Searching for the Ideal, Dilemmas of Single Men and Women


Part 1st

Despite declaring willingness to get married or have informal partnership relations, young people find it more and more difficult. Why do single persons aren’t able to find the right partners? Scientists analysing social processes in the country and abroad, have been trying to answer this question and many others for years. The author of this text has conducted a number of sociological studies about it.

We live in the world of continuous changes, more often we can’t find support in long-term relations and models of social activity that have been rooted in our tradition. Once put into stiff social roles, we become now the creators of individual biographies. The world that surrounds us is a place where we look for new solutions and styles of living characteristic to an industrial society. Intimate life and family life have also undergone a change. There are fewer conservative models and traditional roles split that used to govern our life. Alternative forms of a marriage-family life become more and more popular. And more frequently – either voluntary or out necessity – we decide to live alone.

We chose education, profession, a life partner, etc. It may seem we are completely free in making decisions. However, individualism doesn’t mean unlimited freedom. Quite opposite. It is rather a new way of limiting it. It is true we have been freed from traditional bonds, but at the same time we become dependent on the requirements of a job market and consumptive existence. Individualization is a necessity to adjust to the new social reality. The effect of this process are cultural changes, which among others, contribute to the specific understanding of relationships. Marriage and family based on it, are no longer treated as social obligations. Contemporary individualists approach a relationship as if it was a project, a certain kind of task, they try to analyse as many aspects of the relation as possible to evaluate potential chances and risks, and minimize losses. This is particularly relevant in case of young, educated, working citizens of big cities, who haven’t been involved in long-term relationships yet and who have high expectations about the future.

High expectations
Educated, well-paid singles have defined criteria in selecting partners. Here are the conclusions from the social interviews. “A woman partner should catch a man’s eye, and hold him with her personality” – says Marek, 33 years old. When meeting new people, we pay attention to their appearance at a first glance. “I like slim girls, […] I don’t like obesity in women” – says Damian, 33 years old. The level of education is also significant, or rather intelligence, sophistication, interesting personality. “As for education, I pointed out she should be intelligent and ambitious. […] This is not a guideline, but in fact a woman gets a plus, if she has higher education” – adds Bartek, 30 years. A job and a salary are also important. “I couldn’t be with a person who doesn’t care about a job […] because I am hardworking” – stresses Ewa, 36 years old. Passion and interests really matter, as they increase a person’s attractiveness. Prospective partners should impress to one another. “It has to be a person who does something interesting, is funny, curious about life, and not a looser sitting at home watching a tv series “The Lousy” and complaining the world sucks” – Magda, 30 years old, specifies her expectations. A lot of attention is paid to general views on life and to personalities of candidates. “Everybody should have own political, religious and so on views, but they should not be completely different from mine, because we wouldn’t get on with each other” – notices Iza, 28 years old. Expectations about partners may depend on personal qualities of people living alone. It happens that they look for candidates having opposite views, to complement one another. “I would like him to be calmer than me, because I am bad-tempered and I would like this person to make me fell calmer, and not to start another fight” – specifies Angelika, 33 years old.
As for the character features, the most desired are: goodness, resourcefulness, wisdom, humour, understanding, the ability to deal with different situations, social skills. Men point out more often that a woman should have “this something”, which is undefined, very emotional, hard to explain. “It should be something between intellectual and sexual chemistry, a sort of tension, which appears between two people” – says Dawid, 38 years old. Single women also emphasize the role of feelings and emotions, but they approach a prospective partner in a more pragmatic manner. “He needs to have a car, an apartment too. I live alone, I have a car and I wouldn’t like to date a guy who doesn’t have a car. Besides, I look for men who might be candidates for a father” – explains Kasia, 36 years old.
Single women and men mostly want to feel security, stability and mental comfort, when they talk about expectations from a relation. What also matters are partnership, understanding and support. “I would like a harmonious, peaceful, happy life […] with a good person, who will not step away from problems, and if necessary, he will be supportive to me and will help me to solve problems together. I am looking for someone reasonable, calm, so that life with this person was possible” – explains Agata, 34 years old.
Especially important are the feeling of independence and keeping freedom in deciding about yourself, as a condition for a successful partnership. “I would like to be in a relationship, which doesn’t block anybody on either side, which allows to develop, has a positive influence on both persons […] it is most important that the other person doesn’t complicate your life, so as to keep it nice and easier – says Paweł, 30 years old. A relationship needs to give a feeling of happiness and fulfilment, it should make your life better than so far. Single persons wish their partner to be a sort of “a cherry on top” in their own, attractive, almost ideal life. The candidate should level up a social position and influence self-esteem, should bring advantages understood as comfortable, non-problem life with a little of adrenalin. They look for someone who will satisfy a number of needs without taking any effort. A high “quality” partner adds value, he or she is another success and the last missing piece in a life puzzle. Building ideal pictures of prospective partners involves creating elaborate descriptions of their personalities. Looking for too many qualities in them, specified in detail too much. Creating expectations, which nobody may fulfil.

Unlimited possibilities of choice
High, even unrealistic demands toward partners are probably a result of consumptive approach to life. Values of a free market, offering unlimited possibilities in choosing goods, services, cause paradoxically that it is more and more difficult to decide on something. The freedom of choice changes into a slavery of choice, in a feeling of unrest, whether we do the right things. A similar situation happens when looking for a partner. Various, subjectively evaluated attributes of persons are “traded” as if commercially – their social, psychological and sexual skills. “I have a choice. If I don’t decide on this guy, this woman, I will enter a portal online and meet other ten people and maybe someone will be there […] It is like a butter shelf in a supermarket. [..] There is a wide range of choice, so it should be easier, but in the meantime, I don’t know what to choose at all” – justifies Michał, 34 years old. Creating an elaborate picture of qualities of a prospective partner has its objective conditions. Having many alternatives, makes it easier for us to imagine the existing possibilities. When we involve our imagination this way, we will be even less satisfied with options we go for. Following the rule that it is hard to be a satisfied customer, when we know the product chosen by us is not the best one. “The Internet has provided the possibilities of searching, the constant feeling that somewhere behind the corner there is another, better model. Tinder (a dating application – editorial remark) is something that gives us a feeling we can always find something better – adds Marta, 35 years old. The tension resulting from this may actually be the factor that hinders taking decisions on marriage and strengthens the preference for living alone for a long time. The so called syndrome FOBO (fear of better options), which is the fear against making a wrong choice, becomes more common and it doesn’t refer only to problems with buying, but it affects the intimate-emotional choices. The fear of making the wrong decisions may be paralysing. The more options we have, the more probable we will feel regret related to omitting the unchosen proposals. If there are many possibilities, there is a growing chance that it is better somewhere else. We feel then, we should find it. If the option we chose, turns out to be unsatisfactory, we regret we haven’t chosen more wisely. This rule applies with all consumption goods, also when choosing a life partner, which is done on the matrimonial market. The situation is the same here. Singles want to choose the best partners, they want to be sure they bet on the best candidate. If finding such a partner is difficult, they stick to a pragmatic approach, entering relations that let them satisfy their needs partially. This leads to, for example, building relations with many partners to satisfy various needs.

Sex without obligations
Presumably the greatest cultural and social change is separation between the sexual and feeling spheres. Despite living alone, most single persons has a satisfactory intimate life. They don’t need regular partners for this, with whom they would make emotional attachments. They can separate these spheres and for example, spend free time with other people, share passions with them, and even enter erotic relations with them. “ I have a sexual life with someone who I don’t know how to describe – a friend, a colleague, no idea. I am really attracted physically to him and there is chemistry between us, the physical one, but we also get on well, but he is suitable for a relationship” – says Anna, 34 years old. If the subjectively defined physical and sexual attractiveness play more and more a significant role in selecting a prospective partner, then along with liberalisation of social standards, meeting a partner mostly means starting an intimate life together. However, this doesn’t always lead to building strong relations, which may be the basis for a relationship. “We are aware that we can’t be together, we meet only to have sex. […] We know we have extremely different views on setting up a family and this wouldn’t work” – says Piotr, 36 years old. Sexual relations may be both a way of building a stable relationship, and they may be a separate activity, not related directly to looking for a partner.

Careful perfectionists
Single people have a reflective approach to choosing their “second half”. They look for people fulfilling their defined expectations, with whom they would like to build relationships created in their own imagination. They follow auto-analysis of their expectations. Individualists focused on themselves, have a similar attitude to choosing a prospective partner like when buying goods or services. Therefore, they become more and more a typical consumer, who often among the multitude of offers can’t make up their mind. The key reasons for living alone are related to cultural predeterminations in making individual decisions concerning the intimate-emotional sphere. Searching and choosing a partner are on the one hand determined by an individual approach, and on the other hand by changing possibilities and conditions for choice-making. Single people more often focus on their own needs and overestimate the criteria for selecting partners, they look for non-existent partners. Such a behaviour is more and more common, because in the times of Internet, many people think it is possible to find a perfect partner. Each next choice, if it doesn’t satisfy all expectations, encourages further searching, what along with the growing tolerance of being solo and expanding opportunities of attractive life for singles, enhances living alone to continue.

Dr Agnieszka Rychłowska-Niesporek is practical training manager in Social Services Workers College in Czeladź.

Source: based on own research – profound social interviews conducted among single persons (27 – 40 years old, having higher education, living in cities) in the years 2016 – 2018.
Part 2nd in next issue Why Story.