So awhile back I read a book called ‘Single Girl Problems.’ You know, the problems that arise in the celebratory season when you turn up solo. Yet again. When people say, oh, but you’re so pretty, smart, funny (insert positive descriptor here) and this ‘but’ implies a lack on your part. The lack of hooking in a man, of being coupled, a lack, dare I say it, of attractiveness.
Is it because I’m too opinionated? And use words like paradigm and incandescent. The first word to (I admit) to make myself sound smart (and smartness is, I feel, a worthy weapon in the gender battle.) The second because saying it makes me feel a lightness of being and I need that feeling when I’m being cutting-eyed by someone I have only recently met or not seen for years and they are asking me, why no date?
I’ve never had a date. Well, I’ve dated. I’ve eaten raw veggie burgers and talked about places where I’ve never been and am not sure I honestly want to go to. I’ve straddled silence awkwardly over vegan tacos. I’ve board-gamed and eaten curry without splashing it on my pale blue blouse (life achievement here.) I’ve been to movies and avoided sweaty hand holds but at the same time surreptitiously made side lines glances at The Guy. I’ve said no to more dates. I’ve been the person who says ‘just friends.’ Knowing at the same time I’ll never hear from them again.
But I’ve never taken a guy home to meet my mum. Let alone my grandmother. I segregate my life into boxes like a sock drawer but I hope, better organised. There are the family dinners once a week where over vegetarian casseroles and roasted vegetables we discuss Future Directions and The Housing Crisis. There’s the fortnightly date with my dad where we share Haiku we’ve written like badly kept secrets and get jittery on cowboy coffee.
There are the friends who I never let meet each other. In case they like each other better than me and I am the forgotten thing that brought them together. Or because I’m afraid My Secrets will come out. About The Crazy. Or The Fear. Or even just that I’ve exercised for three hours that day. Not for weight loss. But because moving is the only thing that makes me feel ok. Maybe it’s the secret that I’ve been thinking of moving away for longer than I will admit to. Those kinds of secrets. The feeling huge but are actually little and the feeling small but are actually larger than life kind.
So I’ve dated but never had a boyfriend. Never been In a Relationship. At 28 that would most definitely make me a spinster in Jane Austen’s world. In 2019 I like to think it makes me an independent woman. I don’t however want to hold out until cougar status takes hold. I’ve never suited leopard prints and gold-manacled jewellery.
I know what I don’t want to be. That’s a start. And even better I know what I already am not and that is lonely. I have great friends, even if I do segregate them in my life. That’s certainly something to work on.
I have a job I enjoy where I get to help people (libraries rock!) and I have work I love – writing. Note, the differentiation between my job and my work. I feel this matter of distinction is important for there is a similar subtle distinction between being alone and lonely.
I am often alone. I write solo at my desk or in public places with headphones on. I choose my own noise. At the moment Anoushka Shankar sitar music or this obscure Dutch indie band whose drummer FB’ed me because he liked one of my Spotify playlists.
I write at desks and cafe tables and on my lap table in bed which makes me feel like I’m on an airplane because it comes with a drink holder but it’s the most comfy flight in the world and it doesn’t matter when I haven’t done my face.
And speaking of FB, I have social media. Writers to follow on Twitter as they too face the dilemma of middle of the day courier deliveries and you’re still in your Pyjamas. Commiserations over writer’s blocks that take up weeks of your life and it’s like how I imagine a bad break-up is like but there’s less tears and more chocolate but equally stringent resolutions about exercise and healthy eating and routines, damn it.
But rarely am I lonely. I have Anoushka, of Shankar Sitar royalty. I have random musicians messaging me. (Internet Life!) And ofcourse I have my characters. The heroes I fall just a little, ok a lot, in love with. The feisty heroines who I wish I was more like so I could say screw it to the people who ask if I’m still single, (or worse, those who have stopped asking.) It’s hypocritical, I know, but the question implies that a sense of faith is still there and that they still have hope for me.
Today, however, I refuse to be categorised by my romantic relationship status. I have relationships with many people. Friends. My parents. My brother. My co-workers. The patrons I help at work. The women at craft groups where we share stories of our lives and hook yarn to make blankets and booties for people less fortunate than us.
I also see myself as having relationships with the people who I sit next to in coffee shops and smile at over my $2 pot of English Breakfast tea while we both work on our Hope-To-Be-Breakout novels. This is a comradery of a certain kind of Writerly Relationship. We don’t necessarily have to talk to each-other. But it feels like we get each other anyway.
My answer to questions of singledom is that there really isn’t a single answer. Relationships are complicated (as the Facebook status attests to.) And because of this complicated nature, I believe people will keep asking me if I’m ‘in a relationship’ until the societal paradigm (that word) changes. In the meantime, I’ll keep emanating my incandescent (that word) self through the world.
I will live with passion. I will celebrate my freedoms. I will follow my fancies. I will love living my life. So that when the right person comes along, they’ll recognise me as someone they want to be with. And, just as importantly, I’ll see myself as the kind of person who is capable of being loved in that way.
Not only by another, but to have that love manifest in a genuine and honest way that speaks of a wider truth. One of a certain sense of identity and of a high degree of self-esteem. It’s about knowing the real me. Not just the right me. And if I’m being totally honest here, it’s taken me this long to figure that out myself; the real versus right thing.
I also come from a family of later-in-life relationships. The first forays into romance for many of us tend to be in our mid to late 20’s, a decade after many people begin dating. We’re also an intensely interested family. For me, this has meant, along with a few health issues needing to be addressed, that I’ve spent the last decade just being really busy learning shit.
I got the BA. (Art History.) I received a library diploma. I studied for a business administration certificate. These were just the formal education situations. I also taught myself using library books and the internet, a whole range of craft techniques from quilting to cable knitting. I’ve read up on zero waste living (and am now teaching an adult education class on this topic.) I’ve read self-help books to make myself feel better psychologically. I’ve also been to therapy where I was given mindfulness homework. I found this hard. It ended up taking up a lot of my spare time. I’ve been to social media development classes. Environmental film screenings. Plant swaps and compost science workshops. I’ve been to oral history trainings. Time bank inductions. Archival process lessons. I’ve spent most of the time I wasn’t dating, learning stuff.
And I’ve loved it (most of the time.) But I now feel I’m ready for a different kind of learning. Less head, more heart.
I want to feel things rather than just think them.
So, I guess if I was going to say something to my single girl self I would ask, how does it make you feel (as opposed to ‘what do you think?’) And in that, would be my attempt at some kind of answer.