I got an email from a friend today that she termed a collective response to my most recent posts. Actually, she called it “a rant.”
My closest girlfriends–and, perhaps, the world–can basically be divided into three categories: those in serious relationships, those who have recently left serious relationships, and those who, like me, have been more or less single for longer than they care to discuss and, some days, can actually believe/understand.
This friend belongs to the last category. Like me, she had one super-serious, epic relationship early on and has dated regularly since, but without anything that’s gone beyond a few months.
In her “rant” she expressed frustration with how long it is taking her to “get over” the guy she most recently dated–someone she knows is critically flawed but still feels attached to her connection with. “Or,” she wrote, “am I just editorializing in retrospect so that I don’t have to be a 27 year old woman/girl who hasn’t had a real relationship since she was 20-21?”
That question hit home. As I go about recklessly attaching and detaching myself from less than worthy male objects, it’s something I frequently wonder: am I actually interested in this guy, or are my emotions really just the product of having gone so freaking long without a boyfriend?
It can be a difficult distinction to suss out.
I recently hung out with a male friend who, in the last year, got out of a really long relationship and is actively dating again. I asked him what he thinks the most important thing is, for him, to find in a partner. He delivered a highly thoughtful and articulate response about the balance between shared interests and independence, and how crucial it is for a woman in his life to be supportive rather than threatened by his many hobbies.
And then, logically, he asked me the same thing–what’s the most important thing that I look for.
“Um, I have no idea,” I said.
He was baffled. “Really?” he asked. “You asked me that question and you haven’t got your own answer?”
I told him, honestly, that I hadn’t realized it when I asked, but now that the tables were turned I had to admit it was true: I’m really not sure what I’m looking for.
“I guess that’s the problem,” I said.
The thing that I realized at that moment, and that I thought of when I got that email this morning, is that the downside of long term singledom goes beyond eating alone and chronic third-wheeldom: it’s that the only way to learn what you do want is to recognize what you don’t.
I’ve certainly had enough encounters with guys to learn some lessons–applying them, it would generally seem, is more often the problem.
But, as I told my flummoxed friend and as I’ve written before, I’ve only had one experience of true, long-term committed partnership. The fact that I was so young–and that my partner, frankly, was so much older–makes that experience pretty singular. Sure, I learned things about myself and about love generally, but I’m not sure I learned enough to fully shape my approach to relationships moving forward.
And of course I have some ideas about what is important to me in person and a partnership. I have some ideas about what isn’t so important. But they’re ideas, not firmly held beliefs.
Which, though it can be confusing, might not be such a terrible thing after all.