We’re culturally trained to believe that being in a relationship is the ointment to apply to our many problems.
When I recently ran into an old friend I haven’t seen for a couple of years, the first thing she mentioned was that she heard I had a boyfriend.
“You must be happy,” she said.
We are culturally trained to believe that being in a relationship is the solution to all of your problems. Whatever ails you, having a boyfriend will fix it.
This friend and I were once close — and we were both single for a few years. Something strange happens to women who are long-term single in their thirties. You start to forget that you used to have a world of interests outside of dating, that you know things about art and culture and politics, that you have creative ideas and interesting opinions.
You have entire friendships that are based around telling Tinder anecdotes, you can spend an evening in another woman’s company without talking about anything other than the men you’re dating. You can listen to a grown woman complain over and over that she just wants a boyfriend. If you’re like me, then you get very tired of this very quickly but you do it anyway.
You start to wonder whether you’ll ever be in a relationship again, because the more Tinder dates you go on, the less possible it seems. You remind your single friends that their relationship status doesn’t reflect their self-worth and they are surrounded by people who love them, if not a boyfriend. But you’re not always good at reminding yourself.
During this period, I went on about a thousand Tinder dates ranging from tedious to excruciating (okay, maybe 50). When you’re single, looking for a relationship can consume an enormous amount of time and energy — not to mention money. Often, I would come home from yet another terrible first date, wishing I’d saved the three hours and forty dollars and spent it doing something I actually liked.
And why do we go through all this? Because every first date is a gamble and you might just hit the jackpot: a relationship. We’re taught from childhood that human beings are supposed to live in twos. Not ones, not threes. We grow up on a steady diet of Hollywood romcoms that end with a kiss — as though there is no alternative happy ending.
We grow up on a steady diet of Hollywood romcoms that end with a kiss — as though there is no alternative happy ending.
Even films and TV shows that are ostensibly about something other than love almost invariably feature a romantic subplot. Twos. Finding a partner is evidence of overcoming a character flaw — sadness, fear of intimacy, emotional immaturity — and completing the hero’s journey.
We are brought up with the idea that little girls dream of their wedding day their entire lives — and then we reach an age where we receive endless wedding invitations. I’ve spent a lot of my thirties congratulating people for getting married. Who will celebrate us if we choose not to live in twos? Who will buy me an electric blender and nice cutlery in honor of my being single?
I once dated a 30-something-year-old guy who told me he just wasn’t cut out for a relationship. He’d never had one and couldn’t see himself in one. It wasn’t for him, he said. (Needless to say, the dating didn’t end well.) And I envied him: how easy it was for him to say, “It’s not for me,” and be done with it. Because why should it be for everyone? Why is living with another person full-time inherently superior to other lifestyle choices?
Sometimes when I said I was single, some well-meaning person would add, “Oh, but, Claire, you’re single by choice.” I was never really sure what that meant — whether it was supposed to make me feel better about not being “picked” or was, in fact, a veiled criticism.
When my single days came to an abrupt end on a dance floor in front of a Turkish gypsy band two years ago, something even stranger happened. I noticed that a lot of my single friends stopped asking how I was, because now that I’m no longer single there should only be one answer to that question.
“You must be happy.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not not happy — no more or less than I was when I was single. None of the existential angst I used to have miraculously disappeared when I met my partner. So, now, I too live in a two, but I don’t expect to be congratulated for my choice. You can keep your electric blender.