The thing about narratives? They last. We tell stories to people because we want people to remember stories. Stories, bless them, take their job very seriously, and make it a point to worm their way into our minds so that we take them with us everywhere, always. That’s totally fine and good, until we hit a narrative that fucking sucks, then we’ve got problems.
Sex And The City, on the whole, had a lot of problems. I only want to talk about one of those today because it’s the holiday season and I am aware through both anecdotal evidence and search traffic that the holidays sting a little bit more for singles. I want to take one of the shitty narratives of singlehood and rewrite it, because the first time we heard it, it made sense, we identified with it, we grabbed onto it, but it is high time we let it go.
Single people, particularly single women, have a bad habit. This bad habit isn’t necessarily our fault, but that’s no excuse not to reframe things for ourselves and start feeling better. This habit happens because there are so few things made just for us, that when something comes along that we identify with, we tend to lift it up as canon because honestly…what else have we got? Sex And The City was an outstanding example of this. It was a show about four single women, come the fuck on. It meant a lot to us, and it is still allowed to. The thing is, we have to examine the stories it told us, because some of them are full of shit.
There is one line of dialogue on Sex And The City that has bothered me for two decades. It’s a line that’s so relatable, so intense, and so good that it rallied women around it because finally, finally someone “got it” and was announcing the problem to the world, or at least the part of the world that had HBO. The trouble is, no solution was offered afterward. So we were fed this line, patted on the ass, and sent out into the ether with the same amount of frustration, confusion, and disappointment that we had in the first place.
Here it is:
“I’ve been dating since I was 15, I’m exhausted. Where is he?”
This is a lot. And the first thing we thought when we heard it wasn’t “Why is dating like this, why is there nothing we can do to make it better, why do we have to keep searching and searching and searching while it never seems to be this way for single men they seem to be having such a great fucking time how can we change things and make it better the only answer can’t possibly be just find someone we can’t ever fucking find someone this can’t be why we were put on this earth!” No, instead, all we thought was… “Oh my god, she’s so riiiiight.”
Also bear in mind the mood Charlotte was in, poor thing was hungover to high heaven. We’ve all been her. We’ve all been an exasperated, hungover, frustrated, angry Charlotte, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course we’ve felt that way. Dating as a social space is punishing. If you’re a woman. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that it sucks. It’s staying in the suckage forever that is bad for our health. Allow me to unpack.
“I’ve been dating since I was 15.”
Yup. We all have. Dating has always been sold to us as this super fun thing. Boys! Holding hands! Kissing! All that stuff is great, let’s do that! But the fatal error was in marketing dating to us as something with a purpose or destination. If dating had just been sold as an activity without agenda, we might like it more when we find ourselves still doing it once our age has doubled. But when it’s viewed as an activity that’s meant to bear fruit in the form of forever-partnership, it can get deeply frustrating in adulthood. Because every experience we have in dating that doesn’t lead to a “forever person” is therefore a failure. That’s a lot of failure to rack up over time.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been dating. Dating is the one area of life where effort does not match reward. It doesn’t matter how long Charlotte had been dating. There’s no amount of dating misery that we can deposit into a marriage bank in order to build up an account big enough to earn us a partner. You can’t suffer your way to love, it doesn’t work like that. You’re just as likely to meet your partner in year five of dating as in year 25 of dating. You can either hang onto that narrative and let the fact that you’ve done all this dating for “nothing” frustrate you, or you can let go of the destination narrative because it’s bullshit. There is no one “right” dating path that leads perfectly to partnership. It’s okay if it’s taken time, and been messy. Time and mess are educational.
Yes, Charlotte, we all are. What would been helpful to hear at this point would have been, “Then just stop.” We love to acknowledge the “I’m exhausted” narrative, but whenever we allow ourselves to even ponder the “what if I just stopped dating” narrative, we can’t entertain the idea. Because until we change it, the second half of that narrative throws us into a state of utter panic. “But…but…if I don’t date, I’ll never find someone! How will I find someone if I don’t date?!” Darling, may I ask you, are you “finding someone” now? Is dating working for you? Or is it exhausting you and frustrating you? In the new narrative, dating is not a mandatory activity for single people like some kind of sentence they have to live out until they meet someone. A new single narrative gives us permission to just fucking breathe, to live, to be whole and valid, right now.
People have come together and found love and partnership on this earth in countless—literally countless—ways. I know more people who met by chance than people who met because someone was treating dating like job interviews. We are allowed to just live, to just do the things we love doing and not burden ourselves with an activity that exhausts us and never delivers. That’s allowed, and that isn’t “lowering our chances” of finding love, an occurrence that’s so dependent on luck, timing, chance, and the Universe or whatever anyway. You don’t have to try to control your future by endlessly dating. You are allowed to just stop and live. You’re allowed to meet someone that way, too.
“Where is he?”
We have to stop putting responsibility on women to “find him.” He isn’t hiding. He isn’t he! He is THEY. There isn’t some magical man hiding in the woods in a cabin and some perfect alignment of the way you look and act and the places you go and things you do unlocks a portal that places him directly in front of your path. There are endless possibilities and a countless number of human beings on this planet. When we start asking ourselves “where is he,” or tell ourselves the “there are no guys left” narrative, we start to view the world through a lens the size of a pinhole. Widen the aperture. Remember that there are an unlimited number of people on this planet, and an unlimited number of ways they come together. You can’t orchestrate and force your way into “finding him.” But when all we ever ask ourselves is “where is he?” we burden ourselves into somehow thinking it’s our fault for not finding him. He isn’t hiding. You aren’t doing anything wrong. He isn’t one perfect person. And you aren’t incomplete until you “find him.”
We ask ourselves “where is he,” but rather than find an answer to that question, I want to know why we keep asking. Why do we spend so much time and focus on “where is he,” to the point that we ignore how fucking free and open an amazing single life can be? When all we focus on is “finding him,” (and we all have), I worry for us. I worry that we’re looking under every rock for someone else and forgetting we already are a someone. I worry we’re missing our lives in an endless quest to find someone else. These lives, these single lives, are amazing. Don’t miss them because all you could give a shit about was finding a guy, because that’s all the world ever made you feel valid for focusing on. You’re allowed to focus on you instead. He’ll be where he’s going to be, you’ll be where you are. At some point, that will be the same place. Trust that you weren’t put on this planet to simply search for a husband. You came here for so much more. It will happen when it happens. Let go.
I’m sorry Charlotte. I’m sorry that dating got the best of you. I’m sorry it wore you out and frustrated you and didn’t deliver what you thought you’d earned. I’m sorry dating makes no sense, I’m sorry it isn’t effortless for people to find each other, and to find love. But life is the way it is. We can choose to see it as punishing and miserable, or we can choose a different narrative. One where single life is a gift, rather than a burden, and one that recognizes that whoever they are, wherever they are, they’re going to have to come into your life and be pretty fucking amazing to get you to give single life up. That’s my kind of story.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, frequently.