(Warning: the following is not gender-neutral. Not because I’m a big insensitive jerk, but because writing that way is surprisingly hard. Please read with whatever pronouns you love best.)
It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, friends! I know, I know. Every year, I preach about how we should use this “holiday” (such as it is) to celebrate much more than our romantic relationships, so I’ll keep this year’s tirade brief. But. Remember in grade school, when everyone in your class got a Valentine? Even the fat girl everyone made fun of got a card and some conversation hearts. (That was me, by the way – not that I’m bitter.) I try sometimes to remember at what point in our childhoods Valentine’s Day stopped being about everyone, and started being about The One. It’s a travesty, if you ask me. I miss conversation hearts.
As God and Hallmark intended, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about love. Which, in turn, means thinking about my darling Hubs. Not long ago, we had a pretty big anniversary – the kind that makes you sit back and think about all you’ve been through together. And phew…have we been through some shit. Sure, I might occasionally want to strangle him with the dirty socks he leaves on the floor, but when I think about what we’ve survived together during the last decade-plus? We are most definitely MFEO.
And yet. It took me forever to find him. Or at least it felt like forever. Single Me thought I was going to die waiting. Single Me chased bad idea after bad idea, hoping I could browbeat Not It into being The One. Single Me sat home, listening to Sarah McLachlan, watching marathons of Meg Ryan movies and convincing myself I’d never find love. Single Me was the original Bridget Jones. (With a mental picture like that, I know it’s hard to imagine why Single Me wasn’t more successful on the dating market.)
And so, without resorting to black hearts or Anna Howard Shaw, I thought I’d share a few things I wish I could have told Single Me while she was sitting on the floor of her apartment getting down and dirty with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Not that she would have listened.
Single is not a disease to be cured. It’s a chapter in your book. And whether it lasts 5 days or 50 years, there’s no pause button to hit while you’re waiting for The One. So, get to work enjoying the unattached life – it’s awesome! Go on a week-long meditation retreat, make new friends, sit in a bookstore for hours, take a class, make out with a stranger, move to Spain for a month…all things you’ll probably never do once you’re paired off. Youth is wasted on the young, and singledom is wasted on people who are too depressed about not being coupled to actually enjoy being single.
Likewise, despite what every romantic comedy ever made would have you believe, being coupled isn’t the end of the story either. It’s just another chapter. Hopefully a long, epic chapter filled with Great Love and unforgettable adventures, but still. I know, you’re looking at paired-off people and assuming their lives are settled and everything is perfect. Trust me: they don’t sprinkle magic dust on you up at the altar. Those coupled people are working just as hard as you at finding their way.
Speaking of working hard, when you’re out there auditioning possible mates (and remember, the audition process goes both ways, friends), ask yourself this: who would I want in my corner? If the going was really, really rough – and at some point on your long road, it will be – would this person have my back? Would they hold my hand during the ugly parts? If they came in a room and saw me curled up in a ball of frustration and fear, would they know whether to pick me up and dust me off or plop down next to me and hand me another brownie? Trust me: that’s the person you want.
Of course, that all makes sense in principle. But in practice, when you’re out there cruising Tinder (purely for research purposes, of course), how on earth can you tell whether the person whose children you’re mentally preparing to have is a person worth giving your life to?
Well, for starters, it won’t look like it does in the movies. (Spoiler alert!) In real life, the one you have to chase is almost never The One. Nope, you want the guy who’s doing everything he can think of to get your attention. The guy who calls when he says he will and shows up on time. Because I promise you this: after a few months, “dependable and smitten” looks a lot sexier than “exciting and unpredictable”.
Marry the guy who wishes he could afford to buy you diamonds. Whether or not he ever gets rich, generosity is harder to find than money.
Maybe most important of all, marry the guy who tries. The one who brings over soup when you’re sick, and makes sure you never run out of chocolate. The one who buys you a tin of Altoids for your anniversary, because he bothered to look up what gift you’re supposed to get for #10, and fancy gifts made of tin are hard to come by. (Don’t worry…I got the diamonds too.)
And once you find the person who does all that? For god’s sake, hold on tight.
Remember that just as real love doesn’t look like the movies, real marriage doesn’t look like a sitcom. So, leave your carping fishwife routine at the door and keep the nagging nice – he’s your partner, not your royal subject.
Take a deep breath before you start screaming – the things that make your head most likely to spin off into another dimension are almost never the Really Big Things, so just be sure the punishment fits the crime.
And every so often, buy the matching undies.
Well. That’s just about everything I know on the subject. What about you? What’s the best advice you’d give your single self?