So there I was at the Indaba Hotel with a large group of fellow guests, having my toes twiddled by therapist at the Mangwanani Spa. I’d been tidying my cupboards out (again) and, quite by chance, found a voucher which was due to expire in the next three days. I booked, went along, and spent the next five hours alternating between eating and being prodded in various mostly pleasant ways. All in all, it was one of those chance occurrences which had me wondering whether the tide is finally turning, and the generally baleful mien of the past few years is turning to a hint of a smile.
The toe-twiddling was lovely. It was such a pity, then, that my bubble of calm should be penetrated by the man next to me. Evidently, the foot massage had relaxed him to the point where he started falling asleep, a development he signalled by murmuring and muttering in eerily intimate ways that only his wife should ever be privy to. Then the snoring started. As I sat there, eyes closed, trying to focus on the physical sensation and the Relaxing Spa Music, it occurred to me that this was something I did not miss, and would probably never have to put up with again. No more snoring, or hairiness, or lecturing or bossing or haranguing or any of the things that men do.
This is because I have realised that there is no hope for me. In the broader, existential sense, the jury is still out, but when it comes to relationships, I’ve reached the conclusion that I am meant to be alone. In fact, I fully expect to be alone for the rest of my life, and one of my current ongoing tasks is to reconcile myself to that. It’s something of a return to square one, because I’d healed up and scabbed over very nicely after the Jedi Master and was perfectly happy with my own company; such a pity then that somebody with a Y chromosome did get through my defences and proceed to remind me why I was so determined not to get involved with anybody in the first place. It’s taken me a couple of months to coil all my spilled viscera back into their proper place, and I’m terrified of having to go through that kind of angst ever again.
There’s a price to be paid for protecting oneself, of course. Singlehood is considered a form of failure. I was the only one dining alone at Mangwanani last week, and I could sense a few sideways glances. But dining alone and conversing with my followers on Twitter instead is something I will have to get used to, if Kate Bolick is right. Her much-commented piece on marriage as a “declining option” for women, originally published in The Atlantic, investigates a sea change in relationships between the sexes, as women become better educated and more independent, and relationship possibilities become more limited. She acknowledges that her chances of getting married are slim. “Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a ‘good enough’ mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck.”
Falling in love and getting married again strikes me as wildly unlikely too. I’ve become completely detached from the dating scene. For one thing, I’m very wary of relationships, for obvious reasons. I retired from internet dating well over a year ago, and while there is a 22-year-old who occasionally (and bizarrely) appears to be keen, cougardom doesn’t interest me. For all intents and purposes, I have forgotten what it is like to connect with a member of the opposite sex (and by that I mean connect in the broader generic sense, not what you’re thinking). I may have a weakness for interesting men, but whether they have an interest in me is an entirely different matter.
Yes, it’s lonely. There are times when I long, not so much for sex or excitement, but for the companionship that accompanies relationships. Somebody to do stuff with, to accompany one through the comforting rituals of coupledom — movies, breakfast, weekends away. The somebody by your side in comfortable silence.
Does that have to be a significant other though? Bolick argues that in contemporary society, we elevate the status of couples to the point where we lose sight of other connections that also matter:
“The cultural fixation on the couple blinds us to the full web of relationships that sustain us on a daily basis. We are far more than whom we are (or aren’t) married to: we are also friends, grandparents, colleagues, cousins, and so on. To ignore the depth and complexities of these networks is to limit the full range of our emotional experiences.”
She is right, and I remind myself of this every day. It makes it easier to recognise the longing for connection and chemistry with a man for what it is: a hangover from a past version of myself, a force of habit that is no longer especially relevant. In letting go of the need to be in a relationship, I think I gain other things: containment, self-reliance, the ability to maintain equilibrium independently of the moods of somebody else. So the answer to the question posed in the heading is: yes. I think I knew that all along.