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Lonliness and the Single, Urban Dweller
It's Friday night. You arrive home late and exhausted from another week of demanding, stressful work and long hours that have left you no time for even thinking about the week-end, let alone planning for it. So, here you are, tired, alone and already anticipating the boredom, isolation and catch-up errands and housework that are to come. Sound familiar?
Unlike generations past, singles today are delaying marriage while pursuing advanced education and demanding careers, often in places far away from where they grew up. The 2002 census data tells us that the median age for first marriage has risen to 25.3 for women and 26.9 for men. This marriage delay has led to a long period of single years in which individuals who have often relocated for school and/or work must find new ways to meet their needs for familial intimacy and sharing.
This new lifestyle has been on the rise for over twenty years, as societal norms have shifted due to divorce, the new sexuality and a desire on the part of singles to marry after they have reached an age in which they know who they are and what they want out of life. Older singles, (late 30's to early 50's) were the pioneers in this new way of life. The role models available to them were primarily limited to early marriage after high school, some college or upon completion of a college degree. Marriage was the (expected) next step and the route that marriage-minded people felt they had to choose.
For those who didn't marry early, the single life has not lived up to its promises. Yes, they have been successful in their careers and many singles own their own homes and have reached a certain level of financial stability and freedom, but the lifestyle issues can be huge. They believed the right person would happen along after they had met their educational and professional goals. Instead, many singles in this age group report that they struggle with a loneliness that has resulted from an imbalance in their lives. Time passed, friends married and moved away and their families of origin were no longer able to function as they once had due to aging or deceased parents. They often refer to themselves as workaholics who attempt to meet needs primarily through success in their careers, while neglecting their social and personal lives.
Younger singles- twenties to mid-thirties express similar issues, yet there are differences that are significant and worth taking a look at. These younger singles had somewhat different role models. Education and career were placed at the top of their lists from childhood. Many had working mothers, who raised their daughters (as well as their sons) to focus on becoming strong, independent adults who could "have it all" if they followed these rules for success. Putting off marriage was encouraged as a way to help them achieve their own personal goals first. Therefore, these singles embrace the belief that you shouldn't marry until you know yourself first and have learned to meet your own needs.
How has this difference impacted the quality of the lives of these two groups of singles? Younger singles began their independent lives with the expectation of more single years ahead and an attitude that they must build a complete life for themselves and not DELAY (amongst other things), building strong peer support systems. This gave rise to the close-knit, family like groups that are now often referred to as Urban Tribes. A writer named Ethan Watters first used this term in 2001 in a magazine article he wrote about the "tribe" that he had belonged to for a number of years, and how it had nurtured and sustained its members with friendship, emotional support, financial help and family-like bonds.
These tribes were often started with a core group who went to school together, worked in their first jobs together and/or lived together in order to share expenses. As time went on, the bonds deepened and many "tribers" report that they have many of the advantages of family without the responsibility and commitment of marriage. Many have marriage as their goal but are living "full and satisfying" lives until that time.
How can the tribal experience benefit older singles who have found that many of their old friends have moved away or married? They can begin (wherever they are in their lives) to create communities that can meet their current needs and lifestyles. This of course, will be more challenging at this stage of life. So, where should they begin? The following is a rough list of ideas:
friends from work
old friends who still share a similar lifestyle
new friends they meet through volunteer work, social groups, other friends, leisure time pursuits and church
internet searches for local singles.
Every metropolitan area offers a wide range of groups for singles. These are hosted by for profit companies as well as singles groups/clubs that are affiliated with religious and other private organizations. You can find them on the Internet by typing in key words such as "singles activities" along with you specific region of residence. Then you can go through the listings, looking for activities and pursuits that you feel would attract singles with whom you would have things in common.
In order for a community like this to take hold, members must be willing to set limits on their work lives and make themselves available for "family style" dinners, nights out, shared leisure time and structured outings and/or vacations, and support as needed to individuals within the group. Just as everyone within a family has their defined role, so will these emerge in tribes. Some will be the organizers or leaders, others will handle the details, while the rest will contribute as needed and as their strengths and interests allow. Over time, friendships and bonds will grow. Individual members will be provided with the support, caring and security they need in order to live a happy single life, which is the foundation on which all healthy intimate relationships are built.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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