I was chatting with one of my best friends on the phone the other night when I asked her if she had seen the Brene Brown special “The Call to Courage” on Netflix.
She said, “Yeah,” but she said yeah with a kind of smirk that I could discern on the phone.
“It’s kind of obligatory for women of our demographic,” she said.
Ha. That demographic would be San Francisco, progressive, emotionally aware, 40s-50s.
We talked about the special, which I appreciated. Brene Brown’s work naming the power of vulnerability and its importance for love, happiness, and connection has been life-changing for me as it has been for many, many people. But there was one aspect of the talk that didn’t sit exactly right.
I loved Brene Brown’s storytelling about how incredibly challenging it can be to open up and talk about your feelings in an intimate relationship, even and especially for her (and for me I would add too!). Being vulnerable is not easy! But when she was telling stories from her life I had the feeling she was assuming that everyone in the audience was married, or at least, had a long-term partner. She was careful to use a non-parenting example after using a parenting example in her talk, but I had the feeling she wasn’t addressing the high percentage of people who are out there struggling to find and maintain a relationship or who are content being single.
There are particular ways that shame and challenges around vulnerability show up for those of us who are dating, and have been single for longer than we want to be. This is just one of the reasons I was so glad Bay Area therapist Laura Parker reached out to interview me as part of her groundbreaking series Transforming Loneliness.
Laura definitely groks “quirkyalone” (probably because she is one!). We could focus on shame and vulnerability from that perspective. We talked about how we can move from “single shame” to owning our stories as discerning quirkyalones. Why? So we can stop all those self-critical thoughts in our heads–and be more peaceful within ourselves and open to more love and connection.
For example, in our conversation, we talk about with shameful thoughts and questions like, “Is it my fault that I’m still single? I’m the one common denominator!” Or “Am I actually unlovable?”
By now I have enough experience as a life coach, writer and human being to know that people in long relationships also struggle with questions about whether they are lovable, but these questions really do hit hard if you are single for a lot longer than you want to be. I’ve worked through those issues myself–they will be on full display in my memoir (working title Wet). I often talk with clients who carry around the feeling that it’s their fault they are still single.
Loneliness, in my view, gets very tangled up with shame. We feel ashamed of feeling lonely and needing or wanting more connection than we have. We might even feel ashamed of having needs for love or companionship that have not been met. Or we might feel ashamed that our life stories don’t fit the “norm” of how adulthood is supposed to happen with certain milestones by certain ages.
According to this San Diego-based psychological study, 75% of Americans struggle with loneliness, even if they have a partner and a network of friends. These researchers found wisdom, compassion and empathy help people to feel more connected to humanity and the cosmos. Interacting with others who share values and interests can be helpful too.
Laura wants to help us to change the way we view loneliness so that instead of feeling ashamed of our loneliness as a personal failing we see it as a message to be attended to. I hope this conversation can give you more wisdom to look at your own feelings of loneliness when they come up. As Laura helped us see there are lots of ways to look at a dating history that has been mostly single. There might be something right with you if you don’t settle for a mediocre or unhealthy relationship.
In this video, you will hear us talk about:
- What we mean when we say “single shame.” It’s that feeling that might overcome you when your date asks how long it’s been since your last relationship. It’s been years, and you don’t know what to say
- What it means to “own your story” so someone can get to know you. If we don’t love and accept our own story enough to share it will be difficult for anyone to get to know you.
- This brilliant corrective to single shame. When you are caught in a loop of self-judgment about still being single, sometimes the best thing to do is stop judging yourself and accept the mystery of life.
- What I think about the idea that “you have to love yourself to love someone else.”
- How relationships are mirrors and are co-created between two people.
- How my ideas about relationships have evolved since publishing Quirkyalone in 2004
- The memoir I’m working on now Wet is a follow-up to Quirkyalone. The new book goes into my own single shame story of how healing the effects of trauma helped me to open up more deeply than ever before in an important romantic relationship
- Touch starvation when feeling lonely–and how tango or any kind of dance with contact can be an antidote
So go back to the top of this blog post and watch this video because it’s truly special (it starts off slow but it’s really a gem if you identify with being quirkyalone). Then, want to read or hear more about working with your loneliness and healing single shame?
Laura interviewed more than a dozen healers and thinkers on the topic of transforming loneliness from many spiritual perspectives. These videos are very nourishing. I recommend you check them out on her YouTube channel.
I’ve been talking about single shame with other authors, coaches and therapists for a while now.
I talked with Sara Eckel, author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single about how to heal your single shame. Sara wrote about that icky feeling of single shame in a beautiful Modern Love essay that launched her book of the same name. Watch that conversation here.
To go further:
Grab your copy of my book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics to to know you are never alone when you’re quirkyalone.
This is tough stuff and you don’t need to do it on your own. Sometimes the best way to work through shame is to work with someone who can be your compassionate witness and observer to help you work through these feelings. Simply acknowledging and talking about shame often lessens those feelings considerably. Get one–on-one-help with working through single shame to own your story and open up for more love and connection. You can find a therapist in your area and ask him or her if she is sensitive to these types of issues or check out my coaching page and request a consult to explore coaching with me.