I might be being too presumptuous but, I think that, for those of us in the singleness club (and I mean truly single, not dating but unmarried), there are two dominate phases we oscillate between: singleness angst and singleness bliss.
I know that when most people hear the word “angst” they think of teenage angst, but singleness angst is more existential. Like the angst Jean Paul Sartre or Albert Camus write about as they stare into the abyss of ultimate responsibility. Singleness angst is when one honestly stares into the emptiness and loneliness of singleness, facing the sad reality that there is no one in your life who you are deeply, intimately connected to.
The best way to illustrate it is with an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale. During my undergrad years, I strung together her most poignant passages into this sort of prose poem for singles:*
“You can wet the rim of a glass and run your finger around the rim and it will make a sound. This is what I feel like: this sound of glass. I feel like the word shatter. I want to be with someone…
Can I be blamed for wanting a real body, to put my arms around? Without it I too am disembodied. I can listen to my own heartbeat against the bedstrings, I can stroke myself, under the dry white sheets in the dark, but I too am dry and white, hard, granular; it’s like runny my hand over a plateful of dried rice; it’s like snow. There’s something dead about it, something deserted. I am like a room where things once happened and now nothing does, except the pollen of the weeds that grow up outside the window, blowing in as dust across the floor…
If I thought this would never change I would die.
But that’s wrong, nobody dies from lack of sex. It’s lack of love we die from. There’s nobody here I can love, all the people I could love are… elsewhere…They might as well be nowhere, as I am for them. I too am a missing person…”
This is singleness angst.
It is much more than a petty desire for romantic thrill or lust. It’s more than disappointment that you aren’t satisfying your own desire to have a husband/wife and kids or fulfilling your family’s expectation for you to be married. It is the feeling that the depth of your potential to love another person intimately, to give of yourself to another person, is being wasted.
This phase is a bit self-pitying and despairing but there is an element of truth to it. Thankfully, most of us, don’t live here. Singleness isn’t so entirely lonely. So we eventually move on to singleness bliss which, at least for me, lasts significantly longer.
Singleness bliss is when our freedom and independence fills us with a joyous sense of infinity. We feel that our potential to love is not being wasted but that we are more free to spread it around, that we’re able to deeply connect with many people instead of simply one.
Of the two phases, I feel that this is the most dangerous. It is where pickup artists and their female counter parts try to live. It is when I am the most impossible: entertaining my most absurd crushes on men I could never actually fall in love with, surrounding myself with unavailable men and finding myself implying, when around men who seem interested in me, that I’m emotionally unavailable. Truth be told, I am emotionally unavailable during these times. I’m too deeply in love with my own freedom and feelings of self-sufficiency to be available to anyone else.
This phase isn’t entirely selfish, and deluded (though clearly it is somewhat). There is a genuine joy in being happy and at ease with one’s self. It is also true that, when single, you have more time and energy to invest in more relationships. You are able to connect to more people. This can be very rewarding.
But one of the hazards of bliss is that we feel a fierce desire to protect it to prolong the feeling. When our bliss is being derided from our independence and freedom, we can become so protective of these qualities that our relationships are injured or hindered. Genuine love and relationships, even friendships, involve interdependence and compromise. Both of which threaten our radical freedom and independence.
Another danger to singleness bliss is vulnerability. Whenever you’re vulnerable there is a risk that you will get hurt, that would definitely be a buzz kill. So it becomes instinctual to avoid being too emotionally vulnerable with even your family or friends, let alone anyone else.
As a result, during this phase your relationships can begin to become either one-sided or shallow. Usually, you aren’t really thinking about any of this. You’re just riding the thrill of your emotions, indulging the silliness and sappiness of happiness that avoids seriousness.
As a passionate person, I enjoy cycling through these phases. Riding the waves of passions that carry me between the two. Usually my friends indulge me and are amused by the extremity of my emotional sentiments (especially during singleness bliss, I usually have some great crush stories-my flare for storytelling can make even the simplest of exchanges seem momentous).
The older I get, the more I realize that indulging either of these phases for too long can be destructive to myself and all my relationships. It is also a great hindrance to dating when I oscillate so much between either despairing that my world is entirely inhabited by unavailable men or, am so in love with my freedom, I make myself unavailable to men.
My continual battle is negotiating a middle ground for myself between these two phases. I’m finding that the best way to do this is through maintaining and cultivating healthy and dynamic relationships. Genuine connectivity and close friendships not only help me to feel less wasted, but they also counterbalance my idealized image of myself as radically free.
*I’ve taken some liberty with this excepts, you might say that I’ve customized her words for myself reordering the structure a little, adding or altering a few words as needed.