Sorry to these couples.
I detest structure. Timed activities, guided tours, classes — I find them stifling. I’d rather be on a treadmill for three hours than in a workout class for 30 minutes. School days felt essentially like eight little prison sentences in a row for an hour at a time. If something has a start and an end, I prefer the end. I don’t even have plans afterward, I just want it to be over. When structure is over, then I’m free.
I don’t like other people being in charge of me, deciding when I do things, when I have to be somewhere, how long I have to stay. Even if the activities are pleasant, I need to know that my decision-making options are always open, and that they belong to me exclusively. I won’t even take the little museum audio guide because I don’t trust it to move at my preferred clip.
In elementary school, every day, I had a two-hour long Hebrew class. I learned the language, yes, but the topics were broader than that. Essentially it was a class on how to be a good jew, and I was stuck in it for two hours a day, at six, seven, eight, and nine years old. As an adult, the only thing I can do for two hours without needing a break or a drink is sleep. Whoever drafted this curriculum for children is, ironically, a Nazi.
I think it’s important to understand what you’re asking of others, to temper your response to them. Even if I hadn’t had the meanest Israeli Hebrew teacher to ever walk the earth, I still would have struggled with maintaining focus for that long. To Cruel Batya, our two hour sessions were totally normal school expectations. One particularly painful day, she caught me straining to see the clock, because she’d recently moved my seat to just out of eye line.
“Why do you need to know what time it is?! Why is it so important to you?! Do you want to leave?! LEAVE!” I was eight.
I was a small, quiet, bespectacled child in dirty white Keds and a school uniform one size too big. I have no idea how I managed not to cry. Perhaps my tear ducts were frozen with fear, much as roadkill are paralyzed the moment before impact.
I was the kind of child who was never bored without structure, but perpetually bored inside it. I couldn’t suffer 50 minutes of geometry but leave me alone with an afternoon, collage materials, and an ice-cold Diet Coke from Gramma’s fridge, and I’m all set.
My aversion to structure continued well into adulthood, I’m now a grown woman who can’t start a meditation exercise without glancing at the length of the audio file to make sure she knows exactly how long she’ll be involved in this activity. I use an app to learn a foreign language, not because I can’t afford French class, but because I don’t want to sit through one. Essentially if I can’t do exactly what I want, and leave a scenario precisely when I desire, I itch like winter skin.
There’s a side of single the world doesn’t talk about much: the good side. It certainly isn’t the starting point. When someone finds out I’m single I’m not met with a bright smile or congratulations, nobody’s like “Ooooh fun! Tell me all about it!” I get more of the downturned mouth, head-tilt, unrequested dating advice sort of response. You probably know it best as pity.
I’ve been single and absorbing these inherently negative reactions to what I am for 12 years and I think a broadening of perspective is in order.
As a society, we’ve been so groomed to see single as a bad thing, something we need to fix immediately, that there isn’t often room outside of that to stop and ask ourselves: What’s really so bad about being single?
We’ve just taken it as truth, like when our parents told us to eat carrots so we could see in the dark. It’s nothing more than a fiction spun to achieve a desired result from the gullible. Carrots don’t do shit.
We live inside a labyrinth that encourages us further and further toward the center, toward coupledom. And while there are perils and traps and dick pics strewn throughout, the labyrinth itself is utterly magnificent. Being single is actually magnificent. But we’d never stop to notice its majestic beauty and wondrous secrets, why would we? The opposite of single is love, and why waste time enjoying being single when you could put effort into finding love instead? Single bad. Love good. Ludo down.
I mean there are bad things about being single, Jesus Christ. If one more couple asks me to give up my carefully selected aisle seat so that they don’t have to spend four hours out of arm’s reach on the way to Dallas things are going to get so ugly we’ll make the evening news. And while I don’t mind the occasional movie alone (in truth, I prefer it), it would be nice to sometimes have someone to go places with. I do occasionally get sick of buying just one ticket to things. Also having sex more than annually sounds like it might be nice.
I just think an inventory of the good stuff is also in order, that’s all. I don’t think the discussion around single women can ever change unless we start to see the wonderful parts of our own situation first. Lead the charge by not thinking every single second of our lives is less-than just because we’re unpartnered. We don’t have to hate what we are, not when there are so many perks to this shit.
- The wait is always shorter for a solo seat at the bar.
- I always get the good cinnamon roll.
- I haven’t waited to watch the next episode of anything in over a decade.
- I don’t have a “side” of the bed. I have the bed.
Yes, a massive part of being single is awesome because it is selfish. I am the center of my own world 100% of the time unless the cat gets sick. I get to be selfish regarding decisions big and small and I haven’t had to compromise since the Bush administration. My entire single world is for me, by me, of me, and I am spoiled rotten as a result. But like…who is around to care? Selfishness in solitude is the best kind. No one knows what a brat I am.
I don’t think seeing the good parts of being single is making the best of things, by the way. I’m not patronizing myself in identifying the little morsels of single that make me happy. “Oh look Shani, here’s something kind of nice, you can have that.” No. I like my single life and all of its moving parts a lot, and I refuse to look at the way I live life and find it lower-tier than coupled humanity. Liking my life isn’t a consolation prize. Because when you look around at all the freedom I have, it’s the jackpot.
I don’t think it’s only single women who should ask themselves, “what’s really so bad about being single?” I think the marrieds need to search their souls, too. Because there’s a lot of feedback coming our direction from the jointly filing set. They might not say it directly to their single friend, I know my friends certainly don’t say outright negative things to me, but I’m talking about more than what’s said out loud. The first thoughts in someone’s head when they think about single women. Especially the first thoughts in their heads when they think about single women over 30.
Nobody’s looking at a single woman in her mid-thirties with envy. At least that’s not the first reaction. We inspire sadness and pity before all else. The instinct is that a single woman needs help, advice, maybe a set up, anything to help. Because she’s single, she must want to change that, because being single is inherently thought of as a bad thing. The sentiment around single women begins from a negative place. In general, happily coupled people don’t look at an over-30 single friend and immediately wish they were her. The assumption is that she wishes she was more like them.
I certainly feel the reverse. Sometimes, pretty often actually, I look at married people in their mid thirties with an explosive sigh of relief. It’s not unlike the feeling you get when you unzip high waist pants. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever really love being in a couple, because I’ve seen some shit I’m not too keen on, and I often think my single state is superior. But I also know that one day it will be over. When I see what happens in the coupled world, I cherish every single second I have.
Every time someone has to leave a restaurant because of a fussy baby. (The baby is still going to be fussy at home by the way. I also wish there was less stigma against baby behavior. Like why should my friend and her baby have to leave if the kid doesn’t exhibit the behavior of a Rodin statue? Parents shouldn’t be confined to quarters on the off chance their kid will interrupt someone’s omelette. We were all babies once, and crying baby judgment is fucking with my social life. Scream all you want, my tiny queen, your mama and I have gossiping to do.)
Beyond little carbon copies of ourselves in mini Converse sneakers, there are other situations with the marrieds that make me feel relieved and grateful. It seems insane, I know. Send the men in the white coats after me if you want, just make sure they’re cute. (Cymbal clash, I’ll be here all week.) But seeing a woman pause before doing something because she has to discuss it with her partner first makes me want to vomit into the nearest vessel. I’m sorry, what? Are you about to get…permission right now? Lauren, we’re 35.
And I get it. As part of a partnership, you kind of have to do that, for the trust factor, the strength of the relationship, and just plain old respect. Talking to each other and greenlighting big decisions for one another isn’t controlling, it’s textbook. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t thrilled to watch that book burn in a fire.
When you’re single, it’s totally normal (and sometimes alternativeless) to do things alone. Once you’re partnered, there are assumed truths. Couples attend events together. Couples travel to places together. Couples spend holidays together at whoever’s family’s turn it is. They’ll eat dinner together at the same restaurant. Fewer independent decisions are made in favor of compromises and assumptions. It’s not bad, it’s just true.
For me, my happiness in my single status really comes down to decision-making. What drives my decisions? Honestly I do, 100% of the time. I am at the helm here, and I steer a good ship. If I have a desire, a curiosity, a need, even a whim, I am the guiding force behind it. For anyone who’s decided to get married, and especially anyone who’s decided to have kids, they made one big decision that changed how all other decisions would be made for the rest of their lives. I’m not judging it, I’m just saying that after 12 years of not doing that, it scares the piss out of me.
- I wake up when I want, for reasons entirely my own.
- I live where I chose, regardless of the school district it’s in.
- I prepare dinners that often consist of a single side dish, to no one’s dismay.
- I’ve never had to hide a purchase from anyone.
- My choice of pet has nothing to do with someone’s allergy.
- I chose the firmness of my mattress.
Also I go to Paris. Every year, finances permitting, I take a trip to Paris alone. I stay in a comically tiny room in a boutique hotel with cute sconces and headboards and an elevator so small my suitcase and I require two separate trips up. I don’t fuss about with breakfast but book reservations for lunch and dinner, every day. I breeze through museums, focusing only on the art and eras that delight me the most. I get up at the crack of dawn to walk Parc Monceau and the Marché Bastille and all the other delightful sites that are open before 10am. I waste no time, intricately planning my days with contingencies built in for the inevitable unpredictability of Parisian business hours or the occasional instance of tired feet. I am an organized, efficient, and highly exploratory traveler, to what would be considered a fault if I had any kind of company around to notice. But I don’t, so my lists and maps and itineraries and I set out for adventure and have a grand time.
I had to teach myself how to travel alone. I was afraid of it for a long time, my trips limited to weddings and holidays with my family. Real vacations were things that happened to coupled people and Instagram bloggers who were staying in five-star resorts for free. I had to wait until I fit either archetype to travel, with one outcome being just as unlikely as the other.
As with all my epiphanies, my notion to travel alone was born out of being exhausted with the way I’d always assumed the world to be. I tend to stick around in the status quo for far too long. Being comfortable is too easy, and for a single woman, being uncomfortable often involves something the world thinks it’s weird for you to do. Pretty much the entire travel industry assumes people travel in pairs. Hotel room occupancy is always preset to “2” when you book online, have you noticed?
Anyway, I never went anywhere, and I fucking hated it.
I started small, with a weekend in Washington D.C. in the dead of February. Just three hours away by train and made infinitely more affordable with a hotel press rate. I don’t know if I was more afraid of actually being alone on a trip, or of other people seeing that I was alone on a trip. Both seemed to give me a tummy ache in equal measure. I don’t like implied sadness being attributed to me, especially not in our nation’s capital, good heavens.
But I did it. I saw monuments and famous locales and discovered that the National Gallery of Art might be my favorite place to sit and stare at paint on canvas while mentally congratulating myself for being cultured. I dined alone at the bar of several wonderful restaurants, including The Dabney, which was worth the trip in itself. Go early. Sit at the bar. Don’t skip the cornbread.
It was a challenge, remembering to breathe and reminding myself there was no “right” way to do things. I agonized over every moment and decision for fear the bottom might drop out of the Lincoln Memorial. I froze often, inexplicable scared of…I don’t even know what. The therapy was immersive, I can tell you that for damn sure. But I did it, I found out that enjoying solo travel was possible, and I have some excellent memories to prove it. My anxiety and I spent a lovely weekend together. I could do this now.
I saw no reason not to try Paris after that. Yes, I acknowledge it’s a bit like acing your fourth grade time tables and signing up to take an LSAT the next day, but if there’s one thing I find motivating it’s reasonable airfare prices and French carbohydrates.
It was a perfect trip. It was delicious and full of discovery and exposure to culture and cheap, cheap wine. I was forced to try out my Duolingo French to speak to restaurant staff, to ask for local recommendations, and to just avoid being an asshole American in general. It is an astounding place, for a thousand reasons, and I absorbed it all like baguette dipped in a good sauce. I walked ten miles a day, took the Metro when I couldn’t walk anymore, and packed my schedule as tight as I wanted, pissing off no one. I went to the Louvre twice, actually.
It also rained the entire time and I got lost constantly and packed entirely the wrong shoes and ordered weird clams by accident. But it was mine, all mine, and it lived up to every expectation and bookmarked Instagram photo imaginable. So now I do it all the time.
I never have to run it by anybody, or justify the destination in the face of “but we went there last year.” I know I went last year, I liked it last year, and I’m going to like it this year, too. I’ll never give up is Paris. I’ll always go, I’ll always go alone, because that’s a part of me I discovered as a single person that will always be part of me no matter what.
My time taking inventory and embracing single life for the freedom it affords me has illuminated my self worth. That self worth was hiding behind the negativity societally associated with being single. In allowing myself to stop and assess what it really means to be single, I have improved my own opinion of what it means to be me.
There isn’t anything wrong with me because I’m single. Instead, single has become a precious time in my life, full of unique experiences, exploration, and yeah…a lot of selfish indulgence. It’s pretty great in here, and if seeing the good side of single has taught me anything, it’s that if I’m going to give this kind of freedom up, whoever he is, he’s going to have to be goddamn amazing. And when you think about it, he should be.
I’m not above compromise and respect for a partner, I’m not a monster. I understand that there are adjustments to life that happen when you build a relationship, and those adjustments are not only reasonable, but highly rewarding. I don’t think being in couple is akin to voluntarily wearing leg irons, and I don’t think it’s a structure I’ll feel limited by. Just the opposite, I think I’ll end up with someone who hates other people’s schedules and rules, too, and enjoys the way we spend our time together just fine.
But for now, I can honestly say that I see the good parts of being unpartnered, and I am happy in my single state. You know why? Je suis libre.