Episode 25: Dr. Karen Gail Lewis (pt. 1): A Different view of Being Single
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis (pt. 1): A Different view of Being Single
Announcer: This program is intended for mature audiences only. This is part one of a two part program.
Chip August: Welcome to Sex, Love and Intimacy, I’m your host Chip August and on today’s show we’re going to be talking about single women, and talking about some of the pressures they face and some of the choices they make. Is it a valid choice to be single and what’s involved with choosing to be an adult single person for your life?
Our guest is Dr. Karen Gail Lewis and Dr. Lewis is the author of six books and three ebooks and a whole bunch of other things but the thing that particularly caught my eye is a new book called With or Without a Man, Single Women Taking Control of their Lives.
Karen Lewis: And I asked the question are you single by choice? 50 percent of the women said yes, 50 percent of the women said no. Exactly 50 percent of the women said yes and said no.
There is a National Single’s Day, I don’t know if you know about that. I’m sorry National Single’s Week skip the day, a whole week and they’re in September and there’s an organization devoted specifically to a national organization for singles.
And I emphasized what’s important for them, because they’ll say, oh I want you to be happy, I want you to be with someone. Yeah that’s fine, but why is it important to you? And what all said yeah I want that too but I don’t have that right now. What does it mean to you if I’m not married?
But what women have told me is, if I allow myself to feel all that then I would feel this horrible longing and this bodily sensations of wanting to have intercourse, wanting to be held and wanting to be hugged. Well yeah, that’s a problem. So in this chapter I have options.
Chip August: Welcome Dr. Lewis, welcome.
Karen Lewis: Thank you and please call me Karen.
Chip August: Thank you I will. I was looking at your biography here and I see you’re a social worker, a psychologist, a family therapist, you’ve got more than 35 years of worth of practice. You counsel midlife men and women in fulfilling intimate relationships, we’re going to come back for that.
And you’ve written six books and three ebooks. Quite a career you’ve got here! And I noticed that you very prominently in the beginning of your book, announced that you are a single woman and that’s a choice.
Karen Lewis: Let me tell you about the word choice.
Chip August: Sure.
Karen Lewis: In preparation for the book, I did a study of single women and I asked the question, are you single by choice? 50 percent of the women said yes, 50 percent of the women said no. Exactly 50 percent of the women said yes and said no. However when the next question was why…
Chip August: Right….
Karen Lewis: …and those answers were identical. I am single by choice because I haven’t found a man that I want to be with. So no it’s not their choice because they wish they’ve found a man, yes it’s their choice because they haven’t found a man.
Chip August: Right.
Karen Lewis: So yes I’m single by choice.
Chip August: Cool! All right, so right away, I’m married and I’ve been married three times. I’m really clear that as an adult with the ease of getting divorced in our society, even those of us that don’t think of ourselves as single by choice have a certain likely of being single at times in their adulthood.
Even if you choose to be married, still marriages sometimes break up and you become single again so in a way when I was reading your book and looking at it, it seemed to me that you were talking to everybody.
Karen Lewis: That’s exactly right because in the title With or Without a Man, because whether you have a man or don’t have a man, you still have to do the same things in life. And what you just said, today you’re single, tomorrow you maybe married. Tomorrow you’re married, the next day you maybe single. You maybe partnered along the way, you may breakup from your partnership. You have no way of knowing, so the life issues are basically the same. If we remove the value judgment that our society has for singles, it’ll be no big deal.
Chip August: Say more, what do you think that value judgment is?
Karen Lewis: The value judgment is that you should be married. This is a married society. People ask you what’s you’re marital status. Well think about that what’s your marital status? What’s your status versus being married?
Chip August: Ahh…yeah, yeah, yeah, they don’t ask you what’s your single status, they ask you what your marital status is.
Karen Lewis: That’s right. We don’t have a language that encompasses a world that is not biased against singles. So if I were to call myself an “un-man”, you would think I was a little weird. But if I call myself unmarried, you wouldn’t think about it as anything at all and chances are you may even use that phrase but in fact what you’re saying is someone is not. Here’s what they aren’t, they aren’t married. That’s all part of how our society has changed so much but the language has not changed with it.
Chip August: What I noticed, certainly anecdotally I mean I haven’t done any research on this but it seems like in my life, I do seem to meet more and more women who are spending significant portions of their adulthood without men.
Karen Lewis: That’s 51 percent of American society are households according to this latest census bureau headed by singles.
Chip August: Wow…51?
Karen Lewis: 51.
Chip August: Wow!
Karen Lewis: About a third of congress and I may have the statistics slightly wrong but it’s a high percentage. There is a National Single’s Day, I don’t know if you know about that?
Chip August: No.
Karen Lewis: I’m sorry National Single’s Week.
Chip August: Wow!
Karen Lewis: …skip the day, a whole week and they’re in September and there’s an organization devoted specifically to a national organization for singles. The Alternative to Marriage project or the web is unAmerican.com.
Chip August: [laughs]
Karen Lewis: I’m sorry unmarried.com.
Chip August: Unmarried Americans or unmarried?
Karen Lewis: No, no, just unmarried.com. It’s a phrase I don’t like. They are not a social organization. They talk about taxes and money and job discrimination and health benefits. So yes, 51 percent of our society are not, had any wedding ceremony of any kind.
Chip August: So this is pretty interesting. So basically we’re all walking around it seems like our culture has this delusion that the natural state for adult is married but the statistics basically show that that may not even be true for the majority of us.
Karen Lewis: Exactly.
Chip August: Wow! Well ok so now I’m really clear from the time I was in my early 20s, my mother wanted to know when I was going to marry, whoever I was going to. Isn’t there just a huge amount of folk pressure that says you can’t be happy unless you have a spouse.
Karen Lewis: Well not only that, I want to go back a lot longer than when you were 20. Do you remember when you’re in nursery school, perhaps if not in nursery school certainly in elementary school. I mean first grade, if not long before, someone would be saying, do you have a girl friend yet? Didn’t you hear that? You know these photographs of this little boy and little girl, they’re very popular…
Chip August: Yeah, yeah cards and things.
Karen Lewis: I find them revolting. They’re cute. They’re absolutely cute but I find them revolting because the message is, haven’t you met this little [xx], you have to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Look they’re kissing. Oh! So they are a……
And that sends a message all kinds of ways. Whether a parent ever says you should get married or not, society is sending these messages and women more so but men also are feeling this pressure. If I don’t do it, there’s something wrong with me. And if I don’t do it by today or yesterday who knows by tomorrow?
Chip August: So are you anti getting married?
Karen Lewis: Absolutely not.
Chip August: OK.
Karen Lewis: No. I am not at all anti anything. I think that marriage is for some, let me say that everybody wants to be partnered. All the women who say that in my studies, 50 percent who said they weren’t married by choice or they were married or weren’t single by choice or were, almost every human being wants to have someone in the world that they love and who can be loved. I mean that’s just a natural, “I want a connection with a human being”. The natural human desire.
The problem is we don’t have any choice necessarily over finding someone that fits what we want and that is going to be a good match for us. There are all kinds of books about how to flirt and how to meet the right person. And sure if you spend, and I was just asked to review a book, if you spend seven hours a week or ten hours a week, I forget, maybe it’s ten hours a week, focusing specifically on finding a partner, well by chance you might find somebody that you wouldn’t have found if you hadn’t spent ten hours a week but that’s a lot of time. That’s 40 hours a month!
I think a lot of it is luck. And clearly you have to be ready, do your personal growth, take a look at yourself and make sure that you don’t have so many walls around you that you don’t want to be in a relationship. But having done that, you’re lucky when it happens and when it doesn’t happen it isn’t necessary to blame yourself and say what’s wrong with me.
And that is significant not for men that much, but for women that is absolutely significant. Women tend to blame themselves. If I don’t have a relationship, it’s my fault. If this date didn’t go well, it’s my fault even if he was a smoe [sp]. If my marriage didn’t go well and I’m not divorced it must be my fault. Women do that. If he doesn’t call me back even though I really wasn’t interested in him, anyway, it must be my fault. Women do that ad nauseum and society reinforces it.
Chip August: And you think women do this much more then men?
Karen Lewis: Absolutely. Your mother said you need to get married. I don’t know if your mother said to you at any point when you came home from a date, she would say, “How was it?” and you would say, “yeah.….” She’d probably would not have said, “You didn’t give her a chance. What’s wrong with you? You’re too picky.”
Chip August: No, my mother was definitely much more like “there’s plenty of fish in the ocean” person.
Karen Lewis: Right, however any of the women listening to this will immediately recognize, you didn’t give him a chance, you’re too choosy, you’re too fuzzy. Well did he like you? Why insist did he like me? It’s more important that I like him.
And those are the messages that women hear and they hear it from women, their mothers who are women who heard it from their mothers and worst of all they pass it on to each other. They say the exact same thing to other women.
Now may I tell you about fingernails? I’m not changing the subject.
Chip August: [laughs]
Karen Lewis: [laughs]
Chip August: That definitely sounded like a non [xx], no please go ahead.
Karen Lewis: I think it’ll be nice if in our society we thought about whether one was married or single the way we think of our fingernails. You know today I have long fingernails, tomorrow a couple of them are probably going to break and I’m not going to boohoo, I’ll let them grow again. They’re long, they’re short, and nobody really pays any value judgment on me, if my nails are shorter or longer. That to me is the way I would love to see our society in general think about men and women who are not in a married state at the moment.
Chip August: I don’t know, there’s some part of me that wants to say yeah but won’t we die out as a people? Don’t we need to merge and mate so that there’ll just be more of us.
Karen Lewis: This has nothing to do with whether one wants to marry. This has to do with you have what you have at the time that you have it and removing the value judgment about what you have.
Chip August: It’s about embracing what’s so, instead of making ourselves crazy because we’re not conforming to somebody else’s picture of what’s suppose to be so.
Karen Lewis: And taking on blames of that. Because blame doesn’t help, it just makes things worst. The reality is, you’re going to meet someone, when and or if you meet that person. Or you not going to meet that person.
Chip August: Right, right.
Karen Lewis: And you don’t know that tomorrow. One of my mother’s friends, 93 and she sent me a wedding invitation.
Chip August: Yeah.
Karen Lewis: She was married then divorced for about 60 years. She’s had dated men before and went without men for a very long time but at 93 she decided that it was time to get married and she changed her name. That’s really weird.
Chip August: [laughs]
Karen Lewis: [laughs] So you don’t ever know. The fact is, what I said earlier on, everyone wants to be loved. That’s not unusual but hopefully everybody is appropriately choosy. And I do think and I’m just going for one more second.
Chip August: Please, please.
Karen Lewis: I do think the divorce rate would be much lower if there weren’t such pressure about being single.
Chip August: Yeah, perhaps many of these marriages are happening out of the misguided notion that I’ve better grab hold on to somebody or I’ll be lonely for the rest of my life and therefore they’re making bad choices.
Karen Lewis: Exactly. I can’t tell you the number of times I hear women tell me that. Men don’t tell me as often. But “I knew as we were walking down the aisle it was wrong”.
Chip August: Right.
Karen Lewis: “As soon as I proposed to her, I knew that it didn’t feel right but I went ahead and did it anyway”.
Chip August: This is great stuff and I want to take a short break then come back. Because you have in the book, I noticed you have some great tasks, some ideas about how to put your life together in a way so that single or married you live a fulfilling life and I actually want to come back and talk about those.
But first I want to take a short break and give a chance for our listeners to support our sponsors and our sponsors to support the show. If you’re listening just know that I’ve got some new sponsors. Please listen, there’s some really cool deals for you some ways to save a little money and have some really fun things in your life. So please stay tuned for the messages and we’ll be right back.
Chip August: We’re back This is Sex, Love and Intimacy, my name is Chip August and I’m talking right now to Dr. Karen Gail Lewis. We’ve been talking about her new book, With or Without a Man, Single Women Taking Control of their Lives.
In the book, I couldn’t help but notice you set out nine tasks to push against this dominant paradigm that everybody seems to be walking around with that you’re broke if you’re not married. Here’s nine ways to get your life in order so that whatever life brings, you can live a happy life. Can you talk a little big about those nine tasks?
Karen Lewis: Yes and I just love hearing you say that because you just get it.
Chip August: Thanks.
Karen Lewis: Whatever life brings you still have your life together. I love hearing you say that. Yes the nine tasks. Let me go back and say it again, the title of the book is With or Without a Man and the reason I want to mention it again (besides the fact that I want you to know the name of the book), is that it is with or without a man, you still have to do these nine tasks to take control of your life.
One of the first one is getting grounded in your home and in your neighborhood. Single people tend not to think, unless you’re a single mother, you tend not to think in terms of your neighborhood. You think in terms of finding a man but in fact to get really grounded and to be an adult and this is really significant, adults are involved in their community. Adults are involved in their neighborhood. Involved in making homes that feels right for them. Whether they have a husband, whether they have children, whether they are living temporarily with their mother after a divorce or something, you still can make the space around you, yours.
Chip August: Yeah I was fascinated, in your book you actually talk about, great so you’re moving into your childhood room in your mother’s house. You can still rearrange the furniture and make it yours.
Karen Lewis: Right, and you can get involved with the neighborhood council or the block watch so that you feel a part of community. A part of being single that is so hard is not having community around you. Most people think that community is your husband, your husband and your children.
But there’re all kinds of different kinds of families and one of the families is the neighborhood family, your community family, friendship family. Oh that by the way is another task.
Not having a man, most people think that the worst part of that is not having a sense of intimacy, not having a social connection. I divide those things in two different parts. There’s the social companionship that as a single you need to develop for yourself and then there’s the intimacy which surprisingly enough most people tend to think they get their greatest intimacy from a woman. Well men do, women don’t.
Every study or research on women has shown that when women are upset they turn to other women to share their feelings first. Maybe their best friend, their sister, their mother. Men turn to women too. So where in fact are you going to get the intimacy that you want? You’re not going to get the sexual intimacy if you’re single perhaps but you don’t have to do without intimacy if you are paying good attention to your close friends.
So that’s another task. The social task as I mentioned, it’s really hard being single and not having ready companionship. You do have to work a little bit harder. I have some exercises in the book on how to go about doing that but you do need to plan ahead. You need to make sure that you have enough people that you can do things with so if one or two people are busy as happens you got three or four that you can still call.
Chip August: It’s funny because two things, one is I notice there’s a difference by age. I notice that for instance we’re not really talking about singles 16 years old to 25 years old because there’s so much of your social life that’s provided by school and schooling and there’s not that much expectations that the 20 year olds are instantly going to get married.
So we’re really talking about adults. And I noticed that my mother who’s in her 80s for instance, in her 80s she actually knows a lot of single women. A lot of women like her who’ve lost their husbands either through divorce or more often through death and I just noticed how many activities they all create for each other. She’s got a stronger network today than I think she had when she was raising her kids.
Karen Lewis: That is so true and it is so common. It is amazing that we don’t pay attention to that and you’re absolutely right. The older people today, particularly the women, have built a network of people around them. And younger women are still putting emphasis on I should be married, I have to spend all my free time trying to find a man.
If you want to find a man, fine. But spend two-thirds of your time trying to find good friends and one third of it trying to find a man because it’s easier and you’ll have more success. You’ll have more companionship and you’ll feel better about yourself while looking if you still have people that you can do things with and that you can share with and you feel good and who care about you.
Chip August: You have a whole thing in here about talking with your parents. Talking to your family about your choice to be single. Can you say a little bit more about all that?
Karen Lewis: Yes. Some of the pressure, a good part of the pressure on people who are single or single again. Those who’ve returned being single by marriage by divorce or widowhood. The pressure comes from parents who are like your mother when you were 20 are pushing you to get out there. Did you have a date this weekend? What’d you do? Did you go out? What are you doing this weekend? So the pressure is translated into this single person as “What’s wrong with me?”
One of the things I have found is that if you talk to your parents, talk to your mom and dad separately. People say this is kind of crazy but it’s so important actually. What’s so important for them about you being single? And I emphasize, what’s important for them because they’d say, “Oh I want you to be happy, I want you to be with someone”. Yeah that’s fine. But why is it important to you? What often, yeah I want that too but I don’t have it right now, so what would it mean to you if I’m not married?
And what typically people find is that the mother feels guilty if my child is not married there must be something wrong that I did. The mother is in an unhappy marriage and wants her daughter or son to have a happier marriage. That the father is feeling a sense of responsibility to his daughter that he’ll carry forever if she doesn’t get married. Or the father feels he’s failed as a father if his son isn’t married.
So if both parents are maybe feeling, I need to be a grandparent so I can do my parenting job better. I wasn’t such a hot parent but I can do a much better job as a grand parent. Or my friends would think I’m a failure if I’m not a grandparent or my kids aren’t married.
Chip August: Right.
Karen Lewis: So finding out what the pressure is on your parents takes the pressure off of the single person.
Chip August: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Now I noticed you also talk about grieving. So why don’t we take a moment, actually no, let’s take a short break then we’ll come back and talk a little bit more.
Karen Lewis: OK.
Chip August: I’m having a really good time talking to you and completely losing track of time. We’re need to take a short break and once again there’s an opportunity for those of you who are listening, please listen to the messages from our sponsors. Please patronize our sponsors because that’s what helps me keep the show going.
I’m talking to Dr. Karen Gail Lewis. We’re talking about her book With or Without a Man and we’ll be right back.
Chip August: We’re back. I’m Chip August. You’re listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy. We’re talking to Dr. Karen Gail Lewis. Karen we’re talking about singleness and preparing your life and preparing your family and getting grounded and being a member of your community.
OK. I’m sorry, I’m not actually sorry about this I need more sex, love, intimacy and sexuality and being single and sex, I don’t know what do you do if you get horny? How do you deal with this?
Karen Lewis: I had a lot of fun writing this chapter. One of the things I’ve noticed in our society is we talk a lot about how to have sex and sexual positions. What we don’t talk about is the feelings, the arousal feeling, the horninest and what do you do if you don’t have a partner? So I had fun writing this chapter that I call Hope for Horninest.
Karen Lewis: I talk separately about women and men because it is different. For women it’s thinking about their sensualness… For a lot of women, if they don’t have a man in their life, they shut down everything. They sort of go numb and when they do that, they lose a part of their sensual, if I can use the word juicy self that makes them alive and vivacious.
But what women have told me is if I allow myself to feel all that, then I would feel this horrible longing and this bodily sensations of wanting to have intercourse and wanting to be held an wanting to be hugged. Well, yeah, that’s a problem.
So in this chapter I have options. To say you can distract your feelings and you can distract yourself, some of them in very positive ways like doing things that give you the same sensuousness like dancing or making something with clay. So you still get the sensuousness, or you can distract yourself in unhealthy ways like going out and having sex all the time.
Chip August: Right.
Karen Lewis: Men tend to do that. Men tend to have these sexual feelings and don’t think in terms of finding other ways of dealing with it. So they relieve the sexual pressure by having sex which then gets them into relationships they may or may not want to be in.
Some women choose consciously, I’m going to have sex just because I want to relieve the tension, because I want to be held, because I want that closeness. If it’s a conscious decision and you know what you’re doing, go for it. My biggest concern is for women and men who totally denied that they have any feelings at all and then as I said dry up.
There are men and women who find another outlet through affairs and I know this is probably taboo but I have a section on affairs because if a woman or man is going to have an affair and I don’t support it but if you’re going to do it, doesn’t make any difference whether I support it or not, you’re going to do it. That’s what’s important. Then do it in a way that takes care of yourself, protect yourself and I have a lot of steps here about how to protect yourself so that you don’t get hurt and you don’t feel like you are just waiting around your life. Make the man or the woman wait for you. You’re built around you and there’s some specific stuff for that.
And then I have a wonderful…I was at a conference once and I heard a woman give a tongue in cheek talk on polygamy. So I have a little section here on polygamy.
Karen Lewis: [laughs] Just for the fun of it. And in fact what has been found is that when a man has more than one wife or more than one partner or he has a wife and an affairee. He often finds women who would actually probably like each other because he chooses the same kinds of women. And so in this fun segment I talk about what the women would get out of it. They’d get a great friendship. Don’t know what the man would get out of. But the women would get an opportunity for great friendship with each other.
Chip August: The whole polygamy, polyamory subject, we could do a whole show just on that alone. We’re running out of time and so if people heard something here that interested them, they want to get your book, they want to know more about you, how could they do that?
Karen Lewis: You can get me through my web drkarengaillewis.com and I would be glad to…. I actually have a number of free things on there like 15 golden rules of being single and lot of other free handouts that might be of interest and fun for men and for women. So feel free to drop in and visit me. Or email me directly, that would be drkarengaillewis@msn and I’ll be glad to answer any questions that you have.
Chip August: Well, you’ve been terrific! I’ve got a couple more questions but a little bit of business to do here first. Another way that you can get in touch with Dr. Lewis if you want is to go to the Personal Life Media website that’s www.personallifemedia.com and look up my show Sex, Love and Intimacy. Each of our show you’ll find a full transcript and also links to my guests so an easy way is to just link through the show.
If you have comments or feedback for me. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m always interested in hearing your comments and feedback and would love to hear from you.
Before we close, I always like to have on my show, I like to have guests who will give an exercise to listeners, something they can do at home that might enhance their own love, intimacy and sexuality so have you got something in mind?
Karen Lewis: Well given the topic we’re talking then, what I’d like to suggest is the crystal ball.
Chip August: That sounds very occult.
Karen Lewis: If you could look into a crystal ball and see that 50 years down the road, nah skip that, five years down the road you’re going to meet the perfect mate, the absolute soul mate of your life. You would I presumably then be saying, well I don’t need to be killing myself now I got five years until that’s going to happen. Then the question would be, what would you do during these five years while you are biding your time, waiting for this perfect soul mate to come?
And that’s the exercise I would leave you with, thinking if you knew for sure that five years you’re going to get the mate that you want, what kinds of things would you do differently with your life during these five years? That’s the part of enriching your life and that’s the exercise.
Chip August: Terrific!
Karen Lewis: Oh, I can also say that I do have along with Without a Man I have the workbook which is filled with 30 exercises.
Chip August: There you go.
Karen Lewis: That’s just one of the exercises that sort of takes a different perspective but feel free to find the workbook on my web page.
Chip August: Well you have been a terrific guest and I really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you so much. I applaud you in being out there and doing the work to basically break through people’s stereotypes about how it’s suppose to be or how our life is suppose to be or how we’re suppose to live because I just noticed those “suppose tos” kill us. They just crush us, they take the life right out of life.
Karen Lewis: They do.
Chip August: So thanks for the work that you do and thanks for being on the show.
Karen Lewis: Thank you very much Chip.
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Announcer: This concludes part one, the interview will be continued in the next episode of this show.
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