Following recent events with my publisher, I will be looking to revise and relaunch the book in the coming months. However, it has given me cause to rethink what it really means to be ‘going it alone’.
Just tonight, I was asked by a friend (who should have known better) about a guy I’d seen a couple of times, and whether it ‘had prospects for going anywhere’. Not with an intentionally judgemental tone, but just because they thought I’d ‘be happier with someone’.
Well, statistically, studies have shown that women are happier when single, largely because they tend to lose themselves in coupledom, go too far to keep their partner happy, fulfill every archetype expected and end up resenting their ‘other half’ and sacrificing too much of their lives and personalities to the relationship.
So is it just me, personally, who should be happier as a couple? Am I not lonely?
Within the first 3 questions I usually get asked, there is one that always comes up:
Are you single?
50 or 100 years ago, this question might sensibly have been interpreted as synonymous with ‘are you available?’, but this is no longer the case. The trouble is that the only sensible answers really have no meaning.
It could mean:
No, I am in a conventional exclusive relationship, please do not flirt with me.
No, I am in a non-exclusive relationship, please feel free to flirt openly.
No, I’m in a conventional relationship but happy to cheat, please flirt with me in a discrete, clandestine way.
No, I’m part of a defined polyamorous structure and not looking to add more partners
No, I’m in a defined polyamorous structure but actively seeking additional partners
No, I actually am single but I’m not interested in you and would rather not make you feel bad by actively rejecting you.
It could mean:
Yes, I’m single and available for sex and relationships
Yes, I’m actually not, but let’s say I am because I’ll have more fun that way
Yes, I’m looking for a relationship but don’t want to pursue casual sex
Yes, I’m available for sex without concern for anyone else, but don’t actually want to have a relationship.
Yes, I’m identifying myself as lonely and incomplete without the validation of a conventional partner.
Yes, I enjoy being single and have no need to invest in anyone for either sex or relationships at present.
Yes, but I’m not interested in pursuing anything with you in particular.
My partner/ex is a dick
The notion of the single life is a double-edged sword. One can identify as a strong, carefree bachelor-type with no need of others, a self-complete island who makes their way through life with verve and passion: James Bond, Queen Elizabeth I.
One can be a singleton on the lookout to couple up, almost obsessively. To have the social validation that ‘somebody loves me’: Bridget Jones, Sex and the City, Daffyd- the Only Gay in the Village.
So when someone asks if you are single, what does the answer really mean? Is it an inquiry about availability, or a request to self-define your identity and ambitions?
Modern life and the alternative sex-scene of London throws up so many more potential ways of living than the amatonormative single/couple dichotomy.
To be a truly ‘single’ person, bereft of a relationship and supportive social network is to be in a position of intense vulnerability. Lost, unloved, unvalidated, desperate.
Yet is that really what single life is like?
Not for long.
Women, in particular, are expected to be seeking conventional relationships as a given. Yet why? Women are better able to benefit from single life, navigate opportunities and develop a supportive network than your average man. Don’t shoot the messenger, the stats prove it true.
Yet a man, without these supports, is readily accepted as ‘not ready to settle down’, ‘enjoying the single life’, and ‘hard to win over’, with scarcely a skeptical thought. He’s not unloveable, he’s ‘choosy’. He’s ‘independent’. He’s ‘carefree’.
It’s rapidly easy to see what an abhorrent double standard is at play. Why is this?
Historically, women are seen as accessories. Without someone to be an accessory to, who are you? How are you defined? As left on the shelf. Undesirable. What an archaic vision of gender roles. Let’s scrub out our indoctrinated brains and look at things a different way.
Say we invest in pursuing this socially approved goal. We wear our hearts and our wallet on our sleeve, put ourselves out there, with not just a notion, but an expectation, of finding a happy ending. How do we fare?
The odds are more against us than ever- we are a product of our environment. The paradox of choice means that the more options we have available to us, the less satisfied we are likely to be with any one choice, without having experienced every possible alternative. Though a limited choice (6-7) makes us more satisfied than if we had only one option, the superabundance of (and theoretically infinite) choice now available in large cities and via dating apps means it’s hard to settle on a single ‘best’ choice and stick with it. This cuts both ways. When we take a really long time to choose our best option, set aside the other prospects, and prepare to commit, there’s a good chance that the other party still isn’t, or rapidly changes their mind right after we decide. Enter this circle often enough, and considering ever preparing your mind to exit the cycle seems a waste of emotional resources.
There are probably plenty of people you like well enough. They are fond of you. You get on. You could both do worse. In some historic society, you’d be the darling couple of the town, subject to approving nods from all and held up as an example of a seemly match. Yet now, good enough is a fail. It doesn’t sell cards and movies. What we must all aspire to, is ‘the magic’.
‘The magic’, cannot grow slowly or be flawed in any way. Your partner must fill every niche, tick every box. Be someone the whole world will not just approve of, but think better of you for being with. The infatuation must be endless, the banter sparkling, the aspirations perfectly aligned. You’ll know within minutes if your date is your soulmate. Your latest soulmate. Your soulmate for a month or a year. Until it isn’t perfect anymore and then clearly we must start over. Anything less would be to settle, right? We not just aspire to, but expect, a perpetual utopia dependent upon the connection to another flawed and fallible human. This is a fantasy life held by no generation before us. It brings us nothing but disappointment.
Is the modern definition of romantic love obscuring the other kinds of love that are natural to humanity? At what point does our appointment of titles stop being a gesture of devotion and simply become an icon of personal success? The house, the job, the car, the tan, the girlfriend. Is our compulsive need to post selfies with another person really so fundamental to our status and happiness, or is it just an obnoxious and pretentious habit born of recent society and social media?
If you can’t be happy by yourself, you won’t be happy with someone else. If you feel misunderstood, lonely, sad, rejected- you will carry all these things through into any relationship you try to have, and it will gradually poison it.
What is our alternative?
Do we find a way to be the merry hermit, the witch in the woods? Happy in solitude? Certainly, for some, this is the best answer. Is it our only answer? To be part of the rubber-stamp approved couple factory, or to be an outcast?
Primates generally live in groups. Pair bonding for extended periods is rare. They have their social, sexual and survival needs met by being part of a small to large troupe. There have only been 125,000 generations since the first hominids appeared, and in many cultures currently, as well as UK culture until approximately the 1960’s, the living needs of most people were met in a more tribal dynamic, with large extended families under one roof, close relations with neighbours and numerous time divisions with work and daily domestic labour. There was no expectation for one person to be your everything.
If we examine the closest and longest lasting relationships of our lives, are they generally with our partners?
Our sisters. Our childhood friends. The angels who pop up in our lives despite long absences. All the people we don’t expect perfection from- don’t impose a hungry need for validation onto. The people who let us be who we want to, to grow, develop. To move away from them and to come back. People who don’t need a defined role. Who fill 100 conventional roles or none. People who we don’t need to define rules and boundaries with. People we don’t project expectations of how life (and how they themselves) should be, onto.
Even with people in supposedly perfect conventional relationships, who are people most happy to spend time with? Put the most trust in? Even complain about their ‘significant other’ to? Their best friends.
Is this to say love is to be shunned? Of course not. Toxic, infatuated love is an addiction to our own brain chemistry. It makes us ‘lovesick’. It puts us on a rollercoaster of highs and lows, messes with our minds, damages our lives, and empties our pockets in the pursuit of the next high. I’ve been told my heart is cold, for saying this. Yet it is untrue.
If I take the time to message you and see how you are, to talk to you with no objective, to communicate with you? Then I love you. That much should be obvious. It’s not a love that needs a title and rules and expectations. It’s not a love you will ever define yourself by. But it is real, and it is lasting. It is non-destructive. It doesn’t depend on your acknowledgment of it as love, your reciprocation at the time or your heart to flutter at the ping of your phone. It exists in a pure state, unaffected by circumstance.
For those aware of RA poly, this all seems obvious.
For those who are not, struggling for context with other humans, maybe give it a thought.
I talked with a friend about a specific (personality) type, of a usually over forties man. The one who is in denial about his fear of a relationship and thinks the word “relationship” can only mean a monogamous and/or sexual one, rather than the word being far broader; but if you mention it to them, they take it as you trying to lay some sort of claim on them or being possessive.
So he projects that on to you when you suggest that some politeness, asking how you are, etc. is respectful and not akin to asking for your hand in marriage! Then labelling you as a possessive woman who wants too much from him 🙄 When you wouldn’t want him for a life partner anyway. Just respectful fun.
We have relationships with each other as friends. Doesn’t mean we’re dating or similar.
Miss Noir, wise, sexy woman
What is it that we really need to be happy, as individuals? Is it an exclusive romantic love?
It is isolating. It is brittle. It is putting all your eggs in one basket and raging with betrayal when your beloved fails to be superhuman, and fulfill every unspoken need. It is not an innate part of human nature- it is a cultivated widespread psychopathology, made acceptable only by its frequency in the media. We are raised on Disney; we are brainwashed to believe that this is how it has to be- to live otherwise is to be a lonely failure.
Because isolated people are vulnerable to encouragement to spend more money. Because small domestic units, units of two, spend more money than large units. Because even when in a conventional relationship- especially when in a conventional relationship- we are vulnerable to being made insecure and trying to insure ourselves against the dreaded isolation of ‘being single’.
Grab the bull by the horns.
We are all individuals.
Whether you are married, in a social pairing, solo or otherwise, at the end of the day there is no escaping yourself. Walk up to the mirror. Have a really hard look. Reach out. This is the person who will be with you for life.
Nobody can save you from this.
If there is anything biology teaches us, it is that strength lies in diversity and numbers. It builds resilience. It builds a community pool of knowledge, understanding, and skills. It gives us the chance to see who we are in so many more ways than the restricting idolatry of just one, that we must live up to or lose entirely.
Broadly, we are all citizens of the world. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience. But within this, we have people who are ‘our people’. Our tribe. Our kindred spirits. Our comfort, our fun, our rescue, our development. People we vibe with. People we bounce off of, becoming more than we were.
Are they of no value? Because their approval doesn’t confer us social status as a desirable partner? At what cost does this lauded conventional dream come?
The white picket fence is nothing but a symbol, something to show the outside world. You can have it all, supposedly. The attractive spouse, conventionally tied in- yet the husband is banging his secretary at work each day, and the wife is fantasising about running off with the gardener. It’s a cliche for a reason: because it demonstrates the screaming fallacy of the dream life. People in relationships can be lonely too. Lonelier, even. Saying the words and doing the actions, while your soul pines for passion and emotional connection, just grinds in the artifice and shame. Yet to all the world, you are happy. These negative emotions will ‘pass’. Nobody has to ‘worry about you’ any more. Because you are in a couple. They can all feel relieved. Welcome to your happy ever after.
Only it isn’t happy.
Because you are still an individual person. And now cut off from your freedom and support network.
By all means, try the white picket fence. Everyone should. Once. If only to see for yourself what the inside of your gilded cage will be like.
Yet when you wonder why you still feel incomplete, why you are still lonely, remember that the bars are not real. Outside lies the world, ready for adventure and exploration, with all the other jailbreak birds. Just as it always did. Your people should be those who fly with you, not hold you down.
The most amazing thing I’ve found in my life is people I love, who love me back. Not in any way you can stick a label on- in a way that transcends this. And your people are out there, looking for you too. With all your oddities, foibles and eccentricities: you are perfect to be their people. You are already exactly what they all didn’t know they were wishing for. You are going to blow their minds and melt their hearts. Just by being your real self. Maybe you already are.
I am immeasurably, hugely grateful for the wonderful people in my life. From the ensemble cast characters to the occasional cameo walk-ons, your very existence and interactions have meant more to me than you will ever know. You make my life beautiful, fascinating, hilarious and endlessly exciting. I’d be happy enough to sit back and watch it all unfold as a spectator, but I actually get to live it. I never dreamed I would be so lucky as to have you all.
Am I single?
I am LEGION.