Sometimes things sneak up on you and emotionally suckerpunch you when you are least expecting it. This is how I generally feel about being single.
I genuinely quite like being single. I get to do what I want when I want. I have an entire double bed to myself. I can lie on the sofa and watch soaps and no one judges me. It doesn't matter that I feel about my grey hoodie the way Linus does about his blanket. I have great friends. I have time to spend on my family. I don't have to share my space and privacy. But every so often a bolt of loneliness about being single hits me like a well aimed slap.
It's never the obvious stuff like weddings or cheesy love songs that do it, but smaller things like coupled up friends mentioning the kind of intimacy that only comes with having another half. The present that is just perfect, the pet name that they aren't embarrassed to say, the story about the time they did something someone else would think is gross but they think is adorable or some other sense that their partner is the person around which their world orbits. These things all strip a layer of my skin back and expose that raw nerve that being perpetually single causes. I feel no bitterness at their happiness (hell, the world needs more happy people) and I enjoy hearing nice things about nice people. But once I'm alone again, the feeling breaks free and I find myself painfully enquiring of myself 'why does no one feel that way about me?'
Not only can I not answer that question, but I can also ask a whole load more of myself that help heap misery upon misery. For every rational response to 'why does no one feel that way about me'? (ie: using all that CBT I've had and giving practical answers where I can) I can't stop myself asking the obvious follow up. 'Why has no one ever felt that way about me?' This is the official way of asking yourself 'what the hell is wrong with me?'
I've had relationships with men. I've had intense feelings about a few and definitely been head over heels in love with one. I've dated several (including the one I was in love with) but there has never been any real emotional intimacy or reciprocation. I've never been introduced to their friends and family, I've never been made a mix tape or bought a Valentine's Day card. I've never been taken out for dinner or given a Christmas or birthday present. I've never been given the sense that I light up someone's life or that they really miss me when I'm not around. I've never been made to feel special or different to any other girl they've dated. I've never been spoken of as their girlfriend. I have never been admired from afar or had a man blush around me because he's nervous. I've never felt confident and comfortable around a man where I could just be myself.
I have had men want to spend time with me, but drop my hand in public when they've seen someone they know or actually deny knowing me when teased that they fancy me. I discovered when I split up with the man I was in love with, having dated on and off for five years, that he didn't know my surname. I've been told by another guy I dated when I was 19 that he didn't want a relationship at the moment with anyone, only to see him in a bar the next week with a girl who was the spitting image of me (and born on the same day for an added kick in the teeth.) I've been stood up on dates and told by a guy at uni when I texted to ask why that he had never met me and must have got him mixed up with someone else even though he was my friend's flatmate and I had slept on their sofa countless times. I've had a man sleep with me and then inform me, while we were still in bed, he'd only done so in order to be able to ask out a mutual friend of ours, because his ex-girlfriend couldn't object to that in comparison. I've been told by more than one man they would never introduce me to their mother as long as we lived. I've been dumped in favour of fungus in the shape of a sourdough starter. I've been compared to other female friends and failed to live up to them and told by some male friends they were only friends with me to have a better shot at those female friends, but had never considered dating me in the process. I've had a lot of ignored texts and unanswered calls. And that's aside from the actually frightening experiences I've had with men.
You might also say that I've had a lot of lucky escapes because the only thing worse than being rejected by men who act like that is to be in a relationship with them. My head knows that, but my heart is still asking the 'what's wrong with me' question. Why at the age of 33 have I never met a man who gives a shit about me? Well, logically I know some of it might be skewed by the fact that I'm quite nervous around men these days, don't get out much to meet any and have more baggage than Louis Vuitton. But then I think back and realise most of the rejection I've had from men pre-dated being attacked, when I was young and lithe and not entirely batshit crazy. In fact even before my parents split up and I went in for the old daddy issues cliche, I was invisible to men who seemed to look through me to my friends, rendering me an inconvenience in the process.
This is in fact my salvation. My poor luck with men is so long lived and such a strong precedent, I wonder to myself if there are just some of us who aren't relationship material? Do the people we date just not see us in that light? Are we too busy being single or radiating independent vibes that mean it simply doesn't occur to others than we might quite like to be wooed occasionally? I like this idea much better than the idea than the terrible lingering fear that I am actually unloveable. The idea that some people just don't clickt his way seems ever more likely after stumbling across this piece about what happens when you don't meet THE ONE, published in this week's Guardian Weekend and for once, quite helpfully opened to comments. It seems that there are quite a few other people out there who are also slightly bewildered as to why they are never partnered up, but are not at Bridget Jones levels of desperation about it and able to relate to the paradoxical feeling that they don't entirely want a partner but feel crap that no one wants them either.
I am actually very fond of all my friends' partners and pleased that the people I know who have got partners are with someone who thinks they are great and makes them happy. I just worry what will happen as they develop lives and families of their own, especially if my mum isn't around anymore, and I'm not sure which I fear more: being sidelined til I never see anyone at all or being invited to things out of pity, especially at holiday times. I already find bank holidays quite empty as they are the time everyone else spends with their partner and/or family and my family live a long way away (and they are all attached anyway.) Then I remember I can stay home and read a book while eating crisps and life feels pretty good again even if this statement was uncomfortably close to home:
Obviously, I've got my mum, who adores me, but other than my family, I don't really feel like I've got support. My friends have partners, so I play a smaller part in their lives, while they play a bigger part in mine.
I'm also comforted by the fact I'm not the only single person I know and that the other ones I know are fantastic and thus I'm in great company. But what I don't know is if any of them feel the same way as me about being alone, because it rarely gets talked about. I have no idea if this is because I'm making a mountain out of a molehill and everyone is more balanced about it than me or because it's just not the done thing to mention our emotional yearnings in public unless we're anonymous on the internet* or quite pissed in real life. It seems to be ok to talk about having a partner or getting married but not why you are doing those things, with the result that they just come across as things 'normal' people do and can leave everyone else feeling 'othered'.
I have to remind myself that I'm not actually desperate to get married or have kids and that takes some pressure off, but I also have to think it's just as well I'm not setting my sights on these goals because they are almost unlikely to actually happen. I don't see myself settling down any time soon. I don't hold much hope that if I couldn't find someone keen when I was relatively healthy, socially active, financially solvent and younger that I'll have them queuing up now I'm obviously chronically ill, reclusive, broke and supposedly at the age when all women want babies. And that's not including the fact that I very rarely meet men I feel anything for beyond friendship. I feel like I've got more chance of winning the Lottery. And I don't even play it.
That's not to say I'm going to sit round and wallow. I'm going to carry on with the bits of my life I like but try not to torture myself when those inferior feelings come up. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me, but anyone has a clue as to why I'm so perpetually single, do let me know. I'm a big girl now. I can take it. I'm going to count my blessings and not take things for granted. I'm not even going to give up on the dating game and get lots of cats. I'm going to have some psychotherapy. I'm not going to become bitter and twisted. But I am going to go postal on the first person who calls me a singleton...
*Hilariously someone did recognise me from my comment on the Graun and email me to say they felt the same. This made me pleased on many selfish levels