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Happy to be single:
the pleasures of independence
by Liz Hodgkinson
Copyright 1993
176 pages, paperback

Bon Journal

Happily single

Last Friday, after my yoga class, I wandered into my local library to read the daily newspapers. The reading table was next to a section of the library that was full of interesting titles. "Philosophy for dummies" caught my eye. Then "Happy to be single."

This book begins with "being single is wonderful - once you get used to it!" and it ends with "You're not missing out, you're gaining."

"Happy to be single" is totally opposite of another book I had read several years ago when trying decide whether I should remain single. "Women Living Single" depressed me thoroughly. In contrast, "Happy to be single" almost convinced me that being single was the optimal state to be, had it not gone over the top.

The author simply overdid it. As a journalist, she wrote well. She repeated her main messages in 100 different ways. But she went too far by blaspheming people who are in relationships.

Having followed Classic FM Radio's Classic romance programme for about ten years, I am convinced that long, happily married couples do exist. Otherwise, they wouldn't bother writing letters about their love stories and requesting love songs of significance to the public. I have come to the conclusion, from listening to such stories, that the secret to everlasting happiness is to feel like committing to the other person when you find him and then follow through by committing to that relationship. That's all it takes.

But in this age of uncertainty, everyone wants flexibility. And one way to be flexible is not to commit yourself. So staying single is an option. But it's not necessarily an everlasting happy option.

Some of the messages in the book I like are -

1- "if you can be alone by yourself, enjoy your own company, even live by yourself, then you have grown up." When I was younger, I couldn't stand being by myself. I preferred the security of being with other people. And when I was alone, I'd pick up the phone to call someone up.

2- "being single is not lonely, boring, or frightening." Nowadays, I enjoy my own company. There are so many things I like to do alone: play the piano, cook, cycle, swim, take exercise classes, surf the Web, take a hot aromatherapy bath with candles, sleep late, travel, pick wild berries, .... the list is endless.

3- "behind every successful work of art ... is the inspiration of a single individual - those who wish to create need time alone to think." My piano compositions were at their most melodious when I was living alone in Houston, before I had made any friends.

4- "those who can learn to enjoy being alone are the happiest and most fulfilled people." My Chinese background means that it's more important to know what others expect than what I want. Having figured out and catered to other people's expectations, I'm finally attending to my own.

The messages that I don't like are -

1- "women with very low self-esteem, who have little sense of their own worth, may attach themselves to alcoholics, bullies, or violent men, believing they don't deserve anything better while women with slightly more self-esteem, slightly more self-confidence, may go for the alpha male - somebody tall, good-looking, aristocratic, maybe, and with plenty of money in the bank." This implies that women with high self-esteem don't get attached at all. But surely, the desire to couple is also present in women with high self-esteem!

2- "many men feel that unless the relationship is going to lead somewhere - i.e. in bed - there is not a lot of point in them taking single women out to lunch, dinner, the theatre." Okay, the author used "many" instead of "all" men. If this is true, it's very sad indeed!

3- "the more you devote yourself to another person and deny your own needs, the further away you get from knowing and understanding your true self.... the monogamous heterosexual couple, by and large, is the most dysfunctional unit on earth." Well, well, well, ... that's a bold statement. It throws out all the Barbara Cartland novels I read as a teenager. If this is true, I will have to reprogramme my brain.

4- "the fact is that almost everybody who tries to bond exclusively with one person of the opposite sex for life, excluding all others, will eventually have relationship problems and will almost certainly also have sexual problems, when the sex has become boring or routine - as it inevitably will as time goes by." If this is true, then we'll have to rewrite all the fairytales that we tell our children!

2 September 2002 Monday

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