3 things singles can learn from Ebenezer Scrooge

I’ve been steeped extra deeply in A Christmas Carol this year. In addition to my normal viewings of the Magoo and Muppets versions, the Marketing department used the George C. Scott version as a springboard for this year’s decorating contest. (We got first place; video is forthcoming, I hope.)

One of the things that increasingly strikes me as I settle into old maid-hood is that Scrooge is one of the few decidedly single protagonists we have in literature. He’s not the only one by any means – Jean Valjean and Bilbo Baggins both jump readily to mind – but he’s among the most familiar figures. Per Wikipedia, he’s been portrayed in film by over 50 actors and actresses. Probably more, if you count random TV episodes. And who knows how many times he’s been portrayed on stage. So, yes, important literary figure. Who is also single, which is an important part of his life.

So: what can we singles learn from his life? (Note: it’s been a while since I’ve read the book, so I’ll mostly rely on the George C. Scott and Muppets versions for this post.)

1. Your personality may, in fact, be a problem.

One of the things I love about the George C. Scott Scrooge is his sense of humor. He’s quick-witted and droll, hurling retorts with the best of ’em, and you get the sense that he has a very rich inner life. I actually suspect that the younger Scrooge would get along with my main group of friends and all our snarky glory quite nicely for a few years.

So it comes as a genuine shock to him when he discovers how widely he’s hated.

The problem is, whenever he was chastised for certain personality problems (by Fezziwig and Belle for being a workaholic, for example) he seems to have ignored the warning, likely even taking it as a compliment. Instead of trying to change, he focused on developing the trait. And all his wit just came across as hostility and unpleasantness.

On a personal level, I’ve been justly called bitter and sarcastic. I generally tried to convey both with a smile on my face (I’m allowed to rant bitterly if I’m funny about it, right?), and over the last two years or so both have toned down, I think. But I know, based off friends’ comments, that I’ve come across as a more bitter person than I intended.

Or there’s the issue of personal independence. Last year a female friend and I went to see a stage play. An usher asked if I wanted help finding my seat. I said no (it’s not like the seats aren’t labeled). When we sat down, my friend turned to me. “Lisa,” she said, “when a cute guy asks if you need help, you say yes.”

I don’t know if I ever will accept help like that, honestly. I only want help if I need it. But it did make me reflect on my attitudes toward my singleness, and what could possibly be misinterpreted as a true desire to remain single forever. I talk a lot about my contentment with my state, and how much I like living alone, but that doesn’t mean I have no interest in getting married one day – simply that I’m content if I don’t, or at least trying to be.

Point: if you’re single and don’t understand why, take a step back and look at yourself. There may be a lack of options in your area, sure…but you may also inadvertently sabotage your own relationships.

2. Prioritize your relationships or lose them.

Belle is the primary example of this, of course: “Another idol has displaced me,” she tells Scrooge, breaking their engagement. But there’s his relationship with his family as well; he loved his sister, but he and his father never speak, and you get the sense that the only reason he and his nephew Fred ever talk is because Fred shows up periodically out of a sense of pity.

Scrooge’s relationship with his father may have been beyond hope, but the others were not. In the George C. Scott version, Scrooge tells Christmas Past that he almost went after Belle; in an extended scene from the Muppets, old Scrooge stands behind Belle and harmonizes with her breakup song, indicating he’d been dwelling on that moment in the years since. And as for Fred, the answer is as simple as finally showing up for Christmas dinner (which, of course, he does). Because it’s never enough for the other person to say something; Scrooge must take action in the relationships as well.

Some examples from my own life:

In terms of dating, my mother once suggested that I was single in part because I made myself too busy for a relationship. While there are many other factors for that, it’s definitely true that one reason I’m single is that I haven’t made finding a boyfriend a priority. (If it doesn’t happen naturally and I get lonely/desperate enough, I’ll try online dating.)

In terms of friendships, many of my friends have moved away (or I moved away from them). Of these long-distance friendships, the friends I’m closest to are the ones who are built into my routines. Sally¬†and I talk at least once a week, and I see Rob and Katie 3-4 times a year for a weekend of Doppelkopf, a tradition that’s been going strong since 2008 or so. Compare this to my best friend from undergrad, who I didn’t see at all in 2011 and only twice in 2012, largely because we never set up a routine. Two of these relationships were prioritized. One was not, and it suffered as a result.

Whether friendship or romantic partner, if you want the relationship to last (or happen at all, for that matter), you have to put forth at least some effort to make it happen.

3. You have extra resources. Use them.

In the George C. Scott version, Fred says of Scrooge that his riches do him no good; he doesn’t even make himself comfortable with them. And indeed that’s the entire point of the haunting in virtually any version of A Christmas Carol: you can’t take the money with you, so you’d best do good with your life.

The shaky theology of the story aside, there’s truth there. Paul calls singleness a gift; you have fewer responsibilities and more time when you’re unmarried. Use them! Volunteer in your church or at the library or something. Babysit for some friends. Write a long-winded blog post in the hope that it does someone somewhere some good. Because I can promise you this: you’re not going to get your own Christmas Carol-style haunting, telling you to repent.

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