I recently went to a friend's engagement drinks. During the event, another of our common friends revealed a shiny diamond ring. She kept it low profile – it was somebody else's show, after all – but could hardly conceal her excitement. Two good friends do not often celebrate engagements on one night. I surely had something to cheer for.
Instead, after about an hour of listening to my girlies' chatter about wedding preparations and – of course – how the actual proposals were made – I felt a strange clot crawling up my throat. I excused myself, left and spent most of the evening at home, sobbing furiously into my pillow. Why, I kept asking, is everyone in the world (impersonated by two of my friends, anyway) getting engaged when I am not even dating anyone? What is wrong with me, Universe?
Thankfully, an old Russian saying – that literally goes "morning is wiser than night" – yet again turned out to be true. I woke up the next day not really remembering why my face was still so swollen from all the emotionalia of the previous night. I wasn't sure why I got so worked up about not being engaged in the first place. I never cared much for weddings and got on through rather prolonged, at times, spells of singledom just fine. I never had any problems with being single. In fact, for the most part, I used to think I actually preferred it to the contrary. Or did I?
Being single – choice or inevitability?
The incident sparked some online research. It turns out that the Internet is inundated with blogs written by single women screaming to the entire world about how wonderful their lives are. The "benefits" of bachelorette existence apparently include sleeping diagonally across the bed (which, I'll admit, almost had me nod in agreement) and freedom to walk naked around the flat (which I'd imagine no sane man in the world would ever have a problem with, but there you go). In a nutshell, the reasons were pretty weak – and, to me, looked more like poorly disguised, bravado excuses for the authors' chronic inability – albeit coupled with a burning desire – to meet someone.
Don't get me wrong; single life isn't at all unfun. Diagonal sleeping aside, there are plenty of things to be appreciated about being single. I am not going to add to the blog genre that glorifies singledom, however. Being single is rarely a weighted choice, and any advertised "benefits" are really just attempts to brandish single existence as more bearable than it actually is. Personally, I have never heard of anyone choosing to stay unpartnered only because giving up the diagonal bed position was such a show-stopper. Have you?
I have to say though that single life would be a lot more tolerable was it not for so many examples to the contrary around. Enter the much trumpeted peer pressure. My female friends are endlessly celebrating engagements, marriages, pregnancies and motherhood – though not necessarily in that order – while we single people still find ourselves at the foot of the same proverbial mountain, attempting to climb it with every dating experience and being thrown painfully back to where we started. And the higher you manage to progress on the relationship trail before gravity prevails, the more it hurts when you finally fall.
Moreover, for some strange reason, every fellow female that scores a relationship considers it her life duty to remind you of the fact that (a) you are still single – unlike her! (b) our common friends are getting hitched left and right, and you had better keep up; and (c) your biological clock is ticking away fast. "But don't worry" – these sort of speeches tend to conclude – "You can still come and help with the baby whenever you want, so we won't stop seeing each other even if you never give birth yourself".
You can only imagine my relief at the idea.
So being in a relationship guarantees happiness?
To be quite honest, even the famously coveted state of “being in a relationship” does not always measure up to the hype. As a personal example, all but two relationships I have had in my uneventful love life have been devastating. One was a long-distance struggle with someone I worshipped; sadly, he didn’t care anywhere as much. Another was a two-month nerve-wrecking experience with a mentally unstable person that called me at regular 10-minute intervals, smashed his knuckles on the wall if my skirt was showing the knee and threw hysterical crying scenes if I mentioned a male colleague in a conversation. Let alone several less serious – but equally painful – involvements that never quite scored a “relationship” status – mostly for the fact that the guys in question miraculously turned out to have girlfriends already. Which they "forgot" to tell me about for weeks. Ouch, how much it hurt.
It doesn't help that every unsuccessful development leaves behind a lasting aftertaste, marring every subsequent involvement. By far the most exemplary relationship I have had to date was actually at college – the time when we were both young, fresh, beautifully naive – and unburdened with any sort of past "baggage". We made a perfect study team: he had ideas and I wrote them down; he saw the big picture and I loved playing with numbers; he wasn’t much of a report writer but hey, I totally was. We wrote a joint Bachelor Thesis – scoring a Top 3 grade – made zillions of school presentations and stole the “Never Apart” yearbook title hands down every year. We may not have got married in the end and had our days of sorrow – but still, things were so much simpler then.
Long story short, it should not come as a huge surprise that I'd think twice before calling the mere fact of being in a relationship a straight road to happiness. Up to this date at least, I have been much happier single than otherwise. Not to mention that every failed relationship – no matter how good or bad once – takes ages to get over. The pain eventually goes, but the scars continue to ache when stirred, almost killing the desire to get involved with anyone, ever again – despite the ubiquitous peer pressure.
Look who's talking, Missy
The ironic thing with peer pressure though is that the same women that take the liberty to educate singles about being in a relationship do not always seem to have the happiest of relationships themselves. Some end up supporting their passive, uninteresting and most decidedly unmanly second halves for years. Others move halfway across the world to their men’s countries, only to find the cultural divide too wide yet not meeting any understanding or support. Other women work full-time, run the house, look after the kids and find themselves unable to make ends meet – all that without any hint of help from their men. Some have married alcoholics. Some have been abused at home. Some of my friends have gone through a divorce, for goodness sake. So it’s not all rosy in the relationships garden – and yet it remains perfectly okay for some women to patronise singles as a class – yet get madly offended if anyone dares criticise their own dysfunctional relationships. Judging people for being single? Okay. Judging someone for sucking up a substandard relationship? God forbid.
Further still, those of my friends that are a few years older and have completed the whole relationship cycle a while ago do not seem to be enjoying themselves all that much. Yes, they love their 1.8 kids. And yes, they appreciate leading a settled family life in a terrace house in the outskirts of a large city to which they commute daily to go to work. And yet it is the same people that most eagerly enquire about my travel plans and religiously follow my blog and photo updates. The same people that always remind me to make the most of every moment of single life – so void of serious responsibilities that serious relationships tend to bring about.
Having said that…
Those were roughly the thoughts that ran through my head the day after my friend's engagement drinks. Unfortunately, they didn't lead me to any conclusion about the source of my strangely emotional reaction. But they did help me understand that being single is actually fine. It is not the preferred state, but it most certainly beats brooding on an ailing relationship, cultivating romantic hopes where there are none or regretting not having lived to the full before commitments kicked in.
Perhaps it is easy for me to say this at the age of 28, when the notorious Mister Biological Clock is not yet loud enough for me to start panicking. I would definitely like to have children at some point. Sometimes I get these hazy mental images of a little boy all dressed in white and bowling elegantly on a cricket pitch, to the loud cheering of the audience. I then see the wicket flying to pieces, the batting team grabbing their heads in despair, the umpire pointing to the sky, and the little boy running to the edge of the field – where his mama stands ready to give her little cricketer a tight embrace.
I know that, one day, when I see my little cricketer running through the field in joy, I will not be able to imagine how my life was ever complete without him. The good old diagonal sleeping across the bed will become a distant memory. I will deny ever authoring this blog. I may even start lecturing my single friends about how miserable they should feel about their situation.
For now though? I am happily single. And – until my prince comes – I am going to make the most of it.