It is truly fucking amazing, but for the very first time in my life, being single does not seem like a social ineptness — a disease of which I am a carrier.
So, as I stand in front of an overwhelmed ticket cashier at my fancy local movie theater, I no longer feel awkwardly apologetic when I say:
“One — for Crazy, Stupid, Love, please.”
The chubby, stressed-out girl in an ill-fitted penguin-like uniform looks up at me. It’s the weekend, but I had just come from a day of hard work. My hair is pulled back. I’m exhausted, not in a self-pitying way of someone burdened by survival; but in a relaxed, proud manner of someone making her own way in the world.
“Was that: One?” she repeats.
I thought I spoke clearly. I usually do, with strangers, subjecting only my beloveds to my habit of speaking in code.
“Yes,” I say, and I smile as kindly as my tired, non-pretty face allows.
The girl purses her lips and flips her computer screen toward me:
“Where would you like to sit?” she says.
I don’t really know how it happens in the lives of other young girls, but in my own adolescence, I’ve never been taught how to get myself successfully paired up. There is nothing my father wanted more, of course, than for me to get married and settle down, always in close proximity to his house. He somehow hoped I would figure it out on my own and — magically! — end up with a decent guy (which by Russian definition meant someone who could hold his liquor and was good at fishing). I would end up with someone my father could trust enough to pass me into his care.
At the same time though, he never talked to me about dating. It made him uncomfortable — this idea of my inching my way toward the problems of adulthood, day after day. And the sequence of my father’s glottal sounds while he sat on the edge of my bed one night and tried to talk to me about sex would make Bill Murray want to take notes: It was so uncomfortably funny.
“Um, P?” I had to interrupt him, because I wanted to remember my father as a hero, NOT as a man incapable of uttering the word “sex” while blushing like a teenager. “It’s past midnight and I’ve got an English final in the morning.”
I was in tenth grade.
Not kidding. Dad — or “P”, as I called him, lovingly, in my habit of speaking in code — had always been delusional about my sexual development. I wasn’t even sure he knew I had gotten my period four years prior. Most of the time, we just talked about my studies. Because all my life, I had been an exemplary student, earning my way into the best private school in our city; and my education — was the biggest of my own concerns anyway.
“You just gotta be careful…” he mumbled that night, and once he got up, he would fumble with the seam of his thermal shirt and blink rapidly to avoid my stare. “That’s all I’m saying.”
“I am, P. Good night,” and I smiled at him as kindly as my tired face would allow.
And that was it. That was the only time P chose to suffer through that topic. Not even after my parents’ divorce would either of them invest any time in explaining the complexity of human relationships to me: the work that it took to be successfully paired up, and the amount of self-awareness; the amount of commitment.
Whatever I learned about dating I would learn from my contemporaries. Boys would be the main topic in the cafeteria of my college, to which I had arrived on a full scholarship. Again, in my 20s, education would remain the biggest of my concerns. By the end of our studies, many of my classmates would be engaged, or married; or moving back home where they were awaited by their families and boyfriends. I, however, was en route to graduate school, hustling my way to earn more scholarships.
In our rendezvous to the City, we would occasionally meet up — my college contemporaries and I — and they would purse their lips at my awkwardly apologetic answer:
“Yes. I’m still (insert a shrug) — single.”
In my dating life, I would feel clumsy and uncertain. By the example of my contemporaries, before each date, I would dress myself up into what seemed to be a better, prettier version of me: And during the date itself, I would often gain a headache. Because by the end of it, I couldn’t keep track of all the omissions and alterations I would manufacture. And when I wouldn’t hear from my dates for weeks, I would throw myself back into my studies.
Something would change of course, with time. Somewhere during the pursuit of my dreams, I would begin to sit in my skin a bit more comfortably. There would be a slew of reckless relationships and even a failed marriage; but I would begin to learn about dating, by trial and error. And the one thing that eventually became obvious was this:
I was NOT like most of my contemporaries. I was someone paving her own way in the world since a very young age, via her education. I was also an immigrant who had to work twice as hard as her contemporaries in order to be their equal. So, there was no way I could use someone else’s skills and opinions in order to pair myself up, successfully.
Because I am no longer willing to mold myself into a better, prettier version of me, I am beginning to find that the version of me already in existence — is pretty fucking amazing. And that very version, however tired or un-pretty, I now carry into my dates; and I surprise myself that the men I choose seem to be more comfortable with me as well. They are more confident, more fun.
And then I move on, to more adventures and dreams, in the pursuit of which I don’t really need to be paired up — UNLESS successfully.
“Um, miss?” the penguin-girl appears even more stressed out since meeting me. “Where would you like to sit? We’re almost sold out, but since you’re single…”
I smile. I choose the best seat in the house, buy myself a single latte and wandering through the lobby’s bookshop, in a relaxed, proud manner of someone who can afford herself these tiny privileges, in life.
I am someone — making her own way in the world. And I’m pretty fucking amazing!