When I was little there were three games that I hated with a passion.
The first was Duck Duck Goose. The anxiety of never knowing when you were going to be tapped "goose" was painful. The only thing worse than being tapped, was not being tapped, because it meant you weren't chosen.
The second game was Red Rover. I hated running, I still hate running, and being captured in a net of arms is almost as uncomfortable as breaking through the human barrier.
But, the bane of my existence, the game that truly sent chills up my spine and filled me with overwhelming dread was Musical Chairs. You had to move fast or you would be left standing alone with no chair, no home, and no friends. I hated that there wasn't enough for everyone. I hated when I was left chairless, and I hated when anyone else was left standing too. I offered to share my seat on a number of occasions, but my kindergarten teacher, compelled to teach us the rules of this frighteningly capitalist game, discouraged us by taking the two rebel socialists out of the running.
Twenty-five years later and I am again feeling like the odd one out. But this time, the proverbial chair has turned into The Partner.
Every single one of my friends is married or in a long-term relationship. Every. Single. One. I don't know how this happened. Most of us are not even thirty yet. And then, one day I woke up and everyone had paired off in some weird Noah's Arkesque compulsion.
For the most part this doesn't bother me. I am searching for Mr. Right and it's always buzzing around in my mind, but it's not the centerpiece of my life, and it certainly doesn't keep me up at night. It will happen when it will happen, I tell myself. And if it doesn't happen, well, then, I'll do what I always do, pull myself together and make the most out of my situation. This is how I feel on the good days.
But the bad days can be brutal.
One thing that I have learned is that the bad days are usually instigated by other people's anxieties about my singleness. That is, I don't worry about it until I'm told to be concerned by others. It's a bit like Duck Duck Goose again. You don't really want to be tapped, but it worries you that you aren't being chosen because everyone else seems to want to be the Goose.
Indeed, the Goose question comes up daily. The first thing my girlfriends ask when I speak to them is if I'm dating anyone new. My parent's friends and my relatives say things like "next time it will be you" at all the weddings, baby names, bris', and engagement parties we are invited to. My colleagues want to know who I met over the weekend and whether he was cute.
I find this incredibly strange. Many of my married friends talk about how hard their relationships are and how they wish they could get a break from the kids. My extended family and my parent's friends have been through their fair share of painful divorces that they are still recovering from years later, and those who remain together seem pretty miserable to me. When I think of this, I can't help wondering, why I would want to be the damn Goose anyways?!
And then there is the mysterious disappearance of the rest of my personality in these conversations. I am a writer. I am a researcher. I work full time in a health care setting. I travel. I like esoteric movies and abstract art. I take African dance classes. I read constantly. I have a rich social network and a bright future to look forward to in my profession. Why doesn't anyone ever ask me about these things? Like I said, it's strange.
I suppose the wish to be like everyone else, or alternatively, to have everyone else be like you is natural. We are relational beings and are constantly striving to build connection through our sameness in anyway we can. We want to justify our own choices by having them mirrored in everyone else around us. But just because this inclination exists, doesn't mean it's necessarily right.
In fact, lot's of very interesting things happen when you are "out." When I lost at Musical Chairs, I would lean against the wall outside the circle and daydream, or read my Amelia Bedelia books, or play and talk to the other kids who were also out of the game. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that there is a lot more fun to be had outside the circle than in it. You should try it sometime.