You’d think, after devoting an entire book to my various issues with and feelings about being single, I’d be extremely comfortable with all aspects of it.
You’d think wrong.
And never was that clearer to me than when I was away and surrounded by a group of the happiest, most well-adjusted-seeming, blissfully in love couples— a group made up not only of newlyweds but long-marrieds who had the nerve to behave like newlyweds—and their respective families.
It’s not that I’m always single. It’s not even that I was single while interacting with them, as I was, technically, dating someone back home. But what seemed reasonable—exciting even—in the comfort of my day-to-day life felt like absolutely nothing in the face of all of this coupled off bliss.
“You mean you don’t have children or a husband or even a really serious boyfriend?” one of the kids of one of the blissfully married couples asked me during a big party taking place under a full moon one Indonesian evening. He was in high school and I felt like I related to him more than I did to his parents, who were far closer to my age. I could easily imagine being in high school, meeting someone like me, and feeling as confused as he seemed to be by my state of affairs.
I shook my head, shame coursing through my body.
I shouldn’t feel shame, though. Right? This is all because of choices I’ve made. Right?
While I never understood people who wanted to marry young—and, when I was younger, I barely understood why people would want to marry at all—at a certain point I got with the program and realized that something I’d always considered mundane and rather predictable actually did appeal. Once at that point, I spent a lot of time cursing myself for having so callously discarded my first love, my college boyfriend, back when I assumed that what we felt for each other was an ever-available commodity that I in no way needed to worry about preserving. Years later, I settled down with Love Number Two; when that ended, I cursed myself for screwing things up.
And thus began my mostly single years.
It’s not that I don’t meet anyone I like. I do. But the dynamic always seems to be off. Either I’m being wooed by—and caving to—a charming commitment phobe or I’m surrendering to a solid, reliable, sound choice who ends up boring me to tears. I’ve sat on therapist’s couches over the issue. Life coaches and hypnotists have even been consulted at times. I’ve been through the various and sundry programs and self-help books. I’ve even counseled others through this. Depending on the day, I have a fear of intimacy, don’t love myself enough, want a relationship too much, want it too little, am not ready, or just haven’t met the right person.
Look, this isn’t supposed to easy. As Helen wrote in Sex and the Single Girl, “We know the married state is the normal one in our culture and anybody who deviates from “normal” has a price to pay in non-acceptance and non-glorification.”
Non-glorification I can handle. Non-acceptance I have a little more trouble with. And I get that just because someone is married with a baby doesn’t mean her struggles are over. I can cite a hundred examples of people in those situations who don’t have anything close to what I want.
At the same time, I long for acceptance. I long to be normal.
The thing is, if I truly believe those final two theories about my current state—that I’m not ready for the big relationship yet or just haven’t met the right person—everything’s okay. Or better than okay. I can tend to my reasonably full life, relishing in the fact that, for the moment, it’s just about my career and my friends and whatever else I want it to be about, with full faith that the next stage is coming. Or I can go onto Facebook, scroll through happy wedding photos, count up the number of people I went to high school with who now have kids, and tell myself that none of this will ever happen for me. I can cling to every guy I start dating, believing he’s my last chance. Or I can —and here I cringe at trotting out the cliché all those therapists and sponsors and life coaches and hypnotists always seem to lean on—try to love myself a little more so that I don’t start buying into the notion that I’m incomplete because I’m not wearing a wedding ring.
And with that in mind, I’d like to offer take two on the question posed to me on that full moon’d Indonesian night: “No, I don’t. Aren’t I lucky?”