But Who Will Kiss My Broken Cheek? October 3, 2009Posted by Onely in Bad Onely Activities, Just Saying..
Tags: bella depaulo, difficult single, eaten by cats, friends and family network, friends don't return calls, give bad phone, like being single
From friends, teachers, blogs, magazines, newscasters, and our inner monologues we hear about how much work it is to maintain a healthy committed romantic relationship. We seldom hear about how much work it is to maintain a healthy network of friends and family. I worry sometimes that I’m not doing a good enough job of cultivating a friends-and-family support system. Is this the enlightened-single’s equivalent of worrying about not getting married, as in, “Oh no, if I don’t have enough good friends I will die alone and be eaten by cats!”? I have a lot of friends here in the D.C. area, but I don’t know who I could call if I fell down and broke my face. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see my bloody boogers.
Singles advocate and social psychologist Bella DePaulo (who recently guest-posted on Onely!) often mentions how single people tend to have wider networks of friends, cultivate more and varied relationships, and participate more in community activities. Singles build and use a sort of social scaffolding that couple-centric relationships often don’t have. Here’s one of DePaulo’s quotes along those lines (explaining why a study shows that always-single people are healthier than previously-married people):
Perhaps people who have always been single maintain a more diversified relationship portfolio than the married people who invest all of their relationship capital into just one person. Maybe single people have friendships that have endured longer than many marriages. Maybe they attend to those friendships consistently, rather than stowing them on the back burner while focusing on The One.
Lately I’ve been reading these kind of things and thinking, “Oh crap, my friends-and-family network isn’t diversified enough, or strong enough, and gosh darnit, I don’t volunteer much (er, at all).” Forming and nurturing relationships with close friends, regular friends, new friends, nuclear family, extended family takes a lot of time and energy. If you want your support network to be strong enough so that it is really there for you if you fall down and break your face, then you need to have paid your dues–to have put in your own emotional and supportive energy. This involves calling friends, writing thoughtful emails, asking how they are, listening, scheduling, remembering birthdays perhaps. It requires most, if not all, of the same efforts that go into remaining “tight” with a spouse or sig other, with the difference that as a single person you’re making those efforts many times over.
If you can pull this off, great. It’s better to (as Bella said) have a diverse portfolio of relationships to fall back on if needed. That way, when you break your face, you might have a calm driver to take you to the emergency room with your broken face, a foodie to make you soup, a gentle friend to kiss your bruised and broken cheek, and a comical buddy to make you laugh–but not too hard because that irritates your shattered septum. This system may be much better than relying on one romantic partner to fill all these roles, especially if he trips over you and breaks his face too (because then what do you do?).
In my “circles” of friends and family, I have married couples, non-married but exclusive couples, and singles. The former are quickly outnumbering the latter. This phenomenon results in the timeworn singles’ lament, “My coupled friends don’t have time for me anymore”. I’ll see those lamenters and raise them one: “Even my single friends don’t have time for me anymore!” Well, this is not really true. My friends have time to email and Facebook me. They just don’t seem to have time to return my phone calls. I’m torn whether to blame our new cyber-obsessed society or the fact that maybe I “give bad phone” as the saying goes. I have six friends who haven’t returned calls I placed to them, ranging from a week ago to a couple months ago. Yet they all respond regularly over email, usually with some kind of plans to meet up in the near future. Perhaps I “give good email and in-person”, but not good phone?
If someone doesn’t want to return my innocuous phone calls, how can I ask them to help me when I’ve just fallen and broken my face? I can’t. Which is why I worry about the state of my support network, which as a single person is supposed to be legendary and far-reaching. And perhaps mine is, except it’s been watered down by a preponderance of superficial electronic interactions–time-filling but emotionally unnutritious, the refined sugar of relationships.
Most people would balk at a committed romantic partnered relationship consisting mostly of emails, tweets, and phone calls with the occasional get-together-in-person lunch. Yet this is considered fine for even close friendships. That is because people are expected to call their spouse or their boy-girlfriend if they break their face (or maybe a parent, if one is available). So partnered people put a lot of effort into making sure their other half loves them enough to lift them off the sidewalk and stop the bleeding. But what do single people do about a broken face when they don’t have–or necessarily want–that kind of partner and they haven’t been able to keep up a support network beyond emails and occasional meals, either because their friends are busy with their partners, or satisfied with cyber communications, or think the single person gives bad phone?