Our otherwise interesting conversation had reached an impasse and I was sitting on the couch, lips pursed in disapproval. He – let’s call him James – had committed what can only be called a dating sin: he’d mentioned his ex and gone on to tell me the very long and weepy tale of his particularly painful break-up. Being ‘heart-broken’ and ‘emotionally barren’, he thought he’d never love again. I suppressed a nervous laugh and instead looked at him through a weary silence.
So, he was still hung up on his ex. Perhaps he was hoping I, or someone else, would ‘fix’ him, heal his broken soul. Modern culture is always telling us that relationships are the answer to everything, that they’ll make us fulfilled and perhaps even solve all our problems but, of course, that’s not true.
‘That’s terrible, I’m sorry’, I said, eventually, ‘I’d never do something like that’. She had, apparently, cheated on him with two other people.
James and I had met a few weeks ago and had excitedly exchanged numbers after a great conversation, but now I could see that we weren’t suited to each other. Aside from the fact that he was, apparently, a ‘broken man’, I was happy and had a lot going on. He seemed morose and a little bit lost. I kicked myself for nearly repeating past mistakes. Last time, I’d fallen into the habit of seeing a guy I was wildly mismatched with and with whom I shared little in common. It had been, as they say, ‘physical’. Again, I could see I’d have to walk away. This time I wanted to choose better. Choose someone with similar values and interests to mine and save myself the time and heartbreak. The pain of disappointment was not something I wanted to be feeling again anytime soon. Because you have to be careful about who you invest emotion in – people always have the potential to hurt you. It’s not a risk you can take for just anyone. This time if I was going to pursue someone, they’d have to be pretty damn amazing.
‘Have you ever read Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding?’ I asked, wanting to change to the topic. I thought he might have done so seeing as we’d talked about British comedy a few days ago. He had (surprisingly) and so I quoted: ‘One must not live one’s life through men [or women] but must be complete in oneself as a woman [or man] of substance’. It’s kind of ridiculous to quote from Bridget Jones but I wanted to make a point: we don’t need relationships to make us happy. It’s the other way around: if we’re happy, a good relationship is more likely to come our way.
When we have passions and pursuits which bring us pleasure and meaning in life, whether or not we have a relationship shouldn’t matter to us in the slightest. In fact, we’d have to be convinced into getting into one. Being fulfilled in our own lives means that we can be happy independently of whether or not we have someone to share it with. And Hollywood rom-coms have it all wrong: it has never been a good idea to latch onto the next person who comes our way. Knowing what you want is important and you have to be more discerning.
I cut the date short soon after that because it was clear to me that it wasn’t going anywhere. Our perspectives on the world were radically different and he still needed time to get over whatever had happened in his past relationship. This was no solid foundation for any kind of friendship, let alone a relationship (although a relationship is not what I normally set out looking for).
While driving home I took the opportunity to take stock of my past, from the one-night stands to the more committed connections. I paused and reflected on what I hoped to have by the end of the year. And it turns out that what I would like, apart from Tony Abbott’s timely death, a miraculous end to gender inequality, and straight HDs (the latter being less likely than the first two) is not a boyfriend or a casual fling, but a more mature life. Perhaps the ability to talk politely to my mother, and to hand in essays on time. And maybe, just maybe, if I’m so inclined, there’ll be some room for an amazing relationship. But for now, I propose that we should do more than just know how to be alone, we should love being single.