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Preying for keeps

My friend owns her own home, drives a Mercedes, competes in triathlons, and is a great businesswoman, yet she's suddenly miserable because she doesn't have a "soul mate." She's decided this is the year she'll find "the one," and she's reading dating guides, studying Dr. Phil, and attending man-catcher seminars. She used to be so cheerful and fun, but lately, I avoid going out with her because she gives off desperate vibes, is weird and competitive, and kind of a drag. When I hint that she'd do better if she chilled a bit, she accuses me of trying to "get ahead" of her, as if there's some soul mate derby or something. (I actually think of myself as "fabulously single.") I want my old friend back; am I just being selfish? Single and Sane

As you suggest, the moment your friend got desperate for love is the moment she became extremely unlikely to land any. Ideally, the seduction process should rev up desire in a man, not simulate the experience of a beetle being chased by an entomologist with a giant straight pin.

Like a lot of unpartnered types who go suddenly psycho, your friend probably seemed perfectly happy until that night she marched into some crowded bar and shouted, "I'm nothing without you!" (Who "you" is remains to be seen.) Now, maybe she never really was happy, or maybe she just hit that age where "single" becomes an adult form of cooties. In a recently published study, Bella M. DePaulo and Wendy L. Morris blame this bias on "The Cult of the Couple," and puzzle at "the strange implication that people without a stable sexual relationship are wandering adrift with open wounds and shivering in their sleep."

DePaulo and Morris aren't anti-couple; they were just surprised when their data showed most people suspect single equals loser even single people. When they asked 950 undergrads to describe the characteristics of married and single people in general, married people were assumed to be "mature, stable, honest, happy, kind and loving." Singles got nailed with "immature, insecure, self-centered, unhappy, lonely and ugly." Of course, the truth is, sometimes two is the loneliest number. Is there really anything lonelier than feeling completely alone when you're in relationship with somebody else?

It doesn't help that award-winning social scientists keep making bold pronouncements about the transformative power of marriage, like E. Mavis Hetherington's claim, "Happily married couples are healthier, happier, wealthier and sexier than are singles."

Don't be too quick to assume they also have bigger breasts, flatter abs and are less likely to be abducted by aliens. The above quote from Hetherington's recently published book was just one of many examples cited by DePaulo and Morris of couple-glorifying sloppy methodology and data analysis.

DePaulo told me via e-mail, "I think that cultural notions about singles and marrieds are so pervasive, and so unquestioned, that even respected scholars do less than their best work on the topic." DePaulo and Morris point out the rather obvious flaw in Hetherington's claim: She compared only happily married people to all single people. Wow, imagine that: Happily marrieds are more satisfied with their lives than, say, suicidal singles.

If this "You're Nobody "til Somebody Loves You" propaganda isn't what's sending your friend over the edge, it's probably the alluring idea of "the one" as the one-stop-shopping solution to all your existential woes. Of course, expecting to get your every need met by one person makes about as much sense as going to the corner store for a quart of milk and being irate that they can't also sell you a Persian rug, a baby ferret and the Hope Diamond.

What you can do is be "the one" that special person who gives your life meaning and then look for the other one: somebody who matches you pretty well on the stuff that matters, and well enough on the rest. In other words, there is no handsome prince. There might, however, be a moderately attractive auto-parts store executive.

Meanwhile, even the "fabulously single" don't have it all worked out. Here you are, probably content with your life and your circle of friends, and maybe even a friend or two with benefits, yet it never occurred to you to get out of a dead-end relationship? Yes, the one with your friend who confuses bringing out the animal in men with bringing out the trapped animal.

You might miss the woman she once was, but until she becomes that woman again, you could follow the lead of the unhappily coupled and "take a little time off" at least until she better understands why people like you remain single. And no, it isn't because your religion forbids dusting or you spend all your free time rearranging your collection of famous people's toenail clippings.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

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