How to Be...Single

You're probably not going to believe me when I say that Valentine's Day is not a big deal to me. Oh, you just say that cause you're single and don't want people to feel bad for you. 

Untrue.  Dumb.  No.

Oh, you just say that because you're against the Hallmark-ization of the holiday. 

I hear what you're saying, but again, no.  I think any day of the year that celebrates love is pretty damn cool.  But no, I don't think it's necessary to buy a $5 card written by someone else to show your love.

Ok, lady.  I give.  Why doesn't Valentine's Day bother you? 

Because, dear reader, even when I was partnered up on Valentine's Day, it was never an event.  Never a day filled with flowers ----wait a sec---now that I write that I realize there's an exception.  When we were dating my ex-husband (then boyfriend) did send flowers one Valentine's Day but I'm pretty sure that was only to make sure he didn't look like a chump in relation to all my co-worker's spouses.  And competition flowers don't count.  But for me, it was never a day filled with chocolates or dinners at fancy restaurants.  Most of the men I've dated despised the holiday with unbridled fury and used the term "Hallmark Holiday" as an excuse to not do anything.  Which leads to a complete and total lack of standard for the holiday.  No expectations, no disappointment.

I didn't always feel that way though. When I was single and looking I dreaded Valentine's Day (like most good single people) and often found myself in the company of other singles, eating a sickening amount of terrible chocolate and chasing it with those little chalky-heart-shaped-antacids bearing sweet messages.

This year, as Valentine's Day approaches I'm on my own again for the first time in six years.  The week so far has tested me, seeing if I can bear the weight of the lover's holiday with the following: the meeting of a friend's new boyfriend,  three engagements announced over social media and the news of two friends expecting their first baby.

(By the way--totally happy for these people --icantbelieveijustsaidthatwithoutsarcasm--congratulations to all these fine folks.)

Last year if that happened, I'd have retreated to the couch in my parent's house with a package of Oreos, block of cheese and pulled the covers over my head.   I'd have numbed myself with marathons of "Sex and the City," nodding emphatically as one of the fabulous foursome preached about love, relationships and shoes.  A year ago I was miserable, but not single.

And now, a year later, I'm single but not miserable.


Ok, it's not EXACTLY where I envisioned I'd be at this age.  But to be entirely honest when I thought about my life moving forward as a married person, the picture was always a little blurry-- try as I might I just couldn't see myself doing the things I was "supposed" to be doing.  Finding a steady job, buying a home, cranking out kids. I  couldn't see myself doing those things no matter how much I tried to convince myself it was what I wanted and was expected of me.

So nearly a year ago, when I realized that the odds were pretty good that I'd soon be single I accepted the fact with a strange objectivity.  It felt weird more than bad.  Different more than wrong.  I knew I'd be starting over at an age when most of my peers were settling down, and while in moments of panic this had the power to take me down, for the most part I viewed it with a surprising amount of glee.

It's difficult though, in this society we live in, where it has been decided somehow that the most socially acceptable way of life for those venturing out of their twenties and into their thirties is to "settle down."  To find the partner, the steady job, the house, and begin looking towards the beginning of family life.  Single people in their thirties are meant to be, it seems, looking for a partner or at least well equipped with a series of quality excuses.  I believe there is an expectation that single people in their thirties should at least the product of a failed marriage, or  committed relationship in order to be deemed "normal."

Perhaps the unabashedly single are the wisest of them all--knowing instinctively, the weight of commitment and the responsibility of caring for another person and their life as you do your own.  Perhaps they're wise in their hesitance to take on that task without certainty, willingness and desire to  love another throughout the hardships of life.  Recognizing that marriage is more than a wedding, knowing the day of celebration fades into the normalcy of day-to-day life and that logically speaking living in close quarters with another human being for an extended amount of time means at some point you're probably going to want to kill them for leaving the cap off the toothpaste.

In my twenties, I watched "Sex and the City" religiously. (I know, I just admitted that I watched it a year ago as well--it was kind of my coming of age show, get over it.)  Although I aligned more with Carrie than any of the other ladies, Charlotte's words in one episode rang true for me,

"I've been dating since I was fifteen.  I'm exhausted.  Where is he?"

At twenty-five I was tired of dating.  I wanted to be in a relationship.  I wanted to get married.  Looking back now it's hard not to wonder if what I wanted wasn't the marriage, but the certainty that I assumed came with the vows.   I figured that once we were married we'd become invincible.  That the oath, the bond, and the legal contract would make us untouchable.  I imagine with some couples it does.  For us, the marriage served to separate us further than we were before and strain our relationship to the point of destruction.

During a fight, my husband said two things that still stick out in my memory.  He first said that it wasn't him I wanted, it was just that I didn't want to be alone.  At this I was immediately angry and defensive, something that should have indicated to me that he had touched upon some truth I didn't want to face.  Later, as things calmed down, he fanned the flames again by telling me that he wasn't worried about what would happen to me if we split.  He said he had no doubt that I'd be in a relationship (with a better man, he emphasized) before the dust had even settled on ours. I laughed outright at this, for he was the one of the two of us who seemed to be good at this thing called dating.

I'd dated for years before finding him and though little mini relationships would sometimes spring up, more often than not I just wound up with strangely entertaining first date stories and not boyfriends.  At the time I was so hell-bent on finding a relationship, finding the right guy that it became my primary focus.  It superseded my career ambitions, even slowing them down as I searched for a guy.  It wasn't until I faced a crisis in my life that demanded I let go of all the things I was searching for and just be, that I found both.

After a two year hiatus from theatre I ventured out to my first audition, fall of 2006.   At the audition I got the part and met my future husband.

It may be the very hardest advice to live by, but in my life at least, it's been especially true: stop searching and whatever it is you're looking for will show up.

The thing is, it's not always that what shows up is right, or meant for the long haul. It's there to serve a purpose, to teach a lesson, to help you to grow.  It may have an expiration date and no amount of strong arming will make it last if it's not meant be.   I didn't and wouldn't believe that.  I believed, like Stevie Wonder says, that when you fall in love it will be forever.

I know now that just because you fall in love with someone doesn't mean you should be together.  And  it's likely that he was the only person I could have learned this from.  That because of my stubborn determination and backwards views about commitment I would have stayed with him at all costs--especially my own.  It took some serious mistreatment from him for me to summon up the strength to turn and walk away. To recognize that the strength I thought I had in staying was not strength but an overwhelming fear of being alone.

I never thought of myself as that girl.  As a Charlotte, with a singular goal of coupledom.  I made fun of the girls in college who we knew were there to get their M.R.S.  degree.  I eschewed any thoughts or indication that I was one of them, when I was all along.  I was just the worst kind---the one who couldn't see it in herself.

A friend recently said, in reference to a guy we know who's just been through a divorce as a result of infidelity,"It's so sad.  I mean he's 32 and starting all over again."   It took her a minute to realize that what she'd just said was, in fact, applicable to me as well.  It was a little surprising, I'll be honest, to find that this didn't upset me.   That the part of the sentence I found myself focused on wasn't the "sad" or "32" but the "starting over."

Age and circumstances aside, I have an opportunity in front of me that's become more clear as the months path.  At a time in my life where my friends are flaunting  pictures of wedding gowns and new babies and SOLD signs, I can look with appreciation and fondness over where so many people in my life are at and recognize that my path may be a little different.  It may not be filled with weddings and babies and big houses in the suburbs, but I realize, that's not what I want anyway.  At least not right now.

When I told a dear friend that I was getting divorced I expressed fear that I'd never find anyone else.  The response I expected was not what I got.  She said with kindness and honesty, "It's a possibility you won't."  The harsh reality of this statement hit me head on and it's something I've often think about.  She's right.  I may not find someone else.  Or it may take a really long time.  And until I can settle in to that,  make peace with that, I'll be fighting against a truth that I have no control over.

The last few months I've tried my hand at dating again.  And in a direct change from ten years ago have been presented with the opportunity to be in relationships with some really great guys.  But you know what?  I don't want to.  I keep thinking, as I go on dates that it's just cold feet, a fear of re-living the relationship I just ended and a desire to avoid the mistakes I made before.  But I think it's more than that.  I recognize, as new age-y and therapy-y as it sounds you can't have a good, solid relationship with someone else until you have one with yourself.  Until you can accept your demons and flaws, can look at yourself with as much love and care as you do someone else then you can't forge a healthy relationship with another person.

Even though it's been off the air for years, I still watch and enjoy "Sex and the City."   Recently the precursor,  "The Carrie Diaries" began airing.   I didn't think I'd like it, knowing it would be a  tamer version and  geared toward a teen audience.  And while it does--following a teenage Carrie as she begins her life as a woman and a writer, I find it surprisingly relatable.  In a strange way it parallels where I'm at right now. I relate to this young girl with her future ahead of her, relishing in all the delicious possibilities.

It's taken me many years, but I'm slowly coming to recognize that the person I was looking for, fighting so hard to find, was myself.  And now that I've found her, I'm gonna hang on for a while before sharing her with anyone else.   If it's meant to happen it will.  If not, it'll be okay.  And if the latter happens at least I won't have to share my Oreos with anyone else.

So this Thursday, I raise a glass.  To all you fine couples, I wish you happiness and a beautiful day celebrating your love.  To the single folk, I raise a glass (filled a little higher) and wish you happiness and a beautiful day filled with chocolates, little antacid shaped hearts and love if you seek it.

Happy Valentine's Day.