I was planning to do a nice, traditional Valentine’s blog post about creative date ideas in Paris. Something romantic, you know.
Only then I remembered that, between our 6pm curfew, everything being closed, and the fact that it’s absolutely bloody freezing this week – perhaps the coldest weather we’ve had in the four winters I’ve spent here – almost all of my suggestions would be totally redundant this particular Feb 14th. And I already did the whole wistful things-I-wish-I-could-be-doing-now-but-can’t thing around this time last year.
So this isn’t going to be a romantic blog post at all – although that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant to the date. Rather, this is a post especially for all my readers without dates today. All the single ladies. And gents. People, generally. It’s for single people. Although if that’s not you and you’ve gotten this far, please do continue. An engaging read guaranteed, or your money back. Heh.
Depending on whether or not you follow my blog, you may or may not already know that I’ve been dabbling in the weird world of dating apps for the last year-and-a-half or so. And if you are already aware of that fact, you probably know that I have very mixed feelings towards the whole concept. Honestly, I think most people using them do.
Anyway, I have a bit of an unintentional modus operandi as far as these apps are concerned, which is that I tend to go on one date with a guy, and then promptly decide that I don’t want to see him again. Actually, you know what? This applies to dates with people I’ve met in real life too, come to think of it, so let’s not blame Bumble. There have been SO few exceptions to this rule, it’s kind of become a standing joke amongst some of my friends. Now and again, I’ve made the conscious decision to start giving my dates more of the “benefit of the doubt”, and met someone a second or even third time – but really, I knew from the first meeting that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I know why this is, too. There’s something very specific I look for when I go on a date: an immediate “spark”, an instant connection of some kind – and if I don’t feel that, or at least a flicker of something like it, I’m not interested.
I’m not an idiot. I know this is a rare phenomenon. Instantaneous attractions don’t grow on trees; people would be falling in love left, right and centre if this kind of connection happened all the time. It’d be chaos. BUT it does happen. I know it does, I’ve experienced it for myself to varying degrees a handful of times in my adult life. Only once or twice to the point where it’s really knocked me off my feet, but enough to know that it’s not something exclusively reserved for romcoms and fairytales.
I also know that so many – probably the vast majority of – successful relationships do not begin in this way, all fireworks and frissons. A point that most of my nearest and dearest are very fond of reminding me of. Attraction, chemistry, a real connection, they most often come with time, building slowly as you get to know each other gradually. This, I do not doubt for one second. Not disputing it.
What I am disputing, though, loudly and obstinately, is the notion that I should actively be trying to cultivate, or at the very least, allow, such a relationship with the men that I meet. This idea of giving people more of a chance, of waiting and seeing, of pursuing things I’d instinctively write off – my response is simple: why should I?
That’s rhetorical. Because I know exactly why I’m supposed to. Why, no matter how many times I tell people that I’m open to but not actively looking for a romantic relationship, I’m reminded of the need for patience and maybe a little effort if I ever want to get anything off the ground. Why the assertion that I’m actually very content with my single status is too-often met with the ‘reassurance’ that “everyone knows you meet someone when you stop looking, anyway”.
Why? Because being in a relationship is the default. As far as society is concerned, anyway. And maybe much more so for women than for men. Or at least, for women from a younger age than their male counterparts. Relationships are the default. And being single is… limbo. The in-between. Defined by the absence of a relationship, so much more than an acceptable – let alone enjoyable – state in its own right.
It’s bizarre when you think about it – effectively, being single is ‘passive’, forming a relationship ‘active’, and any default is almost always the passive situation. But not here. And don’t get me wrong, I understand it’s not that society doesn’t think it’s acceptable to be romantically unattached. Sometimes it even expects it: after a break-up, a lot of people have very strong opinions about this sort of indeterminate ‘mourning period’ you ought to have before it’s appropriate to get on with your next romantic endeavour. No, singledom is perfectly acceptable.
Just as long as you have a good reason for it.
Maybe it’s heartbreak. That one tends to brook no argument. Maybe you’re focusing on your career, or have no time because of it. Perhaps you’re “working on yourself”. Or “taking time out from dating”. This last option risks prompting further probing, though. And even career/personal development related reasons are only good for so long before eyebrows are raised and hesitant questions asked. Especially for women, I think.
Heaven forbid a person might just enjoy being by themself.
The real problem with it is, I think so many more people would be content to be single if this ridiculous notion of it being a sort of waiting room between relationships was dispelled. And if more people were content to be single, I really believe there would be far fewer toxic and unhappy relationships. Think about it. If you’re happy single, you’re much more likely to wait for something really special – something right – to come along before getting involved. And if you’re not afraid to be alone, that’s one less obstacle to overcome in getting out of something that really isn’t right at all.
But apart from that, it’s just a bit bloody annoying, having to continually justify something that should be a no-brainer. Of course being single can be enjoyable. For one, it gives you so much time and freedom to do your own thing. Relationships are all about compromise, how many times have you heard that? Not to mention the fact that they’re really flipping time-consuming. And of course you don’t begrudge that when it means spending time with your sweetheart. But it’s also really great NOT having to compromise. Spending a whole weekend indulging a hobby or passion. Losing a night to an excellent book. Playing nothing but your favourite music, from you get up until you go to bed. Eating whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like it. Going wherever you feel like, whenever you feel like it – be that for a stroll through your own city, or on a cross-continental trip because… why not? Redecorating on a whim. Re-redecorating. Never saying no to an invitation from friends. Making new friends wherever you go – in a hostel on a weekend break; in the café where you like to write; stood by a little street vendor on a cold December evening, clutching a cup of mulled wine.
Honestly, I could write a whole blog post just about the things I love about being single, and living by myself. Maybe I will one day. It’s been a real learning curve, coming to properly appreciate it, but it is so incredibly empowering when you finally figure it out. I mean, that’s not to say I do have it all figured out, but I’ve got a pretty good handle on the whole thing by now. At risk of sounding embarrassingly cliché, in the past eighteen months, I have grown so much, discovered so much about myself as a person, found myself, in ways that I don’t think I ever could have done without spending some solid quality time with me, myself and I. I am braver, bolder, infinitely surer of who I am and what I want. And my God, my creative mojo is on fire. Which makes me very happy indeed.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course it isn’t. Especially in the midst of a bloody global crisis. I spent a solid two months entirely without human company last spring, and then another month later on in the year. I’d be lying if I said that never got lonely. I think, too, that without the emotional support and consistency that a healthy relationship provides, the lows are lower. But, for me at least, it’s also true that the highs are higher – as if everything has been brought more sharply into focus. Maybe it’s all the introspection and soul-searching that being alone allows for. I’m certainly much more in touch with my “inner self” (oh God, this is getting cliché) for this stint of singleness. Or maybe it’s just the contrast with the sweet but soporific relationship I left behind. Either way, I’ll gladly take those lower lows in exchange for the heightened highs. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, feelings-wise, but it makes me feel so alive.
And it goes without saying that being in love IS wonderful, and fantastic, and, yeah, probably the best feeling on the whole human spectrum of emotion. I love being in love. Who doesn’t? I’ve never been happier than when I’ve been in a relationship that’s going well. But I’ve also never felt lonelier or more unhappy than when in one that just isn’t working. And at this point in my life, I’ve probably collectively spent more time in the latter situation, than the former. I’d hasten to add that this isn’t putting me off getting involved again. Fat chance of that: I’m not a person who seems to learn from their mistakes, as far as love and heartbreak go (a few of my friends will be rolling their eyes in agreement if they’re reading this). For better or for worse, I invariably follow my heart. So there’s truly no aversion to relationships here, and certainly no bitterness. Just… contentment. And a certain sense of power in the knowledge that I have learned to be so content, in and by myself. Both physically (think refitting a weighty 8ft-/2.5m-tall wardrobe door, and hauling a full-sized Christmas tree home to my sixth-floor apartment), and emotionally, I’ve got this. #Thisgirlcan.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. As is so often the case, I’ve written far, far more than I intended to. But these thoughts have been brewing for some weeks now, and I’ve seen enough from single friends and acquaintances on social media in the run-up to Valentine’s Day to make me think that there are a lot of people who would benefit from an alternative perspective to singleness. I know I find it very validating to hear similar sentiments on this subject echoed back to me from others. Actually, speaking of which, if you identify with this kind of headspace, I can’t recommend enough the podcast “Saturn Returns with Caggie” – particularly the episode on self partnering (not a term I’m keen on, but the content had me exclaiming my agreement aloud), and also the one on navigating breakups, which very eloquently explores the power of being alone. One of the two episodes (I forget which) even made the point of how being single should not be a “waiting room” for the next relationship. And here was me all pleased with myself for coming up with such an ‘original’ metaphor.
Alright, alright, I’ll wrap it up. Takeaways? I’m done “trying” romantically with people who don’t capture my interest in that way. Open though I am to being swept off my feet* at any given moment, I don’t need, or particularly even want, to be in a relationship right now. Hell, with all these creative pursuits and passion projects – not to mention keeping up with far-flung friends and family – I hardly have time for one. So I wholeheartedly refute the notion that I should put so much as one iota of unwilling effort into the endeavour. For the right person, I’ll make space in my life. But there’s certainly none waiting to be filled. Nothing missing, no hole or void. I’ve actually never felt so whole. Or so loved.
And speaking of love…
Happy Valentine’s Day!
*Metaphorically. Potential suitors are advised against attempting to actually remove my feet from the ground.
My Dear Adventurer,
What a wonderful read! Congratulations my girl. It brought me back many years ago on how I looked at men. I never dated longer than 3 months and like you ditched them after 1 or 2 brief encounters just knowing the relationship would be going nowhere and why waste my valuable time. Michael became aware of this shortly before we got married and I think he kept thinking ‘will today be the day she’ll run”. We’ve now been together nearly 25 years. Lots of love and can’t wait for the next blog.
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I really enjoyed reading this Fionnuala (and the comment about Michael made me laugh 😉 ) – thank you! 🙂
Much love xxx
That was very powerfully written. When I was younger I wouldn’t waste my time on someone I knew I wasn’t interested in…..why lead them on, and equally as important, why waste their time if you knew it wasn’t going anywhere. You’re better to wait for the spark, even if it’s a long time coming.
Some great points as always.
I know I’ve stuck too long in a relationship in the past, just because I was afraid of being alone but at the same time I hated not being able to do whatever I wanted…
There is a great freedom in being single and it definitely can be used positively to realise a lot and also learning to like one’s own company.
It sounds (or it reads rather) like you’ve got there, that’s nice.
Concerning people’s (or society’s) understanding of your appreciation for singledom (is that a word ?), I fear that’s another unjust burden placed on women’s shoulder by society. This pressure exists also for men but it tends to come later and with less force I think.
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