Hurrying down the street on a cold day last week, I turned the corner and saw a huge billboard for the upcoming movie, "The Vow." Although I have no idea what the movie is about or what "the vow" actually is, I saw Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum gazing romantically into each other's eyes, as young Hollywood lovers usually do. I interpreted "the vow" as being their wedding vows, and I immediately wondered how my single friends and clients would feel when they stumbled upon this advertisement.
The majority of my divorced clients bemoan how much our society promotes romance and coupling. In most cases, they didn't even notice this phenomenon until their own marriages derailed. In my private practice, I regularly sit with broken-hearted individuals who tell me they are constantly reminded about their exes, and what they "lost" (the benefits of being part of a couple) -- and this feeling is exasperated by the regular bombardment of messages received from the media about love. Case in point: a friend of mine complained to me, "How am I supposed to forget about my ex and feel good about being single when everywhere I turn is a reminder that marriage or being 'in love' is supposed to be the predominant state of happiness and normalcy?"
Sadly, I agree that our society is filled with the messages that at a certain age, singles are peculiar and perplexing, marriage is the preferred state of being, and once you get married, everything will be perfect. The fallout from these perceptions hits single women particularly hard, probably because more of the messages are aimed at women. I regularly hear tales of women being approached by well-meaning friends and relatives (and sometimes strangers) who feel compelled to blurt out phrases like, "You're so pretty; why are you still single?" Or if they are dating, and haven't yet met a new partner, there is a perception that they are doing something wrong. Men tell me that they do get less heat than women about being single, but they also feel that they get less attention and comfort post-divorce because they are supposed to be "strong." A male friend recently said, "People are less apt to rally around us guys. Media often portrays us as 'the cheaters' and we regularly get blamed for failing marriages. "
It's my opinion that the pressure behind these messages often makes people rush into relationships or re-marriage before they are emotionally or psychologically equipped to make good choices. It's for this reason that I was intrigued when a divorced colleague said to me the other day, "Kim Kardashian did us all a huge favor. She proved to the world that when it comes to marriage, it is trouble with a capital T when you allow the 'fantasy' to get in the way of the substance."
Although no one except Kim and Kris know why their extremely short marriage ended, what we do know is that their romance and nuptials happened in the glow of media approval. The wedding itself cost millions of dollars and provided E! with the highest rated TV show in its history. Maybe their TV special should have been aired with a warning statement like, "There is no guarantee that this or any other marriage will last for eternity." Perhaps fine print should also be included: "Statistics show that approximately 50 percent of marriages end in divorce for reasons as diverse as infidelity, financial stressors, parenting differences, and divergent sex drives."
The media should get on board and realize that they aren't doing anyone any favors by promoting perpetual romance. Singles, especially young, never-married ones, need to know that it's perfectly okay to be uncoupled, and that being single isn't a shameful stepping-stone. It can, in fact, be a great source of happiness. Finding the right person takes time. It's a process that simply cannot and should not be rushed. Marriage is about so much more than the wedding, and it concerns me that there is still so much pressure simply to tie the knot. The divorce rate would decrease if people just slowed things down and paid more attention to what they were really thinking and feeling, rather than just wanting to be married at the expense of everything else.
Adjusting to being single after a marriage ends is challenging enough without the constant barrage of hurtful and harmful messages from the media, which are packaged in sitcoms, reality shows, and movies. When you are used to living with someone and sharing most activities with that person, learning how to fill your time and enjoy your own company does take fortitude, patience and practice. But it is entirely possible to recover and to go on to live a wonderful life -- with or without a significant other at your side.