I’m 34, and all of my friends are either married or getting married. I’m happy for them. Most of them seem like they’re really good couples. I’m single, and I’m pretty OK with it. I want to do things like travel and further my career, and I’m interested in partnership, but I’m not ready to get married. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready. I enjoy having multiple sexual partners.
The problem is, it’s affecting my social life in a big way. I don’t always want to go hang out with my friends’ kids. And it feels like I’m running out of friends to go out with and meet people. It’s lonely. Not to gripe, but it’s also expensive to go to all these weddings.
What do I do to stay connected to my friends? How do I continue to meet people and be social? Do I have to go to all their weddings all the time? Is this what my life is going to be like from here on out? How do I keep having sex in the way I want to and still pursue partnership?
– Unmarried and Unhappy
Marriage is a strange institution, and I appreciate your skepticism of it. It’s also one that probably isn’t going anywhere soon given the state of our tax code and the difficulty of owning a home and the popularity of shows like The Bachelor. Plus, as you get older you get lazier about finding new people to have sex with. Or at least your hips don’t let you cruise bars as much.
To assist you in negotiating this moment of questioning in your life I turned to Dr. Christopher Ryan. Dr. Ryan co-authored Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality with his wife Dr. Cacilda Jethá. The book created a huge stir when it came out five years ago because of its assertion that having multiple sexual partners may have been accepted and even beneficial to humans as we adapted and evolved.
Marriage can feel inevitable as the wave of weddings crests and breaks all over your mid-30s. Dr. Ryan will help us situation your quandary historically and culturally and get you out of your single slump.
The doctor is in!
THE SINGLE CAVEMAN
Dr. Ryan points out that “from an evolutionary perspective singlehood isn’t really a concept because marriage isn’t a concept. Sexuality in prehistory may have involved a much more fluid and communal social arrangement. In that circumstance, if you didn’t happen to be in a long-term partnership at the moment that doesn’t really matter because things are changing in hunter gatherer society. There were not nuclear family suburban sprawl environments in our evolutionary past.” So while your friends may be all about a Pottery Barn gift registry and a home for 1.5 children, take comfort in the fact that it hasn’t always been that way and doesn’t always have to be.
THE GET OUT OF DODGE OPTION
One thing the hunter-gatherers couldn’t do was hop on a plane. But you can! When you’re single you’re a lot more mobile than when you are “settled.” I’d suggest you take a trip somewhere you’ve always wanted to go and get out of your life a little bit. Besides, when you’re new in town you tend to mingle with other single people because they’re the ones who are out and about. Being on a fantastic trip in Malaysia also happens to be a great excuse not to be able to make it to your coworker’s wedding.
FIND YOUR TRIBE
Dr. Ryan says, “Society sets up rules that benefit the society but not necessarily the individuals in the society. In our society one of those rules is you settle down you have a family and you become a consuming nuclear family unit. If you’re not playing that role you can feel as if you’re doing something wrong. Joseph Campbell talked about detribalization, which is the process of recognizing that you are from a tribe and that tribe has certain rituals and expectations that are arbitrary.” It may be time for you to invoke some of Ryan and Campbell in your life as well and go find people who are a bit more like you…
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Dr. Ryan suggests that you consider an alternative to the singlehood/marriage dyad. If you are yearning for deep partnership, and the conflict is between that and your sexual predilection towards novelty, he says, “I would suggest that you find someone who feels the same and have an open relationship: Best of both worlds.” If you’re online, identify yourself as desiring multiple partners. If you’re in person it’s OK to bring it up pretty early.
JUST HOLD ON FOR A DECADE
In 10 years many of your friends might have some more free time. Their kids will be grown up and they’ll be ready to party. Maybe some of them will even be divorced and single again! You can pick right back up where you left off. Try to see this as a moratorium on your social life rather than as a cease and desist. Dr. Ryan agrees with me, btw.
REVEL IN YOUR NOVELTY
As Dr. Ryan points out, “All those married people are going to be living vicariously through you, asking, ‘What did you do last weekend?” Revel in their vicarious promiscuity and enjoy being the center of attention. I hear you can do really well for yourself by talking about your single exploits. (See: 40 Days of Dating, Aziz Ansari, Lena Dunham.)
Dr. Ryan draws a parallel between two marginalized populations: “Being unwilling or unable to enter the monogamy sweepstakes is like being gay. If you’re stuck in a place where everybody is doing that it’s really hard. You need to get to a place where there are other people like you. Find that community that has same understandings and appetites.” That doesn’t mean turning your back on your friends, but it does mean exploring a bit. I’d invite you to do this with care. Initiate conversations with people about how they feel about weddings, money and monogamy. These are actually very OK things to talk about explicitly.
THE PERKS OF MARRIAGE
I don’t want to downplay the desire for partnership and marriage. Dr. Ryan feels similarly. “Our species is far more sexual than most species, but we’re also extremely loving. Sexuality is part of our social being. We’re extremely interdependent with other people. The yearning for deep, lasting profound intimacy is just as natural as the yearning for novel sexual experience. They’re both deeply human, and they are only in conflict because of the structure of the modern world, especially in America. That’s not inherent in human nature.” Marriage can still be on the table for you.
Your life probably will be a little more wedding heavy from here on out, but it doesn’t have to be isolating and boring. There are plenty of “tribes” and potential partners who want to do things your way. Now is the time to hunt them down.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @kathkathcoop.