I need to write about everything in life the same way I need to read about everything in life. I’m fascinated by all people, all subjects. I’ve read graphic novels, fan fiction, textbooks, counseling books, novels, experimental fiction, unfinished drafts, memoirs, journals, biographies… every genre. The abundance of reading material for every topic intrigues me; there’s so much to say about motherhood, growing up, fixing cars, thinking, language, history, etc. - and so many people who want to say it.
However, that same abundance doesn’t apply to the topic single life. There’s so many single people – yet none of them really want to talk about what it means to be single, to embrace it, to hate it, to grow through it, to find fulfillment within it – and why is that?
I love to play with people’s minds. The other day, I painted on perfectly red lips, swathed myself in a stylish gray sarape, and walked into a beautiful nation-wide bookstore chain.
“Excuse me?” I asked an employee. “Can you direct me toward the section on single life?”
She looked a little disturbed. “We don’t … I mean, I’m not sure. The relationship advice section is down that aisle,” she pointed, “and the counseling section is the aisle next to it. The shelves…” she wandered a bit in the general direction. “Is there a particular title I can help you find? Sometimes these things are easier to find with titles.”
I didn’t want relationship advice or counseling.
I smiled and said, “Thank you. I’ll just be looking,” leaving her relieved with a false smile on her face.
If I’d asked her for the section on religion or motherhood or success or becoming an Olympic track athlete, she wouldn’t have regarded me half-so strangely.
Despite the masses of single people occupying the world, not many of us have anything to say on the topic. I couldn’t believe it. And yet, I could.
Among my friends, the subject is slightly taboo.
“I’m single now.” are words sniffingly conveyed over drinks on a Friday night after the last-straw in a relationship snaps.
Single is a silent status change, an internet mating call of sorts notifying potentials of openings. Or a not-so-silent public humiliation and fall from grace that no one wants to discuss afterward. It is the excuse to be bored or overly busy, to take a job promotion or a volunteer position or your sister’s kids for the weekend. It is the explanation to splurge on a spa day or sleep with the next random turn-on, to Netflix and chill, to spend all day at the gym and all night at the club.
But single is being sick and not having a partner to wash the bedding and make tea. Single is shoveling your own snow and finishing your own home project and having no one with whom to share the final product. Single is knowing that a +1 on a wedding invitation might always be filled with a different person or no one at all. It's never coming home to a finished dinner and a lit interior.
Singlehood is everything and nothing. No one I know can say that concisely in a way that’s not embarrassing. We face the skepticism of the older generations as they appraise our seemingly stagnant love lives, wondering;
“She’s so lovely. What is wrong with her?”
“She’s afraid of commitment. It’s because her parents couldn’t make it work.”
“He works too much. If he’d just get out and date more…”
“Why doesn’t he just settle down? He’s such a playboy!”
There is a list of endless stereotypes, some rooted in fact, which swarms around our mysterious lives, as our parents and older friends and relatives genuinely attach bewildered secret stories to our personal (or not so personal) choices. Because in their minds, something is wrong with my character, with my looks, with my family history if I’m not married.
I remember watching one of my long-time friends genuinely cry over her singlehood.
“I’m not doing anything wrong.” She said, tears running down her cheeks.“I just get so tired of being alone.”
She wasn’t doing anything wrong really. She was waiting for the right person, investing in her career and personality, making good friends, going on occasional dates, always hopeful, always talking about the future – much different from my cynical stance toward relationships.
I wondered at that.
I wondered why she didn’t get together with one of the handful of single men at our church. Why they didn’t get together with her. Why she didn’t dive deeper into online dates. Why she wanted something she didn’t have.
The generation above us is conditioned to sort singles into various simplistic groups:
1. Those without looks/personality on their side destined to be single forever unless they marry another person from their same grouping
2. Those so consumed by work/self/travel that they need a Hallmark man/woman to sweep them off their feet and make them realize what is important in life, causing them to temporarily set aside their _____________ and make room for love (and let’s be real; that’s not real)
3. Those who are players and only are concerned with being rampant sex maniacs, partying every weekend with a new partner, and need to get a grip on their wild lives and settle down
The problem is most singles no longer fit into any of these 3 groups in such a simplistic way. They are a “normal” middling group of people with average looks, personality, tastes, and preferences with a variety of careers, many of whom want to settle down at some point and most of whom do not throw themselves at bar tenders and drug dealers every single weekend. They are looking for other like-minded and like-oriented people with whom to have intelligent conversations, good meals, and amazing sex.
We’ve been taught to aim higher, to want more, and not to settle for less than what we need. We grew up believing in ourselves and following our hearts and doing our best. We’ve been conditioned to accept getting out of bad marriages, leaving hometowns and childhood friends behind. We’ve been betrayed by the government, our parents, our teachers, and our best friends. We know that being an adult isn’t nearly as much fun as we thought, getting drunk and high isn’t nearly as bad as we’ve been told, working hard isn’t always the way to get ahead, and trusting pastors and teachers can lead to molestation, discrimination, and pain.
We grew up in a world of flux where the next moment a bomb could fall, the next hour a bully could drive us into the ground, the next day we could move, the next week a new phone could come out, the next month dad could leave forever, and the next year we could get a job.
Settling down isn’t an easy concept for the generation that saw over 14 different iPhone options. Commitment isn’t an easy decision for the generation that watched the divorce rate dial above 50%. Religion isn’t a lifestyle for the generation that witnessed radical Islam flatten the Twin Towers, Mormons abuse children, and Baptists violently protest the funerals of gay soldiers.
And for those married people who dare to say that they know what we’ve been through, that they are living in the same world, that they can empathize with our loneliness – we already know that they can’t. They were single in a different generation, in a different world, with different people, different churches, and different priorities. Therefore, we can’t take their advice; it doesn’t apply to us, we don’t believe them, and we doubt their sincerity. And above all, we wither at the fact that the next words out of their mouth may be;
“Somewhere out there is someone in the same boat, and you’ll come together soon!”
“Just wait until you meet The One!”
And my all-time favorite:
“God is saving you for someone special.”
Dear God! Save us all!