1. Being paired up. At dinner parties, by good friends who know me well, my likes and preferences, but have an urgent drive towards triadic closure that tells them to seat me next to their boyfriend’s law school buddy, who of course I will find uninteresting, but he’s a really good guy, I should get to know him. At weddings, by relatives with the best intentions but little information, who introduce me to the sons of their old college roommates who invariably work, vaguely, in ‘finance.’ There is a sense of expectation that isn’t unpleasant: the idea that we two are now complicit in a flirtation that will carry itself out with or without our taking a hand in it. We are free to observe it, to make ironic and witty comments about it, and to indulge it if it seems like a good idea after a bottle and a half of wine.
2. Being unpaired. Being the only unattached female in the room at a graduation party, aware of a certain kind of power that is only available to women old enough to be convincingly sexy, young enough to be fertile, danger-seeking enough to flirt with married men and boyfriends, smart enough to avoid sparking jealousy in wives and girlfriends. There is a visceral pleasure in being a free agent: even though nothing much is likely to happen at this party, anything *could*, at least from my perspective. I am a free electron, careening happily, but adultfully careful not to cause a disturbance in anyone else’s orbits.
3. Being childless. Loving the children of friends and relatives, then after bedtime transitioning seamlessly from the cool aunt or friend-of mom to a single woman with late parties to get to, or after-hours dates. Talking about parenting and childrearing without fear of judgment, fear of having one’s own children held against one’s views, even if silently.
4. Being fertile. Especially, being fertile and ready, at least in principle, for the arrival of a child. Maybe not this year, but there comes a moment when you realize that a pregnancy would be cause for celebration, unplanned and unlooked-for but not unwelcome. The sense that right now you have the most degrees of freedom you’ll ever have; the sense that anything is possible, even the thing you’ve spent a few seconds each day guarding against since you were fifteen, freedom from the ritual of tiny pills to remind you of your place in the social order as a single, childless woman. Or (more complicatedly) as a partnered woman who has nevertheless opted not to join the ranks of motherhood.
5. Passing. Having just enough straight-girl accoutrements (long or certainly not-short hair, makeup, a certain attentiveness to the words and gaze and thrusting-out-ness of nearby males?) to be taken as a true representative of the species rather than some half-breed whose presence would throw off the rhythms: among women, the letting down of the guard, the sense of interests aligned or at least intelligible to each other; with men, the cadence (soothing and provocative and emboldening) of spoken and eye-spoken and body-spoken questions.
6. Not passing. There is a moment (familiar to any who are easily assumed to be white/straight/non-other) when some remark or gesture gives you away, maybe on purpose: a tiny hitch in the pacing, a change in the easy tone, a sudden collective knowledge of an alien, or an infiltrator, or a hunter among innocents. I am no provocateuse and rarely seek out this moment, but it is savory.
7. Rejecting. It gives me a chance to practice my gratitude: you aren’t exactly what I’m after, but I can see very well the loveliness of what you’re holding out to me; perhaps I can have just a little taste, the way I sample my sister’s home-baked brownies that are actually delicious, even though I’m deep into paleo these days. Yes, it is good; yes, it is a worthy and valuable offering; yes, you will have everything that you’ll need needed to provide for your One, your darling, when she turns up hungry and large-eyed on your doorstep.
8. Being rejected. It gives me a chance to practice my generosity: my overtures weren’t accepted but maybe the very offering was a needed gift. And would I begrudge that, even to someone who doesn’t know how to decline gracefully, how to navigate the weird, tidally-complex waters between greed (for affection, for being wanted, for love) and self-denial (for the sake of the wished-for One who hasn’t yet arrived on-scene)? I wouldn’t: people are hungry; they sometimes can’t help but take the nourishment from your hands and then run. Give it, if you want to avoid having it stolen.