To call my family of origin emotionally constipated is an understatement. I see friends around me as an adult interacting with their kids or their own parents and it’s so foreign to me to see the easy physical affection, the kind gestures, the sweet loving attitude towards each other. Obviously this is not everyone out there, not everyone has the greatest parents, but most people have something that has strong elements of kindness and affection and love.
I think my parents loved me but they were unhappy people and unhappy people do not behave in ways that are necessarily good for the people around them. Their story is not mine and not the focus of this piece. What I will say is that as a teenager discovering my own sexuality, it never, ever occurred to me that I might someday find someone who wanted to be with me. It never, ever occurred to me that marriage and love were ever going to be part of my future. I hoped for, at best, to live in an anonymous high rise apartment where nobody ever noticed me or spoke to me.
I did not date in high school. Never even crossed my mind that it was an option. I had massive crushes but it never occurred to me that anyone might reciprocate. I didn’t date in university. Being away from home didn’t change my social awkwardness, my anger issues, or my general sense that I was not desirable. I had massive crushes but it never occurred to me that anyone might reciprocate.
I dated someone for about six months when I was 23. He was a friend of my sister’s. I asked her if she would be okay with it if he and I got together, and she said yes, but that he was not likely available. Turns out she had a major crush on him and when we did get together, she had a full on reaction. My parents then told me for the good of my sister’s mental health that I was not to see him if she would be there. My sister and this guy were both part of a tight-knit community that hung out constantly and that was not okay. My mother disapproved of the relationship because I was sleeping with him and not hiding it and because my sister was unhappy. We fell in love, and when it ended I was devastated because I had never had anyone tell me they loved me before and when it was withdrawn I had no way to cope.
That is the only time I’ve ever been in love, or had someone tell me they loved me (romantically). Talk about a great start. I chose to be single for a long time after that — not as though I had anyone trying to convince me not to be—because I knew at least some of my behaviours were abusive and I figured I should at least not inflict myself on someone else.
I was sleeping with someone a few years later — first time getting back in the game—who told me that he’d never slept with a fat chick before and it wasn’t that bad. For me it was casual but he seemed to think that I needed to be controlled to not expect too much. I guess the idea that women could have or want casual sex hadn’t really registered with most people. I internalized the comment and it put me off men for another cluster of years before it occurred to me that the problem there was him and his assholery and not me and my weight. I was a lot skinnier than I am now but skinny has never been a way to describe me. That was my 20s, done and dusted.
At 31, I went back to school and got extremely educated. My undergrad and masters were in a university with 75% women, all of whom were 15 years younger than I was. I didn’t even bother trying to compete. There were literally clouds of women standing around the few men in a bar on a Saturday night, all trying to get close enough to start a conversation. Five years of my life over in a flash.
I did my doctorate in a part of the world that is much more religious and I’m atheist and a non-drinker. I was 37 when I started, and my classmates were in their early 20s and had never had a job. They were very high-schooly. I tried to hang with them but there was just a mismatch between their overall maturity and mine. I was still plenty awkward to add to to the problem. The town was full of things to do for families, or activities for singles were centered around drinking. I did not fit in. Anywhere. I joined a dragon boating team, and an outdoors club, and the people I met would sound interested until I said I was in a PhD program. One after the other they’d say, oh you’ll be leaving then, and they’d disappear. Goodbye, another five years of my life.
I finished school and moved for work. I was 43 years old and had almost $85,000 in debt. The available online dating pool was made up of men who wrote almost identical bios, “I’m a nice guy and I just want to find someone who is going to be nice to me.” My translation: I don’t know why I’m divorced. I met a few people and some were nice, some were horrendous and none stuck. The ones I met who were reasonable were really not interested in someone who had money issues. Divorce had burned them.
I met someone about 13 years younger than me through a social club and we became friends. He flirted and withdrew over and over again. He dated someone else and then it ended and he came back to me. He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t okay with the age difference. Then he was. He didn’t want his own kids, then he did. After almost 2 years, we dated casually (my conditions for anything happening is that we keep it strictly week-to-week) for about two months. One day, he said he wasn’t into me physically but would continue to sleep with me because he’s just. that. nice. a. guy. Mentally, I dumped him on the spot, naked in my bed. I fucked him a couple more times just because I figured it might take a while before I found another partner, that being my pattern. Then I told him we were done and to go away and not come back. Ever. Lose my number. Friends don’t treat me with that kind of disrespect. I told him that he was not just. that. nice. a. guy. That is was really mean and he should never ever say something like that to anyone ever again. I don’t know if he got the message because I deleted his contact information.
I left the country and lived in places far more conservative, and dating was an option but more complicated by local mores and standards. I was getting older, I was unwell, and had almost no energy. I could barely walk down the street without pain and I had no energy to go out to socialize, so dating was just one extra thing I couldn’t do, along with most of my normal activities. Four more years of my life, done and dusted.
I moved home again and am largely recovered in terms of energy but the idea of spending what little energy I have to go into the city to meet someone for a 20 minute coffee date, knowing that I would have to do that 100 times to meet a handful of people I might want to see again, seemed like a bad trade-off. I’d rather spend my limited energy on walking my dogs, meeting my friends to play board games, or watching TV, or playing the piano, or any of the other dozens of things I enjoy.
I used to think that people who had relationships spoke a secret language that I just didn’t know. I would see things happening for other people but they never happened for me. Dan Savage is famous for saying that you shouldn’t date if you’re not in good working order and for most of my life I was not in good working order. I somehow instinctively figured that out in my 20s which is when most people figure out dating. My 30s, I spent in university with people who didn’t want to date me and most of the time, vice versa. My 40s is when I would have or could have found someone but I ended up with Mr. Wishy Washy. I still miss our friendship but not the romantic part of that relationship. Then my health made it impossible to more than the bare minimum. Dating is hard work.
Now I’m 50 and I still can’t imagine a future where I will find someone who loves me as I am. Not overwhelmingly healthy, but not sick. Not wealthy, but at least out of debt. Not employed, which is a bit of a problem for the moment. I’m an emotionally grounded, middle-aged overweight childless woman with a good education and great earning potential. The problem is, we’re a dime a dozen. There’s an oversupply issue. I can think of another 10 women just like me without having to try very hard.
I like the idea of having a partner and regular sex but they’ve never been part of my life so it’s hard to miss something you never had. If someone were to wave a magic wand and drop a perfect man into my lap I’d probably say I was busy because the reality of such a thing just doesn’t compute. I wouldn’t even know what it looked like or felt like to find a great partner. If I make a great friend I feel like I’ve won the lottery already. More? What is more?
Couples have it easier in so many ways. They share living expenses, so they can live a more lavish lifestyle. They always have someone to spend time with, and they can share chores and responsibilities at home. There are two incomes saving for retirement. There are lots of practical reasons why it’s easier to be in a couple. Couples get invited out to more social events and have an easier time making friends in new places because there are two people networking.
I’m here to say that single-hood is not ideal, but it’s not at all horrible. Life is simpler when you’re alone and only have to ask yourself what you want to do with your time and money. Shoe collection? Why yes, but it’s only my business. Ice cream for dinner? Yes, it’s an acceptable answer sometimes. Nobody else’s business.
I’ve come a long way from hoping that I could become anonymous and alone. I’ve developed amazing friendships over the years. I refuse to be bitter about what hasn’t happened when there is so much that has. I am so grateful for my life. It is enough. I refuse to devalue what I have chasing something I’ve never had nor understood. That’s why I don’t date.