On being single

27 Apr

Why are you single?

Because I want to be.
My therapist once told me that a good relationship is like icing on the cake, and you can’t frost a cake until it’s finished baking. I clearly took this to heart, as it’s been nearly a decade and I still bring up the analogy in casual conversation. I’ll be 27 in a few months, and I still don’t feel like a complete person — which is fine. But given my unfinished state, I’m not sure I’m ready to inflict myself on someone else. And what if it were the right guy? He might not like me as I am, realizing how much growing I have left to do. I could squander a great opportunity — or I could wait.

(I’m talking out of my ass.)
Maybe there’s some truth to the cake analogy, or maybe it’s something single people tell ourselves to feel better. All I know is I enjoy cake and I enjoy cake batter and I enjoy frosting on a cake and I enjoy frosting by itself. This idea that one has to be fully-formed before entering into a relationship is silly for a couple reasons. One, we are always growing, so to wait until we’re a complete human is absurd and frankly impossible. Two, we grow with other people. Which is to say, we adapt with one another. A successful relationship means that the growth process has to be shared, not finished ahead of time, separately.

Because I don’t need someone else to complete me.
I resent the idea that I’m somehow lacking without a partner by my side. I want to define myself, not to be defined by whom I date. Too often with couples, you see one or both of them losing an identity. He becomes another facet of his partner’s personality. She fades into the background as a plus-one. Moreover, the constant search for someone to spend one’s life with is a distraction — it ignores all the individual development the single person could be working on instead. And then what happens when your partner leaves? Are you a mere fraction of what you were before?

(But perhaps it’s not about completing a person. Perhaps it’s about completing a life.)
The fear of losing oneself in another is daunting, and it’s based in reality. We’ve all had a love affair (or at least a really intense crush) that took over entirely. We couldn’t focus on anything else, and every moment was defined by that other person. Love isn’t always like that, though: it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. And a person in love can still be just a person — there are couples that have lives outside of each other. And I think, yes, you shouldn’t need someone else to make you who you are, but maybe it’s not about that. There could be someone out there who doesn’t overwhelm your life so much as make it better.

Because I live a full life without a partner.
I complain a lot, but things are pretty good overall: I have friends I care about, a job I love, and a reasonable amount of people to read my ramblings. I get plenty of love in my relationships, even if none of them is A Relationship. I know these people care about me, and they show affection, and, perhaps most importantly, they stick around past the complications that would end many romantic relationships. Attraction fades and romance withers, but friendship endures. I think of the people I wanted to date who are friends now and I feel relief: would we still know each other if we’d been lovers?

(So why does it feel like something’s missing?)
Chalk it up to popular culture or holiday party invites that allow you to bring a boyfriend/girlfriend (not a friend, not a relative, not just someone you’re dating, OK?), but yeah, there is a lack you feel when you’re single. Sometimes it’s vague; sometimes it’s a direct and pressing need. Either way, this longing can put a damper on everything from dinners out with friends to birthdays to celebrating personal successes. There’s this nagging voice that says, “Yes, but” because as full as your life is, it’s not all the way there. And fuck, with a partner at your side, imagine how much fuller

Everything is less complicated.
The more I see my friends argue with significant others, whether over where to eat out or something more substantial, the less I want that in my life. I’ve been in a relationship before, and I remember how much work it is. There’s compromise — and it’s never as easy as just meeting in the middle — and there’s the need to always account for someone other than yourself. I like being an independent unit, because I never have to check in with anyone. I make plans for me and I go about my day without worrying what my theoretical boyfriend is doing. There’s no fighting. No anxiety over weeks without sex. It’s simple, and it works.

(But oh, God, the nights get hard sometimes.)
And I’ll think, I don’t care about fighting and I don’t care about compromise — I’d take it all just to be held from the moment I shut my eyes at night to the moment I open them in the morning. And maybe I don’t want to just worry about me anymore, because it feels selfish and immature, like the one last thing I’m not willing to accept about adulthood. It would be work, but that’s part of it. You’d feel the lows, but you’d also get to feel the highs. And you wouldn’t have to write about your feelings, which, incidentally, Stephen Sondheim already captured a lot more succinctly in “Being Alive”: “Somebody, need me too much / Somebody, know me too well / Somebody, pull me up short / And put me through hell / And give me support / For being alive…”

“You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.”

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2 Responses to “On being single”

  1. harlsmits April 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    What if I only want to lick the icing off the cake?

  2. Jon June 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Where I grew up everybody in my graduating high school class is pretty much married and have children. I feel lucky to be free, independent and not attached to anybody right now because I’m still young and growing.

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