“So, what about you?”
A woman seated next to me at my friend’s surprise birthday party suddenly whipped her head to face me as she asked that question. I hadn’t been introduced to her, nor did I know her name.
“Oh, I’m fine—” I started to say.
“Are you dating anyone?” she interrupted.
I wasn’t. In fact, a man I had recently (and I suppose I’d say “unsuccessfully”) dated happened to be within earshot, making my exchange with this strange woman even more humiliating.
“I don’t like to talk about my personal life,” I replied, having been .5 seconds in which to craft a response to a question I have always found to be incredibly rude.
“That’s fine. I understand,” the woman said. But the way she turned away from me implied she felt otherwise.
There is really no way to write a blog post about being a 35-year-old single woman without sounding defensive. The honest-to-God truth is, I have never minded being single. After six years of not being in a serious relationship, I can say I have come to prefer it. My past relationships were all lacking in some way or another. After the demise of my last serious relationship, I went to graduate school and changed careers, so my attention has been elsewhere. But the problem with being both happily single and ambivalent about finding a partner is that other people don’t seem to believe me. If I tell friends I’m not dating anyone, their immediate response is, “Have you tried (OkCupid, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel)?” As if my being single is a problem that requires fixing.
I’ve never had an agenda for my romantic life. Finding a partner isn’t something I consider to be a goal, really. A goal is something a person can take measured steps toward, like returning to school or finding new employment. How does one set about finding another person? I suppose one answer is to date by quantity, something I have admittedly tried. But again, I am feel uncomfortable labeling my exploration into different relationships as a “goal.”
“I’m not looking for anyone,” I once told my friend’s husband at another party, after he asked me the dreaded question.
“That’s when it’ll happen.” He nodded sagely. “When you’re not looking for it.”
He missed my point entirely.
My married friends, in an attempt to be supportive, like to point out, “Not everyone has to get married.” I appreciate the sentiment, but at the same time, my being single isn’t a statement. It’s simply a fact of where I am at this point in my life. Like everyone else, I make choices every day based on what I think will be best for me, using whatever information is available to me in that moment.
I am uncomfortable when friends expect me to provide details about my romantic life. If I say I am not dating anyone, my statement is met with pity and unwanted advice. If I say I am dating someone, I am expected to make predictions into the timeline and potential future “seriousness” of the relationship (can’t I just get to know someone without expectation?).
I also don’t like to think of my private life as a source of entertainment for others. It doesn’t occur to me to ask my married friends about their sex lives. I have trouble understanding why the same courtesy doesn’t seem to apply to single people.
I have spent the last few years thinking a lot about values – mine, and the values of others. I have come to realize that those who ask about my personal life are mostly well-meaning, and that they are simply projecting their own values onto me. If someone is happily in a relationship and/or has children, I can understand why they would want the people they care about to have those same experiences, because they think it will also bring happiness to them. I have also come to realize that I project my own values (independence, for example) onto others. When I hear a friend complain about her spouse, I feel a sense of pity. (“Ugh, she should leave,” I’ll think.) To figure this out about myself, and work on shifting my own thinking, has been challenging. And so, I know I need to have patience with others and the way they think, too.
It can be a struggle, though. A friend of mine (who is married with children) texted me recently and asked if I have “met any men in Kosovo?” My ungracious reply was something along the lines of, “I am here to serve my country, not to meet men.” After years of others’ probing and microaggressions, there are times when I simply get tired of it.
I had many reasons for joining the Peace Corps, which I may try to blog about at some point in the future, when I am able to lend proper eloquence to the topic. It is still a decision I am processing in some ways. I will say that it has been a relief to be around others in the same situation, people who are here to serve, and who are focused on other things at this point than finding partnership.
As an adult, I have spent much of my time celebrating couples and families — engagement parties, wedding showers, bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, weddings, baby showers. No one really celebrates single people. It’s kind of sad. When I joined the Peace Corps, I was touched by the outpouring of support from my friends, family, acquaintances, and co-workers. It was nice to feel others rally around me.
And I have always known, intellectually, that I am lucky to be an American. But living abroad for the first time has widen my perspective and given me a deeper understanding of that appreciation. Being a single woman in Kosovo carries with it perhaps even more stigma than being a single woman in American. And education and employment options here for men and woman alike are more limited here than in the United States. I am incredibly fortunate to have been born into a life where I am able to make choices like earning a Master’s Degree and moving to another country, even when other people may not understand my choices.