Maybe it’s selection bias, but I’ve read so many articles on how difficult being single is that it almost feels like a fun cliche. I can feel the editor salivating at the prospect of all of the hits from single people who will agree, and partnered people quick to remind us single folks it’s our fault or that being partnered is hard too.
As always, dear reader, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Being single is pretty rad. Regardless of if you’re poly (a friend’s ridiculously high-quality blog on navigating poly relationships, communities, landscapes, etc.), monogamous, or otherwise it can be a helluva fun adventure. You don’t have to be strong or support another person through times that are difficult for them. You don’t have to make someone else’s problems your own. You can hog the bed. You can treat yourself to an extra drink or dessert instead of going halfsies on a date. You can be entirely beholden to no one; no sinks on your time and no responsibilities to making someone else’s life decent or better by your behavior. Self-care becomes less an imperative and more a matter of course.
I think there’s a false equivalency that we all fall back on, this idea that we don’t fill our lives when we are single. There’s just some empty hole that we put away in the corner and ignore, like a missing piece of furniture. Surely, we shouldn’t be dedicating that time and energy to finding a replacement piece. Goodness knows, the right coffee table only comes along when you’re not looking for them. But also, if you don’t put yourself out there and visit some furniture stores, maybe browse around amazon, how will it find you? You can’t acknowledge that hole of time and space; you must live your best life you can with it sitting there in the corner.
The truth, however, is that we fill that space with a different piece of furniture or art (family/friends, cycling, rewatching past seasons of The Mindy Project and iZombie and crying, etc.) or we look to replace what was there before (a new relationship). By directing energy into other aspects, we are constantly reminded of our singleness. By directing energy into finding partners? Even more so.
Being single is pretty awesome. Feeling single sucks.
And this is the distinction that’s important.
I’ve been functionally single for some few years now; I’ve gone on a few dates with some people, but mostly I’ve spent the time hooking up or having lackluster first dates that end in a mutual ghosting. I’ve filled a lot of space with other things. I volunteered/studied overseas for five months, I’ve been teaching, I’ve been in performing ensembles and doing research and academic writing. For a while I filled that space up completely; I didn’t leave space for other people and unsurprisingly ended up being emotionally and physically unavailable for potentially significant situations. On the flip side, I’ve been very hurt by making myself available and being rejected continuously.
And both of these situations make me feel single. Not lonely, though I’ll admit to feeling that regularly in conjunction, but single. It’s a distinct feeling that we don’t have a word for, or at least not one that I’ve come across.
It’s not just being alone, but being told (implicitly, explicitly, accidentally) that we’re not worthy of dating. It’s being told to “wait” until our lives are more capable of handling a partner; meanwhile, other folks in our situation are dating or even getting married. It’s being told that it’s totally worth fucking us but not dating us. It’s being treated like an experiment for someone else’s sexuality and having them balk at the notion you’re looking for something with an emotional connection. It’s being told “I’m looking for what you are” and then having that person completely ghost, evanescing into the ether. It’s being approached by total strangers who will tell you the reasons why they would never date you, unprompted (yes, really). It’s being told “I can’t believe you’re single, you’re such a catch!” by well-meaning family and friends. It’s being given advice from people who have never been single for much longer than a year since they were teenagers or people who haven’t been single since before the smartphone was invented. It’s being told that you must love yourself (research says: this has no discernable bearing on your ability to find partners or to have good relationships) by someone who struggles with crippling self-esteem which they get support for from awesome partners. It’s seeing the eye-rolls when you discuss how lonely you are or how much you wish you had a partner or more. It’s hearing “being in a relationship is hard too…” said, followed by all of the problems you’d love to have.
And these are messages and experiences that many single people bump into while single for a long while, particularly if their dating pool is consistently shrunk due to things like queerness, fatness, transness, ugliness/unattractiveness, poly, poorness, ability et cetera. Don’t mistake it; these are value judgements from ourselves as well as from others.
Society has ingrained within us (even the poly people in the back) that being single is all well and good, but being incapable of not being single is abhorrent. Abominable. Disgusting. Horrific. [Insert your adjective here]. Our entire system of life is set up with the assumption that we will have children (and, hence, a partner because who is a single parent besides, uh, lots of parents) who will take care of us as we age, or at least a partner with whom we can save up with for old age. It’s more than just “it’s better not to be single,” it’s “how will I literally survive if I remain single?”
This puts a lot of existential terror on the prospect. That’s part of why being single sucks so much; it’s an “objective” measure of “failing” at life and what’s your prize? Derision, judgment, debt, and death.