Friday, 2 October 2015

Love hurts

Preamble: The other day I listened to this series of podcast episiodes called Love Hurts in full. And then I decided to write to the woman who made it. My email ended up saying a lot of what I've wanted to say for a while, about being single, looking for love, not finding it, and how other people react to singleness - so here is a (heavily edited) part blog post / part email version here. A little disjointed as a result, but there you go. 

I rarely feel compelled enough to write to people whose podcasts I've listened to, but I just stumbled upon the Love Hurts series Lea Thau did on the Strangers podcast, and it sucked me in. 

It was uncomfortable and comfortable listening all at once.

She interviews past dates to find out why it didn't work out, talks to relationship experts, and exes, and discusses the question of dating and sex, and delves into her own past to try and answer to the question of why she's been single for so long, and the big one: Is It Me? 

What struck me most was the relief of hearing someone say out loud how embarrassing being single is, when so much time is spent pretending not to be ashamed about it - to couples, and other singles, to yourself.

It's something I wouldn't ever have admitted, and have never heard voiced by someone else - and yet I found myself thinking "yes, embarrassment. That's exactly how it feels."

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you might know I've been single for four years. You might have read what happened, and the ups and downs that followed; sparse as the posting has become.

Perhaps you've been supportive, perhaps you've longed for me to find The One each time I mentioned a date. Perhaps you've left a helpful comment saying I should be over my last relationship by now, that it's time to move on.

Whichever group you fall into, you'll know that I haven't really spent the last four years looking for love, exactly; more getting over the last one, being alright by myself, and trying to find what fits now. 

And you might have gathered along the way that I'd rather be single than with someone for the sake of it. That I don't think there's much point in settling, or continuing to date someone who you know wants different things, or going on indiscriminate online dates, when there's a bigger world out there to explore.

But none of that changes the fact that I'd love to be in a relationship, and that often, admitting as much is a difficult thing to do.

Aside from anything else, we can all probably admit that the grass isn't greener over there in coupledom; but at 31, it's just a different, more socially acceptable field to be in.

Because yes, it can be brilliant being single, but it's also a mess of contradictions.

It's something your equally single friends want to maintain (at least, until they find someone themselves), and your coupled friends want to change.

It means talking about how you feel, whether you're happy or not, and, of course, replying to the ever persistent questions about the men in your life and whether you're dating.

It means handling the lull in conversation, the flash of a concerned look, the reassuring noises, and the empty feeling that follows if the answer is "there's no one, and I'm not".

Being single means subjecting your life to analysis, and noting in comparison that people in relationships are rarely also asked at the dinner table "so, how are things with you two? Are you really happy?", when they're the ones, we're often told, who are not. 

We are told that no relationship is perfect, yet they don't need to refer to the hard work involved and never have to admit what they would change, or what they perhaps miss - to be point where I assume it's just something that cannot, or should not be said.

The fact remains: in January I will have been single for five years, and I will continue to feel embarrassed when saying the number out loud.

No matter how comfortable you are with being single, it gets harder and harder to reconcile yourself with it when everyone around you is so focused on finding someone, or marrying, or committing in some way. 

And this is in London: a city full of people like me. I live with two of them; we travel, we busy ourselves, we date, we have lots of friends.

But it feels increasingly like we're all treading water, waiting for someone to come along and change this status which isn't quite acceptable - long term, anyway - without that well known aside being whispered behind you.

Every situation has its ups and downs, and I was in the middle of a down period when I listened to this podcast last week. But instead of making me feel low, and more embarrassed, I felt reassured and absolutely ok.

I don't know many other people who've been single for 4+ years, so it just helped to hear someone else who has speak with so much honesty, and frankness, and bravery on the subject, in a way that I have never heard anyone else be.

So with that, I'll say it: I am single. It's been nearly five years since someone last called me their girlfriend. And if I've got to be ok with that, then everyone else should be, too. 

Podcast links: 

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Follow up
One year later


Exile on Pain Street said...

"And if I've got to be ok with that, then everyone else should be, too."

This pisses me off a little bit. Why would you give a rats ass what everyone else thinks? Unless, of course, you're using "everyone else" as a proxy for you. One of the great advantages of getting older is that you really and truly stop caring what everyone else thinks. You grow content and your tea is suddenly more flavorful. It's absolutely liberating. A splendid feeling.

Fenstar de Luxe said...

aah, I'm 40 and still single.
I had a pseudo relationship for the last year, but he's gone to live on the other side of the world, and I'm all alone again.
I'm not sure it gets any easier, I'm just more comfortable with who I am as a person.

looby said...

I don't know why other people's nosey parker questions, which reflect a an old-fashioned and very traditional view about what a woman of your age should be doing, should bother you so much. It's none of their business. Perhaps you could deflect them with something that stops them pursuing the questioning, with some answer about Duracell batteries. Believe me, being in a relationship cab be a very good way of ruining friendship. Don't judge yourself by the attitudes of people whose outlook hasn't reached the C21st century yet.

As to finding someone, you're young and have got bags of dating capital. I was single for years at a time at your age too. It's more common than you think.

Leigh said...

Great post, you've summed it all up perfectly. Even though I quite liked being single I still felt embarrassed by it and by how long it took me to get over The Ex - and to be honest, I still don't know that I could hand on heart say I'm totally over it. I don't want him at all but I definitely still have baggage.

I particularly liked the bit you wrote about how people in relationships aren't quizzed about the state of their relationships. It's such a weird double standard. I remember getting asked, "why are you single?" by people - usually men - on nights out when I was single, which is the worst question in the world. No one would dream of asking someone why they're in a relationship. "Because I had the dumb luck to find someone willing to put up with my shit."

I would change the fact that he never closes the bread bin lid and I would like more time on my own. I really miss solitude and the ability to have a lazy day without feeling guilty about ignoring the washing up and other household stuff. But I'm much harder to live with than him, he does my ironing and doesn't force me to go food shopping (I hate it) so I don't really like to grumble.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Exile - I know your comment comes from a kind place, butttt - if a 31 yr old woman writes a post about how they feel, based on their own experiences and another woman's experiences that they related to, is the right response "you shouldn't feel like that" or "maybe it's you, not everyone else" (paraphrasing the last one)?

I shouldn't feel embarrassed, or care. No one should. Maybe when I'm 40, 50, 60 people will have long stopped asking whether I've met anyone, or am dating, or if the person I'm texting is a "new man" when it's actually my parents and none of their business anyway, but at the moment, they do. And I do feel embarrassed. And sometimes it bothers me. You're right: one day it won't, but sometimes - now - it does.

Fenstar - Agh. I'm sorry that it didn't work out. But I also look forward to feeling more comfortable with whatever happens in the future.

looby - It's old fashioned but a lot of ideals in society are - the need to be "with someone", or over your ex after a certain amount of time - it's ingrained. Off to muse on what exactly "dating capital" is now, as apparently I have lots of it?!

Leigh - I think it's so rare to hear the embarrassment thing being said out loud. Glad to hear I'm not alone on that (after the podcast I was sure I wasn't anyway but still, nice to keep hearing it). The thing I've always missed is solitude in relationships. That pull of needing to tell someone where you are and what you're doing, when my best days seem to be going off radar and having a bit of time alone.

last year's girl said...

I've been a long-time listener to the Strangers podcast. The Love Hurts series was very different to Lea's usual work - well, the fact that the subject was herself gave that away - but I loved it. Honest and unflinching in a way that it's really difficult to be. It won't surprise you at all to learn that they were some of the most divisive episodes, if the comments on the show's Facebook page were anything to go by.

I like when you check in with us. Wishing you the best, always.

Lis / last year's girl x

Anonymous said...

Great post. Reminded me how I felt when I was single and not to keep asking single friends about any new love interests!

Anonymous said...

Terrific post. I wasn't single for any length of time until I was 35, when the man I thought I would marry dumped me completely unceremoniously "I don't love you. I can't marry you". Then went off with an undemanding 21 year old. There is such a thing as heartbreak, I learned.

And apart from a couple of flings, I've been single ever since. It's now almost 20 years since I've even had sex.

Now there's an embarrassing & shameful thing. I'm not unattractive; I don't smell; I'm a friendly warm nice kind person. But there you go ... a single woman in her 50s is a shameful, unwanted thing. Particularly if she's nice, kind, attractive & successful. What's the opposite of catnip for men? Because that's what I am.

So you go for it, and thank you for writing this blog, and this post.

Anonymous said...

Love this post! I hate people herding other people into 'acceptable' boxes in their heads. Okay, so I am married, but there are definitely other aspects of my life where there is a distinct lack of acceptance for where I am in my life. (E.g. my job). Frustratingly, society is what it is and expects to you to 'tick' every box to feel comfortable with you.

As someone who is married, though, I think it is quite hard to know whether or not to ask your single friends about their love lives though, especially if you know that they are actively dating or really want to get married. If I don't ask, it sounds like I don't care. If I do ask, it probably sounds like I am nagging. One of my friends said that she was setting an intention to be engaged by 2016, and by telling her she was making that more real and ensuring she did something about it. She hasn't mentioned it since, and I feel like I am treading on eggshells / wondering whether I should be 'checking in' with her on how it is all going or leaving her well alone so she doesn't feel scared and frustrated about the whole dating thing!

Anonymous said...

I get what you mean, because more often than not, girls who are single post 27 end up explaining to people how they're 'okay' and can deal with it. The truth is, it's good to have a companion, someone who is just there. And then for me, the prospect of having children just seems very rewarding.
I agree with exile on pain street a little bit in that your last sentence does seem a little bit on the self-pitying side of things, but I think what he is missing here is how painful it is to be constantly blamed/questioned for something that is most likely irking you more than it is anyone else.
Do look on the internet though, join okcupid or something. It's fun, and you might find a good fit. Ask ALL your friends to set you up. You're not automatically on their radar just because you're 31.
But even if you don't find someone, just learn to be happier. Adopt a baby or something, if you have that yearning. I know I will, if I am unable to do this the regular way. You have all this love inside of you that you NEED to give. So do consider this option! It's fairly easy for single women to adopt in the UK.
Live your life, you're only going to get it once, don't be sad so often!

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Anon 1- So glad it resonated. The odd question isn't so bad, but just be aware it doesn't have to be the sole topic of conversation. Ruminating on this stuff isn't good for the soul.

Anon 2- God, that's a tough way to break up. It certainly knocks you for six, doesn't it? I wish that you didn't feel ashamed and that wasn't the case, I think society has a lot to answer for in that respect. You seem like an absolutely lovely person. Thanks for your honesty x

Anon 3 - I do understand the question over how to show your single friends that you care, without "prying". If I spend an entire day or evening with a friend and we go that whole time without discussing my love life, then I always feel a bit relieved to be honest. If I see someone for 10 minutes and that's one of the things they ask in that time, I'm more likely to get irritated. Use your instincts. If someone seems a bit down, ask why. If they seem happy, talk about that. The reason will probably come out either way.

Anon 4 - I agree with the having to "be ok and deal with it" thing. My last sentence seems to be getting a lot of focus, almost detracting from the rest of the post. It wasn't meant to be self pitying. But again, the fact that writing about this subject honestly and openly is perceived as me being unhappy or sad about my life is probably why it's not talked about more often. I wouldn't say I'm preoccupied by being single, and I am not sad about it very often. It might seem as though every time I post here it's a little downbeat, but this is my dumping ground for those thoughts, not a log of my day-to-day life. Thanks for commenting.

London-Lass said...

Jo - I'm late to the party on this but just wanted to say that I am sorry you are feeling embarrassment for a situation over which you have no control over. We can be generous and warm-hearted as a society but, at other times, overly critical and quick to judge others against high ideals we rarely meet ourselves. Is it any wonder that some wise person at some point parpled "There's nowt so queer as folk"?

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

It was a brilliant series, and a great introduction to the podcast generally. I'm glad I started there! I will continue check in for as long as I have lovely readers like yourself. Thanks, lis.


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