Talking with a beautiful, accomplished, interesting single woman invariably always comes around to one thing these days. We talk about being single in the most economically and politically unstable situation we can think of.
Really, who gives a shit about your being single if you are beautiful and accomplished and making money? What more do you want? You want to be a fucking partner as well? Is that what you’re destined for? You want to be in a fulfilling and fucking intellectually exciting fucking relationship with fucking on top? Like, fuck us for wanting that. How embarrassing for us to cry about it. Feminism’s fault, et cetera. Want your cake and eat it too, huh. Now look who’s beautiful and sad and has to fucking regret not getting on their knees for their childhood sweetheart when he wanted them. That is to say: it feels like a bourgeois complaint. But there are single women across all the economic strata, and as we get older, we get a little more aware that it’s not just the men who have no time for us any more.
One should strictly not complain or agonize about this around people in long term stable relationships. It invites guilt: all my friends in long term relationships tend to complain about how confined you feel in a relationship with responsibilities, mortgages, how you cannot just go out and protest when you must think about a babysitter. How you can’t just drop the bullshit of the day and go watch a movie by yourself and tell no one – because it’s rude and inconsiderate if you live with another hard-working individual who relies on you. I often sit by myself, in the centre of a cinema in the middle of the day, taking up room, dressed in the most outlandish outfit, watching the weirdest most pointless film I could possibly have chosen, all because my time is my own and also – so is my money. These are the freedoms singledom gives me. It makes me feel powerful in public. It makes me feel strong. I like it. It’s mine.
But in private, when you’re single and past the twenty-somethings, there isn’t really anyone around to hear the private agonies of holding up patriarchal capitalism. We all babysit that mess of a baby. The emotional labour of actually getting up and acting and striving for others is a shared responsibility, and the secularisation of society means that religious buildings are no longer the place many people regularly must go to for social relief. Forums and social networks have tried to become the place you might go but nothing is as good as a voice and a face. Sometimes your single friends can help you out with money troubles and a friendly ear. But there are much fewer of them than there have ever been now I’m over thirty.
The social net, as you get older, gets smaller, and it gets smaller specifically because people are getting married and having children – if it’s the only way out of this and into a private confession booth, yes, god yes, do it, do it I don’t blame you, escape, god escape, you have my full blessing. And if those relationship people do have time to listen to the privileged singles, they are distracted and stressed because they are already taking on a serious workload of full time emotional labour for another person, twenty-four hours a day, and sometimes the life of an even needier human being they made together. I emphasise: participating in these rigid relationship structures is soothing and reassuring (if it’s safe and stable for you to say in them, which is a whole other thing), but it requires that some people lose out. When I’ve been in relationships before, I simply didn’t think that through well enough. It’s not meant to be kind to everyone. It’s meant to coax people into a neat unit that self-repairs so you can go on being a nice wee cog. That can be dangerous for women who might economically depend on a partner too: how do you leave this little state-ordained machine when it’s no longer good for you? And, oh god, what of single parents who must bear this strange singledom with other little humans to provide for?
All this single isolation is probably exacerbated by the experience of working from home. As Eddie Izzard is fond of saying, you can’t flirt in the break room when you work from home, just like if you’re a beekeeper you can’t flirt with the bees all day, unless… well I guess bees might be personable if you weren’t stealing their honey as an actual job.
Still more of my friends are so so successful they literally can’t spare any time to talk, and some of them are so floored by the UK and US’s awful political and economic regimes they are struggling to get by. I do my best to help, but sometimes I can’t bear to tell them in all my dumb luck coasting-along that maybe I might feel a little isolated myself. I mean one of the worst things about the political situation is that you can feel paralysed by guilt at all times of day: while reading the news, while buying a coffee, while really enjoying yourself, while simply issuing an invoice, even if you are actively trying to change it and bear the brunt of the shitty political outcome responsibly, through action, every day. You feel guilty asking anyone for help because everyone’s this precarious mess-shack of sticks barely holding against a constant piss-torrent of fucking fuck. God, cling to each other as best you can. I love seeing you all get married. I love hearing from you at any time of day. Do anything you can to be alive.
There is a small social gap I personally am occupying, I think. It’s probably common to a lot of single men and women in their thirties these days (although, I do think there are less of the single men, which is probably part of another problem that some people attribute to a mix of education and sexism, but that’s a really long other thing and I don’t have time). One solution that society presents is to get a therapist. This does work: however, you have to be home all the time to go to one regularly, and you also need to put aside quite a lot of money. The only other real answer the current society presents for the globally hyperactive Cara-bot is to get a boyfriend.
I don’t know if I like that answer. I am aware that this is as designed. This is not, as far as the heteromandatory patriarchy is concerned, a bug. It is a feature. And I would like it to go fuck itself. Because all I do all day is daydream about how fantastic it would be to be wildly in love, and that’s part of a need to be distracted by intimacy with someone, which will take me away from the dreadful fuckstorm outside my window that I go into every day wearing only a little windbreaker from Superdry. Admittedly I should get a better coat. But it isn’t too much to ask to want some bro around who actually wants to build things instead of break stuff or steal stuff or just generally try to suck out your professional contacts with a lukewarm intimation that one day, when he’s ready, you might get to see one part of him unclothed like in a particularly devilish D.H. Lawrence story. (You won’t. D.H. Lawrence is dead and so are his men.)
In the latest bout of this kind of conversation with beautiful, accomplished, interesting woman, I think, incredulously, about how completely incredible this other woman is and how I haven’t met a male match as good as she deserves and… oh so secretly, as not to look weak, or anti-feminist, wants. She needs a guy to be the exciting intellectual powerhouse she is. She needs a guy who complements her as a running mate. And I have never met a ready and available one that has even a fraction of her vast intellectual rigour and warm manners and charismatic enquiries. And this is the other thing that is inadequate about the world we have built. We ask that men care about the economy, and that they care about the public arena of work. But powerful men whose voices are actually listened to in the public arena don’t ask other men to take care of intimacy and emotional labour in others. We absolutely do not require it from them as a society. They are only to give this stuff under guise of a relationship – and even then less than a woman gives. This truly is the economy of scarcity, but not in the way that Dr Nerdlove or the UK government talks about it. There is a particular capacity that I think about and it isn’t related to how long it will be before orgasm. It is entirely unrelated to sex.
Sometimes I fantasise about being wildly in love, and I wonder if it is boredom, or whether it is something much more plaintive. It’s probably that we thought that feminism would necessarily require that men become as warm to each other and us as we to them, as well as able to hold up the world, as we do. And the worst part is that women can and do do it all alone, letting everyone off the hook. We are single with all the other valkyries next to us under the globe, triceps flinching, screaming and crying and laughing; no energy to even look each other’s way. But when we do, it is such a fucking relief. It feels like shutting the barn door against a gale and hearing it howl against the walls.
Christ. There really is nothing like leaning back, and stretching your arms over those empty red velvet cinema seats and knowing you are all alone.