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How to be single

Charleston, South Carolina. Thanksgiving 2012.

It was the first of two times that year that I would spend a calendar holiday with a group of strangers. An adopted family, for just that night. We were the United Colours of Benetton, an international Rat Pack of travellers and wanderers. One guy was collecting passport stamps the way one might accumulate trading cards. (Do people still collect trading cards?). He was determined to visit every country in the world – or at least, several more before he had to return home.

I don’t remember all that much about the other people who were gathered around the dinner table that night. We were all just chatting comfortably after the meal, having done that cheesy thing earlier of sharing what we were all thankful for. We’d each pitched in and contributed some sort of foodstuff. I think I bought ice cream. Of course I did.

We were sitting around and I can’t remember what led to the topic, but a French girl, who was travelling with her friend, shared a charming expression about a toothbrush. Not two words one would normally find together in a sentence, to be sure. We were talking about love, and she said something about how she hoped that she would meet someone who would save space in his rinse cup for her toothbrush. And that would be it.

Maybe it’s a French thing. I hope it happened for her.

*

I have a friend who recently experienced the dissolution of a long relationship. He wanted to get right back in the game, wanted the company of someone else – for connection, for intimacy, for things he either wasn’t conscious he wanted or couldn’t articulate.

I helped him edit his online dating profile. I listened to his woes. And he helped me in other ways in turn. It was a fair exchange, we both agreed.

Another friend has been dipping in and out of online dating. He hasn’t shown me his profile. He ventures in when, well, I’m not sure what leads him to do it. But bad dates and low finances cause him to lay low again.

He’s slowly moving in the direction that he wants to be in, from a dating-expenses perspective. It had been really expensive for him, because he’d pay for dinner and the movie they’d go see afterwards. He’s had girls who’ve let him get the check for both, and then tell him right after the movie that they weren’t interested in seeing him again.

I told him how gobsmacked I was – not only by their behaviour, but by the fact that he pays for everything. If I catch up with someone I’ve met through the internet, at the very most they’ll pay for an alcoholic beverage. But usually it’s more like a $4.50 coffee. Which, if you listen to how people equate the price of coffee with whatever cause you could be donating that money to, is not much at all.

I will say though, that while I’ll pay for my own meal, or get the second round of drinks, I do still like it if they offer to pay. I won’t accept, but I think more favourably of them if they at least seem like they would’ve been willing to pick up the tab. I couldn’t tell you why.

So this friend was originally going to accompany me to a Meet Up thing after work on Friday. He had the desire to attend these group socialising events, but he wasn’t very comfortable going alone. He joked about having to remember how to talk to random strangers – to which I sort of arched an eyebrow. Which he couldn’t see of course, because we were instant messaging.

It just felt so baffling to me, why you would feel awkward in or over that sort of situation; to have trouble approaching and talking to someone you don’t know. It’s strange especially if you’re attending an event the very essence of which is a bunch of people who don’t know each other but who want to know each other. It’s what you’re all there to do! So what’s awkward about that?

The friend pulled out at the last minute (and I know how that sounds). He had a legitimate-enough sounding reason, although I did joke-threaten him that I wouldn’t accompany him to the next Meet Up event, which I think made him nervous. I ploughed ahead and attended the drinks alone, and this is where I have to stop describing the rest of the early evening. It turns out that if you give someone your card with your website on it, it makes it very difficult to write about them afterwards. Not that I’d have mean things to say (if you’re reading), but y’know.

*

Lately, I haven’t had a lot of time to watch movies – or maybe it’s that I’ve chosen not to spend my time watching movies. Whichever it is, I’ve instead been reading about movies – like the handful of essays about Pretty in Pink (1986), which was recently re-released on its 30th birthday.

I’ve also been consuming Cliff’s Notes versions of romantic comedies, skipping plot and characterisation and going straight for the sucker-punch. It’s sort of just happened; not something I’ve actively sought out.

Like this for instance, which I came across while going through one of the million newsletters I subscribe to. High school prom proposals. They’re so much sweeter than marriage proposals. Planned but somehow not contrived. And imbued with a very particular kind of emotion and hope that’s just so special coming from teens. It’s romantic to see hope triumph over experience, yes. But there’s something even more touching about young love and seeing people who act like they feel like their first love is going to last forever.

So of course I bawled over some of the prom proposals. Even if they did start to get a little repetitive with all the guys and their signs and whatnot.

What’s great is that even though the guys could have gone to half the trouble and still been confident that their girlfriends would say yes, they did go to the effort to make a romantic gesture that would make the asking memorable. And make her feel like she was worth it. Now that is really wonderful to see in young’uns.

*

I watched some of the video of a friend of Taylor Swift’s wedding. TS was the maid of honour. And watching it, the thought occurred to me: how weird would it be to know that millions of people are watching your wedding video simply to catch glimpses of your best friend who just happens to be super famous?

It did seem like a lovely wedding, TS aside. What’s hilarious though, is the comment to the video, which reads ‘Taylor will be getting married soon. Or at least engaged. I think Adam is end game for her & they’re so cute together.’

It’s like, who the fig is Adam? Her boyfriend’s name is Calvin!

That video prompted me to look up a song that was part of the soundtrack, which I knew to be sung by Conor Oberst. You’d recognise that voice if it were played to you backwards and underwater. From his Bright Eyes video for “First day of my life” I clicked onto Bon Iver’s “I can’t make you love me”. I made it through only 43 seconds of piano before I got sidetracked by the comments. Specifically, I was struck by how qualitatively different they were to all the snark that exists elsewhere on YouTube.

Lulu truth
It really hurts knowing the only person you will always have feelings for has no interest in you. It hurts seeing them flirt with others and giving them the attention that you wish they would give to you. (etc.)

aragorn100000
Yo I feel you. Thanks for sharing. This song is so sad but keep your head up. You will find the one you truly deserve. If he didn’t care about you, it’s because he wasn’t good enough for you. I loved that girl for 4 years before realizing I deserved better than a player like her. Stay strong!
_

Ken Moreno
I screwed up. Dammit.

Ariel Zarrin
You’re not alone man

And it wasn’t just the top comments. The rest of the page followed this pattern, uninterrupted by smirking douchery.

AnonFrenchKing
I murdered my cat and I regret it very much so I am here

rolobalb3
+AnonFrenchKing haha, cheeky

Well, almost.

*

New York magazine ran a fantastic piece by Rebecca Traister about the political power single women wield. Okay – single American women. It exposed me to a density of new, relevant (to me) ideas, manifesting as a product with real force.

Rebecca does something similar to what Amanda Hess diagnosed of Donald Trump’s twitter strategy, and why he just kills it in that medium. The trifecta of ethos, pathos, logos.

“A statement of fact, a knock to his rivals’ credibility, and an emotional outburst: bump, set, spike” Amanda says in her article.

Rebecca takes a bunch of facts I already knew, and strings them together in a way that makes them meaningful. She identifies cause and effect between things I hadn’t thought to connect. Women marrying later + becoming better educated + pursuing careers in greater numbers = more women demanding equal pay, paid family leave, and accessible reproductive healthcare, which will enable them greater control over an important aspect of their lives that could otherwise change everything, thereby allowing them to maintain their independence.

And because many young American women care about these entitlements, and these are more aggressively Bernie Sanders’ policy objectives than Hilary Clinton’s, Bernie is winning the young female vote.

This paragraph too, packs a wallop:

“By the mid-20th century, the patriotic step-back of women from the workforce after World War II ushered in a whole new brand of enforced marital domesticity, largely supported by the government. Thanks to the GI Bill, returning veterans (or at least white veterans, who were far more likely to be admitted to universities) were eligible for college educations that could propel them into the coalescing middle class. Meanwhile, the federal government underwrote loans and built up a suburban infrastructure that would house the millions of children American women were busy making. It was a neat, elliptical system. Advertisers sold both women and men on an old cult-of-domesticity-era ideal: that the highest female calling was the maintenance of a domestic sanctuary for men on whom they would depend economically. In order to care for the home, these women would rely on new products, like vacuum cleaners and washing machines, sales of which would in turn line the pockets of the husbands who ran the companies that provided these goods.”

This. Explains. Everything.

Of course, when I shared this with my Californian friend, she replied, ‘I’m familiar with all this. I took women’s history haha.’

***

It’s been four years since I was last in a relationship. As time passes, I can feel my habits and preferences grow more entrenched, and feel myself delighting ever more in being able to inhabit my own space fully and completely. I’ve even mentally mapped out my three separate holidays across the year – including a one week solo cruise trip, on which I’d do my own version of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again with a strong dose of Humans of New York thrown in.

Between then and now though, of course there have been near-misses. The odd kind of, sort of, never was. There has been fun. There has been a homemade dish I literally choked down but didn’t mind at all because I liked the guy so much. Those transactions, those moments and swathes of time, whenever they happen, remind me of just how exciting and all-consuming finding someone you like can be. Going through the dance of trying to figure them out and trying to be yourself but better and just feeling alive with the potential of it all.

There’s no other drug like it. No other thief better at stealing and holding your thoughts to ransom. Except maybe a break-up.

*

I went home with him because it felt right, because I wanted to chase this potentiality and see where it might lead. Because sometimes, when the magic is there, you want to hold it for as long as you can.

Through some unspoken agreement, I stayed the night. And learned that while he was the kind of person who would indulge a girl by snagging her some midnight leftover cake and could be persuaded into taking a bite, he was very much the kind of person who, regardless of the night’s events, still insisted on brushing his teeth before bed.

My Cali friend swears by the notion that if you sleep with a guy on the first date, you’re fucked. Metaphorically. That he won’t see you as girlfriend or wife material. The way I figured it, we just did things backwards. We followed up the night with brunch the following morning.

Whatever it was that doomed this not-relationship to failure, the sign had been there from the start and I just refused to heed it.

He used an electric toothbrush, but somehow he managed to find a new regular toothbrush for me. I watched him pry it out of the packaging and everything. When I was done with it, he said he’d just throw it out.

We began to see each other on a semi-regular basis. He stayed over a few times, and I wound up returning the favour, breaking out a new toothbrush of my own. I have one of those toothbrush holders with four holes in it, and although it was still uncertain times, I kept the toothbrush he used in that holder for the next time he was over. I even briefly pondered whether I should stand his toothbrush diametrically opposite mine, or next to it, in this 2×2 hole holder.

It was a few months characterised by bouts of ‘I can’t do this’ (him), neuroticism (him… and eventually me), and tentative restarts. When the last day came, it took weeks for it to dawn that this was it. That after weeks of him coming and going, trying and giving up, that he had gone and was not coming back.

Through those weeks of uncertainty though, I’d kept what had become his toothbrush in my holder. When it became clear that this was The End and there would not be another encore like all the times before, I removed his toothbrush from the holder. And I threw it out, like he had mine right from the beginning.

***

From Season 5, Episode 5.14 “Say Something”.

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