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Inside the Single's Head--A Dizzying Set of Beliefs, Hopes, Fears

December 11, 1987|PAMELA MARIN | For The Times

AIDS isn't a serious threat to heterosexual singles.

An overweight man in his 50s can expect to date trim, attractive women in their 30s.

In a relationship, you should be able to make your partner happy all of the time.

Surprising statements? Surprise--those statements represent opinions common among local singles.

To find out what issues most concern unmarried adults, Single Life contacted four local professionals who counsel singles. Interviewed were a psychotherapist, a membership counselor at a video dating service, a college counselor and a pastor. We heard the predictable (women want commitment; men want freedom), the encouraging (after the "assertive" '70s, singles in the '80s are learning the fine art of compromise and negotiation), and the patently dumb (blithe bed-hopping in the age of AIDS).

What we heard, in fact, producedmore questions than answers.

"Orange County is a wild and woolly place to be single," said Nina Miller, a marriage and family therapist. "There are a lot of things happening on a lot of different social and financial levels. You can either have a sense of wonderment--and delight in all the opportunities--or you can be scared to death to go out and get your feet wet."

Miller said the singles she counsels--who make up roughly half of her clientele--range from "people who are extremely isolated and barely have a social network at all" to "people who have really good friends but have difficulty with intimate relationships."

As varied a group as they may be, Miller said, her single clients are united in pursuit of answers to "the heavy existential questions."

"People in serious relationships are likely to be concerned with the unfinished business from childhood because they're acting that stuff out in the context of the relationship," Miller said. "People who do not have an ongoing, intimate relationship are dealing with questions of isolation and aloneness. 'Am I OK by myself? What's significant to me besides a relationship? I'm going to die one day--am I going to do that alone?'

"I don't think we ask those kinds of questions as much when we're involved with someone."

Yet for all that reflection on meaning and mortality, Miller said most of her single clients haven't asked themselves one practical question: How am I going to protect myself from getting AIDS?

"I think the heterosexual population is still a little disbelieving," Miller said. "I hear discounting of the importance of the issue, both from men and women. 'I don't need to worry about AIDS.' 'I'm not going to get AIDS.' And usually that's a rationalization, because they want to keep doing what they're doing. They want to keep sleeping around."

Carol Lynn, a membership counselor at Great Expectations video-dating service in Irvine, seconded Miller's observation.

"I see maybe five or six singles per day, people who come here to find out about the program," Lynn said. "Surprisingly enough, not very many of them have said anything to me about AIDS. Maybe one out of a hundred will ask if we do (AIDS) tests, but even those people don't seem to be that concerned."

On a more personal note, Lynn said she had accepted dates from six men who are clients of the dating service--three of whom "got extremely pushy" on the first date.

"One guy said something like, 'Do you live closer to here or do I? Let's go get friendly,' " Lynn recalled. "I said, 'Are you crazy? You've got to be nuts! I just met you! "'

Though the singles she sees may not be afraid of AIDS, Lynn said other fears pervade.

"What I hear every day is fear," she said. "People are scared of being alone. They're scared to give of themselves. What if they meet someone they really like and that person finds someone else? They want so badly to have somebody in their lives who loves them, but they're terrified of it--they're afraid of getting and losing.

"On our application, everyone says, 'I'm open, honest, sincere, ready for a one-on-one relationship,' " Lynn said, but "what I hear in the personal interviews is bitterness, anger and fear."

And unrealistic expectations.

"People are totally unrealistic when they come in here," Lynn said. "Here's an extreme example: I had a man in here who was 56. I tried to show him some videos of women in their 50s, but he said: 'Oh, no. I'm not dating those old broads. I don't want one of those old bats.' "

The 41-year-old membership counselor laughed.

"This guy wanted to see tapes of 35-year-olds! He's sitting in front of me with his pot belly and wrinkles and he doesn't even want to date anyone my age! He says he's very 'active'--that's what they all say. Active. They play golf, maybe they play tennis, and they perceive all women over 40 as dull and fat."

Age isn't an issue for the students Daryl Rowe, a UC Irvine counseling psychologist, sees daily. But unrealistic expectations are.

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