In late high school, I discovered the value of independence and began to expound its virtue in every facet of my life. Even when I dallied in an extended romance mid-college, I never considered bounding it by such terms as “relationship” or “love” (honestly, “low self-esteem” and “self-destructive” would’ve been more apt terms).
Since college, I hadn’t even looked to date. A few years ago, I went on a handful of dates to prove probably to myself and friends I could date if I wanted to. I found minimal enjoyment sharing drinks with strangers I really didn’t care to see again, so I gave that up fast and aggressively defended my monk life to family members over the holidays.
I wrote about these hollow dates at the time and someone commented on the blogpost, predicting that I would meet someone and come undone. This prophecy, unfortunately, came true last year. Without intention, I fell for someone. I thought I’d recover fast, but I struggled for several reasons. For one, I really did care about her, and that hurt. For another, I actually liked dating. Kissing isn’t so bad. But I also, remember, was hurt.
My friends watched as I lashed out and went on a rampage of dates. Rampage is the choice word here. I am somewhat of a prude, but I began to mark my dates’ success by if we kissed, which is not a bar I recommend. At my worst, I went out with the ex-girlfriend of my best friend’s current boyfriend—and, knowing this fact, went on two more dates with her.
“I’m really glad that didn’t work out,” my friend told me recently.
Aren’t we all?
At the beginning of my rampage, I felt self-aware that this was spite and I would re-center eventually. However, after three months of rampant dating, I began to wonder if I had changed. I enjoyed meeting new people, flirting, deciding if I liked them enough to go out again, and seeing where things landed, but it’s also exhausting. A recent fling and I lamented this fact and then ghosted on each other several days later, obviously both exhausted by our circumstances and ready to exhaust ourselves with new people.
At the end of that fling, I pondered if I should continue swiping on Bumble and/or download the newest dating app on the market (“The League” – don’t). Where had the time in my life gone where I didn’t care about these things? Was I still operating in spite, or did I really enjoy dating that much? Was I not a happy single? I definitely was and am single, but was I happy if I kept stumbling from fling to fling? I think I was happy. But time for myself seemed to have vanished as I filled my nights with socials and cocktails and texting people various conversational prompts. I couldn’t go to the movies by myself without wanting to check my phone to see if someone had texted back. That was not the old, happy single me.
Come back, where are you? I thought.
I always struggle with blogposts like this where I introduce a topic and then have no definitive conclusion or advice (which, obviously, I am the one setting myself up because I’m the one writing this; no editor is breathing down my neck other than my conscience) . In the past, I’ve questioned the point of dating, I’ve written about the need to love yourself first, and now I have come to face my own ghosts. I definitely love myself, and I love being single to some extent, but it hurts to have someone’s attention yanked away from you. I think I am happy, and I think I am happy being single.
I read a Dear Abby-esque column recently where the columnist advised, “There are millions of better options, including being single,” and I yassss’d. However, I also think when you lose someone, no matter the circumstances, you begin to question whether you can ever recapture the brief joy that does transcend singledom where two people mutually care about each other and you are their world (for the most succinct time). Relationship happiness is real, if not delusional and irrational. It’s the sort of high that’s momentary, even when in a relationship, but drives pursuit once it is lost.
I know I am happy. But I also think I got scared. I think I am still scared. I am scared that I may never feel that high again (though rational me knows that’s false). I am also scared I will feel it again. Because I just want to be the happy single, but there seems to be a lurking contradiction there. I cannot pursue romantic attention and insist I am a truly happy single after all. So, what is one to do?
The conspicuous answer is to give it all up and join the monkhood. The practical answer is… far less obvious. In some sad way, I have eaten the apple and now I must leave the garden. And that’s why this is the fable of the happy single and not the story of him or her.