Unlike a friendship with one person, communities provide options. You can relate to whom you are drawn and at whatever level is comfortable for you. Although some communities are defined by place (e.g. we live in the same building or “community”), others are defined only by a shared interest, focus, or identity (e.g. we are single). Sex in the City and Seinfeld beautifully illustrated the powerful friendship communities that can develop among single adults. Communities can be stable. They exist whether you show up or not, but when you do show up, people begin to recognize you as a “part of it.”
"Naturally I like my friends," says Jamie- a 35 year old intensive care nurse. "...but increasingly I have begun to value those groups that I hang out with where I am linked to people who are both like me, and not like me- they range from the local park where I walked my dog in the evenings, to the Wednesday night book group where I can count on some lively discussions. I met a lot of new people in my singing group, and was able to take a leadership role which made me feel even more involved. As membership director, I developed even a deeper sense of ‘belonging’.And then there is always Facebook and the coffee shop on my way to work.”
But we can lose our sense of connectedness to communities. If our interests change, we move, or lose a job we may not feel as close. Finally, many single people find that after divorce or a break up they can also lose their community. Jane loved her fiancee’s family; but when they broke up, she mourned the loss of them almost as much as the loss of her fiancée. Communities can also change; gradually, the focus of the group may change- leaving you wondering, "what did I ever have in common with these people?"
When you have lost your community- it can feel like everything else changes. You can feel lost, afloat, and wonder, “Who am I?”
In clinical practice, we often work with singles in transition. Often they describe feeling disconnected or like they don’t belong. They may feel on the outside of their family, who are all about their younger brother who has kids, or out of synch with their old group of friends who are having babies. After a breakup, you may miss your fiancé, but if you are honest, you may sometimes miss his family more than him!
Singles in transition may attribute their feeling disconnected and alone to being single. This leads to the logical solution that they need to either step up pursuit of THE relationship that will fill this void, or brace themselves for the inevitable conclusion that this is how it will feel as long as you are single.
But the single=isolated/alone myth in fact undermines effective coping and resilience. Disconnectedness does not have to be part of being single, just as feeling connected is not an automatic condition of partnership (just look at all the couples therapist in your local directory!) Even if you are a single person who does want to meet a partner, developing a solid relatedness in community is one of the most effective ways of staying balanced and centered, as you date.