Come together

Companionship can reap health benefits, but romantic relationships aren’t the only option.

Bronwyn Miller

Since my last few weeks have involved adopting the one-hit-wonder “Umma Do Me” as my personal theme song and, um, doing me, you can imagine my dismay when the British decided to crush my single-girl swag last week by releasing new research that suggests isolation and loneliness can lead to a premature death. Harsh reality check, mate.

My outlook on spending time alone has always been more Walt Whitman than Britney Spears. I tend to err on the side of Whitman’s “I celebrate myself” rather than the whole “my loneliness is killing me” concept out of “…Baby One More Time.”

I adore my friends, but I have always treasured time spent alone. Moments of solitude are often when I’m most inspired, productive and able to assess my thoughts and goals. And because I find great enjoyment in my alone time, I have never been particularly afraid of the prospect of going at things solo, even for a prolonged period of time.

However, after coming across this new research, I was suddenly simultaneously creating a profile for my mom on ourtime.com and considering mass texting all my ex-boyfriends. Hearing that being alone might be as important to cause of death as other notorious risks like smoking is daunting for someone who very comfortably speaks about marriage in “if” and not “when” terms and, furthermore, plans on living forever.

Many of my friends share the belief that marriage no longer feels like a given; and that’s OK. Milennials are the favorite subject of experts writing about today’s new-fangled dating landscape, who marvel at how we “are subverting the rules of courtship,” like The New York Times wrote in January. That same article quoted Donna Freitas, religion and sexuality scholar, whose opinion on the matter can be perfectly summed up by the title of her new book: “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.”

But regardless of countless sweeping generalizations, it’s not so dismal down here in the trenches. Women are often painted as the ones getting burned by the new rules of dating, but as Ebony’s Damon Young challenged, contemporary women are not just “inactive bystanders, forced to abide by the whims of effort-repellent men.”

In reality, many women are, as Young says, “an active part of the paradigm shift,” and they enjoy the new romantic conventions. Moreover, those who prefer a more traditional dating style feel comfortable holding out for what they believe they deserve. With the challenge of traditional power dynamics between genders both socially and economically, norms and pressures are relaxing or being shirked altogether. Women are less dependent on men and the institution of marriage than they may have been in the past, and they’re embracing it.

While news of the British study results initially rocked my boat, what may have been most distressing was the way in which many authors erroneously summarized the results in a way that sounded like a PSA for shacking up with any shmuck just to rack up some extra years of living. It’s important to note that the actual study made no such distinction or preference for romantic partners over other forms of social support. If anything,  all one needs to do is avoid social isolation. What this study makes clear is that friendship and familial relationships can be just as important as being with someone romantically. Those who are single should not be automatically condemned as “alone.” The greater lesson emerging is that putting effort into maintaining any type of connection in your life, romantic or otherwise, can be vital to not just your happiness but also your health and longevity. That’s worth a call home, right?