It pains me to hear all the horrible things people say about single women like me, like how we’re bitchy and shallow, slutty and selfish. Untruthful. Calculating. Deviant. If they’ve been disappointed like I have, if they’ve been ignored like I have, and if they’ve been made to feel small like I have, they’d know that a woman who decides to be single isn’t always a symbol of a toxic personality. Sometimes her decision is just rooted in an all-consuming need to impress, to protect and to please.
I know exactly when I began sizing myself up against my lovers, trying to decide if we were worthy of one another (or more accurately, I were worthy of them).
I just don’t like to say.
What I’ll say is that I’ve shut myself off from new loves for a long time. Opening up to a man who I perceive to be more accomplished and more important than I am—one who ultimately reveals his disinterest—chars my skin. I can’t stand that empty, inferior feeling. That secondhand kind-of-lonely that we so often read and sing about. These men, the well-off, exemplary ones, are the only ones I ever want.
There was a time when I tried replacing one with others. I thought these other men were carbon copies of the real thing that I could never have for myself. But I always found myself disenchanted with them before they were finished trying to dazzle me. It was torturous comparing and surrounding myself with bastardized versions of the beautiful man who lived in my head.
So I began locking doors and throwing away keys. I built walls, began walking through life behind them. I started sketching the new, solo life that I wanted. Blocked Facebook accounts. Ignored calls and texts. Ignored emails. I found it easier to live with loneliness when I’d created it all on my own.
For me, there is no fast, exhaustive fix for when I am swiped with my beloved’s disinterest. The only fix that I know is to bury myself in my work and to chase after the material things and tangible accomplishments that make me feel untouchable in front of the kind of men I desire most.
When it comes to finding love, I tell myself that I alone am never enough. I tell myself that if I want love, I have to earn it. Endlessly. There always has to be a new accomplishment that I’ve made in my own time and space that justifies why anyone else would see something in me. I don’t think this makes me crazy. But I do think it makes me an insecure, neurotic (and at times pretentious) human being.
“Why do you think you’re so unworthy?” a friend recently asked. Others have asked me this before. More will read this post and will ask me some more, each of them with pity in her voice. If there really must be an explanation to this, one more plausible than my unrequited beloved (and the one before that), I’ll resort to the cliché response and blame it on my parents.
My mother and father live on opposite sides of the spectrums in grit and ambition. One has multiple degrees, a successful lane in an elite profession and two houses in different parts of the country. The other has a cushy, though less competitive job and a modest one-bedroom apartment. My parents are no longer together; the divide left an irreparable resentment between them for years.
I cannot and will not fall to the same fate.
So in obligating myself to stay single, I’m futilely shielding myself from potentially feeling less than a man who I love. I want to love and be loved, but I want to be viewed and treated as someone’s competitor even more. I don’t want a partner who feels entitled to guide me in my own career. And I don’t want a partner who has any doubts over my own life’s direction, either. I want to be someone’s partner, but I want to be someone’s amazing partner all on my own.
Yes, this is all I know to do when the urge to be with someone rears its head. I smother my craving. I tell myself that what I want doesn’t matter. What matters is my context: where I’m living, where I’m working, how my body looks (and how I feel in it). What matters is my equity, having the success, the visibility, the material things that can justify me when I say, “I never needed him anyway,” whenever he decides to walk away.
I wish I could break through the walls. I grow tired of clenching my muscles and suppressing my smiles. I only meant to carry these reflexes as defenses from harassment on the street. But I’ve carried them for so long that I fear the reflexes can’t be reversed. I know that dating itself is probably the very thing that can break these reflexes down. Still, I save myself. I say that I’m not eligible to be part of a couple until I can confidently insert the word “power” in front of it.
Building walls can be lonely work. But after so much disappointment, I reason that it is work that must be done.