Being the Best Single You Can Be
In Jane Austen’s Emma, one of the best exchanges of dialogue comes from Mr. Knightley responding to the ever irritating Mrs. Elton. When the recently married woman offers to form the guest list for Mr. Knightley’s house party, since he’s a bachelor, he gives this great response.
“No,” he calmly replied, “there is but one married woman in the world whom I can ever allow to invite what guests she pleases to Donwell, and the one is — “
“Mrs. Weston, I suppose,” Interrupted Mrs. Elton, rather mortified.
“No- Mrs. Knightley; and until she is in being, I will manage such matters myself.”
His response, “until she is in being,” has given me pause more than once. It fits well within my personal views of fate, of inevitability. His attitude is one which would serve us well if we are waiting for love, for romance and marriage. Provoking us to consider how we are to behave and act until we have actually said those all so important words of, “I do.”
If I believe I will marry someday, by implication, it means the future Mrs. Layhew is out there and is not fictional, but real. It forces me to ask if current actions reflect that belief. Am I making choices or decisions which will hurt or hinder in the future? When Mr. Knightley reproved Mrs. Elton, he does this protecting the prerogatives of his future bride. He makes the choice to respect her and her role before he even knows who she is.
The question has had me pondering what to do while I wait. How to act until she is in being. There’s an all too common misconception with single people that the time until marriage is an unfettered freedom to do everything they won’t be able to when married. Pursuing unrivaled selfishness with this time. Indulging in whatever they can before they, “settle down.” We have the choice to be aimless in our affections and indulgent in our whims and caprices, but is that really be best use of this time?
We could sow wild oats, but isn’t worth more to plant a crop worth harvesting?
Fill The Unforgiving Minute
The unquestionable advantage of being single is the extra time. When not in a relationship you have more time to focus on literally whatever it is you want.
Bingeing a decade’s worth of television over a weekend? Let’s order a pizza and get the marathon started.
These options can lead to incredible moments of amusement, entertainment, creating stories to look back on. More often, we’ll find they only leave us with a foggy mind and a churning stomach.
On the opposite side of the spectrum you may be sitting on your hands, idly sitting and waiting for love to strike you like Cupid’s arrows. As noble as some may try to claim (sounds more pathetic really), it yields very little value and results more in the atrophy of your identity than anything.
You have time. I have time. This time can be spent in countless ways, but not all of them particularly useful. Single or not, you have the choice to make that time valuable or dead. An investment or an expense. In Rudyard Kipling’s Poem, If, he challenges us to, “Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run.”
Time does not forgive, it does not care, it continues relentlessly. It will persistently pass on regardless of how you use it, the question is if we are going to use the free minutes and moments in doing something which makes our lives more worth while, a place someone else would want to join us, or quietly watch the candle sputter and expire.
Do Interesting Things
Life is generally boring and mundane. Most of us try to ignore this truth, but few of us take the time to challenge it. My recent fascination has become the things which make life interesting, to look for challenges and possibilities which make life more worth the living.
We all seek the interesting, the unique and special as a way to suspend the dullness, but few actually take the time to try it themselves. Do not mistake this as encouragement to join the French Foreign Legion for kicks and giggles, instead, it is an exhortation to action in meaningful and diverse ways.
It is easy to become trapped in the ordinary world, falling into a routine which does not challenge us to anything more than summon the energy to escape our covers in the morning and drink our first cup of coffee. It is the world we are born into, the one in which we are expected to live, work, and quietly fade away. To dare to do something different, to step outside of the ordinary world, there’s where you run the highest of risks, but also gain the highest of rewards.
Why would anyone want to date you? Seriously, let’s ask the question. You could respond with any form of “I’m nice,” but at the end of the day, it is such a replaceable quality it means virtually nothing. Different is always better than best. You need to be irreplaceable. No one, can be you. As appealing as it is to believe this is true already (in some ways it is), for the vast majority of us, the differences and uniqueness we already have are not enough to merit differentiation. By doing interesting things, by taking meaningful action, you are elevating yourself from a commodity (one of the crowd) to someone who is entirely their own.
You want to be the most interesting man or woman in the room. Challenging the expectations of others is actually a lot easier than you would expect. We are so incredibly indoctrinated with an acceptance of mediocrity, doing something which stands out becomes increasingly easier.
Don’t do something just for the sake of people talking about it. That’s only being an attention hound. Instead, what makes you interesting to other people should be a natural out flowing of what interests and excites you. It should be an earned challenge or portion of your character and identity.
Now is the time to dare greatly. To try things which require a little risk, a little effort, and harden the character you are growing into.
Reputation, what people whisper to their friends about you when you walk into the room, is built through action. You cannot become known for anything unless you choose to do something. Pick a hobby which is a little outside the norm, something which you’ve always been interested in trying, but held back from for this reason or that. Give it a try, see if it suits you.
It is through our actions which we can shape and mold our path through the world, each action we take rippling through the spheres of our influence and reaching out beyond ourselves. It is this essential element which you cannot ignore, cannot pass by, and cannot overlook. This doesn’t guarantee you dates, love, or relationships of any kind, but it does show you’ve accomplished something. You haven’t been idly waiting, you lived and tried, you failed and gotten back up again.
Be Better Now
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote, “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” Because of the freedom singleness provides, with no one to criticize your choices and question what you choose to do with yourself, it is easy to push off being a better person. It is easy to say, “I’ll be (insert better habit or attitude) when I get married.” Or, “I’ll stop doing (insert bad habit or attitude) when I get married.” Hinging better choices, better behaviors, and a better identity until marriage is not a legitimate answer to this problem.
Now is when you need to be better. There’s nothing magically about this kind of destination based procrastination. Your life will never be less cluttered or complicated than it is right now, so seize the initiative.
None of us are perfect, and we never will be. Using this truth as an excuse to avoid self-improvement is like saying because we’ll never sprout wings and fly we shouldn’t ride on airplanes. Improvements can be made, you can become a better version of yourself.
It means challenging the flaws you’ve cultivated. The little parts of your life which you know aren’t good for you, but you’ve given permission to remain in your life. Slay the giants now. The longer you procrastinate ridding your life of allowed bad habits, you’ll find they aren’t so much allowed as intrenched.
Doesn’t your future spouse deserve the best you can offer? If you truly care about them, don’t you want them to find the best you you can be?
There’s only one person who can actually push you to be better and you look at them in the mirror. You and you alone can be the one who takes action to improve yourself, relying on the presence or encouragement of someone else is a crutch which will always limit the range of motion you’re actually capable of.
Like Mr. Knightley in Emma, you need to take responsibility now. Future relationships are in the future, not the present. They cannot and will not be the fulcrum of meaningful change which cannot be taken now.
If you are a creative, create. If you are a doer, do. Your life should be lived to its fullness now by making, being, and pursuing the things which adventures are made of. This is an attitude which should not end at the altar, instead it should continue, with more force and vigor than before.
Too often, it appears when people get married or get in serious relationships they give up. They decide to “settle” in the worst of ways, isn’t it even more tragic to take this approach before you even get there? Whatever behaviors and actions you take now should be to build a foundation of a life to share with another person, it should be just as attractive as you want to be in appearance.
Occupy yourself while you wait. Choose to do things which are interesting and exciting, make yourself better than you are now. Focus on doing and being the best you can possibly be alone before you try do it with another person.
When I finish life, I want to know regardless of my relationship status, I did my best and I expected my best from myself. When I marry, my wife will know until she was in being I didn’t just wait or fritter away my time in idleness or folly, I chose to forge my character through action and build a life worth sharing.