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Is it really a sin to be single?

By Jim Friel, Special to CNN
updated 7:55 AM EST, Sat November 17, 2012
"Why wouldn't we fear being alone? Aren't we encouraged in this fear?" Friel asks.
  • As single man, Jim Friel often faces "innately hostile" question: Why are you single?
  • He asks: "Why is confirmation of sexuality to be in thrall to tyranny of coupledom?"
  • He doesn't claim single state to be superior to coupledom -- but it is equally valid

Editor's note: James Friel is an author. His most recent novel, The Posthumous Affair, was published in 2012. He is Program leader for the masters degree in Writing at the Center for Writing, Liverpool John Moores University.

(CNN) -- "Admit it, you're lonely. In the end, whatever you say, you must be so lonely."

So said the otherwise obliging radio presenter when he interviewed me about a recent BBC article in which I had defended singledom.

Read more: Single? You're not alone

After so often being asked at dinner parties or other social occasions, why I was not partnered, I had realized that the question is innately hostile.

If I were to ask a similar question, "Why have you settled for him?" or "How did you get stuck with her? Are you so afraid of being alone?" this would be thought rude and intrusive.

Read more: Still single? What's the matter with you?

Increasingly, we realize our relationships might not or need not endure. Increasingly, we are choosing to live alone. And yet being or remaining single still is still too often considered a deviant status, a second best, a failing.

We don't need stories of how to become couples. They are legion. We need stories about how to be single. We need them whether we are gay or straight. We need them whether we are single by choice, through separation, divorce, or bereavement or because this, for you, is how life has turned out.

Read more: The stigma of being single in Shanghai

I did not claim the single state to be superior to coupledom -- nor ever will -- but that it is equally valid, as capable of joy, variety, adventure and eventfulness.

And, yes, as liable to loneliness -- with the proviso that no one is quite as lonely as those who fear being alone.

And why wouldn't we fear being alone? Aren't we encouraged in this fear? Every pop song has it so. Every movie touching on human relationships. Every advert selling us not just the better life, but the best life. Your family fear for you. Your friends. Sometimes you might frighten yourself.

You are nothing, nothing, nothing if you don't have someone else to complete you?

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And who would want to remain a spinster? Ugly word. The word is innocent: the connotations are unkind. Doesn't it suggest that, withered, alone and childless, you have failed at life?

Rebrand the word. Call yourself Spinsta! Say it like Gangsta! Fight for your rights -- or simply vote, as 68% of single women did for one candidate over another, and let it be understood that your interests are not in the economy, but your own sex life and your need for free birth control.

Read more: The two kinds of single women

But then single people are most often defined by their sex life, muddily defined at that. A single person is sexless, celibate, repressed -- or the very reverse.

Historically, the bachelor has had an easier time of it, but who calls himself a bachelor these days? Doesn't it sound suspect? Perhaps these male spinsters have "issues"? Aren't lying about their sexuality? Aren't they emotionally retarded? Might they be users, fearful of real commitment? They will be punished. They do not know how lonely they will become.

Even the gay bachelor can no longer escape. That gay relationships need protection of the law is both right and necessary, but why is the true confirmation of our sexuality to be in thrall to the tyranny of coupledom that for so long did us so little favor?

People have told me that I have been brave to speak out as a single person. It did not seem so. It seemed timely and necessary. It seems right to keep on saying so. But, yes, I must be lonely, mustn't I? Despite all I believe and say, I must be lying to myself. I must realize I am failing at life.

Read more: Jim Friel's blog

So, more or less, thought a therapist on that radio show. Much of his work was with single people. Sad single people. There can be no other kind. They sit alone in bars -- or, at least, the men do: the women dare not go out at night. He counseled such people, and he had discovered that each had sustained a psychic wound in childhood. He led them to a point where they realized that only union with another person could heal that wound.

He did not know me -- he did not know me at all -- but he suspected this was my story, this was my life, and how it and I might be healed.

I told him that I did not spend my time alone at bars, that I had, as single people do, friends. I had relationships, that my life was full. I told him that I was no more wounded than any coupled person, and that I looked with horror at any advice that led me to use another person as a band-aid.

I cannot deny that I am sometime sorrowful, sometime lonely. I am human. Simply being human, single or coupled, means one has, running though oneself, a vein of sorrow, but I wonder, when the coupled person considers that vein of sorrow within themselves if they are not tempted to call it, I don't know, "My husband"?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jim Friel.

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