A while ago I met a girl. When we met she had a boyfriend, but the next time we ran into each other she was single. We found ourselves alone at a party. I asked for her number.
On our first and only date, I learned she didn’t drink beer like me. Our last names began with the same letter. We grew up in neighboring cities. We enjoyed reading true life tales of terror.
I have always been frank that I don’t know what my future holds. I will finish my PhD this year. I don’t even know what job sector I will seek a career in, let alone if I will stay in the country. The only thing I do know is that I don’t want to settle down. At least I don’t think I do.
But in the days leading up to and right after our lone date, I began to think of this girl whose life and personality seemed to fit into mine like hands held walking beside the Seine or feet slipping into well worn Fryes or even a ring that fits only one specific finger - your finger. I imagined a life spent domestically - maybe I would move away for a brief spell, my savings spent on plane tickets back to Richmond rather than excursions abroad, game nights spent with her family in front of an open fire, touring a one bedroom apartment in the Fan with sunken wood floors, her laughter over Spotify ads on a road trip to a friend’s wedding. For an extended moment, this felt inviting and enchanting and happy ever after. I imagine an instrumental crescendoed over the fantasy.
Over Thanksgiving, a close friend and I walked alongside the ocean. We chatted about our solitary preference - one without permanent partner - and the choice it means. She had been in a long relationship that ended stormily, but she had been happy in the storm’s eye. I started to qualify what it meant to be single, if I really see myself as single when I’m, say, 40, and she interrupted me to say that being single is far braver than being with someone.
She reminded me of the times when you have to decide where you want to eat and you can ask a friend. When you have to decide where to move, you can look to a partner. When you book a trip, you buy two seats. You wait for them when you come out of the restroom before you take up the next adventure.
But when they’re not there, you stare at any empty canvas that has not a single smudge or line. Yes, it’s freedom, but it’s not always luxury. Sometimes you don’t want to decide.
I remember my mom kept pestering me on a visit home a year ago. She wanted to know where I wanted to eat for dinner, and I burst out that I didn’t care, I didn’t want to decide, I had been making decisions all week and wanted someone else to decide.
You know you want to decorate the canvas, but you don’t even know what color to begin with.
In my imagined future, the girl whispered, “Periwinkle,” that's the color we should paint the nursery, and she spun a mobile and her dark curls, which were darker than any Disney Renaissance princess I ever envisioned, laughed with her.
What sticks with me is both my friend’s assertion that being single is the bravest - because sometimes I think it’s a crutch, more often I fear it’s a foible - and how fast and easily I slipped into a feverish, infatuated coma, one where I tossed away every ambition I resolved before I ever met her. It felt so comfortable for multiple seconds to consider a future where she won the bouquet, where I came home to someone who helped decide which sofa and what color to buy, where I had a partner at the Christmas dinner to confront the backwards politics of backwards relatives, where we laughed over wineglasses bought from a winery from one of our many fairytale dates, and maybe I turned 40 not single and with less trips under my belt than I anticipated and I remembered the age where I had these dreams, but they stayed just that, dreams.
Fortunately, this became a dream. I’m writing this on a plane to Portugal on a trip all by myself. And my friend has taken up with a new lover who buys her groceries and who probably joins the conversation on what color to paint a dining room while they lay in bed and walk on sunken wooden floors and he joins her on road trips to friends' weddings. And maybe they even will walk hand in hand beside the Seine one day.
I wonder what I’m so afraid of and if I’m as brave as she said.