I’m sorry to even go here; I’m sorry to even throw myself the pity party of the year, but I think this is something that everyone has grappled with at some point in their lives. We try not to think about it too much though. I mean, we spend so much time talking about love and sex. We go to lunch with our friends and talk about being single or who we’re sleeping with, but these conversations mostly consist of soundbites and false reassurances. We feel safe in that moment with our friends in some bustling restaurant on a Saturday afternoon and tell each other, “I’m finally okay with being single. I really don’t want someone right now because I’m just so focused on my career or X, Y, and Z.” Or even something more along the lines of, “I hate being single. I need to get laid. What the hell is wrong with me? I hate boys and/or girls!” We think we’re talking honestly and maybe we are. But we try not to think about the concept of forever. When you’re single, you tell yourself it’s a dry spell or that it can be remedied by “putting yourself out there” or joining an online dating service. It could always be fixed. There’s always time.
But what if this is it, this is forever? What if we have a few more relationships, some of which might be wonderful and end up in marriage, but we still end up alone when we’re 75 and need someone to take us to our doctor’s appointment? I mean, that’s the whole point of finding The One, right? So someone can wipe your ass, clean up your vomit, give you your pills because they love you dammit and they signed the contract!
Being a spinster or an old maid has often been treated with flippancy in our culture. A woman has a lot of cats and wears potato sack dresses and drinks lots of wine. She’s a fun drunk cat lady! Or a man goes to a dive bar and feels the judgement and pity coming from the much younger patrons, but whatever, he’s just a lifelong bachelor. But the reality is that ending up alone sounds devastating and if you really think about it outside the context of some chic brunch or rom-com, it will leave you winded and gasping for air.
I remember one night recently in which I was walking home from a friend’s apartment in Soho. It was a Saturday night, which meant that Manhattan was a complete shitshow. Groups of friends and lovers were waltzing around laughing and their gregarious behavior reverberated through the city, practically making me deaf. I looked at all of these people who looked so happy and connected with each other and then I looked at myself — a boy walking home alone on a Saturday night amongst a sea of fun. This sounds totally cliche and whiny, right? It’s not like I hadn’t been that person before, galavanting around with a boyfriend and a group of friends. I have lots of love in my life and have loved a good number of men, this I knew. But there was something about that night that triggered this intense feeling of vulnerability. It was like I was suddenly walking in the most dangerous neighborhood and could be swept up at any moment. I felt exposed and raw, like people were looking at me and had written me off as a sad pathetic character in the narrative of their lives.
The next day, I tried to think about what it was that made me feel so alone. I had walked home plenty of times alone on a Saturday night and felt perfectly fine. But last night, I realized, I had thought about Forever for the first time in a long time. I believed that this was just one of many walks that I was going to experience alone. This was going to be it for the rest of my life. I was going to be the person everyone was afraid of becoming. I would take one for the team and become That Guy. It had never felt more tangible than it did in that moment. I could feel it, I could see it, I could taste my future grief.
We don’t like to think about the worst-case scenario, but it sometimes hits us in strange moments and it becomes more real than anything else. You forget about all the times your ex said I love you and meant it. You only think about the fact that you’re born alone and you die alone.
I know I’m going to be okay and that this is just a weird vulnerable period of my life. I really do. I know I’ll find someone again just like I have before and I’ll laugh about how emotional and fearful I used to be. “Haha, so dramatic, Ryan! Little did you know there was the perfect penis for you right around the corner!” But that’s not how I felt that night. That night there was no other person for me. I was going to end up alone. It was fated.
Being single is difficult like that. We can talk and write about it as much as we want. We can rent movies that profit off of our grief, and commiserate with friends over a bottle of wine. But those brief moments in which we think about the possibility of being alone forever are so quietly devastating. It’s your worst nightmare becoming real for five blocks. This is something Katherine Heigl can’t conjure in her latest movie. These moments aren’t what you talk about at brunch unless you get really wasted and want to have that kind of day. It’s like being single in HD. And then as quickly as it came on, the moment leaves you and you’re back to feeling okay. Maybe the moment will even scare you into not staying home the next night; in which case, the moment has done its job.