First Person Singular: Living the good life alone
a book by Stephen M. Johnson
(our site's book review)
The best book written about how to have a good life living alone, this How-To book guides the reader towards successful single living. He makes lots of good points, such as: The criterion to be used to determine whether or not you like being alone is whether or not you like yourself—if you don’t like yourself you’ll never like being alone because you’re in bad company. He encourages people to learn to be better company for themselves by forming good friendships and learning creative pastimes they enjoy and are good at and they’ll be proud of.
Johnson encourages people to develop creative pastimes they enjoy and are good at and they’ll be proud of
41% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce
Another area that Johnson shines is that of steep-gradient relationships, especially marriage. He recommends that in either married or single life, people learn to have flat-gradient relationships. This means that he advocates that people have many social relationships—all of which constitute a working social support system. This is just as important for couples and marrieds as it is for singles. When marriages fail, it’s often because one or both partners made the mistake of trying to have their couple relationship fill all their people needs except for the parenting one (and some even try to get their adult relationships to fill that need as well). And when singles feel bad and get depressed and morose, it’s usually because they haven’t built a successful friendship network.
Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011
When singles feel bad and get depressed and morose, it’s usually because they haven’t built a successful friendship network
It’s easy to see why marriages are set up to fail when each partner puts all his eggs in a single basket, with the partner being the sole need filler—a ridiculous expectation
Here are the (unfortunately) bias-filled characteristics of relationships, U.S.A.: Many people who are single feel that they are failing whenever they’re uncoupled. And many married people let go of their other relationships once they get married, acting as though they’re no longer needed. The attitude is that in single life friends are just there to ease each other’s pain because of not having a partner, and they have little value once the marriage occurs. With such poor, negative, erroneous attitudes, it’s easy to see why marriages are set up to fail: They’re set up to be panaceas, solving all problems, filling all relationship needs, and being everything. Of course, they can never fulfill such ridiculous expectations and the divorce statistics (the majority of marriages end in divorce) testify clearly to the extent of dashed hopes.
By the same token, when singles share the same sentiments as many people who marry that couple relationships are the only ones that count or fill needs, they often end up failing to create a social support network around themselves, so they end up lonely and sad and social networks tend to make them even lonelier. Worse yet, when couples cannot make steep-gradient relationships work because of each person putting too much pressure on the other to fill all needs, they assume that there’s something wrong with the relationship rather than something wrong with the lack of other social supports and something wrong with their misguided expectations. So they wreck relationship after relationship, overwhelming person after person until they finally turn to substance abuse, realizing that no person can ever dull their pain. Johnson says:
“A working social support system is necessary for a fulfilling life for almost everyone, no matter what his life circumstances may be. To be distressed at not having it is normal—and, in this society, not having it is the norm. A good deal of the stress in this culture, both personal and societal, comes from the pervasive lack of a meaningful community in our lives.” He says that married people seem to be less lonely and therefore many singles try this, only to be eager for single status again in a few years, because of the dashed, unrealistic hopes. Johnson adds that:
“Perhaps inevitably, counterpressures are building to open up the family and liberate all its members from the rigid and confining ties of a closed system. But as yet, we have not developed new social forms to accommodate these new pressures and still meet the continuing human need for intimacy, security and belonging. Until such forms are developed and integrated into the social fabric, you are on your own.” Accepting the verity of existential aloneness is one of the prerequisites for mature autonomy; creating a successful social support network of friends is the other, according to Johnson.
One damaging maxim that gets in the way of such friendships is “lovers are more important than friends.” If this is true, it’s because you’ve been too distant from and superficial with friends, engaging in escapism and frittering away time so as not to feel lonely. A good friendship contains nonsexual intimacy, trust, and commitment. Another negative and erroneous maxim is: “friendships just happen.” They don’t. They must be pursued actively.
If you've been too distant from and superficial with friends, engaging in escapism and frittering away time so as not to feel lonely, you're likely to be very lonely when alone
His guideline: Meet them while pursuing your own interests, keep your eyes open for prospective friends, and be persistent once you find someone. And don’t be surprised if many are obsessed with coupling perspectives and are confused or put off by your aspirations at first. Remember, the culture has conditioned that perspective in countless hours of TV programs and ads. You can’t counteract such thoroughness overnight. Other stupid maxims: close friends should be of the same sex, singles should be friends only with other singles, and people must meet others accidentally because planned meetings are acts of desperation on the part of the planners.
He encourages couples and marrieds to have close, intimate friends so that they don’t overwhelm their mates and wreck a good thing. He sees the preservation of culture and community as what’s at risk when we pair off and isolate ourselves from the world in our cocoons/homes. He also sees that it’s vital to promote growth and variation in one’s partner and friends. He encourages P.E.T. communication strategies, especially I-messages, active listening and conflict resolution. You-messages are conflict encouraging, I-messages are conflict resolving. He advises against failing to communicate about things that are uncomfortable—breakdowns in communication begin when we begin making things more comfortable by leaving out the more difficult and scary feelings out of fear of provoking a conflict. That’s the point of P.E.T.: one can communicate about anything and have it work for them as long as they use proper, effective communication techniques in doing it.
(This latter issue highlights the need for PSBs so that sensitive subjects can be dealt with only when appropriate people are feeling up for it. They noninvasively monitor statuses of others so that when two or more people are concomitantly open to a certain thing, they’ll find out that fact and act on it. How incredibly easy it is in today’s world to conclude that everyone’s too busy for you, no one cares how you feel, no one’s into listening to the feelings you are experiencing, and you’re not important to any one. In truth, people reject themselves a lot more than others reject them.)
(Moreover, his entire thesis dovetails greatly with MC philosophy. Changing from steep-gradient to flat-gradient relationships gives adults many of the same benefits as the parenting change that kids experience when parents change from steep-gradient to flat-gradient nurturance. His call for social support systems for everyone and the vital need for people to have friends they’re socially intimate with are the scientifically incontrovertible truths that MCs live by. He’s gotten his finger on the main societal Achilles’ heel and has part of the answer written down in black and white in this book. See Why Register for an MC?.)
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