I’m a watcher. I observe and take in everything around me. My eyes will lazily wander over faces while my mind, reading their emotions, wonders who they are. There’s a couple in front of me on the sidewalk. They seem to be about my age. Perfectly paired with similar height and build. She’s wearing a green skirt that swishes and sways as she walks just about two steps behind him. I find myself staring at her skirt as it flounces behind. Her clipped gait easily maintaining the slight distance between them. At the stop light, she pulls up short; he edges forward just a hair. Just enough. I bring myself to the edge of the curb and glance over at them. She is frowning and he is looking up at the sky. I wonder if she walks behind him on purpose or if she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. I think about the other couples I saw on the metro. One pair, long-limbed and athletic looking. Him wearing a garish red plaid shirt and down vest. Her in brown riding boots and a gray flannel coat. He paused outside the sliding doors to wait for her to exit the car, grabbed her hand and kissed her softly. Another couple, who I didn’t know were a couple until he gingerly leaned over and kissed her cheek, right before heading in the opposite direction on the escalator. I take all of this in and think about the last time someone kissed me. I almost can’t remember. Then, it rises up like a fog in my memory. There’s a dark hallway in a sparsely furnished apartment. Both of us standing before each other, knowing it would be the last time it happened. I remember the last time I kissed someone. It was rushed and insincere. Not really landing how it should have. Not really belonging to him at all. It was just the next motion to complete in our series of fumbled movements. None of them perfect or correct, simply physical, with no emotional depth or attachment.
One thing that’s certain when you’re in your thirties and single- no one lets you forget about it. Not the television shows, the radio, the well-meaning cashier, and least of all your mom. It’s not something done maliciously or with ill intent. A simple question from the cashier, “Are these for your kids?”, while ringing up multiple fruit cups is not rude. It’s simply conversation that one starts to break up a monotonous day. It probably is odd that I buy fruit cups to pack in my lunch for work. Odd, but efficient and cost effective. I don’t take offense, my own inquisitive nature often getting the best of me. No matter how often I struggle to change the channel in my own mind, I still find myself falling into the trap. Comparing myself to couples whose private lives I know nothing about. Wondering how they came to be. What brought them to the very same place as me, at whatever moment we all happen to inhabit together? I look over at the girl in green and wonder if she smiled coyly when they first met. Or did she pursue him, eager and wanting. Was he a perfect gentleman when they went on their first date? Is he exacting in his movements and thoughts? All of this flashes before my mind’s eye like a movie reel. Their becoming and being. Then the light changes and I cross the street, quickly outpacing them. My mind already focused on the day ahead.
It was easy to be single at first. I have always been good at being alone. The silence doesn’t terrify me as it does others. I enjoy the peace and stillness of it. My mind can wander and run off on tangents without me having to be present. After being a set, a pair, a plus one, for five years, it was refreshing to be just me again. I have only been in two relationships. One not so easily defined – languid and loose, almost as if it wasn’t even there. The other in constant need of definition and structure. Both of us continuously building it up and knocking it down with insecurity and fear. It was there I learned to temper myself- making myself to be digested. I blended in passivity to curtail assertive looks and sarcastic tone. I quieted myself to make it easier for him to be heard. I didn’t want to “make a scene” or “start something”. I just wanted to be. I wanted us to just be.
Our romance was a flash in the dark and it quickly engulfed us. We were drawn to each other without a real reason why, him being my complete opposite. We met at work and our lives soon became entangled and we were no longer separate beings. I had recently moved back home from living away at college. I had no social circle to return to and he welcomed me into his – holidays with his family, happy hours with his friends. And, at first, I was happy. This is what a relationship was in my mind. However, things slowly began to sour. Looking back, the signs were there. Red flags on the road. Caution signs blinking brazenly. But what is there to do with love gone wrong, but simply complete the ride? Headfirst we dived into a dark pool of doubt. His secrets and my worries wrapped me up in fits of panic and desperation. Lies and excuses weaved in and out of both of us, pushing us further and further apart from each other, yet keeping us chained and bound. It’s hard to look back now and think of the escape hatches that were there to be opened, yet left ignored. Even harder to think about what it would be like without that experience in me. For better or worse, it shaped who I am today.
A year after ending the relationship and subsequent engagement, I was happy. Filling my mouth with acerbic remarks, tinged with clever charm, I grew back into myself. Two years after ending the relationship, I dated and again enjoyed the feeling of someone new. Excitement and possibility seemingly around every corner and turn. Three years after, I am beginning to feel restless with myself. I have grown bored with going to movies alone, of cooking and eating meals in solitude. I take the advice of well-meaning friends and nosy, but kind, bartenders and “put myself out there”. Endless minutes spent swiping left or right, blurring into hours perfecting a dating profile, and becoming days spent as the third wheel with friends. Fifth or sixth wheel if you count their kids. Because everyone has kids – beautiful little creatures with senses of humor and budding manipulation techniques. I rest easy in knowing my biological clock isn’t tick-tocking loudly, scaring off potential mates. I have no longing desire to be a mother. So, what then is it?
Too quickly, I find myself polling my male friends. Asking what I’m doing wrong and searching for clues in ambiguous texts and messages. I wonder if my snark is too much. If my quick retorts are too cutting. Not soft enough to be swallowed. I’m told I have an edge. An unapproachable air around me. A “No Bullshit Allowed” sign on my forehead. How do I change this? Do I want to change this? I look at my married friends. Full women who are themselves, always. Their husbands are accepting and engaging with every part of them. I begin to see them as the exception to the rule and I worry that I am too much of everything and not enough of the right thing. Not quite close enough. I absorb the data and read the articles, each one making its case louder and louder in my head. I’m doing everything wrong and checking the wrong boxes. I am too loud, too ambitious, too sure of what I want. In order to rectify this, I have to smooth myself out and round my edges. Soften my laugh and purify my humor. Everyone’s message is loud and clear, “If you do it, he will come”.
Next year will be four years after. I wonder what I will be. Will I be content in my solitude? A measured peace enveloping my entire being. Will I stumble into a relationship? Two wholes somehow forming a We. Blending into each other, in bite-sized pieces, making it easy to consume. I try to force myself to stop thinking. Stop wondering. Just. Stop. I train my brain to shift gears and focus on textbooks for night classes and articles for newsletters. Anything but. And it works, for a while. But all too quickly, I am back on the metro, a couple before me. Him standing tall, hand grasping the pole, swaying to the pull of the subway car. Her, inches before him. Leaning in, ever so gently, countering his sway.