Before I sat down to write this article I thought about sharing my knowledge on being single and knew I probably qualified. I haven't been in a committed relationship in seven years. Oh I've dated lots, a ridiculous amount actually, but this has been one long stretch of solo. I won't focus on the clichéd advice you've heard a million times such as, "Love yourself first!" I will instead assume you adore your single self, but would eventually like to partner up.
I was married twice -- once divorced and more recently, widowed. The eleven years between those two marriages I had committed relationships and casual flings. My best friend said, "There was never a shortage of men and always seemed to be a suitor in the wings ready to step in when your current thing ended. You were always looking." That was probably accurate. I felt restless and dissatisfied most of the time. There was a nagging voice in my head that repeatedly said, this can't be all there is. Love felt complicated, disappointing and downright hard. If I needed confirmation all I had to do was read any of the books written by relationship experts. My desire for the yin to my yang was childlike magical thinking and I would be better served by lowering my expectations if my goal was to have a "plus one."
Conventional wisdom often stokes my hate fire. And so in the spirit of healthy debate (and "Disco Inferno") I will attempt to burn that mother down.
Conventional Wisdom: Relationships are always hard work.
No. They're. Not.
Being Single Can Be the Better Alternative. Life can be hard, really effing hard, but the right love isn't. If you're in a relationship and it should be going smoothly as the exterior stuff is fine (job, health, money, children) but your pairing is filled with angst or so boring you want to jab a fork in your eye, you might want to think about why you're in it. If it chronically feels like you're going miles in manure, perhaps it's time to wash the dung off your shoes. Being single could be the better alternative and a hell of a lot less lonely.
Conventional Wisdom: When looking for the right companion, singles should focus on communication because it is the foundation for lasting love.
Really? I have wonderful, soul-baring communication with a friend of mine who's gay. Um, he has no interest in spooning.
Singles Should Seek Raucous Laughter and Impolite Sex. Look for someone to laugh with. I don't mean the occasional chuckle, but belly laughs -- mouth open, tears streaming down your face. Seek great sex -- not just in the beginning but also for the long haul and the perfunctory kind doesn't count. Are you comfortable enough to be a bit undignified in the bedroom, a little impolite? If you find both, turn in that Eleanor Rigby card because that's a bedrock foundation.
Conventional Wisdom: Whimsical love fantasies of our youth transition to a mature and more realistic perspective with older singles.
One word -- Viagra.
We Are Fools for Love at Any Age. My grandmother once told me, "I feel sixteen inside then look in the mirror and think, who's that old bag?" When I talk to my single friends we have the same dialog we had in our 20s. "Have you met anyone?" "There's this guy at work..." "I think he likes me but I'm not sure." "We had sex!" The need to love and be loved is just as strong--the quest equally daunting. I'll take it one step further. One friend's ninety-year-old mother with early stage dementia was recently moved to an assisted living facility. My friend worried that she'd feel sad and lonely. Imagine her surprise when her mom greeted her with an excited smile and the news that she "thinks" she has a boyfriend. He's been eating with her in the dining room.
Conventional Wisdom: Singles must stop hoping for love at first sight and be realistic. The brain is churning out dopamine and pheromones are involved but everything will normalize eventually and he/she won't be so irresistible.
Bull to the shit.
Love at First Sight Isn't Only in Movies. I was 28 and alone in Paris, sitting at a sunny outdoor table at Le Dôme Café. I was sipping a café au lait and writing feverishly in my journal when I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts. I glanced up at the table next to mine and there he was. At that same moment he saw me and the air was instantly electric, as we both knew without question, the something we didn't know was missing had just been found.
OK, that's not exactly how it happened. I was going for a cinematic effect but as we've seen (too many times) if it were a true Hollywood production I'd be 28 and he a boyish 60.
In reality I was 41 years old, sitting at a table in the Airport Hyatt bar in Pittsburgh drinking a dirty martini with a coworker on the last night of a grueling weeklong business trip. I wanted to be anywhere but there -- my life was pretty depressing. I began to relax after a few sips of my cocktail, sat back in the chair and glanced around the crowded lounge. That's when I saw him, he saw me, and that persistent voice in my head said, oh my god, it's you. We talked through the night and into the morning and were together until he died, five years later. It was an effortless pairing, ridiculously easy in spite of the initial long distance love, then a cross-country move, the blending of our families, another move overseas and finally cancer that eventually took his life. He was my favorite person and I his. We were always laughing -- big, loud and from the bottom of our bellies. We had frequent and uninhibited sex -- the desire never waned -- we were teenage fools in love despite our (cough) chronological ages. My husband's name was Neal and that love is the reason I've been single for the last seven years. I don't want to be alone but once a person's had something of that magnitude, it's pretty hard to settle for less.
At the beginning I told you what my best friend said but not all of it. Here's her full observation.
"There was never a shortage of men and always seemed to be a suitor in the wings ready to step in when your current relationship ended. You were always looking, until you met Neal. For the first time you had blinders on, there would never be anyone better. From the first night until he died, you only had eyes for him."
I guess if I were a proponent of conventional wisdom I would not waste time hoping for another over the top romance but instead take a more pragmatic approach to ending my single status -- especially at my age. I'm not a believer in pragmatism or convention in love, though. I'll take my chances, foolish as they may be, because what I know now that I'm in my fifties is what I've always known deep inside. Being alone can be tough but settling doesn't work. And there's also nothing wrong with hope because maybe, just maybe, when least expected, one's yin will show up. Perhaps even a second time.
To read more in this series...