If you’d like some theme music while you read this, I highly recommend the smash-hit Valentine’s Day mashup “Single Loser” by Beckyonce. I’m listening to it as I write this.
When I started writing this back in September, I wasn’t sure anyone was reading my series on being intentionally single for a season (by clicking on the link, you can read the series from the beginning with the September entry). I was doing it mostly for myself, to chase down a few ghosts and maybe stop holding on to some stuff that wasn’t good for me.
Then in November a friend across the country, with whom I was having drinks while I was in her hometown, asked, “So? Did you decide to keep going through December?” and mentioned that my blogs had been taking up a lot of her time in therapy lately. And the Young Clergy Women Project, for whom I have the utmost regard, asked me to write a piece for them because they had gotten word that I was wrestling with the issue theologically. And then a friend (who said she recommended this series to several of her straight single female friends) offered to write a fun-spirited single-positivity guest blog.
I’ve had more broadly read blogs, but I don’t know that I’ve had many that have come with more human interactions (including one of my favorite South Asian elders offering to help me find a good Indian husband).
I’ll catch you up on my personal journey in a moment, but first I wanted to reflect on a story that was making people insane a few weeks back: Yasmin Eleby married herself. She was hitting 40 and hadn’t found the right man yet. So she had her sister lead the spiritual ceremony of committing herself to herself.
A friend of mine who posted the article asked if she was crazy or she was just rendering Black men obsolete.
Another friend of mine asked if this wasn’t wrong in the eyes of God.
When I lightheartedly posted it on my own facebook page, someone pled with me not to go down that path myself. (Dude, I throw myself a big party every year and spend lots of money on snacks and drinks to celebrate with friends; why limit myself to once, and overpay for it? No fears there.)
What actually troubled me was the comments in some of the articles about Yasmin. A LOT of the comments were along the lines of “If she exercised instead of eating all the time, she’d be able to find a man to marry.”
Interestingly, these kinds of comments are a firm and time-honored tradition in online dating, as well, and they’re often used against women who reject men (particularly when the men were being crass and unkind to begin with). My recent experience is that online dating is a pretty unkind place, and it is a particularly unkind place for women seeking to date men. I expect not to be believed, particularly by men who have done online dating with women, but there is a difference in quality of rejection between straight men and straight women. Patriarchy is some complex stuff, and so is the ways we’re socialized to deal with rejection (forgive the oversimplification: men externalize it, women internalize it). The intersection of those two things shows up loud and proud in the Bye Felipe Instagram page, where women send online dating dialogues where men lash out in ugly ways at women for not wanting to go out with them (or do whatever the man thinks he deserves from a woman). Having been on the receiving end of “You were lucky I was even considering f***ing a fat heifer like you” kinds of comments when I didn’t respond to a potential suitor’s online advances (like “Hey, hotty; when am I coming over tonight?” from a complete stranger), I have a suspicion my straight male friends don’t deal with the same level of shaming and humiliating when they reject a woman’s advances. (That said, I have one ex who could definitely testify that when he stopped communicating after a couple of months of occasional dating, this one insane redhead would not stop trying to contact him to either “keep dating or get closure.” So I will concede that it’s not easy being a man and dating crazy, and the instability and insecurity of modern day relationships have pushed otherwise balanced women over the edge more than once. In my defense, call a sister and break up with her. IJS.)
All of this reminds me of what I thought was going to be a really cute and empowering What’s Awesome About Being Single piece by Jimmy Fallon. It was a hashtag: #WhyImSingle. When I watched the actual bit, though, it was why people were too quirky to get a date rather than reasons it was fun to be single. Which circles back to the book I advocated so hard in November, It’s Not You, which takes on the really ugly and insidious part of what’s hard about being single: the assumption is that if you’re single and you don’t want to be, it’s your fault. There must be SOMETHING you’re doing that’s why you’re in this predicament.
And that’s possible. In my case, it’s very possible.
But brothers and sisters, all of you in a relationship, even in a very successful relationship, you are not unbroken in contrast with my singleness-causing brokenness. I think this is one of my big take aways from my season of singleness. I definitely still have my own stuff to work on. But no matter what Tyler Perry implies about single women, I’m not fully convinced that my brokenness is why I’m not with a man. (Test the theory with me if you want: think of the single straight men in your life. Would you set us up? If not, is it because of what’s wrong with me, or is it just about compatibility? If it’s the former, feel free to email me; my soul is pretty open these days. Unless it’s the same advice people were giving Yasmin Eleby about how if she spent less time eating and more time looking presentable for a man….then we have a whole different conversation ahead of us, and you might want to read this in preparation. Or this. And definitely this.)
To wrap up this series, though:
So I ended my official, under-no-circumstances-going-on-a-date period of singleness on New Year’s Eve.
I’m not rushing back into online dating, though. I’ve done it on and off for ten years and I think it has been hard on my soul. Pulling myself off those sites allowed me to not feel so awful about my place in the world, and the chances of finding a date just don’t feel worth it to me right now. (If you don’t believe me, read this article about the man who went online as a woman to see if it was as bad as people said and pulled his account after two hours because the harrassment was so awful.) In addition to the Bye Felipe link I posted earlier, there are lots of articles pointing to the rampant sexism in online dating (and the world in general), so I won’t rehash it here except to say it’s not just in my head, and I am off all of the sites. If you want to read the best revenge article ever in response to the awful things men sometimes say on Tinder, check this out.
(Interesting sidenote: as long as I didn’t mind sifting through some admittedly creepy and gross and just plain not smart responses, my most successful forays into online dating were through Craigslist: I could describe exactly what I wanted and how I saw myself to be, and people who matched the criteria I described often ended up being people whose company I enjoyed, with a lower bad date ratio compared to POF, OKCupid or Match, and with much lower humiliation rate as far as small response rates than Chemistry or eHarmony.)
So now that the season is over, I’ll confess I’m very occasionally seeing someone I dated before. I have proven to myself more than once the truism that if it didn’t work out the first time, it probably won’t work out the second or third time either. But he lives in Oregon. And when we’re together we have fun. And he’s pretty cute, I think. So I get, for now, the convenient excuse of “I’m not available” without having to give up the many, many perks of being single. I’m not sure it’s going anywhere. I’m not sure I’d hold onto it if something amazing popped up elsewhere. Plus, he said he’d come down for my book party in February and when my piece premieres in Yoni ki Baat in April, and truth be told that is what I miss most about being in a relationship – having a special person to share the high points of life with. So we’ll see how this halfway thing works for now.
If nothing else, this season of singleness was a real gift in terms of helping me (a) let go of some anger at God, (b) let go of a sense of shame connected to loneliness, and (c) stop blaming myself for being alone. It doesn’t mean I want to be alone, it just means it might be the way things are, and there doesn’t need to be judgment or a sense of failure or a sense of anything other than that’s the way it is. I am probably not done grieving that, and I am probably not done hoping it might one day change. But it has allowed me to detach from something that was actually hurting me – trying to fix the problem through online dating. (And I should note: many of my friends have met partners through online dating. It obviously is not as scarring for everyone.)
So for now, I’m not intentionally single, but I’m not sure I’m not single. And the ambiguity is going to work for me for a while, I think.