When I was asked by a friend if I might facilitate a meeting of her psychotherapy group, I jumped at the chance. The topic was to be Long-Time Singles, and for a guy who was once between wives for about six minutes (and didn't like it), I figured this would a good chance for me to find out what life was like on the other side.
The group that turned out was evenly divided between males and females and their ages varied over a couple of generations; in short, it was a fairly representative sample. That being the case, I was blown away by the response to my very first question. When I asked how many would willingly trade "singledom" for "coupledom" they were unanimous in wanting to switch. There was, of course, the requirement that the Significant Other be a real sweetheart but I was still surprised. What this meant was that nobody in the room was there by choice. In the best of worlds, they would all have been home baking cookies with Mr/Ms Right.
So why was I so surprised? Two reasons: One was that I had always assumed there were people out there who really liked being alone; content with a few friends, a library card and maybe a cat - solitude was their thing. The other was that I had always assumed people unhappy with their lot would try to make a change even if it meant, horror of horrors, altering a few of their views.
So what is it with the single who would rather be a couple? Since none of my test sample had trouble meeting people and making friends, I had to wonder about the invisible barrier that separated buddys from honeys. This became especially apparent when I asked about the traits one would hope for in a honey. Would it be a great shock to learn that they were essentially the same as those typically found in a buddy? All that stuff like trust and shared opinions, companionship and common interests, affection and good humor - the stuff one already has in a friend is the stuff one is looking for, and can't seem to find, in a mate.
The difference, it would seem, is that the Long-Time Single expects to find it all in one person and expects it to last forever. This is like saying that instead of living your life in small increments, occasionally accepting the least objectionable option offered, and occasionally deciding to move in an entirely different direction, you had decided to huddle by the bed until you hit the lottery.
Look at it this way:
1) No one person can or should be expected to fill all your needs forever - forget that!
2) A ten year marriage that ends in divorce did not fail - it succeeded for ten years!
3) The time spent as a couple was not wasted - it was a unique journey shared!
Dr. Mason is a psychologist, and a radio talk show host. He may be reached at