26 and Single

Over a year ago, I wrote an essay about my relationship status: 25 and never been in a monogamous relationship. Always on read, never responded to. Always the situationship, never the relationship. I’m embarrassed at my compulsion to write every pang gnawing through my skin. My ideas are anthills bursting in contemplation. I wish I processed inward, on mute. I don’t. When I pen these essays, I ask myself what’s the last thing I want to write about? What exposes me? And that’s my next topic. The last thing I feel like writing about is being single. So, here we are oncemore.

In the Summer of 2018, I had never been in a monogamous relationship. My essay “25 Years Single” excavating the complicated emotions around it, the embarrassing stories and thirsty pursuits I’ve embarked upon in the direction of desire. Romance entraces the most confident and powerful into submission. It’s a humanizing thing. I tried to harden. Attempted to petrify my gushy self into an apathetic gamer, the perpetual holder of the upperhand. These practices aren’t unique to me, but neither is the hope of being wanted. The want and deserving of romantic love is something that aches in most people. So, why cover it? The only answer is pride. The only answer is my ego. Ego is the opposite of love, is all self indulgence and no truth. To meet my object of desire with humility, to lay bare my romantic feelings, is the sacrifice of my ego, and an act of self love.

I did that over a year ago. Since then, I’ve been in a romantic relationship. It was brief and I was as cheesy as a high school student enjoying their first entaglement. Then, it ended. I got broken up with. While I exclude the details of that relationship and its end out of respect for my ex, my point is that I had resigned myself to this belief I would be single forever my the time I was twenty-five. I accepted it.

I’m there again. Twenty-six, and incredibly single. Only, it’s different. I am good at being single. I’ve always been. I take myself on dates, go to therapy, I try to keep a tidy space and check in with myself. My support system swells with generosity and dives past pleasantries. The intimacy my other relationships provide is, as I’ve learned, uncommon. My people are my mirrors, my cheerleaders. So, I could never say I am unloved. I can never say that there is no love of my life– because I have so many. There are my little sisters– who were my why when I didn’t want to have one. My best friends– the bones who have upheld me as my body sank into the floor. My big brother– my first best friend and shield. So, while I am single AF, I am loved more than I am single.

The word itself is an identifier, not an identity itself. Single, which just means not married or romantically unattached. Don’t get me wrong. I loved having a person: someone to send memes to and come home to after a long night. But those small comforts cannot compensate for incompatibility. Incompatibility is the echo, the tolling bell reminding you that this is not where you belong. I felt it today while on a date with a lovely person– the kind I should want. But I stood there, my whole being teaming with anxiety because it doesn’t matter what I want or how much I bitch about being single. This is where I need to be. On a biological level, my body knows what my insecurities ignore. There is no substitute for the space we make for ourselves.

Singlehood transformed into a ritual for me– one that cannot be negated by a romantic entanglement. It is a numinous pursuit. The mass of self-reflection, the perpetual sacriment of growth– I consider selfhood a divine act. We construct churches out of our lover’s arms, make cathedrals of shared homes, but our unattached selves remain neglected and uncelebrated. It’s easier to engender meaning in something else than in ourselves. I want to lighten this piece with zany anecdotes about my dating misadventures. I have them by the thousand. That craving arrives in toe with the discomfort of these emotions: my need to make you feel better about my romantic life, my urge to convince you I’m ok with being single. I am. And that is enough. There are some quotes that resonate with me. Because when I am lonely, when I am navigating the tricky truths of my midtwenties, I choose to go deep rather than running away. I dive into art, friends, film, places that perform exorcisms on all the possessive feelings. They can come out now. I will not avert my glance from feelings that embarrass me. A few words written by folks wiser than I surface. I’m going to share them with you instead:

  • “Let my body be a godless church/ holy for no reason beyond itself” — Danez Smith
  • “I belong deeply to myself” — Warsan Shire
  • “You are terrifying, strange, and beautiful. Something not everyone knows how to love” — Warsan Shire
  • “Everyone goes for vanilla or cheese pizza because it’s not a choice so you don’t have to think about it”– Mary Sasson
  • Thinking about all the badass women who have broken all the rules to live their own lives: Oprah, Jennifer Anniston, Chelsea Handler, Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, Frida Kahlo, Elizabeth Gilbert. There is not one way to be a woman, not a lesser way of life.
  • “…I don’t think my life is ever going to look like my mom and dad’s life where they are a pair and that’s it. And yet, I have this really beautiful support network that I invest in and that invests back in me, and I met that choice, to make sure that my friends feel really valued and really valuable to me. We’re creating care structures that society did not tell me was available, did not celebrate, and did not support, and to me, that’s what friendship is, and that’s why it’s important– it makes me feel whole”– Vanessa Friedman

This is not the essay where I convince you how ok I am with everything. My life is largely uncharted terrain as my peers make homesteads of their own wold wests. Comparison eats at me some days. I’m not going to tell you that I’m not jealous sometimes. I am jealous that this feels harder for me than it does for other people. I look at my little sisters– both with these lovely high school sweethearts. I’m equally happy for them, and in a state of questioning why I couldn’t have that. But love isn’t a meritocracy. It isn’t predictable, a forecast. There isn’t some sanctimonious reason why people left or ghosted or “it” didn’t work out. Sometimes, people are incongruent shapes. The dissonance demands to be accepted as opposed to doubted.

I don’t want what my peers have right now. I want the assurance that companionship and loyalty will arrive in some form. But no living thing arrives with certainty. Relationships are living things too. I recall a happily married co-worker mentioning, “I am 31. I got married when I was 25, and I went to 12 weddings that year. More than half of them are divorced now”. I hope all of my friends getting married now stay married. I truly hope it is a happily ever after out of a Sandra Bullock movie. I wish everyone the best. But there is no more assurance for my partnered peers than there is for me right now.

The dark truth is that I’m still looking outward for the mattering of my life as opposed to actually making what I want happen: more travel, more education, connection, connection, connection. My life is not a duplicate of my mothers, nor the predecessor to my sisters. There is no imperative to make it legible to outsiders. It is entirely my own. I am twenty-six, and there is still infinite space for whatever I want it to be. I don’t know what that is, only that haste, desperation, and “shoulds” will ruin it.

It’s been a year since I wrote the most popular essay I’ve written. I still find my blogging self-indulgent, self-pitying, gritty, and necessary because it is the only way I know to process. It has been a year. I am still single. I used to think that I wanted to be the spark in another person’s eye until I was that, and then I realized that what I craved was the safe space to be soft and brave and have someone meet me there. A wild hope races through my heart that maybe I’ll get that. But nothing is for sure. What I am sure of is the lush, unruly life I’ve built for myself, that it will be an adventure. It will be true, and probably not like everyone else’s life, and you know what? It will be ok.

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