If I were to tell anyone in my life that I thought I might be single forever, they would scoff at me. Not in an “I-think-you’re-stupid” kind of way, but in an “I-think-you’re-stupid-but-only-because-I-love-you-so-much-so-there’s-no-possible-way-you’ll-end-up-alone-you’re-so-wonderful” kind of way.
It isn’t that I consciously desire isolation. I know we’re not supposed to do this thing called life alone. I know that. I know we need a witness to our lives. I know people with companionship live longer. I know that on the most fundamental, cellular, evolutionary level, we are meant to exist in packs – small groups looking out for one another, with common goals and synchronized menstrual cycles. I knoooooow.
It isn’t like I haven’t been single before – I have. But now that I live alone – and in particular, now that I live alone in a home that I own by myself – something’s changed. Maybe I’ve become more selfish, more narcissistic. Maybe I’ve just become more of a homebody – which will nullify any efforts to meet somebody anyway. Or maybe… and this thought haunts my every waking moment… I’m too set in my ways to ever find love at this point.
The thing is, I really like my single life. I like living in a condo that I own by myself. I like the fact that everything – every single thing! – in my home is something I personally picked out. I like my books on display. I like my record player, and my typewriter, and the blanket a friend brought for me from South Africa draped over my couch. I like my Beatles album cover artwork, and the custom hockey jersey that means nothing to me besides that it represents one of the biggest work projects of my life and so my colleagues gifted to me. I like the little elephant figurines and vintage mirror I picked up in an antique shop in Centralia, Washington – aptly named for it’s location halfway between Portland and Seattle, where my best friend and I used to have “meet in the middle” dates.
Every one of these items was hand-selected and placed by me. I painted these walls. I scraped those ceilings. I hammered those nails.
So, forgive me, but the idea of anyone else having any claim whatsoever on this condo does more than unsettle me – it actually creates a dark pool of dread in the pit of my stomach.
It’s not just about the condo, though. I like my routine! I like waking up every morning by my own alarm, opening the windows, and eating two hard-boiled eggs with salt and pepper. I like plugging my phone into my multi-room stereo system (thank you to my brother, who is an electrician and tricked this place out like a bachelor pad), and playing Spotify stations custom-made for me as I get ready for the day. Billy Stewart and Harry Nilsson and Shakey Graves and Anderson Paak and Led Zeppelin and Ben Folds serenade me every morning as I brush my teeth. When I’m off work, it’s Brett Dennen and The Temptations and Marian Hill and Peggy Lee and Lizzo and Louis Prima as I cut vegetables and pre-heat the oven for dinner.
I read, I meditate, I listen to podcasts, I write in my journal, I walk around the neighborhood, I make friends with Dan the mailman. It’s a good life. I’m not seeking anything (or anyone) to throw a wrench into it.
There is a little voice inside me (who am I kidding, it’s outside me) that says I’m almost 30. The dating pool is shrinking – in fact, it’s already shrunk – and my biological clock is ticking. If I ever want to settle down, to create any sense of normalcy in this godless, spinster lifestyle I’ve created, it had better be soon. It’s like a dark cloud is approaching in the distance – and I, savvy captain of this wayward ship, have looked away from my telescope to declare that it’s time to batten down the hatches. Clear the deck and gain cover, boys, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Let me be perfectly clear about something: Dating is, unequivocally, the absolute worst and most mundane part of human existence. If you disagree with me, congratulations on being hot and charismatic, we’re all very happy for you. But for the rest of us, dating is what happens in hell.
First, there’s readying yourself for the dating world. Akin to old debutante balls, this is the process by which you primp and polish and prime yourself into something resembling a future spouse. This can be physical, sure – I’m now spending $179 on a monthly Orangetheory membership – but it is just as much a psychological endeavor.
If you’re within half a generation of mine, this probably has implications for your online persona. You might update your profile photo, or at least post a recent selfie (selfie # 14, to be exact, taken at a flattering angle under flattering light donning a flattering expression one degree removed from any you’ve ever made in real life, having been churned through at least one photo editing app and with a filter that softens your imperfections just enough to bring you from a 6 to a 7, but not enough to look over-edited and therefore desperate).
Beyond your profile photo, it entails softening your rough edges and hiding some of your crazy. You might consider deleting your recent blog post about struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. You might dial back the cursing in your tweets, because for all you know Mr. Right may have “pottymouth” on his list of dealbreakers. You may refrain from ranting about how the Star Wars franchise is a self-indulgent, over-acted, obnoxious sack of spider puke… because hey, there are a lot of Star Wars fans in this world and you can’t risk alienation.
This process also necessitates brushing up on your witty banter and pop culture references, and reading the latest book releases far enough down on the NYT bestseller list to be worthy of anyone but Oprah’s attention. It also means diversifying your life experiences – this not only maximizes your exposure to potential partners, but broadens your storytelling ability if you’re ever given the chance to tell one. You go on hikes, you travel, you try the new restaurant that just opened up in the recently gentrified part of town. You listen to all the right podcasts and binge-watch the most recent darling of the streaming world so that you may be a Good Conversationalist at the proverbial water cooler.
You take all of these measures at varying degrees of consciousness and intensity, but you take them nonetheless.
And that’s only the beginning.
Then comes selection – which starts with a “getting to know you” phase. You want someone with enough similar interests to carry a conversation, but not so many that you could have the conversation in your sleep. They should embody all the things you loved about your last partner, but so-help-you-Jesus they had better not harbor the qualities you didn’t. They should feel comfortable but still exciting. Stable but spontaneous. Funny, but they’re not allowed to think they’re funny or it ruins it. You should get exactly the right amount of butterflies – enough that you know you have chemistry but not so much that it implies you’re way overshooting your reach, league-wise.
And of course, you’re not the only one doing the selecting. In this phase, your first job is to be interesting. (If you’re good-looking, this is less important for a little while.)
Being interesting means having interesting things to say and questions to ask, of course (read: above), but it’s also much more than that. You have to be damaged in exactly the right socially acceptable way so that your identity is rich and dimensional but not concerning. You have to have a storied past, whether it be through your relationships or living situations or a unique childhood. You have to strike a balance between quirky and eccentric, and take it from me, that balance is a delicate one. You have to be confident but not arrogant, sarcastic but not cynical, curious but not naïve, intelligent but not pretentious, vulnerable but still coy.
Above all, and this can’t be stressed enough, you cannot be predictable. Predictable things aren’t interesting.
Then comes the flirting, which basically just means adding ‘lol’ or ‘haha’ to every text message to remind you both how much fun you’re having. It means shoehorning mediocre inside jokes way too early, in the interest of creating a comedy callback, thereby re-emphasizing How. Much. Fun you’re having! It might mean playfully teasing them about something harmless, like a guilty pleasure band preference, because teasing them about anything more meaningful would be risky and also because of all the fun!!!! That!!! You’re having!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
After that, someone asks someone on a date. If you’re doing the asking, you have to do so in such a way that gives them an out – because rejection is more palpable that way. If you’re the askee, you have to sound interested but not over-eager – because a position of power is (apparently) a thing to maintain.
Then comes the date! Be sure to wear something that is flattering but not too sexy, trendy but not too fancy, comfortable but not too sloppy. If you’re going to dinner, pick a restaurant where you can eat food with a fork. It sounds quirky and adorable to have a first date eating pizza or sushi, but take my word for it: You are not as adorable as you think you are stuffing fillets of raw fish into your mouth. (Don’t get me wrong, if I’m convicted for murder tomorrow sushi will 100% be my last meal, but I’m trying to help you here.)
Practice your conversation topics in the mirror as you’re getting ready. Be prepared for some nauseating small talk, which means perfecting your elevator pitch. I’m from San Diego, but I moved to Tucson and then San Francisco and then Vancouver and then Portland. Now I’m back in San Diego. I work for a marketing firm. I own my own condo. Yes, I like it a lot.
You talk about your favorite bands, the restaurants you’ve tried recently. How much you enjoy Star Wars. (You gotta decide where and how you want the date to end, I can’t do that for you. I wasn’t there.)
Then comes the aftermath. If it didn’t go well, good news! They probably agree that it didn’t go well, and you likely will never have to hear from them again. Fret not, young grasshopper, that’s a win! People are the worst!
If it went well, congratulations! You’ve now entered the most awkward and exhilarating time of your life. The next six days will be spent cautiously pulling up his photo at family gatherings and sharing various snippets of your conversations to your most intimate friends. You’ll start drawing the most bizarre parallels to convince yourself he might be The One™ – like that you both got the chicken pox THE SAME YEAR!!! And your first concert was the All-American Rejects, and his was Panic! at the Disco featuring the All-American Rejects!!! And, get this, both of your mothers are retired schoolteachers. I mean what. are. the. ODDS?!
Date Number Two will be equally uncomfortable, but now with the added layer of pressure that everyone in your life will be expecting an update.
You talk about past relationships. You talk about your your storied, damaged past. You might order sushi.
In the next few dates, pace starts to become a factor. Are we moving too fast? Is this comfortable? How soon is too soon to invite him to a friendly gathering with my friends? To bring up my obsession with Zane Grey? To ask him to endure an episode of Fleabag?
Later on, how soon is too soon to have him meet my parents? Ask him to pick me up at the airport? Be my Plus One at a wedding? Have his dog spend the night at my house?
Suddenly, the pressure will become too much for one of you. Am I going to have to live with her tapping the toothbrush on the edge of the sink three times every single morning for the rest of my life? he thinks. Am I really going to marry someone who thinks the Beatles are overrated? she laments.
Sooner or later, you’ll drift. The flame will die down. Your relationship will circle the drain. You’ll reach into the big brass bucket of metaphors and platitudes and choose one to describe the end of this chapter of your life. The ship has sailed. That’s all she wrote. One way or another, it’ll be over.
You’ll curl into a ball for a day or two, out of principle, but in some small way you won’t actually be sad. This is what you expected all along, after all. It’s almost comforting in its inevitability.
Then you’ll wake up in your condo. You’ll open the blinds and eat two hard-boiled eggs. You’ll admire your books, and your record player, and your typewriter. You’ll put on Harry Nilsson and brush your teeth – tapping your toothbrush three times on the edge of the sink when you’re done.
And the wheels on the bus will go round and round.