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Singles or doubles, it’s good just to be in the game

Have you someone with whom to share your view?

Have you someone with whom to share your view?

by Karen Kreps

All the years when I was single, I thought it would be so wonderful to be married. I wanted to be paired, as if that would validate me as a person and confirm my desirability as a woman. I felt lonely and ashamed when I didn’t have a date on Saturday night. I was awfully horny.

I thought that if I just could find the right man and get him to love me, I’d be happy. I hadn’t learned that happiness comes first from within.

As a solo traveler, I resented paying extra to tour operators, since I didn’t have a companion with whom to share the hotel room or cruise cabin. I wanted to run the summer beach house we rented as a group–and, with a boyfriend, I could reserve use of the master bedroom rather than being assigned one of the kid’s rooms, where I would sleep alone on a narrow bed. I envied my married girlfriends who could always count on having someone taller and stronger to retrieve a jar from the top shelf and get the cover unstuck.

I wanted to make babies and I didn’t want to bring them up alone.

Every man I met became a possible candidate. I learned to quickly disqualify the married, the gay guys—even the most charming—and the losers in my search for a winner. I learned slowly to also disqualify the emotionally damaged and the confirmed bachelors.

After I got married, I learned that the human mind is always changing. One day we want one thing; another day, we want something else. Sometimes, what we arrange doesn’t turn out to be to our liking. Anything we arrange can be unarranged.

When we attach happiness to anything that is transitory, our peace will be short-lived.

The difference is that, when you’re married, you can’t easily escape and start a new relationship, the way you can when you’re just dating. Rather, you have to learn to compromise, communicate and support each other. And you have great opportunity to find out so much about yourself by observing how you behave with your spouse. You make promises that you are motivated to fulfill. You learn—perhaps not entirely—what effect your moods have on someone else and you take more responsibility for them. You learn that someone else can mean a lot to you, but can’t be your “everything.” It isn’t humanly possible, and such expectations lead to an emotionally unhealthy reliance and disappointment.

So now that I’ve been married a good long time, and now when Thanksgiving is around the corner, I find myself asking: “Am I thankful now for all the things I thought I missed as a single person?”

Yes! I may not always be alert to it, but I do enjoy the companionship, the sense of belonging and the peer respect for the institution of marriage that is commonly afforded naturally to those who succeed in maintaining a long-term relationship.

I’ve learned that, while we may have fallen in love on account of charm and good looks, love deepens as we learn to know one another with increasing intimacy and as we watch and support each other in our growth and maturation.

Now that I think about it, I realized that this is the life for which I had yearned. The benefits are many that come in reward for all the effort that a marriage demands: having someone with whom to share meals, to take turns cooking and cleaning, to go on walks, to spoon in bed, to turn to for easy, safe, satisfying sex. It’s fun and comforting to have a shared history and a collection of inside jokes. All the good stuff described as “wanted” in single’s ads is available in marriage. I wanted it; I got it. For this, I am thankful.

At the same time, I can now appreciate the greenery seen beyond the fence I closed behind me. Now, I can remember the freedom of living a life free of compromise.

Those who live alone have total control over their space. The mess they make is their own doing, and they need not pick up after someone else. They are available for romance when it knocks on their doors, or they can venture out to seek it in an endless array of social adventures. They meet more people when they travel.

I always knew but thought little of how singles don’t have to worry about how the in-laws view them and or what their family expects of their spouse. They enjoy more time to focus on their careers, health, friendships and other areas of their lives that require time and energy to accomplish. They can live out their fantasies without having to be told they are wrong by the person closest to them, if that person doesn’t happen to share their passions. They can invent themselves at every turn.

Why didn’t I appreciate all this when I had the liberty to enjoy it? I don’t know. I guess I was focused on the glass half empty. But marriage has taught me that life is good and that relationships are the great gifts that enrich our days and nights.

If you dig a well and don’t hit water soon enough, you can go dig another well and the same thing may happen. But if you dig deep and don’t keep starting over, you’re bound to strike the fluid that sustains life. So it is with relationships.

Single or paired, both passages of life have their ups and their downs. It’s like in sports. In tennis, you can play singles or doubles. In singles, every move is your own, win or lose. You can’t blame anyone else when you flub the ball. In doubles, you face your opponents in unison and experience the powerful synergy of teamwork. Either way, remember life is a great game. Have fun at it and play to win.