The funny thing about being single in your late twenties is that people suddenly feel like they can – and should – give you advice. As if being single is some horrible disease and with the right combination of positive thinking and flat-out refusal to accept the diagnosis, you’ll be cured. It is so ridiculously fucked up that I’m not even really going to address it, except to say this: Back off. I mean it.
But the problem is, if you’re single and don’t really necessarily want to stay that way forever, you have to do something. Dating is up there with flat hunting and applying to new jobs in my Top 3 Most Demoralising Experiences on Earth, so that’s out. I’m bad at it anyways. I just want to get past the bullshit and be able to talk, and dating just seems to be rehashing the same boring bullshit small talk over and over and over. I’ve been on one good date in my life, and I’m 99% certain the reason it was good was because we both knew I was leaving.
However, clearly the way I’m doing things isn’t working, so I got on the phone with my best friend to try to sort this issue out/ask for her help. You see, she is the person who can consistently tell me why a relationship is going to end – but doesn’t. She knows me well enough to know I’m basically not going to do shit just because somebody else says I should, so she keeps her mouth shut. Which means she both knows me well enough to know what I need and she knows that it’s very different from what I want. So when it came time to try to figure this out, she was a natural person to talk to. And what she said was that kind of lightbulb moment that you see in cartoons when suddenly everything is illuminated.
“Sarah, the thing is, I think every girl is raised on the dream that a guy will change for them. But the thing with you is, they always change for you, at least for a little while. They try, and you see that and that’s the image of them you keep in your head. I know a lot of girls who will date douchebags because they’re smart and driven, and you at least know how to pick nice guys, so you’ve got the hard part down.”
She said that and it was like – yes. Yes, that’s exactly how it goes. I feel like I’m constantly dating guys who have to try – try to be what I want, try to keep up, try try try. They try past their natural inclination, and then orders of magnitude past that. And then they’re exhausted, but I’ve seen what they seem capable of and I keep pushing. And when they go back to who they naturally are, I get confused. And I push. And each time it doesn’t work, I get more frustrated until it all falls apart.
And I’m tired. I am. I’m so tired of feeling like I need to help somebody become. I’ve got my own work to do, my own set of things to work towards. I no longer have the emotional energy to put towards their becoming. I want to see proof now. I want to see that they have laid the groundwork.
But let’s be honest: I’m a sucker for the chrysalis stage. Becoming is fascinating, and if you add in a cute smile and good banter, I’m done. So I’m not doing this on my own anymore. A few trusted friends have been notified (in writing, because there’s nothing I love so much as a legally unenforceable contract) and we’ll see where things go from here. Maybe it’ll be a failed experiment, but the next time something sparks, I want to see if it’ll catch without me constantly fanning the flames.
So, as is usually the case when I have writer’s block or otherwise feel like procrastinating, I’m watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. It’s funny, this movie is one of my favourites – it’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s sweet (even if Mr. Darcy should be voted the Romantic Lead Most Likely To Make Me Want To Strangle Him with his creepy staring and inability to actually interact like a normal human being).
Well, I actually had to pause the movie after watching the scene where Charlotte announces her engagement. Lizzie protests (“But he’s ridiculous!”) and Charlotte shuts her down with the line above.
Well, can we all just pause and say a brief prayer of thanks that this isn’t a concern anymore? I mean, I’m 27. I have no job, no money, no boyfriend…pretty much nothing but cats and student loan debt. But there is nothing in the world that could pressure me into marrying somebody as atrocious as some of the men in this movie. (Bingley is silly but sweet, Darcy…well, if he’d stop being such a creep, he’d be okay. The rest of them? Pah!)
I was talking to a friend about this last night. I feel a little too old for some of the stuff I had patience for the last time I was single. Internet dating? No thanks. Putting up with weird conversation just to give somebody a chance? Nope, not for me. Letting myself fall for somebody who doesn’t actually want a similar life to the one I want? Sorry, thanks for playing. Next!
I’m not old. I turn 28 this month, and it feels good. Like turning 27, turning 28 feels like it’s exactly right. My late 20s fit me in a way the rest of my 20s didn’t, and I’m so so thankful for that. I’m thankful for a family that was supportive when I quit my job to go back to school. I’m thankful for friends – single, dating, and married – who give me great examples of how great life can be at any stage. I’m thankful for everybody in my life who taught me the world is a large, exciting place and I can explore it if I want to. Because the thing is, I want to. I want to explore every corner of the Earth and I want to experience everything it has to offer, and I want that excitement now.
I have incredible friends that have chosen to settle down young, to get married and have kids and get a mortgage and do the things that adults do. This is the exciting part of life for them, this is what they want, and I’m thrilled for them. And when I disappear to yet another country, when I make yet another decision purely on the basis that it felt right and I’m responsible for nobody but myself and my cats, so why not? They’re excited for me.
And so I’m eternally grateful that I don’t live in a time where this is a weird thing, or a looked-down-upon thing. Because I’m in love with the life I am building, and it’s the kind of life that could only happen now.
Sometimes I think we all have a secret super power. Something we’re eerily good at that most people aren’t. Maybe you can figure out a recipe just by tasting the food, or you’ve never misheard a song lyric in your life. I get guys I’m not dating to propose to me.
There is something about me that makes guys see white picket fences. Babies. Fights over who did the laundry last time and, seriously, could you please just remember to take out the trash today? Please? It is the most bizarre and confusing superpower I have ever come across.
Confusing because, once they’re actually with me, these guys decide that no…they’d really rather not. No joke, I have had four guys propose to me, all claiming to be asking in earnest. Their plans for the future have ranged from the honest admission that “I don’t actually know what I’d do if you said yes. I’d be happy, but I don’t have it, like, planned out or anything…” to elaborately thought-out transcontinental lives. All of them involve children. And what’s funny is that sometimes I can actually picture what life would be like if I settled down with them. And all of them are very different visions of myself.
Transcontinental friend – I’d be a stay at home mom. I’d write, I’d take the kids to school, we’d cook dinner together. I’d look the part of the nerdy housewife, all jeans and Doctor Who t-shirts and MST3K jokes.
Football player – hahaha, just no. I lied. I couldn’t picture this life because it was just such a bizarre experience.
The guy who proposed less than 30 seconds after learning my name (and again later) – We’d work our asses and never see each other. What overlapping free time we had would be spent being super lazy. I’d write, I’d write a ton, in part because just being around him was so tempestuous that I’d never lack for material. I’d dye my hair crazy colours, I’d get a few more tattoos, I’d be in jeans and black band t-shirts most of the time.
The ex – It’d be nuts. He brings out the crazy in me and we’d alternate between having a lot of fun and me getting frustrated with having to manage his life and mother him. We’d run a business together. He’d be the more hands-on parent. I’d have short purple hair and pink hair and blue hair and full sleeves of tattoos and maybe even a tan.
I could be any of these women, with varying degrees of happiness. Truly, I contain multitudes.
But that’s the funny thing. I can be so many things and be happy doing so many things that it’s almost hard to pick a partner because that’s picking a life. It’s saying, “Not only am I choosing you instead of anybody else on the planet, I’m choosing the person I am with you.” It’s not that we won’t all change and grow in our lives, but once you pick a partner, you decide to grow with them, which may not be a direction you’d be inclined towards on your own. And that freaks me out. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of being with somebody long-term, but choosing a self?
Or I could just wait until I find a guy that accepts my multitudes and would be fine with me being a writer with short purple hair and only a couple of tattoos who can still host a dinner party and rock jeans or a cocktail dress as the occasion demands.
Yeah. I like that option.
I’m 17 and in love with a boy in Australia. He visits Singapore every other month and we spend our days together, late mornings to nights so late they turn into mornings. We eat together, we laugh together. We wander around Far East Plaza and break into the gardens above Lido together.
When we go to the roof of Far East Plaza for him to smoke, he kisses me when he’s done. He doesn’t taste like ash. All of the commercials say that kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray, but that’s not true. It tastes like him. It takes like tobacco and sweetness and smoke – his kiss is like the crisp edge of a marshmallow left in the fire too long.
When we break up, the smell of his cigarettes brings me to tears. I cry openly in public, face red and splotchy, not even trying to hide behind my hands. He broke up with me in public, on the steps outside of Tang’s, facing Orchard Road. I think I’m allowed to cry in public now, too. I do not know what he smokes, what plastic-wrapped foil packet brings my emotional demise, but it must be common. I smell it all the time.
I’m 18 and still in love with a boy in Australia who broke my heart in public, but I am recovering. I am taking my time and talking with friends and enjoying myself. I am sitting in a dive bar six nights a week, drinking water most nights because I am too broke to buy booze. My friends are all there, behind the bar, playing pool, parked on the barstools. I am the only non-smoker.
I am 8 months into what will be a life-long relationship with cardiologists, beta blockers, and constant lectures on the importance of heart health, and I am bitter. I don’t even want to smoke, but I resent that my friends have the choice and I don’t. When we sit at the bar, I am in the middle of them, cigarettes lit, smoke clinging to my clothes as much as it does theirs.
When they have to exhale, they all lean back, the petals of our adolescent flower opening out, blooming, while I sit in the middle, watching the smoke rise to the ceiling and be pulled into the fan.
I am 20 and in love with a farm boy from Virginia who says “darlin'” and helps his dad hide guns from his mother. He is an ex-smoker, having decided that if the choices were be able to smoke or be with me, he wanted me. Before we dated, when his friend was attacked and he needed to calm down, I gave him the only pack of cigarettes I’ve ever bought. He needed them then. Now he needs me.
Facebook is still new, still novel, and photo albums are exciting and new. I am flipping through pictures of him from his long weekend at another school when I see it. He is standing, laughing, red Solo cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
I think I can smell it on him when I see him, though it’s been days since it happened. We get in a fight about it, one of the few where both of us yell, and it is terrifying. I can’t smell cigarettes on him, I can’t smell anything but his cologne, I don’t want to know what the two smell like together. I win, though. He doesn’t have another cigarette until he moves out of the house we share four years later.
I’m 25 and in love with the life I have created in the wake of the break-up with my farm boy. We are still friends, still talking, still cracking jokes, but learning the new tension points. We’re testing our new kind of relationship, our friendship-with-a-history. We would not even be friends if it were not for cigarettes. His father is dying, the haze of unfiltered Camels that clouded his parents’ front porch for years has made its effects known.
I visit his father for the last time a week before he dies, and the thing that is weirdest about the house is not the sense of death creeping closer, it is the clean smell of farm air without tobacco. When I hug his father, his curly beige hair no longer carries the lingering smell of his cigarettes. His smell is gone, there is no more nicotine-infused sweat, just the smell of exhaustion and pajamas worn too long.
He has changed physically, but that difference flares up and fades away quickly, a magnesium flare leaving a brief after-image superimposed on his body, and then it is just him – tissue paper skin, strong bones, and a frustrated laugh. But his smell is gone, and, soon, so is he.
I’m 27 and in love with a guy who reminds me of the boy from Australia. A few days in and I’m already familiar with the way cigarettes taste on my new paramour’s lips and tongue, the way his kiss burns just a little. He promises to quit, tells me it’s easy, I shouldn’t be impressed. He’s a non-smoker now. Simples.
I wonder if it’ll still feel like him when we kiss, if my heart will still race when he doesn’t taste like the fire I feel in my veins when he’s around. Will he be somebody new when my eyes are closed? Will I have to check and see who I’m kissing? I worry that he will taste wrong, taste off, and I am secretly disappointed that he has quit.
The night he tells me it’s simple, we go out and he steals a cigarette from a friend. He won’t let his friend drink and smoke, he says, pulling the packet from his friend’s shirt pocket. It’s dangerous. He takes a cigarette as a fine and returns the pack to his buddy. When I don’t smile, he pouts. It was funny, he tells me, Irish accent thick with three shots of tequila and an addict’s longing for a fix. Laugh. I force a laugh. What I don’t see, what I can’t see yet, is that the only thing that’s simple for him to quit is me.
I’ve only ever had my fortune told once.
We were in a bar sometime past 2 o’clock in the morning, celebrating the success of our masters program’s first public reading. A friend had been lying down on a bench and using my chest for a pillow and suddenly she sat up.
“If somebody buys me a drink, I’ll tell their fortune.”
This is, perhaps, not what you expect when you think of getting your fortune told. Maybe you, like me, think of tarot cards or a dark room and a woman draped in velvet and peacock feathers. But this is what life presented me with. After all, I’d never had my fortune told, and I’d especially never had my fortune told by a drunk poet. And how many people can say that’s happened to them? (Sidenote: This is something you’ll run into frequently with me. If it’s absurd/rare, I am game.)
I asked about my writing and then, panicked, thought maybe I’d been too specific.
“Was that too much? Should I just ask about love? Fine. Will I ever fall in love again?”
My poet medium looked at me. After answering the question about writing, she addressed love. She was almost reluctant, almost amused, almost – well, almost I’m not quite sure what.
“Oh, God, that’s a no face. That’s a no, isn’t it? Okay, it’s cool.”
I was almost resigned. I’m 27, I’ve got two failed relationships under my belt (in the sense that, despite what we thought was going to happen, they did not end in marriage), I am working on being totally okay with being single again. Single life, when done right, is wonderful. The last time I was single, I got my life set up just exactly how I wanted it. I was seeing my friends all the time, I was playing Ultimate and learning to rock climb. I traveled when and where I wanted. I worked my butt off and never had anybody complain that I was late for the third time that week. These are wonderful things. They were wonderful at 25 and they’ll be wonderful again soon.
But they’re not wonderful yet. So when she looked at me, I was worried. No more love? That’s it?
“No! I mean, yes. Yes you’ll fall in love. And it’ll fucking ambush you.”
She laughed. This is a girl who knows some of my most ridiculous stories, who had just heard me read about a broken heart 6 hours before. She held my palm, her fingers baby soft, and looked into the air just past my head as if watching a movie play out.
“You’ve got one more love. And it’ll be delightful. Six months. And it’ll take you completely by surprise.”
“Wait, it’ll only last six months? Or it’ll happen in six months?”
“It’ll happen sometime in the next six months. And you’ll never expect it when it happens.”
I’d never had my fortune told before not because I didn’t want to know but because I never believed that it was possible. The future isn’t some pre-written script we’re following, and I don’t know that I think anybody can see what will happen. But I also know how it felt when she held my hand and looked just past me, and it felt honest and connected and real. So we’ll see how it goes. At any rate, no matter what happens in my love life, in six months I won’t be any worse off than I am right now. But apparently things could get a whole lot better.