Never the Bride: On being alone when everyone else is getting married

It would be so easy. Simply type “Okc” into my browser and my computer will fill in the rest. From there, just a click to reactivate, answer a couple questions about why I left, and then the whiskey burn of possibility, the magic of “What if?” I’ve been Okcupid free for 18 days though, and rather then be tugged along by temptation, I want to see how it feels to plant my heels and resist.

At five, I told my parents it was unfair that they got to go to bed with someone, while I had to sleep by myself.

“When you get married, you can too,” my mother said.

A goal for a budding serial monogamist. My first longterm relationship waited years in the future, but her promise sustained me; one day I wouldn’t feel so alone. Over time, my reasons for forming and maintaining relationships felt valid, but in retrospect, I probably didn’t make the most satisfying partner, unable as I was to distinguish between love and fear. Recently a shift both subtle and piercing has begun. I think it’s called emotional growth. Either that or I’m about to pass a kidney stone.

For the first time, “single” is not a rest stop on the route to somewhere better, brighter, more fulfilling. I’m not single because she cheated or I kept the radio tuned to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me during sex or we fought about who should clean the hamster cage (a truly theoretical fight — we didn’t own hamsters). I’m not single because he drank too much or forgot my birthday or insisted we buy a hamster because he prefers his fights literal. Right now, I’m single because I want to be. For today. And maybe for tomorrow. But the point is, for once, single is not the inverse of another state. Still, the timing feels strange.

On June 1st gay marriage became legal in Illinois. Just a week later, the marriage equality ban was struck down in Wisconsin. Due to family issues, I’m straddling the two states, living about half the week in each. Plus I grew up and went to college in Wisconsin. I have close friends in both locations. The upshot? In less than a month, I’ve attended a wedding in Illinois and the housewarming for an engaged couple in Wisconsin. At both, I’ve been one of few uncoupled guests.

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Though I’ve never previously sought single status for its own sake, I’ve also never understood why other people’s unions should be anything other than inspiring. It’s not as if the coupled have snagged the last cupcake at the bakery, the last glass of water in a drought. On the contrary, I believe love begets love. If anything, the fact that my singleness is now a strong choice should only bolster this worldview. And it does, mostly. Still, taking part in the festivities, watching my Facebook feed fill with engagement announcements, offering my opinion on what should be borrowed (underwear, always) and what should be blue (You can’t go wrong with Cookie Monster), I’m also taking stock of my own mental space.

In the aftermath of an unhappy relationship, it’s natural to crave validation. For me, there’s perhaps no stronger form than the slight dilation of a woman’s pupils, a man’s hand at my low-back; subtle clues, I’ve got them hooked. But anyone who’s gone into debt online shopping or eaten her weight in cronuts can tell you, what feels good and what’s good for you don’t always overlap. That’s where my Okcupid habit comes in. Despite my belief that being single is right for me for this moment, and at least for the next hour, not a day has passed without that stubborn mental tug:

“What’s the big deal, really? You’ve proved you can quit. No harm in signing in. Maybe you won’t even message anyone. Just take a look at who’s out there.”

Instead of succumbing (yet), I’m hanging out in my discomfort. I’m thinking of installing a hammock — maybe a standing desk. If I spend enough time here, perhaps I’ll determine what underlies my compulsion to date. Compulsion may seem strong; I’m not cashing in my 401k to score coke, still I’m testing out the belief that this is addiction nonetheless.

At the wedding I sat amidst straight and gay couples, some singles scattered throughout. In the past I think I might have felt sorry for myself. But this time what I felt was mild curiosity cut with a sort of stunned stillness. I watched a baby nurse, guests raise their glasses, four-year-olds demand cake, and a man tuck a strand of his wife’s hair behind her ear. At one point, a look of such striking intimacy passed between the newly married couple, that I felt like a Peeping Tom. These are things I want. But I don’t want them now.

Right now I want to talk on the phone at two a.m. I don’t want to check in or ask permission or temper my choices for a partner. I want to pick up whichever groceries my mom’s decided have the least to do with the Koch brothers, and finally give my tactful, supportive agent the manuscript she’s too polite to mention. I want to do yoga every night and not feel guilty for prioritizing my desires over a significant other’s. Of course all of this could be accomplished in the context of a healthy relationship. But I’m not sure I’ve managed to unite the two before.

After my last two back-to-back relationships (respectively six years and nine months) I did the kind of dating that requires spreadsheets; we’re talking an average of four first dates a week. I was on a roll. A terrible Americanized sushi roll. One with cream cheese, probably, and named after whatever city the restaurant is in. Or maybe I’m thinking about something I ate while sitting across from an Okcupid prospect. Probably not though. Maybe the men and women on Match.com can afford dinner. Okcupid gets you drinks. My goal was to land in another relationship, maybe THE relationship, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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But somewhere along the way, after a month or a day or a minute — I’m really not sure when, because of all the dating — between that and my daily hot yoga practice (I’m constantly dehydrated), I realized the faster I landed a partner, the less likely I was to find the RIGHT one. More to the point, right now the search for SOMEONE only obscures a better, more appropriate goal: finding myself.

In Milwaukee last weekend, I spent the day with one half of the engaged couple, while the other attended Pridefest. This would have been unthinkable in my last longterm relationship. For my ex-girlfriend, my lack of interest in parades was tantamount to rejection, my disgust with street drinking a personal affront. Only the Milwaukee couple themselves know their relationship’s nuances, but their healthy independence is notable from my perspective, on the outside looking in.

Not my favorite location, but the right one, for now. Still, twice this morning, I nearly activated my Okcupid account. Beneath the drive to do so, thoughts like minnows dart:

“If you’re not actively pursuing a relationship, aren’t you just wasting time? Do you even exist if you’re not central to another person? Who are you if you’re alone?”

I should probably find out, right?

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