From a very early age, we’re conditioned to think of romantic love as the be-all-and-end-all. It’s presented as the magic salve which will render our lives perfect, as the miraculous ‘happily ever after’ for which we should all aim. For many of us, love really is the wonderful thing we’re taught to believe in. However, for a great many people, the pressure to strive after this mystical, magical feeling leads to intense disappointment when the clash of heady chemicals and human reality which actually form what we term ‘love’ doesn’t fit with the Disneyfied promise. And, for some of us, romantic love simply isn’t something we’re made for. Admitting and accepting that, however, can be tough.
I remember the first time it occurred to me that I didn’t actually need a partner. Aged 21, I had taken on my first (and only) boyfriend. I did this largely, I realise now, in order to prove to myself that I wasn’t ‘weird’. I also did it to lose my virginity. I’d never felt any need or desire to lose it when younger, and wasn’t really that bothered at 21 - but felt that I’d become a supreme oddity if I grew any older with my cherry intact. My relationship lasted just over a year, during which time I felt... not myself. It was fine, but it wasn’t right. I missed his company when it ended, and missed having someone upon whom I could bestow easy affection, but felt a sense of relief at having ‘space’ in which to be myself again.
Apart from very rare one-nighters, I remained single from then on. Subconsciously, I repelled most advances through a mixture of humour, outspokenness, and blanking. My singledom sporadically bothered me. I tried to analyse my feelings on the matter, my lack of ‘success’ - until I finally realised that my problem wasn’t with the relationship I’d had, or with my lack of luck in ‘meeting men’ (I denied to myself for years that I was deliberately pushing them away). It was with me. I just did not, deep down, want a relationship. Never had. And what a relief that admittance was.
Admitting to myself that I did not want (and never had wanted) a boyfriend felt like stepping into my own self. I felt the truth of it deep in the marrow of my soul. I had no problem at all with accepting it (although others in my situation do sometimes struggle with who they are), because it felt as though I was finally seeing through my own eyes. I’d understood an essential part of myself, and it felt indescribably wonderful to know this aspect of who I was. However, getting others to accept it was not so easy.
The concept of romantic love is almost like a religion for Western culture. We use it as a cure-all for everything. We are far more willing to accept bad ‘love’ than good singledom. People believe so wholeheartedly in the power of romantic love that they will desperately seek it out as a crutch for pretty much anything which is going wrong in their lives. People with serious problems attempt to re-form their own image in the eyes of a ‘lover’, believing that love will be their salvation.
In fact, the only one who can save you in such situations is yourself, but so ingrained is our worship of romantic love that we are far more accepting of those who hurtle from desperate relationship to desperate relationship, damaging themselves and others in the process, than we are of someone who remains contentedly single. I could go into more detail about the many damaging ways in which we try to use ‘love’ as a magic pill (with disastrous results) - but that’s another essay. Suffice it to say that people like me, who simply wish to live our lives without sex or romantic relationships, are treated like heretics, appalling deviants from the religion of love who must be set straight by any means necessary.
Just explaining it is difficult. First, people question you minutely, so you get into a frustratingly circular conversation.You just know, you tell people - an answer with which they are not content. They demand a detailed analysis of your reasoning, which you attempt to give, at which point they sit back with a satisfied smile and state that you ‘protest too much’ or some such phrase which implies that the very explanation they’ve demanded invalidates your position. Then come their many justifications for why your truth about yourself is wrong. Things people have said to me on this subject (often barely knowing me, I might add!) include:
Then there’s the cognitive dissonance of those people who tell me that because I’m not a virgin I can’t describe myself as naturally single - right after insisting that I can’t know I’m naturally single if I haven’t experienced sex.
Perhaps most frustrating of all are the people who insist that I tell them ‘It might change in the future’. Sure, it might, and I’m open to it if it does. But, knowing myself as I do, I doubt it. I don’t understand the anxious need these people have for me to add the codicil ‘for now’ to every conversation on the matter. An awful lot of marriages end in divorce, but the marriage vows do not read “I will, although that might change in the future if I meet someone else or this otherwise fails”. So why should I have to wrap my single-by-choice status in comforting mitigatory statements?
Upsettingly, our culture elevates the concept of romantic love so highly above other forms of love, that I have been accused before of being incapable of love. This hurts. I love a lot. I love my friends, my family, my pets. I love the landscape, I love the world. I have a lot of love and joy in my life. If someone’s view of love is so limited that they cannot conceive of the emotion outside of a romantic context, I would say that it is them, and not I, who has the problem with love.
What I would like is for people to accept the concept of the single person - particularly the single woman. They don’t have to understand it (I’ve come to realise that most people will never understand it). But it would be nice for them simply to accept it for what it is. I would like to state my position without people insisting that I’m wrong about myself, or trying to change me, or subjecting me to cod psychoanalysis to work out ‘why you’re like this’. I just am. You might be too. And that’s ok.