I am 23 years old. I’ve never had a significant other. If you’ve read my other posts, my unease I feel with this is palpable. It’s not a hope to be halved and had by someone else. More that, I am trying to reconcile my fierce independence with my human (and natural) craving for romance and affection. I’m embarrassed for thinking about this as much as I do. I feel like I’ve compromised my “strong woman” status with these knotted sentiments: half of celebrating my freedom, the other half curious about a romantic relationship. Even my curiosity is proud– refusing to settle, in harmony with my gut at all times. When my intuition tells me it’s not right, I can’t allow myself to continue pursuing a person. I wish I could, but bending isn’t something my will enjoys.
I had my first crush at five– in kindergarten. The following year, he declared before our first grade class that, not only did he not like me, but I was the ugliest girl in the world! I moved on in third grade. Although, I quickly squashed my chances by fracturing his jaw in a game of crab soccer. I met attraction as a shameful and always-distant beast. My first two crushes set the stage for a series of unrequited almosts that have followed me ever since. The cocktail of unachieveable affection and my addiction to romantic narratives (Jane Austen, Love Actually, Jane Eyre– you get the gist) sculpted my perception into an hourglass. I was waiting for romantic love for my life to begin, never realizing that I was already living.
And every time, I expected love to save me . When I attempted suicide, when all I wanted to do was run and I noticed anchors at my heels, through abuse and assault and harassment, on the rough days and in crisis– I half-heartedly hoped some beautiful soul would mend the messy parts for me. But it was just me. Me, alone in the chaos of the tempests I created. I didn’t–and still don’t– have a lifeline to pull. As a white, middle class, able-bodied, cis-woman, resources are abundant to me. In dissecting my singlehood, it’s also important to point out my privilege. The world wants to protect fragile, pretty, young white women, and in many ways, my privilege has been my lifeline. When the system is designed for your protection and success, it’s easy to sound triumphant. Were I born somebody else, I would not be so fortunate.
But since no romantic other is here to do the heavy lifting, I get my hands dirty. I am brazen about self-advocacy. There isn’t space for fear in saving yourself. You have to dive in and figure out if you have the chops to make it as you go. More often than not, I realize I have what it takes when I remember that I am worth saving.
I’m not saying that I don’t feel lonely. I’m not saying that there aren’t moments when I resent my singlehood. There are. They come often. However, I am certain that the regret I’d feel from wasting time and emotions and energy on a lackluster relationship outweighs my loneliness. Moreover, I’ve learned to self-soothe.
There are days I feel like the puppy at the pound nobody picked. I watch each one as they’re wanted and carried home. And holy hell how I want to be picked. I question if I am lovable, if I am pretty, why none of this has happened yet. But, that scenario hinges on being selected out of pity. It frames love as a sales pitch and me as a product. Love doesn’t work like that. I don’t know much about relationships or how they work, but I’m certain it’s not through pity. It’s a mutual choice every day to prioritize this relationship over other options you have. I think relationships work best when it isn’t a necessity that both (or more than two) people stay together.
Women, especially, are told that no relationship is higher, more important, than the one she has with a romantic other. Men are paramount, and sisterhood is secondary. This idea is not only absurd but heteronormative and sexist– assuming the only romantic other a woman can have is a man. I’m not saying the relationship with your partner isn’t profoundly important. What I am saying is that one person cannot be everything to another person. A human body cannot configure itself into a life preserver. Contrary to the beautiful and harrowing scenes of Hollywood, romantic love and sex are not your savior. It’s you and connection that will rescue you.
I tell myself this a lot. I convince myself that self-love can substitute for everything else. Humanity is vulnerability. Our ability to need and want connects us to other living things. But, somehow, I would sooner engulf myself in flames than allow you to blister my thumb. Denying my wants and needs is a pipeline to internalized shame. My ego perpetually wars with my humanity. The truth is, I want to know what it’s like to have a romantic other. I don’t know how to allow this want to exist without shame, without my pride storming in to bludgeon myself out of wanting or hoping. Lashing out at myself is easier than embracing the desire to be loved.
This year, 2016, I put myself out there more. I actively dated. I attempted the app game. I thawed. The result was relatively the same. I wasn’t that into most of the people I dated, and the ones I did attempt to pursue weren’t into me. My attempts at dating were in conversation with my attempts to unravel myself from all the “dating rules” women are fed. You can’t text him first or call him first and you can’t sleep with anyone until you’ve been seeing each other for 90 days. How the hell am I supposed to be authentic when I’m supposed to be keeping track of all of these rules?! But the other part of me says, “what if you don’t follow them and end up alone?”
I operated under the collector’s mentality up until this point– this idea that if I preserve myself from a distance, that I never make a fool out of myself or dare to be messy and human– I will always have the upper hand. But it’s the upper hand because nobody is holing it. And this “rules” driven strategy only yields regret. I’m writing this essay because the words have been stewing for nine years– new content with the same sentiments. I’m sick of it. I don’t want to feel the same way anymore. I can’t individually change my relationship status, but I can change my attitude about dating, opening up, and allowing it to be the terrifying mess it is. So, damn it, I’m going to Rihanna, Chelsea Handler, Samantha Jones my way through 2017.
I still feel like the puppy who wasn’t picked, who goes to bed alone in the pound after everyone else has found a home, hope somehow still gleaming after the disappointment. I’m still prying off all the armor– shaking through the process. I wonder if this will never happen for me– romantic love. I hope I read this again in five years and howl. I hope it’s a riot, not because I am in a relationship, but because of everything else that happened– because I am so full and bright that I make the Chrysler Building look like a piece of lint.
Posting this is as vulnerable as it gets, but I felt compelled to talk about it. I am taking ownership of my feelings and actions. I’m 23. Always single. Always independent and strong. Always exhausted from the exteriors I’ve erected. I wonder what it would mean to be something besides a series of always– to be inconsistent and messy and maybe unwanted, but at least, unwanted up close rather than from a distance.
EDIT: I greatly appreciate the comments and feedback. I want to be clear about something– I am not lamenting my single status. Rather, I am unleashing the candor about the loneliness, lack of certainty, and internalized shame I feel with it. Normally, I do not to curate my posts. I want others to draw from them what they value. This case is the exception. Please do not let the lesson of my words be: I want a boyfriend. I am emphatically whole. Wholeheartedness hails from vulnerability– in admitting instabilities, inconsistencies, the aspects of our celebrated facets that we do not throw confetti onto. These words were begging for a body, and I gave it to them. I refuse to outline how I love myself to prove this point, as it is possible to both love myself and question these things. Please, feel free to comment. Feel free to interpret. I just needed to contextualize this piece, as my point could not be further from, “being single sucks”.