At 5am, after a night of drinking with strangers, and pool, and fireworks in the street, and crappy pizza I was sitting in the living room with two friends. One had a serious girlfriend, and one — like me — had been single for a long time.
“Being single is really hard,” I said. My friend with the girlfriend made a start as if to object, the way people with girlfriends always object, but my single friend cut him off.
“Yeah,” he said. “Being single is really hard.”
I don’t talk about it often, except maybe very late at night, or when I am extremely stressed out, but being single is hard in a way that people in couples tend to be highly dismissive of.
If you’re single, and you complain about being single, you’ll normally get some advice about learning to accept yourself before being able to be with a partner. The current model is work on yourself, “improve” yourself, when you’re alone then when you are sufficiently “un-broken” you will be able to attract a mate. To admit that you’re unsatisfied being single is almost like an admission that you’re not ready to be in a relationship; if you’re not “complete” when you’re alone, you’re not worthy of a partner.
I believed this model of singleness for years. I meditated, went to therapy, and massage school, and did a bunch of hippy “self care” stuff. I went on retreats. I took pay cuts in my professional life to have a more flexible schedule to do all these things, and it was totally worth it. I’m a lot happier, and a lot more mentally stable now than I ever was. But, I don’t think it made me any more datable.
I had a minor breakdown chatting with a friend today. I’m going through a difficult personal situation I can’t explicitly write about, and one of my friends told me “I think it’s going to take you a while to process this. Maybe you shouldn’t date for a bit,” and I was like — what do you think I’ve been doing for the past two years?
When I’d finished emotionally venting, I finally said “Someone with a partner would have a person to lean on during this time. But for me, apparently it’s just another thing that makes me too broken to date.” The thing is, I will never be whole. I will never be some sparkling example of human equanimity. I will never be someone who doesn’t occasionally wake up in the middle of the night to cry. I can’t un-become the person my suffering has made me.
You wouldn’t be reading this if I hadn’t lived the life that I lived.
And that’s fine. When I thought about my singleness more, I didn’t think the people I knew in relationships were really much more mentally healthy than me. I don’t think they’re happier. I don’t think they’re better at work, or more even minded when adversity strikes. I think what happened, is that because of my sexual assault, I had a period of time that left me unable to form romantic connections with other people. (A similar thing often happens to people struggling with addiction also, I suspect.)
Then, being single actually made my life more difficult in various ways. It makes people uncomfortable to admit this, so they’ll play it back to me like it’s my fault. For instance, my friends often give me flack for not eating very healthily (though, I feel compelled to smugly note, last time I had a blood panel workup it was fucking spectacular. +1 for high fat, high sugar diets.) They’ll give me a hard time about grabbing fast food, or eating out a lot, but then nearly all of them cook with their partners and exercise with their partners. It is easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a partner.
Yet, if you’re not healthy, this is seen as one of the many ways you could be undatable, and it’s also seen as your fault. You didn’t level up enough before trying to date! Similar arguments apply to saving money, or maintaining your mental health.
Truth be told, I don’t actually really care too much about any of that. I’ve gotten my life to “workable” and that’s fine. All that bugs me about it, is there’s a sort of reverse causality assumed about the whole thing. My partnered friends think because they were well put together they attracted a partner, but I think having a partner makes it easier for them to be well put together. Thing is, I remember what most of them were like when they were single, and most of them didn’t handle it well. And, they didn’t come to terms with being single and enter some magical zen state of balance, most of them found someone to date, and then after that they found balance. But, most people in relationships like to hold to the idea that they’re fully functional alone, and so falsely push this “be self sufficient” advice on single people.
But anyway, the part I actually find hard about being single is that I never get touched, and this is always overlooked and undervalued. This is where the myth of self sufficiency breaks down.
For years, I totally brought into the myth of self sufficiency. I had my own job! I paid for my own shit! I built up a community of friends! Like, I am really good at being single. I did all the things healthy single people are supposed to do. In fact, some of my friends started complaining that I was too independent (I swear, I can’t win) but, at the end of the day, I can’t touch myself. Or, I can touch myself, but it doesn’t have the same impact as when someone else touches me.
Did you chuckle to yourself when you read that because it sounded like I was talking about masturbation? That’s not a coincidence. That is part of the problem.
We don’t even value platonic touch enough for it to exist in our lexicon without a sexual overtone. Most people in relationships have their need for touch met incidentally, but when you are single, it is very hard to get this need met. And, I have it better than most. I am female, I do massage trades sometimes. I have the type of liberal friends I can talk to about this openly with, or liberal friends I’m even a little cuddly with sometimes. I have a cat. But like, my god, years of not being touched is fucking hard and no one admits this.
I think it makes us uncomfortable to admit our interdependence. No one ever says to single people “it may be worth being single for a while, but it is going to be a challenge going without physical affection.” But, I’d say that. People condescendingly deride people who are “afraid to be alone,” but in our society, some of our needs are only allowed to be met by a romantic partner, and I’m not talking about sex. Casual sex is totally fine in my social circles. I’m talking about affectionate touch. And, it is completely reasonable to be afraid of not getting that.
Touch matters so much. Why do we keep acting like it doesn’t?