The people in my life are all in different situations: Raising kids, considering kids, starting families, pursuing cute, heartbreak recovery, pondering engagement, sometimes doing more than one simultaneously. I tried to not put those different stages "in order of accomplishment" because it's not supposed to be a pecking order (but we sure can torment ourselves by seeing it as one). I don't fit especially well into any of these boxes, and everyone is always moving from one to the other, anyway, so maybe I'll find myself in one of them at some point.
I was reading a recent posting from a beloved Neighborhooder about dealing with the end of a relationship, and the inevitable emotional chaos that ensues when you're alone again (naturally). He wondered, "How do you all do it?" A fair enough question, but it made me think about how I've always sort of wondered the opposite.
There are people who feel more comfortable in a relationship. I had a friend in college who was being smothered by her biological clock at 20, and with each holiday or meaningful event that passed, she felt a little sad that she wasn't coupled. She was a fantastic person, too, not at all devoid of interests or personality aside from the pursuit of a significant other; she just wanted to be in a partnership, and then, of course, shortly after college, she made sure that she was. I heard an interview with a Celebrity That I Don't Actually Hate, and she was saying that she likes being in a relationship more than being out of one (but then again, I'd also prefer being in a relationship to being single if that relationship was with Vince Vaughn, as hers is). I think some people just feel more complete with another person by their side, whereas other people have to decide how to make space for someone else.
I've typically fallen into the latter category and tended to be the person who is concerned about maintaining my independence within the confines of a relationship. Not obsessively or pathologically so, but it's always been a consideration. It's not that I'm never happy with what I have, or that I'm a cold, detached person... I actually think I'm quite nurturing, and deep connections with other people are very important to me. But almost because of that, I don't want to hinge my need for connection on one person, and let my relationships with everyone else be ornamental and fall into the "nice but not necessary" category. I don't realistically think I run the risk of ever doing that, but the thought of it is overwhelming.
People who are maybe a little uncomfortable with where they are tend to simplify other people's choices: "At least I'm not tied down." "At least I'm not alone." Just like everything in life, it's never really that cut and dry. Single people aren't necessarily lepers and people in relationships aren't necessarily settling. Neither one is necessarily happy or unhappy with their status. A woman who bores you to tears when she's 39 and has kids probably would've bored you to tears when she was 19 and had hickeys.
You also, of course, get the people that like to stand on the other side of the fence and taunt you about how their life is better than yours, but that's really just playground bullying and they don't deserve much of a mention here. I had to distance myself from a couple friends who became un-single simultaneously and liked to stick it to me a little bit (don't even get me started on people who think marriage and marriage alone signifies adulthood). Two of my closest friends are married with kids (well, one is about to have a kid) and they don't blink back tears of sadness for me when I say that I'll be single forever if I don't meet the right person. They know our friendship doesn't have anything to do with whether my date to their dinner party is an adoring husband or an adoring guy friend or, gasp, no one at all.
I'm not a great girlfriend for other single women. I mean, I am in the sense that I like to go out and travel and make mischief, but I'm not a great comrade when it comes to analyzing men. I know women for whom men are strange, foreign creatures who exist only to watch the game and drink beer, whose whims and throwaway comments are fodder for psychological deconstruction, and I've never felt that way. Many times I like and connect with men more than women. Not all the time, to be certain, but sometimes. While I love to girl it up, one of the only things that I don't like to talk about is why he isn't calling you. I think he should think you're fantastic and not believe his luck that you like him too, and if that's not your starting point, then move on because it's not going to be what you need.
I hear all the time that I'm very picky and have high standards, implying that maybe that's why I'm single. To which I can only say, um, of course I do. Don't you? Doesn't everyone? Okay, I think we all know of people who grabbed onto the first monkey that handed them a banana, but I like to think that desperation is not the norm. (I'm probably wrong. And in fact, I may marry one of my guy friends for a little while just to get in on that Crate and Barrel registry; did you see their latest catalog? Yum.)
People talk about other people being "afraid of commitment," usually men. As someone who has been accused of being this way herself, I happen to think it's complete bullshit. Of course you're wary of commitment when you haven't met someone you've wanted to commit to yet, but very few people consciously decide to be lone wolves wandering the plain and howling at the moon until the end of time. "Commitment-phobic" just means "doesn't want to commit to me." It sucks, but get yourself some Ben & Jerry's and call it a day. (Insert joke here about how I'm so paralyzed with my fear of commitment that after I wrote this, my spell checker showed me that I can't even spell the word right.)
From the time I graduated high school until my mid-20s, I pretty much went from one relationship to another without too much lag time in between, and it wasn't because I really, really wanted to be in love (lone wolf, remember?); it was because I met a few gems that fell into that smartfunnycutequirkybeefy category, and most of these heavy hitters of my past are still in my life. When I became single again after my last relationship ended, one of my friends who has known me for a long time said, "It's funny to think of you as single." THAT was funny. To me, I'd always been single, even when I wasn't. I think I always knew, even when the person that I was with was talking marriage, that I wasn't going to marry young, that I'd be a bit of holdout, that my friends would place friendly bets and snort at the thought of me in a dress, never mind a white one.
So. Where am I going with all this? I don't know. I guess I just felt like talking about it. Being 28 and single is something that's kind of "supposed" to bother me, or a situation that I'm trying to rectify. I don't exactly buy into that, but I also don't always feel 100% comfortable with where I am, and for the record I think that feeling a little misplaced from time to time is worth reclaiming as a valid state of being, not something you bury under a cheery facade, lest you not win the Battle of Who's the Most Blissfully Happy. It does feel a little strange, sometimes, to not have a partner, but it doesn't feel like standing outside your party and staring in; it just feels like being at a different party, and maybe we'll all meet up later for sangria. And if I do end up at a different party someday, I suspect it will be as fun and silly and debaucherous as this one, in its own way.
One thing feels certain: Wherever I am, I'll be here blogging my face off about it.