when we make a commitment to a community, or an initiative, or a vision for a better world, while knowing that others we care about may not understand, or may not agree with our direction.
The feelings that go with taking a single, personal stand are varied – we might feel a bit scared or lonesome; or we might feel invigorated and expanded; or we might feel curious and drawn forward into the unknown. It may be that we are only going to stand on our own feet when we have no other choice, or it may be that we learn to do so as young people. Either way, the power of a single heart is such that we can stay grounded and centered in our own imperfect, but good-enough, reality.
This, then, is the paradox – that in the willingness to stand on our own, we become available to relate in a healthy way with others that we find in the same place. In giving up the need to connect, we may find the opportunity to connect.
And today's bonus is story time.....
My favorite story about the flat-out strangeness of paradoxes is Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Here’s an excerpt that speaks to giving up on an unfruitful path, even if it SEEMS logical, and trying something totally different that turns out to work much better. Enjoy story-hour!
‘I should see the garden far better,' said Alice to herself, 'if I could get to the top of that hill: and here's a path that leads straight to it — at least, no, it doesn't do that — ' (after going a few yards along the path, and turning several sharp corners), 'but I suppose it will at last. But how curiously it twists! It's more like a corkscrew than a path! Well, this turn goes to the hill, I suppose — no, it doesn't! This goes straight back to the house! Well then, I'll try it the other way.'
And so she did: wandering up and down, and trying turn after turn, but always coming back to the house, do what she would. Indeed, once, when she turned a corner rather more quickly than usual, she ran against it before she could stop herself.
'It's no use talking about it," Alice said, looking up at the house and pretending it was arguing with her. 'I'm not going in again yet. I know I should have to get through the Looking-glass again — back into the old room — and there'd be an end of all my adventures!'
So, resolutely turning back upon the house, she set out once more down the path, determined to keep straight on till she got to the hill. For a few minutes all went on well, and she was just saying, 'I really shall do it this time — ' when the path gave a sudden twist and shook itself (as she described it afterwards), and the next moment she found herself actually walking in at the door.
'Oh, it's too bad!' she cried. 'I never saw such a house for getting in the way! Never!'
...A bit later, when Alice stops to chat with the flowers in the garden and spies the Red Queen off in the distance…
"I think I'll go and meet her,' said Alice, for, though the flowers were interesting enough, she felt that it would be far grander to have a talk with a real Queen.
'You can't possibly do that,' said the Rose: 'I should advise you to walk the other way.'
This sounded nonsense to Alice, so she said nothing, but set off at once towards the Red Queen. To her surprise, she lost sight of her in a moment, and found herself walking in at the front-door again.
A little provoked, she drew back, and after looking everywhere for the queen (whom she spied out at last, a long way off), she thought she would try the plan, this time, of walking in the opposite direction.
It succeeded beautifully. She had not been walking a minute before she found herself face to face with the Red Queen, and full in sight of the hill she had been so long aiming at.
Yes, I have found that in embracing the path of my own single heart, I have landed right where I wanted to be all along. I try to remember the advice of the Rose!