It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are a single woman in your mid 30s, people -- friends near and far, family members, strangers in shopping malls ... okay, maybe not strangers in shopping malls -- feel honour bound to ask you the dreaded question.
"Are you dating? Who are you dating? Are you in a relationship? Who are you seeing?"
As though the answer to this question sums up your life. As though your happiness is defined through and by your answer in the affirmative. So you can imagine how it unhinges people when I say, "Well, no, actually, I'm not dating, or in a relationship, and I'm not particularly seeing anyone."
A few months ago I was discussing this with a very dear friend, and he mentioned that he thinks that single (and divorced) women are judged more harshly than single men. A single man is playing the field -- his friends think he's the man. If he's divorced, he "escaped". A single woman (especially a divorced, childless, single woman) is thought to be somewhat desperate and sad. She did not escape, she is somehow abandoned. If she dates a lot? She's not slapped on the back and congratulated. She's whispered about and called a whore.... or if she doesn't date very much, she's considered to be looking for a man with whom to have children in what is presumably her waning years of fertility.
He's insightful, my friend.
Because I can see that truth in the eyes of the everyone who wants to know what my relationship status is -- and when I say, "I'm single" those eyes reflect pity and I'm frequently patted on the arm, gently, as though I'm a kitten who needs soothing, and I inevitably hear "The right one will come along," or "Have you tried one of those dating sites?" or "Maybe you just need to get out more."
I just smile, because I know something that the arm-patters of the world don't know, and that is this: the right person may show up -- or not -- but I'm not pining my days away. I have tried a dating site, once upon a time, only to have it match me with a slew of married men. I don't have to pay money for that service, thanks. And I get out as often as I wish to.
I also know this: alone does not equal lonely.
It can, I know. But it doesn't always. Sometimes alone means that you can listen to your music as loudly as you want to for no obvious reason. It means there's no compromise on where you want to go out to dinner -- feel like Indian food? Indian it is! Bring it on! (And please, for the love of all that is holy, don't think that it means you can't go out to eat. You CAN go out to dinner. All by yourself. Just bring a book and a whole lot of "I'm so fabulous that I love my own company enough to eat with me in public.") Sometimes alone means you've learned to be fully comfortable in your own, gorgeous, geeky, glamourous skin.
Next time someone asks, I'm going to tell them: I'm a party of one.
Emphasis on the "party."