It is often imagined that the dilemma of being single is that there is no one there when you need them. As the following vignettes illustrate, the issues can be the inverse. People who are single often have created a variety of friendships, community involvements, and relationships. These become the foundation of joy and meaningful relatedness as well as contribute to resilience and well being when we are vulnerable or in need. Yet sometimes problems can arise in our relationships when expectations, needs, and assumptions collide.
The first vignette highlights how being open, flexible, and resilient allows us get the assistance we need (and can preserve friendships).
I assumed YOU would be there for me!
Tina was confronted with having to figure out who would take care of her animals when she was incapacitated from surgery. She didn’t have enough money to line up dog walkers, so she called a good friend who declined her request, saying she couldn’t manage the daily walks in her harried work schedule. Tina was hurt but resigned- seeing this as “yet another instance where I am there for other people and in the few occasions I ask for help, no-one is there.” She saw her friendships consisting of many “one way” relationships.
Tina had grown up with parents who were not emotionally available because of their own problems (e.g. alcoholism, and being overwhelmed). So she had learned that in order to survive, “I can’t count on others, I have to rely on myself!” Indeed her friendships mirrored this expectation; she was always there for others but rarely asked for others to consider her. And in fact several of these friends really didn’t appear especially reliable; while those that might have been supportive assumed because of her demeanor that she didn’t need help. She always appeared to have things under control.
So Nancy had to do two things. Communicate what she needed and recognize that some people might say no; but realize that it was counterproductive to over-generalize from the “no” that people can’t be trusted, or she is a bother, or it’s hopeless. She needed to hold lightly her expectations of others, and not give up when she hit roadblocks. When Nancy was able to be straight about her needs and accept the responses she received, she was ultimately able to find those friends and acquaintenances that were happy to help her.
he second vignette illustrates how occasions that require us to depend on others can become breakthroughs in understanding what we really value and need in our relationships.
The Bloom Came off One of the Roses.
Jill had been dating Eric for several months; they had great fun together and she was very excited about their future. Unfortunately while skiing in Colorado with friends, she twisted her knee. After she returned home from the hospital, she hoped that Eric would at least call her if not visit. But the phone didn’t ring. When she finally talked to him, he said he had a huge project and couldn’t get away from the office. He hoped she would understand. He continued to be sporadically in communication. But when her friends and brother called, brought food, and generally were there for her, it gradually dawned on her that as much fun as Eric and she had had, that when she really needed him-he wasn’t there. As painful as it was to accept this reality, she felt she had recovered not only from her fall, but from the idea that her relationship with Eric was one she could invest in more deeply. She realized she valued and needed someone who could be more available “for better and for worse” like her friends and brother had been.
The third vignette illustrates that far from being alone, this forty-something woman was…
Suffocated with Love.
Ellen had been diagnosed with a serious illness, and everyone- friends and family- wanted to visit and be of help. She was grateful for the caring and concern. But answering the phone and arranging visiting times was beginning to be a full time job. Ellen had a sister, who assumed as a family member that should have the primary responsibility for Ellen’s care. But despite her good intentions, she really didn’t know Ellen that well, and her visits agitated her. She also had a friend who was a supportive confident, who knew many of Ellen’s friends and also knew what was important to her.
Always the caretaker in her family and among her friends, Ellen didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But for her own sake, she had to overcome her guilt and identify her own needs. She discovered that it was important to let people know she needed quiet time (and not expect that they should know). She also had to acknowledge that she wanted her best friend to take charge of her schedule, and that as well meaning as her sister was, she would have to take a back seat.
Although these are just a few of many possible scenarios, here are some ways you can be empowered in thinking about your relationships in sickness and in health!!
Take a moment to look at who is in your life. Where do you feel connected and where do you see gaps. Are their relationships you need to develop or conversations you need to have? Expectations of support are implied in marriage and partnership, but if you are single you may have to be more deliberate and direct in clarifying these expectations.
2.Hold lightly your assumptions and expectations of others.
Don’t assume that you shouldn’t call Jane, because you will be a burden since she is going through a tough time. Likewise don’t assume that your good friend Liz will be the one that you can count on. Some friends may not be available, while others may enjoy and feel honored to be asked for their input and support. You have to be direct. Friends may not anticipate what you need (as much as you might think they should). And finally, be prepared for surprises. When Jane was homebound following surgery, she was delighted when several people from her church, whom she barely had talked to, set up a schedule of bringing dinners.
3. Be mindful of your own assumptions about yourself. If you are someone who cherishes independence and self reliance, you have to overcome “self talk” that gets in the way of asking for what you need. These ideas might include:
I don’t want to be a burden or a bother.
Maybe I am asking too much.
They have their own problems.
They will be mad at me.
I feel vulnerable and pathetic being the center of attention.
I hate to have others see (how I live, my dirty clothes, my weakness etc.)
Being intimate and related in your circle of family, friendships and community, means that you let others know what is going on with you. And even if you are someone that likes to take care of things yourself, sometimes those moments of having to rely on others can deepen your relatedness and experience of life.