By Mark E. Smith
Indeed, the winter holidays are among the most romantic times of the year, lovers snuggled by the fireplace, exchanging precious, heartfelt gifts, a season that will carry their love for decades to come.
Unless, of course, you’re single, curled up in a fetal position on the couch, sobbing to Titanic, wearing a stained T-shirt and sweat pants, longing for that special someone who you know is never going to come along – your dreams slowly sinking like a ship into the abyss that is your life.
While such perspectives surrounding romance around the holidays are exaggerated – for the better and the worst – it can be tough for singles, where parties and celebrations abound with couples, where it can feel isolating to not have someone to kiss when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. However, the holidays really don’t exemplify single-hood, but merely call attention to it in distinctly seasonal ways.
My single friends have been asking me how I’m handling the holidays as a single guy, a question that I think they ask in hopes that I’ll answer, terribly, as misery loves company. But, instead, I’ve been surprising them with my answer: “I’m still perfecting my individual tennis game,” I say. “I’ve got great coaches, I’m in better shape all of the time, and my serve is getting blistering fast.”
My friends look at me like I’m insane. But, what they are slow to catch onto is that a romantic partnership at its highest level – soul mates – has a lot in common with tennis. See, a successful doubles tennis team isn’t made up of two inexperienced, below-average tennis players who pair together. Rather, a successful double tennis team is comprised of two remarkable individual players, and when two such distinct individuals are paired, they surely form a winning team. Put simply, a team doesn’t create winning players; rather, winning players create a winning team – and it’s my obligation to evolve in the present toward creating the healthiest personal foundations possible for me to be in a life-inspiring relationship in the future.
But, too many people skip the “singles” step. You might say, rather than becoming an excellent individual tennis player, then partnering with someone of the same high skills, they think that simply partnering with anyone will make a winning team. And, it never works – not in tennis, and certainly not in love. As individuals, we must have established our own healthy identities in order for a partnership to work in the long term. I know, we like to think that “love conquers all” and “opposites attract,” but this rarely proves true over time. Instead, mutual respect and common understanding – where core values align, and we inspire each other, not overshadow each other – is where genuine compatibility occurs.
In real world practice, working on ourselves when single – or even when in a relationship! – is the surest way to lasting love, to truly connecting with a soul mate. If I strive to be the best individual that I can be – focused on evolving my emotional health, my skills as a parent, my career, my roles as friend, my place in the community, my spirituality – it sets me up to not just be a better person, but to be a great partner, a soul mate. Again, professional tennis players aren’t looking to partner with amateurs, so if we want to find true success in partnerships, we must first develop ourselves.
Interestingly, few people take this approach to finding love – that is, evolving as an individual before entering a serious relationship. I see it all the time with friends who aren’t focused on their own characters, but who just want “love” – a desperation as haphazard as grabbing a stranger’s hand and running onto the court at Wimbledon, and thinking that the fact that they’re “partnered” means success. Yet, it never does. Sure, they’ll fumble around for a while trying to make it work, but eventually they fail – and just like watching two people who can’t play tennis struggle and fail, it’s equally as obvious when watching two people “in love” struggle and fail. Sure, you can meet someone in a bar or other superficial means and try to make it work, but the odds of finding your true soul mate under such shallow pretense – such a lack of life-inspiring connection – is about as likely as finding a literal professional doubles tennis partner at your local honky-tonk joint.
So, here’s the real question: How do we grow in ways when single that will not only improve our lives and strengthen our characters, but attract those truly suitable to date, ideally finding not just love, but a soul mate?
The answer is, we live the life we wish, ideally to the highest standard. If we live the life we wish, we’re more than half-way on the road to finding a true soul mate. If we’re living to the standards we wish, that’s who we’re going to attract – and, even if we never meet that someone special, we’re more importantly living a truly fulfilling life. I love attending my daughter’s drama events; I love boating; I love traveling; I love Broadway shows; I love reading and writing; and I love charity events. Rather than sit home pining about how I wish I had someone with whom to share all of these interests, I’m out pursuing these interests by myself – and thereby increasing my odds of meeting someone with my same interests because we’re at the same places enjoying the same activities. If you want to meet someone who plays tennis, go to a tennis court! But, again, even if I never meet my soul mate – though, trusting that I might is an important part of the process – I’m still living a content, rewarding life. Living life to the fullest as an individual is the goal, and if love is found with another in the process, then it’s a double blessing.
In these ways, the single life fosters remarkable potential for us in both the present and future. It’s the chance to better ourselves through personal growth, allowing every opportunity to pursue the life we’ve dreamed, where we’re not hinging our ultimate self-fulfillment on a “relationship,” but on living life to the fullest of our individual capacities. And, what’s fascinating is that focusing on ourselves as individuals actually makes us better future partners, placing us in the amazing position to not fall into a relationship that we’ve “settled for,” but to actually discover the one that we’re “meant for.” See, when we’re emotionally healthy and embracing all that life has to offer, love doesn’t stop when we’re single – it begins.