This is the dancing alone time. The sound of one hand clapping. Meals for one. Conversations with dogs. Conversations with oneself.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I could never fully admit to myself that marriage wasn’t in my future. I pushed the knowing deep inside and covered it up with convention and tradition. But it would always push back at me with insistently sharp elbows. And when the knowledge came to the surface and showed its face, it often left me feeling a bit like an oddball.
All around me were young girls/pre-women striving to change their singleness into coupleness. It wasn’t easy to be standing next to them watching their pursuits. But I watched them get married, bought them wedding gifts, and figured out how to at least pretend to enjoy talking about marriage and childbirth.
Even now, at my age, it can be difficult sometimes to comfort myself with Katherine Hepburn’s words, “A woman should always have her own address” and “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” I imagine sitting down with Ms. Hepburn and having a conversation during which she reassures me with those simple declarations. I can also imagine sitting down with Dorothy Parker and hearing her say, “What fresh hell is this?” That resonates, too.
Years past my twenties now, I still feel like an oddball.
The notion of singleness, of marriage not being “natural” to me, arrived in a startling way one summer afternoon in Texas. I was sitting on my parents’ patio with my fiancé, one of a long line of that sort. Engagements were easy for me. The next step was always impossible.
It was a couple of weeks until the wedding and my guts were in turmoil. Fear can do bizarrely physical and mental things to a person. I sat there, pre-wedding day, afraid to admit out loud that I was close to making a hideous mistake in marrying this man. And he was a perfectly decent man, who, sadly, wanted this imperfectly decent woman. My fear grew and then became panic, which suddenly split the physical from the mental. And then, I saw myself above myself looking down, observing me, the one sitting, guts in a turmoil, unable to tell this man to go away and find someone suitable. Before this other body-less self could say, “Hey, what’s up with that cowlick?” I had jumped out of the patio chair and run across the yard, effectively reeling in hovering head and attaching it back onto intact body. In a few days, I would be calling my fiancé and telling him it was over. This experience gave me a clue that marriage might not be in my plans, but more so, it told me that if you want to avoid the body-less head hovering above you, you’d better listen to your inner self.
What is it like to know that your singleness is not a choice but a condition, a thing that is as much a part of you as your personality? It’s not the nunnery type of singleness I’m referring to. That’s a choice, a calling to use your singleness as a form of worship. Plus, all that praying and meditation is so distracting that nuns haven’t the concentration left to long for wedding bells. This other kind of singleness, the one that doesn’t feel like a choice, is as close to your skin as skin itself. It is the thing, like your DNA, that you cannot change.
When I was in my late twenties, after yet another broken engagement, my mom asked me one day, “What would marriage be like for you?” I answered without having to give it much thought. “He’d have to not be there.”
I don’t know what my mother said after that. I’m not sure what she thought by the response. Perhaps she was concerned, but fortunately she didn’t say so. Throughout the engagements and broken engagements what I do remember my parents saying is, “We just want you to be happy.” That’s the hinge point. The door opens and closes on that one pivotal spot.
Over time, I’ve redefined the phrase, “He’d have to not be there.” It means he’d have to have his own address. Simple, I think. Not so possible, however. People love the living together, the waking up together, the almost everything together. What do I love? It might be the things I’ve gotten used to doing alone.
The oddest thing has happened to me over the years I’ve spent single, a great deal of them spent alone. I no longer seem to know what I look like. Peculiar isn’t it? Do we only know our physical self through the eyes of another physical self? I ask Stella, my older Boston Terrier, “Does this skirt look too tight to you?” I read the look in her eyes as, “Less chocolate, more walks with me.”
And I think my social skills have all but evaporated. Could I have a conversation with real people standing in front of me? I have dreadful anxiety over being invited to a social event and inadvertently, without being conscious of it, doing something I only do in private. Like babbling, walking funny, practicing my hip hop dancing and singing about my dogs. I know you thought I meant something else.
I am likely the happiest person you’d ever meet. It might not be apparent given that my introverted nature tends to make me seem withdrawn. For many people, sadly, being alone and being unhappy about it go hand in hand. But because I’m so richly comforted and made whole by gratitude for all I have, I cannot regard my singleness as a burden. I am always reminded, when I look at the news, that others have it so much worse. I have nothing to complain about. The abundance of love and friendship I have reminds me not to scream, “What is wrong with me?!” or “Is there anything more?”
There is no more. It is what it is. A life spent in singleness, dancing alone.
I‘ll often play my Boy George CD and dance wildly in front of my living room’s huge picture window. Alone, with just the Boston Terriers watching. Walk by some time. Perhaps, you’ll get quite a show and think, “She seems happy.” And you’d be right.