Sometime it hits me. I’ll be going along in my day and I’ll see a happy-looking couple, sometimes a young just-in-love twosome, sometimes an older man and woman holding hands, and I’ll feel a sudden bolt of grief. For all of my testifying that it’s okay to be single, that a woman doesn’t need a man to be complete, that fulfillment can’t be found out there, in any one person or occupation, I can’t help but want to find someone.
Love is one of the most basic human needs, and I have the others: food, shelter, something to do with my hours. I even have love, in the form of family and friends, and I’m forever grateful to have these things. But the love of that one person, a partner to stand next to me, hold my hand, caress my hair, gaze at me with “that look” – you know the one – in his eyes, just hasn’t come to me. And it’s hard to admit even to myself that sometimes, this reality just feels like a punch in the gut.
Yesterday, riding on the bus, it descended on me for no obvious reason, like a gaping wound in my belly. I tried to just sit with it and not tell myself stories about it, the same stories I’ve been telling myself for years: there’s something wrong with you, you’re putting off some kind of bad vibe that you don’t know about, you’re not dressing right or doing your hair, makeups, etc. right, you don’t have that special ‘something’ that men look for in a mate, and on and on.
I’m 37 and I feel, maybe stupidly, like time is running out. Almost everyone around me has someone, even if the relationships aren’t always particularly healthy. I do know the feeling of being in a relationship that you don’t want to be in and can’t seem to get out of, and I know one or two people in my life are embroiled in that drama. When I think about that I think that maybe I should just be glad I don’t have to deal with that side of the coin anymore. Maybe the grass is just always greener.
At one point a few years ago I truly believed that the reason I hadn’t found anyone to be with was because I was meant to put my energy into other things – friends, family, community. That may still be true, if it ever was, but now, I want to put energy into a special relationship. I want kisses and affection. I want sex. I want to lust after someone and have them lust back. I want that kind of familiar laughter that you get sitting in bed with someone on a lazy Sunday morning after making love or just spending the night in each other’s arms.
I’ve dated a lot in the past 10 years and I’ve had a few relationships that have lasted from 5 months to 3 years. It’s old hat by now. But these days, I feel a new desperation creeping in that I don’t like. After one date recently where I really enjoyed being with the guy but wasn’t attracted to him, I obsessed for days over whether or not I was just being too picky. Was I too stuck on looks? Should I be more open-minded and give the older, paunchy, balding guys I seem to attract a chance? But then I thought back to the times I met the men I’ve been with, and even the ones who got away, and how I felt with them: that feeling of energy in my veins, of all my senses alert and aware, of laughter on my lips, of being intellectually and emotionally engaged, of being challenged in a way that felt juicy and ripe. I just knew that something interesting could happen; I didn’t have to think about it or convince myself by listing their positive qualities in my head. That’s what I want to happen again, and whatsmore, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting that.
Most of the time, I feel like I put a good face on it. I get out there and socialize with my friends and family, appreciating the relationships I do have. I'm involved in social groups where I meet new people all the time, yet I'm also content to do things by myself. I've never let my singlehood stop me from doing things I want to do, and heck, I was even featured in the book Quirkyalone. I dabble in online dating, I ask friends to set me up with eligible people, I try to be approachable, positive, and interested in the people I do meet. I'm the poster-child for "doing it right."
But if I’m going to be honest, sometimes I just sit and cry. All the platitudes and advice in the world ( “Get out there and live”, “Don’t concentrate on what you lack,” “You have to kiss a lot of frogs,” “There’s someone out there for you”) can't help when I do all the things I'm supposed to do, and still find that what really gets me excited on Friday evenings is that a TV show I like is on. Sometimes I see myself making yet another plan to get out into the dating pool – a craigslist post, a speed dating-type event, a set-up by a friend – and feel my lips curl into a smirk that says “Oh, yeah, right, THIS is going to work.” And I know that’s the killer right there: the expectation of disappointment. But sometimes that’s about the only feeling I can muster.
My mom once said to me that one thing that impresses her about me is that I never seem to give up. I sure hope that works in this case, that persistence pays off in the end, because sometimes I think stamina is the only thing I bring to this race.