I used to have an argument with this ethics professor of mine at least once a week over the difference between a reason and an excuse. I believe that there is a definable difference between the two. A reason is a justification for something, an excuse is something you offer up as justification for failure. You don’t give excuses for winning and you don’t give reasons for losing. I hear a lot of excuses for being single, but rarely do I hear reasons that make a lot of sense. This leads me to a number of different conclusions.
First and foremost: a majority of people are not single by choice. Perhaps you haven’t found the perfect person yet, maybe you’re “not settling” for less than “you deserve.” Again these sound like excuses and they often are but many people think that making excuses is a bad thing. It’s not always a bad thing to make excuses. But we take things so personally that even the perception of someone or something being different is enough to send us running in the opposite direction.
Second: our standards are too high. I’ve been single all my life and I’m pretty sure that this has been the chief culprit leading to the perhaps inevitable break-up of nearly ninety percent of my relationships. It’s like a checklist and if I can’t check all the boxes I start souring on the relationship. I call this the “un-single” test. If you start thinking of someone as marriage material that checklist gets much longer as you start thinking about whether you’d be willing to spend the rest of your life with this person. I think as we get older we lower our standards a bit, but whether this leads to successful relationships is a topic that is still being debated.
Third: needs are different for both parties in a relationship. Like I said before I approach dating with a mental checklist and I like being able to check off the boxes. One thing that I value above everything else is my independence and it seems a lot of times like independence and relationships are somewhat anti-thetical. Relationships inevitably take away some of our independence, but how much is too much? I haven’t been able to strike the right balance and part of the problem is that I’m a writer so by definition I’m weird, quirky, and I need a good deal of me time to think through my ideas. At the same time having someone to bounce ideas off of can be invaluable. Striking a balance is where things get complicated and my feeling is that I’m not alone in having an issue with personal independence and some of the co-dependence that comes from being in a committed relationship.
Fourth: what was once cute is now annoying. We’ve all been there. Maybe she’s got a great laugh or she flips her hair a certain way when she’s talking, whatever it is it’s something that makes her unique and that’s what we’re looking for when we’re dating. But there’s a difference between dating and putting together a successful relationship. When you’re dating the little things don’t often bother you because you’re not around the other person long enough to let those things bother you, but in a relationship those little things get amplified big time and it usually doesn’t take long before you identify all the little things that your partner does that tick you off.
Fifth: you have different values and priorities. There was this time in my life where I kind of thought that I could make anything work. I call this the “Catcher in the Rye” syndrome because we look at the world like Holden Caulfield and tend to think that we can make things turn out the way that we’d like them to. Idealism is a dangerous thing. We’ve got to be realistic. For instance, I once dated a Republican(!) and I was absolutely convinced that politics weren’t going to divide us but then there was an election and we were at each other’s throats. We had a lot in common and I was able to check off a lot of boxes with her, but the constant blaming of the poor for the plights of the “job creators” just drove me over the edge.
Sixth: you have different personalities. This one isn’t a deal-breaker, but it certainly can be. It’s ruined enough of my relationships and I therefore think it’s important enough to mention. Extroverts can be really annoying especially if they try and convert you to their cause. I dated this one woman who wanted to go out every night of the week and she didn’t particularly care where. I enjoyed spending time with her, but at the same time I need my space as I think everyone does in a relationship, so that obviously didn’t last. However of all the things that people put up with I see this one happening the most frequently. My parents suffer from this for instance. They’ve been married for thirty-one years.
Seventh: some people are too clingy. You know who you are. I dated one woman who needed to know everything that happened in my day down to what I ate for breakfast in the morning. One day she asked me to specifically describe the ingredients that went into the making of my omelette. I tried not to let this bother me because our personalities were so close together and we had so many shared interests. We’re still good friends, but if she brings up breakfast she seems to know that just bringing it up frustrates me. She still wants to know and I still tell her, but if she starts asking for details I have to tell her that I’m not going to do go through a list of everything I did in my day.
Eighth: different visions for the future. My plan for the future could go one of two ways, both of which I’m fine with. I could see myself writing full time and living on the west coast or teaching full time and living wherever. The fact that I don’t have a one size fits all idea of the future is enough to frustrate some women who already know when they want to have kids and where said kids will go to school etc. Needless to say this sets up a barrier that is difficult to overcome. I like to have options, but I know plenty of people who don’t. I’ve met women who don’t want to have kids. Sometimes that’s okay, sometimes it’s not. I’m not sure if I want to have kids so I like the woman I’m dating to at least have an open mind about it. Too much one way or the other can cause there to be too much distance between what we want individually and what we want for each other.
Ninth: attachment or non-attachment to material goods. Some people need to have the latest iPhone the day it comes out. I don’t understand that line of thinking, but there are situations in which I’ll accept it. But if the person I’m dating places too much value on material goods then it’s probably not going to work out between us because I live a relatively simple life and am happy living a relatively simple life. Adding a lot of things to my life creates unnecessary clutter and I don’t need more things to think about and worry about. At the same time I’m not willing to live in a van, that’s something that is just not in the cards for me.
Tenth: different worldviews. Somebody asked me the other day: “why can’t you be happy all the time?” My answer was relatively simple: depression. I also suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes even the most casual social encounter awkward. But it’s not so simple for everyone. Not everyone has been diagnosed with depression (although nearly one in four have.) We all have a unique way of looking at the world and we look at the world from different vantage points. For instance, I grew up in a middle class family in a middle class neighborhood. I’m the product of public schools, I’ve lived in the same relative area my entire life. If I’m dating someone who grew up poor this can lead to problems. For starters studies have shown that class mobility can be dependent on who your parents are and how they grew up. Different people have different experiences that goes without saying. This also has to do with values and just personal preferences as well though. Some people place an enormous value on “people watching” something that I’ve never put a lot of value on. People behave in the manner they do for any number of reasons, many of which we’ll never understand. Worldview and values are usually interconnected.
The Wildcard: (s)he doesn’t like to do x, y, or z. I love movies. I’ve always loved movies. I can’t see myself being with someone who doesn’t love movies. Being able to whisper to them: “hey doesn’t that remind you of that scene from x movie?” is very important to me. Other people have different dealbreakers like not liking pets or disliking potential in-laws. Whatever it is there will always be a drawback to each person you develop a relationship with and they cannot always be overcome.
All in all: Who we love is the single most important decision we make in our lives. I think it only makes sense to take as much time as you need to make the right decision. At the same time, making excuses for every little thing that someone does that you wouldn’t do isn’t always an acceptable reason for being single. If the reasons that you give for being single are reasons that you have been unable to find a life partner then I would like to reiterate that you’re not giving a reason you’re giving an excuse. Some people say: “well, I just like being single” and that’s okay if that’s the real reason that you’re single. But there are a lot of people who make excuses for being single when they’d like to be in a relationship of some kind and that’s not the same thing as enjoying being single. I’d like to be in a relationship, but I’m not for the reasons stated above. It’s not that I enjoy being single, it’s that what I’m looking for in a woman probably just doesn’t exist. Whether or not I’m okay with that only time will tell.