Being single

Sometimes I'll sleep with someone and as they're sitting on my bed to pull on their shoes before heading off back home to their boyfriend they'll say, "How about you? Seeing anyone?" - and I'll answer, cheerfully, "Me? Oh, no, I'm single" - and this person will say, "Really? Why?"

I don't know anymore. I always have been - always. I had a vague girlfriend when I was 9, and then again when I was 12 for about a week - and that's been it. I think the most dates I've ever been on with somebody is - let me see - six? Seven? Over the course of about three months? It has just never happened.

At school I never went out with anyone because I was far too small (I didn't hit puberty until I was nearly sixteen) and far too closeted. At university - still the closet. Thereafter, perhaps because I was closeted, or had internalised some homophobia, I kept things casual with men. As I came out I started dating, but I was always more taken with the idea of dating itself, and meeting people for the sake of a fun evening with drinks and flirting, rather than hunting down a potential 'life-partner'. Dates would eventually peter out with everyone - and if one of us stopped texting, or they called things off, or I put an end to it, I can't ever say I was that sorry. I could never really conceive of another person in my life, being there all the time, halving stuff with me, sleeping in my bed.

Part of me, I must admit, also found the idea of coupledom sort of embarrassing, or weird. As far as I can look back in my life, I can't remember ever imagining going out with somebody, not really - I didn't see that future for myself. That might be the closet talking again. As I grew older, and I became interested in my gayness, and in queerness and sexuality, I baulked at the idea of marriage - not just the institution of marriage, but even the very idea of celebrating oneself and one's loved one. I was disgusted by that self-indulgence, the gloopiness of standing in public - whether couples were getting married, or simply holding hands in the street - and saying, to others, "we are in love". How childish, I thought, how naive. I was also put off by the notion of monogamy, and I felt that being in a couple implied co-dependence, which wouldn't be to my liking.

Most of all, I found myself being obscenely critical, when sizing people up for romantic prospects, in a way which I never would be towards friends. As a friend I'm caring and loyal; I love my friends' foibles and eccentricity, their silliness, their awkwardness and differing viewpoints - but on dates, even with somebody highly lovely I would find myself homing in on the most minor fault. Perhaps they interrupted me a little while talking, in their excitement - a nice trait, when you think about it, as it meant they were interested; they were probably nervous, and this was making them voluble. I would dismiss it as rudeness and insecurity, overlooking so many other nice moments from the evening - the ice-cream we had towards the end, or the good joke they made about Liz Kendall. Sometimes I would grant somebody a second date even though I knew that a little habit of theirs would rub me up the wrong way, because I was trying to overcome my habit for self-sabotage. "He was very nice, and he reads books, and he asked lots of questions!" I would say to myself. "Perhaps you can get over his fondness for the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet! Go on, give him a shot!"

In truth, if I have been hyper-critical, it's because I still haven't - not really - met someone who I wanted to stick around with,  whom I felt like seeing the next day and the day after that. In part I had been scuppering it for myself, yes - but in part not meeting the right people.

As I get older - there's still some life to me, but at 39 it starts to get that little bit weirder that you've never had a relationship - I find myself fretting about it in a way I never used to. Has this eccentricity of mine calcified, becoming a disease? I've always had plenty going on in my life - friends, family, an acceptable sex life - so that I never felt like I was missing out. But now when most of my friends are pairing off with others, I have begun to have moments of loneliness - I have had times when I have been on my own on a week night, eating pasta, staring down an empty evening, hesitating between having a bath or watching a film - and I've hated it. Worse: I've started to feel like maybe there is something wrong with me - something that repels people. I know, from what people have let slip, that I appear brusque on first encounter - maybe it's that? My looks? It's true I'm a bit cheekbone-y - is that it? What is it? I know I'm a good person overall - I love looking after my children, cooking for loved ones; I'd go half-way across London on a rainy night for two drinks with a pal. It's not that I lack feeling. There's some commitment-phobia there, for sure - but it's also nervousness. It's not a lack of love.

The funniest thing about it, of course, is that now, having held out for so long, if I were to go out with somebody he would have to be so FANTASTIC! I couldn't possibly justify having waited to settle down for anybody less than INCREDIBLE - which, when I'm leafing through pages and pages of profiles talking about Jaffa cakes and Netflix on Hinge, seems less and less likely. "Is this really who Caspar was waiting for?" my parents will whisper to each other in bed on Easter Sunday after they've turned the lights out, on my first holiday home with Steve. "Steve?"

I've learnt that nobody can live outside the world; I cannot be exterior to my culture. Rental prices in London are based on units of two. Valentine's Day happens every year. Love songs are still written, and they mean something. Being single has, at times, felt like swimming against the current. I'm still not desperate to 'meet the one', and still find it hard to imagine privileging one person over everything else in my life - and yet, I can see the consolations of companionship, the sweetness of intimacy, the strength of partnership; the way having somebody in your corner must lubricate the joints of your everyday existence. I am exhausting myself, agitating puny-armed against the tide. I'd let the waters carry me out to sea; but maybe it's too late.


Anonymous said…
I really enjoyed reading your post and can relate to some of it. Being single is just not deemed normal but I find it ever so peaceful :)

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