Photo (c) The Lonely Girl LadyOFsorrowsX3
There is no lack of advice for single people. When you’re a single mom at 37, you get all kinds of suggestions to cure your condition. If you’ve just exited a relationship which has made you sad, people say, “Spend some time alone, get to know yourself again.” And then if you’ve been single for more than six months and sad, people say, “Put yourself out there. Go on some dates. Just have fun.” And then if you’re dating lots of people and happy you’ll hear, “You should probably take some time to be alone and figure out what you really want. You can’t really be happy?” And if you’re perpetually single and happy, no one believes you and speculates on why you can’t get a date. There’s really no way to win unless you’re in a relationship for which you are head over heels. This is when everyone leaves you alone. And if that is the only way to win, perhaps it’s why I’m having a hard time with dating and being ambivalent.
Right now I’m going on lots of dates – often, three a week. As I write this I’m vetting a nice Wesleyan grad and I just locked down Saturday night with a man with great eyes. While it’s certainly fun, it’s also a lot of work. I have two small children, I work from home and do not live in my native city. This leaves me to the online dating world to connect with single men. It is a necessary evil in my life, that is if I ever want to date. As the guy at the gas station says in his heavy Indian accent, “You don’t look a day over 25.” I get carded regularly at bars and for alcohol at the grocery store and I do look young for my age. Genetically speaking, I was blessed with conventionally attractive features. While this is convenient for getting attention, this is also inconvenient because of the attention. I get too many messages through my online profiles a day which ultimately amount to white noise. It’s impossible to answer all of them, and if I did, it would be a full-time job. The ones I do answer already take up too much of my time vetting and texting and making sure they aren’t crazy and/or living in their parent’s basement. Due to time constraints, this forces me be highly selective and judgmental when choosing who to respond to and I don’t like this dynamic either. I don’t think you can accurately judge a person from a few select photos, a list of factual information and a sparse autobiographical paragraph or two. It makes me feel shallow. Plus, I’ve been known to fall for the adorable, yet geeky, office nerd who would not present well in this medium. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ve swiped left on my soulmate. But this is the online dating world we live in and I am powerless to change the rules. Also, and this is a BIG also, I’ve been catfished hardcore a few times; I’m talking about married men pretending to be someone else. It makes me look sideways at every attractive man who wants my attention. Now I must carry bags that I can’t afford to put down because of the potential danger.
The most common first message I get reads something like this, “Damn girl how are you still single?” Indeed, I ask myself this same question. I have had a couple of relationships since separating from my ex a year and a half ago. Both ended without bloodshed or fire-fight, but they ended for the same reason, timing. (Never underestimate timing when finding a potential partner. So important.) I enjoyed those relationships and think I was a happier person while in them. It makes me think that I do want someone “special” in my life. But the truth is, I have a deep and complicated relationship with being alone. Alone is my habitual, default setting. It’s something I’ve managed like a chronic illness since I was a child. I was lonely inside a family who didn’t understand me, I was lonely in high school where I never found my place, I was lonely inside a friend group who I consciously left behind to move out of state in my 20s, I was loneliest perhaps in my marriage where I was constantly looked down upon and marginalized. These types of loneliness were all the same — a persistent, steady ache with the occasional flare up — like a bad back or arthritic knee. I’ve learned to manage the pain in various ways, but it’s never truly gone. And I’ve felt this way for so long, I’m not sure who I would be without this condition. It’s a part of me now like my cellulite and the freckles across my collar bone. Basically, loneliness is a total bitch, but I like her anyway so I’m working on our relationship.
But my current presentation of loneliness is acuter. One that comes on sudden and sharp when I hear a good song on the radio, burn my arm on the grill or a movie comes out I’d like to see. And really, it’s not too difficult to find someone to take me to movies and listen to great songs, and I can manage the short-lived but searing pain of a minor burn. Acute pain isn’t so bad once you’ve learned to deal with the chronic version. Ironically, it makes you thankful for the dull persistent discomfort of loneliness because it’s taught you so much about living with pain in general that the little things lose much of their sting. No, I suppose like anyone, what I truly long for is a cure for my chronic condition; the one that has been my companion all my years.
While I have a lot of pretty pictures on my profile and can write a compelling autobiographical synopsis, what I have never really felt is… seen. My persistent loneliness and underlying sadness are for someone who can appreciate the woman whose hardened exterior melts away when she likes you, and she’s suddenly shy and fidgety. For someone who adores the woman who gets fiery angry when her feelings get hurt, but realizes that’s not really her because she apologizes within the hour, (after all she’s old enough and wise enough to know better now). Someone who can see that this woman is much softer than she portrays and so much more insecure than her upside down yoga pic can every show. Someone who can manage and appreciate her contradictions without feeling like they need to fix them. Someone who looks at her and sees her, instead of their own image reflecting back.
At this point in my life I have not been fortunate enough to be in a long term relationship where these things are a reality. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the type of person I’m attracted to, or the type of person who is attracted to me. Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s fate. Maybe it’s timing. Maybe it’s luck and fate and timing and gajillion other factors all mixed in. Or maybe it’s just a romantic notion that doesn’t even exist. After all, how would I know? Whatever the case, I am a chronic case. And while I have learned to manage the pain, like most, I’m holding out for a cure. And if no cure exists, I will take a salve of sitting down with a stranger three nights a week and hoping that one of them can see me, and not just my image, even for a moment.