I think about being single a fair amount. Seeing as I am single most of the time. Actually, if you calculate out the percentage, I have been single for 91% of my adult life.
It’s okay and it’s not okay, it has its awful moments and its wonderful moments. Newly into my 30s, I find that I am settling into the idea of being single long-term. To this, people respond “Oh, you still have time.” But what I mean is that I think I am okay with being single for the rest of my life, maybe, probably. This is just as active a choice as the choice to marry.
Being single still seems to be somewhat of an anomaly in our society. Over the years I have worked with kids in many different settings. I look young, so I often get asked if I am an adult. I tell the kids, “yeah, I’m and adult.”
To which they ordinarily reply, “Are you married?”
“No, I’m not married.”
“Oh.” Pause. “Do you have kids?”
“Nope, no kids.” They then give me a dubious look which says I’m not sure you really are an adult, lady.
But let’s be real, I have this conversation with adults all the time too, they are just a tad more subtle. We live in a society that defines being a “grown up” as being in a committed relationship. Sure, there are those people with successful careers, and they kind of qualify as adults too, but we’re still waiting for them to get married someday.
Let me interrupt myself briefly to make a comment on what I qualify as experiencing “singleness.” If you were married or in a committed relationship before you reached your mid-twenties, you have not been truly Single. It is an entirely different beast being single in your teens and early twenties than it is after you are twenty-four or twenty-five.
Being single post-twenty-five means that the majority of your friends are married, that eventually most of them have kids. Your lifestyles become divergent. As an adult-single, you experience major events on your own. You buy a house on your own, you sleep alone, you cook for one. You manage your finances alone—even if you have help, no one else is personally vested in your finances like a spouse would be. You go to family events alone. Even when you have a close friend you could bring, they have their own family commitments, especially on holidays. You don’t have a consistent “go to” person. There is not one person particularly entangled in your life; this means there is not any one person keeping track with your life either. It is possible to fall through the cracks.
One of my most frequent frustrations as a single is not having someone to go to for the day-to-day decisions. I have people I seek out when it comes to big life decisions, but there are so many little ones I wish I had someone on hand for: “Will you read this email and tell me how it sounds?” “Should I go to this event or stay home?” “Is this scenario a legitimate thing to be frustrated by?” “Should I hang the picture on this wall or the other one?”
Ok then. Being single can kind of suck. But it is also kinda awesome.
The most obvious aspect of being single that I enjoy is the independence. I have a lot of freedoms as a single that I would not have otherwise. I am more free with my schedule, as I don’t have another person to account for. I don’t have to run all my decisions by someone. I am in charge of my own finances (I listed this as a downside above, as it is one for many people. I, personally, am extremely frugal, and prefer to handle my budget myself).
I feel like I am able to devote more time to people. Having a significant other is a time and energy consuming endeavor, more so than other relationships. I am stingy with my time. I don’t know that I would have the time and energy to devote to a spouse and still be able to engage the rest of the world in the way I do.
As it is, I have the energy to meet strangers, to invite people to coffee, to get into a thirty-minute conversation with the barista. I have the time to “adopt” the 14-year old neighbor kid, and take a boxing class with her twice a week. Perhaps I want to be able to devote myself more fully to these “other” relationships. In some ways I can be more things to more people. I can give of myself differently. I like that.
Alongside this, yes, I have had to grieve the fact that I will never be known in the way a married person is known. I want someone’s hands to find the scars on my body, to know the ins and outs of the way I breathe at night. I want someone who sees my worst moments—because we share space and it’s hard to avoid them. I want someone who knows the scent of my skin and the color of my eyes when I am angry.
A huge part of accepting my life as a single has had to to with recognizing that I need to be creative in meeting some of my needs. I know that there are no perfect alternatives, and I have come to terms (kinda) with the fact that there will always be unmet needs (single or otherwise). But I am giving myself the freedom to find unconventional ways to get my needs met.
I have the benefit of belonging to a tight-knit community that can meet certain aspects of partnership. I have housemates, which I appreciate because I don’t like living entirely on my own. I am afraid of everything.
I have other single friends. This is so important. I have friends who don’t have anyone else to cuddle with, friends who are not at home with their kids. Friends who I can schedule my life with—we coordinate weekend plans, check in on open weeknights, we match life rhythms in ways that make sense. We become each others’ “people.” Without this, I would not be able to manage as a single.
I also have married friends that go out of their way to support me. My friend Emily is the one who receives my eighty-five texts a day about the wording of an email, or the color combo of something, or the importance of good grammar. She tracks with my day-to-day crazy. My friends April and Nate together join me for family events and holidays. April is my plus one.
Chris and Maria, the couple I live with, invite me into the privilege of helping raise their daughter. The community I live in gives me unique ways to make being single work. To make it good. And I am learning that I can be creative when necessary.
For instance, one of my top “being single” complaints is sleeping alone. Having someone next to me calms some of the terror I feel at night time. Irritatingly, I am also a very light sleeper, so I don’t exactly sleep better with someone there, but I sleep less scared. Being single, I am having to find more unorthodox ways to solve this problem.
I would be open to completely platonically sharing a bed with someone. We could have our own rooms, but we share a bed. That sounds comforting. It’s not as weird as we like to think it is. It was the Industrial Revolution along with the rising notion of privacy that ruined the normalcy of communal sleeping for us.
In the meantime, I have an extra mattress on my floor, for those times when I need company, or a friend needs to crash somewhere, or one or the other of us simply cannot bear to be alone in our head.
I am single. I won’t be surprised if I am single all or most of my life. Today I am okay with that. Granted, I am writing this in a season of depression when all human interaction is unappealing. But depressed or not, relationships are hard work. I have a lot of relationships already, I am not really keen on adding a more complex and challenging relationship to it all.
My last caveat being, if all my single friends end up getting married, I may not be so easygoing about being single anymore.
But maybe I will be.
Because I’m a badass.
And so are you! Even if you are not okay with being single.