On Being Single. And Love.
Before you proceed further, a warning:
This is might be one of those blog posts that feels a little awkward for those of you who don't know me personally. I'm really hoping not to turn anyone off with an overload of too-personal information, but am also feeling that this is the whole point in having a blog - talking about my experience, and hoping that others can relate to/ be inspired/ learn something from it. And also, I feel like writing is a really great way for me to process and integrate things I've gone through... And people keep telling me to continue writing... And I like it... So I'm gonna. That is all. Carry on.
This summer I got engaged.
I was surprised by the proposal, to say the least.
My answer might have been something like, "Umm... probably yes... can I sleep on it, please?"
My friends were horrified- "You DIDN'T actually SAY that, did you?!?!?!?"
Yeah. I had.
By the morning, I felt pretty certain of my "probably yes". I'd been with my partner for three years. I loved him immensely. He's an amazing man - completely supportive of my career, yoga obsession, and itchy travel feet. He's hilarious, silly, and ridiculous fun. We have amazing chemistry and physical connection. We enjoy each other's company, regardless of whether we cook dinner together; have a 10-person apartment dance party; go for an epic bike ride or outdoors exploring; or nerd out and play board games.
We were able to backpack through Asia, spend 3 months together (literally 24 hours a day!), have awesome adventures, and neither one of us was even remotely tempted to murder the other in their sleep. Ask anyone who's ever traveled with their partner, and they will assure you that this is quite a feat.
I love his family. I love watching him play with his niece.
I know he will make a dedicated husband, an amazingly grounded and silly father, and the best life partner any girl could ever ask for.
But I couldn't do it.
It wasn't because I have a fear of commitment, or because my mother has been married and divorced twice, or that I hadn't met "The One" yet.
I simply didn't want to get married.
There wasn't anything that appealed to me about the process. I didn't want to plan and spend money on a wedding (Fun fact: the average wedding in Canada costs $20,000. I could travel the world on that. Probably twice.). I didn't want to figure out which family members I could safely not invite without causing huge feuds. I didn't want to have to explain to my partner that not taking his last name wasn't actually an insult to his masculinity, that it was quite a nice last name, but that I didn't want to sound like I had a stutter when I introduced myself as Madison Marie Ma----. And I happened to be quite attached to the identity I had been using my whole life. And I had already registered my website domain name.
I don't even dislike weddings. I really enjoy befriending random people, eating too much cake, and dancing the night away. It's usually a wicked-fun time. I just couldn't really get behind the idea of having one of my own. And it seemed cruel and unusual to stay with someone who knew what they wanted, on the off chance that someday, maybe, I would want the same thing.
Four very tempestuous months ensued. I'd get all wrapped up in how romantic it was supposed to be, and attempt to do the whole wedding planning thing. I researched venues, tried on dresses, booked a photographer... And the next day I'd descend into complete panic and start freaking right out. I'm pretty sure there were more fights in four months than in the three previous years combined. Needless to say, it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I think my partner was just completely exhausted by the end.
But the end is never really the end.
You still have to tell everyone about it.
Unbook the venue, call the family, inform the mutual friends.
I'm pretty sure if I ever hear another - "Well, it's better to figure that out now, than after you're married"- I'll bitch-slap that poor, well meaning acquaintance. (Okay, I wouldn't actually hit someone for trying to be sympathetic, I've just heard that exact line too many times in the past few months.)
Or my personal favorite, "Well, it's good that you know what you want."
Actually, no. I have absolutely no idea what I want. Not a clue. That's the problem.
The only thing I do know is that what I think I want changes constantly. And I'm getting much better at being okay with not knowing what's going to happen next.
Buddism teaches that the cause of all human suffering is one of two things- attachment and aversion. Basically, we want some things to happen - we crave them - and if they come to be, we cling desperately to them, in fear that they might dissapear. Then there are some things we don't want, which we go out of our way to avoid at all costs. It's kind of a ridiculous way to navigate the world, if you think about it.
Because, without a doubt, things that you desire will sometimes not happen or will change or will dissapear. And things that you don't like will most certainly happen from time to time. The theory is to avoid these cycles of clinging, craving and aversion by developing non-attachment and equanimity, regardless of what is going on.
I'm definitely not there yet, but the more I practiced being less attached to outcomes, the more this whole, "I must marry you so that we can be together FOREVER, or until one of us dies or cheats or decides we're just not that into it anymore" didn't really sit well with me.
It feels too much like trying to force the future to behave in a predictable way, when I know for a FACT that life is unpredictable.
The only thing worse than having to tell the person you love, "So... it turns out that I don't actually want to spend the rest of my life with you", is having to explain your decision to your very traditional extended family. A little perspective: my Dad has eight siblings. All of which are married. Six of which were married and had kids in their early twenties and actually stayed married. My parents are the only divorce in that family - pretty impressive when you consider the current 'marital success' stats. Maybe it's a Catholic thing, maybe it's a small-town thing, maybe they're all just really friggen lucky.
So, needless to say, Christmas was a little rough this year. My Father - the most reliable gossip in the world, somehow managed to keep his mouth mysteriously closed when it came to spreading the news of my split. I had many family members offer me congratulations and ask when the wedding was, only to be informed that we had, in fact, broken up. Oh. Awkward. Way to wreck a party, Madison.
I was also a bridesmaid in a wedding two weeks after Christmas. The wedding was for friends that I had gone to high school with, and involved seeing a lot of people I hadn't seen in the last decade. The invariable "catch-up" questions: where are you living, what do you do for work, are you seeing anyone? Strangely enough, I had no problem talking about where I live, or what I do for work... that last one though... yeah.
It was actually really interesting, and I only noticed it afterward - I couldn't simply tell people, "No, I'm not seeing anyone. I'm single.". I actually told people I hadn't seen in ten years that, "Well, I was engaged, and I could have totally gotten married if I wanted to, but it didn't work out, and we're breaking up, and I'm flying back to Victoria tomorrow to move my already boxed-up belongings into my own apartment."
Seriously, Madison - Too Much Information. And good work ruining another party. You're getting pretty awesome at this.
I grew up in a small town in rural Alberta. My guess is that 90% of my graduating class is married or engaged. A bunch of them have kids already. At 26 years old. I have three paternal cousins born the same year as me. All three got married in the last year and a half. I'm well aware that this isn't the national average, but it's what I grew up in. Talk about pressure. But it's really interesting to watch how people (namely me) respond under these social pressures.
At some point over the two weeks of Christmas and family time, we had an evening with my Father, his partner, and some of her family. Her three oldest children- at 27, 25 and 24 - are all married. Two of those weddings had been in the last six months, the most recent having happened only 2 weeks earlier, so marriage was very much on people's minds. We were sitting around after dinner, visiting, and I found myself making self-deprecating comments about being alone and my inevitable decent into spinsterhood. You know - I might as well start collecting cats now... it's a good thing I know how to knit cause I'm already basically an old woman with a dried-out uterus (hmmm...not really sure how knitting equates to lack of fertility) ... strange things come out of your mouth when you're recently single, in a room full of people very focused on being coupled up.
But it wasn't until I went to bed that night that I even realized just how weird that was of me. Because there's not a single shred of a chance that I'll end up a lonely, bitter spinster. Even if I never get married, or find a life partner, or have children - my life is SO FULL OF LOVE! I have amazing and intimate friendships, a supportive community, a loving family.
So what the heck was that all about?
It was almost like I was worried that my decision to not get married, my going against the social norm, was somehow going to upset people. Like it would challenge their lifestyle if I chose a different one. And maybe it would. But that's their problem, not mine.
A friend of mine told me a story last week - She had been reading this book, "Sex at Dawn" by Christopher Ryan and Calcilda Jetha. It's a book examining the "Prehistoric Origins of Human Sexuality", and it basically presents evidence that humans have not, in fact, evolved to be naturally monogamous and pair-bonded, and that people would probably have an easier time maintaining marriages and raising families if this was widely accepted and embraced. Interesting, regardless of whether you agree or not, and worth discussing with people. Unfortunately, the friend she mentioned the book to (who is married and has a young child), completely changed as soon as the topic was brought up. It had started out as an open exchange of conversation, but this woman suddenly got a wounded look on her face and became totally closed off. Presumably feeling as if the lifestyle she had was being threatened, she became quite upset and defensive. Although my friend had broached the subject very casually - "I'm reading this book with some interesting studies about relationships" - this woman instantly started talking about her OWN relationship and making all sorts of arguments in defense of monogamy. My friend explained to me that no attack had been made in any way, but said that the interaction changed the tone of the whole conversation, and never really went back to normal.
The decision to be single is definitely a different lifestyle from the mainstream. Little girls are raised on fairy tales of Prince Charming, who will come and save them from whatever predicament they've gotten themselves into (comatose from poisoned apple ingestion/spinning-wheel prick; downtrodden and poorly dressed by a bitchy step-mother; trapped in a tower with long-ass hair and, more likely than not, a killer migraine). There's no happily-ever-after where the princess decides to overthrow the patriarchal institution of marriage and go do awesome things on her own. (Except Brave - a 2012 DisneyPixar animated film featuring a feisty Scottish ginger. She's awesome. And has great hair. You should watch it.)
I've recently come across some interesting terms floating around the interweb.
Couple privilege - the subtle ways society accomadates us based on cultural expectations that people should be coupled up. My sister - who has always been smarter than me and has thus far avoided introducing any partners to our family - never gets a 'plus one' at family weddings, she always just gets added onto the parents' invite.
And Singleism- stigma/prejudice against single people, who are presumed to be inherently inferior/flawed/less stable/less valid than people who are part of a couple.
And so, this year, in honor of being single on Valentine's Day, I took myself out on a date.
It was pretty lovely, actually. I had a candlelit bubble bath in my gorgeous tub, and got all dressed up. Cooked myself an amazing meal, had a glass of wine, and ridiculously decadent chocolate cake for dessert. I then took a magical walk under the full moon and a sky full of stars, to go and see a play. I made friends with the people sitting on either side of me (couples, naturally), and laughed obnoxiously as much as I wanted (no need to hide my embarrassing propensity to snort when laughing too hard). I had fun.
But still, watching all those couples leave the theater - and one in particular, who must have been in the early stages of their relationship (gazing endlessly into each other's eyes and excessive, mildly nauseating, amounts of PDA) - I felt a little bit different. A little bit broken.
Cause I don't think I'll ever actually NEED anyone else.
I don't think I'll ever look at someone and have that desperate sense of everything in the world hanging on that one person loving me back.
And I don't want it.
I want enough love in my life - self-love, love from amazing friends and family and community - that romantic love is a bonus. A really nice surprise that I can enjoy and appreciate and envelop myself in... but not one I have to cling to, have to possess, have to go out searching for.
I want to love romantic love when it happens, but not have to guard it possessively. Not have to be afraid that it will leave me broken and wounded. I want to be open to accepting it when it's present, and open to the fact that it might change and shift and fade. And it's not that I'm bitter, jaded, and closed-up - I want to give and receive love freely. All different kinds of love. From all different kinds of people. I just don't believe that love is a finite resource, that there won't be enough to go around.
So what am I hoping people take from this long-winded, rambling monologue?
Not that I think marriage is unrealistic, or doomed to fail. It's lovely to watch two people set the intention to create a life together. It's just that marriage, at the moment, isn't right for me.
And if any awesome, talented, independent ladies out there are feeling that pressure, that sense that they're somehow less valid, or less grown up, or that they're going to get left behind if they don't find 'the One', and find him soon - I hope they can tell that pressure to fuck right off.
And then go drink wine and eat chocolate with their girlfriends instead.
'Cause it's way more awesome.