Things You Only Know If You're Single & Over 35

photographed by Eylul Aslan.
The following is an extract from I’m Absolutely Fine! by Annabel Rivkin & Emilie McMeekan.
Why is it, in this enlightened age, that 'single', with all its freedom and opportunity, retains the suggestion of pity? Maybe it’s the word. It implies being left: 'still single'. There’s no active choice inferred by 'remaining single'. We are all born single and single we stay until we are chosen. Alone. A problem waiting to be solved.
What if we could change up the conversation a little? What if, when people ask, 'Are you married?' or the mindlessly spiteful, 'Did you never marry?' we could answer, 'No. I’m independent.' Or, imagine if those curious types were to frame and phrase their probing differently and ask, 'Are you in a couple or are you independent?'
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It might allow women to move on from the unplucked flower narrative of millennia. We are born single but we are not born independent. We learn and we earn that. It is proudly won. Why can’t independence be recognised as the collateral gain of the lone voyager? Language is atmospheric. It has the power to refresh, to give small girls an alternative scenario to visualise, beyond the white dress: the adventurer, the explorer, the self-determiner. After all, it’s a journey, not a predicament.

We are born single but we are not born independent. We learn and we earn that. It is proudly won.

That’s all fine and good and right and proper but being independent doesn’t mean we don’t yearn. We yearn. And we don’t yearn any less at 40 than we did at 18. Maybe we yearn more. We definitely yearn differently. And, often, privately. And, sometimes, shamefully. Aloneness flirts with loneliness. Anticipation veers towards panic. And so we try to date. We open our hearts to the possibilities and, after every false start, after the disappointment leaves us momentarily breathless, then we put ourselves back together and we try again. Because there is a narcotic aspect to dating – why do you think dating apps are so addictive when only 5% of people meet their partners online? The next swipe might be him. The next set-up might be him. Will he be at this party, that conference, the other pub? Oh yes, of course, he’ll turn up when I’m least expecting him. So here I am, monumentally unexpectant…on I go…where the fuck is he? I’m exhausted.
Dating for grown-ups is a horror story. Not because of the anecdotal evidence that there isn’t much out there and what there is might be majorly dysfunctional. Not because we are scared of looking desperate. Not because all the past traumas and disappointments have concertinaed up on us to make us incredibly bruisable. Not because we are worried about our bodies and our sexual athleticism, audacity and appetite. All of the above is dealable with. Intimidating, sure, but processable.
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No, dating for grown-ups is a nightmare because we have never really done it. When we were getting our sea-legs, 'dating' was still an Americanism. If you were dating, in England, in the '90s and '00s, then you probably weren’t really dating at all. You may have dived in and out of liaisons and flings and relationships, but it was not a Sex and the City, 'Tonight I’ve got a date with a hot lawyer/pilot/gallerist' situation.
The way that we interviewed, in our twenties and early thirties, was to get almost insensibly drunk and fall on top of each other. Maybe numbers were swapped. Maybe numbers were texted or even called…imagine that! But the first date certainly came after the first snog and possibly after the first shag. Fluids, then first dates. Was it as icky as it sounds? Sometimes. But sometimes it ended in marriage.
So these days, when we maybe don’t quite get so steamingly pissed; when we might be a little more circumspect with our bodies; when we need to turn up for drinks or dinner with a prospective lover…well, we are babies. Scared babies. In heels. 'Just be yourself,' say the married people. 'Who knows, you might make a new friend.' Oh, how quickly they forget…
They forget about the contradiction implicit in protecting your heart from too, too, too much pain and simultaneously safeguarding your vulnerability because beautiful things happen in vulnerable spaces. Creativity, joy, love spring out of vulnerability.
Opening our hearts and letting someone see us is the true challenge. And going on an actual date is, in itself, a clear statement of vulnerability. It says 'I am here and I hope…'
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That is the challenge. That is the terror. And that is the magic. Do not cower because you are solo. Do not pretend. Be wholehearted. Be proud. And onwards.

Things You Only Know If You're Single Over 35

Married Women Can’t Decide…
If you are pathetic or dangerous. Nor can married men. Married women think they are
being inclusive when they ask you to coffee after a dinner party (singles bugger up the numbers) and often sit you next to another woman as 'punishment'.
Unless A Man Is…
Gay, married or dead you have to fancy him or you will endure a chorus of 'See???? You are impossibly picky. You have to learn to compromise.' No matter that he clearly has a personality disorder/a drug habit/is in prison. The problem, my friends, is yours. You: 'He beat up his ex-wife.' Friend: 'People change.'
When People Call You Brave…
It is not a compliment. It is because they are horrified by your predicament. You may well not be horrified. You may well be basking in the peace/freedom. But they are still horrified.
You Are Amazed By How Many Relationships…
You don’t envy. Sure, there are a few (usually counted on one hand) that look like fun and solace rolled up into one lovely partnership. But most look like hard bloody work without much reward.
Men Don’t Care…
If you have cellulite. Or wrinkles. Believe it. They don’t. If they do then you are aiming low and missing. You are no longer a trophy – these days you are a prize. You haven’t waited this long to just… settle.
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Endless Questions And Calculations…
If I am 42 and I meet him at 43 and he is 48, then how much sex can we cram in before everything dries up or flops? Do I even have the energy? Where will I put him? Everything will be okay but what does okay look like? Am I free or am I tragic? Am I desperate or am I powerful? Does everyone secretly think I’m a lesbian? What if he never appears? What then? What does that mean? Babies! Babies? Babies…Oh God, stepchildren.
Taken from Midult founders Emilie McMeekan & Annabel Rivkin's new book I’m Absolutely Fine! available now, published by Cassell.
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