Being a single woman is tiring. I spend the week getting ready for work, going to work, doing work, stressing about office politics and trying to brush it all off when I get home. There’s dinner to make and clean up, projects to work on, television to catch up with and a bedtime to uphold. There’s the imperative to try to find social situations with which I’m comfortable, without the natural camaraderie of school. And there’s also the pressure to put myself in situations with which I know I’m uncomfortable, but feel the need to push myself into, now that I’ve been single a while. Plus, everything has changed. Including me.
The last time I was single, I was 22 and living in a student building in Amsterdam. I was decidedly not looking for a relationship, stressed very little over the fact that I wasn’t in a relationship and had easy access to meeting new, interesting people via graduate school. Eventually, I made a new friend, and that grew into something bigger – but, while I wasn’t really paying attention (five years, countless jobs and three cities later), that “something bigger” fell apart.
And so at the time when all other couples who had been together as long as we had were announcing their engagements, I got to announce that he was moving out. I’m not bitter about it; we still are friends, really. After being coupled so long, it was a breath of fresh air to worry only about myself and have a bit of space. But, it’s been almost a year, and I’m starting to feel ready to “get out there.” Whatever that means.
When I was 22, I was a work-in-progress with an open schedule and easy access to new peers. On the verge of turning 28, I’m more “me” than I’ve ever been before, I’m very busy, and I find it difficult to meet new people. My interests used to exist in a constantly expanding state, but within five years, they haven’t changed – they’ve just gotten deeper and more specific. I no longer have a “job,” but rather, a career that I’m serious about, at a company I respect. I’m no longer moving as the mood strikes. I’m tied to NYC by my work, and I love my little corner of Park Slope, where these days I can afford to live without roommates. I am here. Like my now-ingrained interests, my work life and the place I live are more settled than ever before.
And its not just me, its my friends, too. Their relationships (or lack thereof), young families, careers, projects and activities have them as preoccupied as I am. The days of just hanging out are over; now we make plans at least a week ahead, usually focused around decidedly not-cliche-youthful activities (wine tasting, dinner parties, brunch). I’m now more likely to meet a girlfriend for drinks on Sunday afternoon than go clubbing on a Friday night, and when we meet, it’s to genuinely catch up and to take a break from our regularly-scheduled responsibilities. I don’t disparage this. I like these activities – they’ve evolved naturally, rather than by preconceived notions of what it means to “grow up.”
So. The game has changed. Now there are stakes. My mind is no longer so open about who I want to meet, and my schedule has lost its flexibility. I’m looking for a partner in crime. But, much like my interests and situation, I’ve only gotten more specific and unbending about what I like: I don’t want my partner to move in, but I don’t want a casual relationship. I probably want to spend more time at my place than my parter’s. I want to go to DIY concerts and new Brooklyn restaurants, but no amount of interest will have me staying out past midnight on a work day. I want to be naked with my partner, but if they don’t remember the difference between me and a porn star, they might as well put their own dick in their eye.
It may be a fairytale list – somehow I’m both more fanciful about what I want and more skeptical that I’ll find it. Over the years, the open space in the jigsaw puzzle of my life has become a bit more warped, a bit more curvy. And many pieces that used to look like they could fit no longer do. I can take care of myself. I have no use for a prince in shining armor. Unless the shining armor is entirely inappropriate: because despite all the serious grown-up stuff, I’m still ridiculous and silly and I want someone to be silly and ridiculous (and serious) with me. And unfortunately I think that means there is so much more at stake than the last time I was single.
It means I, and they, have to be honest, open and vulnerable. It means that, now, we must want the same things out of our future(s). It means that we’ll no longer get together by happenstance, and we’ll actually have to work towards being together. And that scares me to death.
I’m not stressed out because I’m single. I’m stressed out by the idea that it’s becoming painfully obvious that by having a mostly-formed life, interests, opinions and requirements, that it’s quite possible I’ll never find someone who both fits in the space and wants to make an effort to stay in it. I’ve never been good at faith, but I have to believe that somewhere out there is someone for me. And until I find that someone, I just have to keep working towards making my life what I want without them. For as much as I’d like to share my life with someone, my lack of having them cannot be a driving force as long as there is still so much out there to do.