Choosing To Be Single
Yesterday morning there was a knock on my bedroom door. When I opened it, my new housemate was standing outside in his underpants. He’s a faux-hippie in his early-forties. So far my observations are as follows:
His almost religious obsession with recycling sits slightly at odds with his prodigious consumption of Air Miles.
In the noughties he would have been described as ‘metrosexual’. He owns more miniature hair products than Boots in Piccadilly Circus and has littered the bathroom with a plethora of grooming products from foot files to moisturisers to exfoliators. He has two types of toothpaste: Pro-enamel and Colgate Total, mouthwash and an electric toothbrush. Of course, for his tushie, only Aloe Balm Wet Ones will do.
This is in stark contrast to the guy who shared the bathroom with me when I first moved in. He had no soap. No toilet paper. No toothpaste. Just a bottle of Paco Rabanne and a thin sprinkling of pubes and grime over most of the surfaces. The pendulum swings.
Unsurprisingly, faux-hippie talks like Neil from The Young Ones, if you happen to be old enough to remember him.
So anyway, there he was, casually leaning against my doorframe wearing nothing but black pants and a silver angel wing necklace which he probably claims was given to him by the chief of a Navajo tribe but which he more likely purchased from a stall in Portobello Market.
‘Er, heeeeey, did you, er, knock on my door this morning? Because I was, like, er, lying in bed, you know, playing with myself, coz, you know, it was morning and I, er, heard a knock on my door.’
‘Um, no I didn’t. I think there a draught which sometimes causes the door to knock.’
‘Oh well, er, that’s a shame. I’m driving down to the airport today. In case, you need anything.’
He peers into my room.
‘Oh I was wondering who was burning the incense. Lovely smell. Is it Nag Champa? Reminds me of Delhi. Ever been to Delhi?’
‘No, but I’d love to visit.’
‘Oh, you don’t want to go there. People chop off their children’s hands so they can go out into the streets and beg.’
I resist the urge to argue that people do shitty things all over the world. On that basis one should never go anywhere.
‘So, um, anyway, you definitely didn’t knock on my door then?’ he asks, glancing down at my boobs.
‘Oh well, that’s a shame.’
‘Er,’ I stare down at the floor awkwardly, ‘I’d better go.’ I close the door on him.
He’s clearly batshit and a bit creepy and most likely incapable of a long-term relationship and yet part of me actually wonders if I could go there because he’s also Jewish, successful and single. And Lord o mighty, wouldn’t that get a whole load of people off my back because, fuck me, there is a huge emotional tax on being a single woman over the age of thirty in this world.
Recently my mum and my grandma visited me here on the island. My grandma pleaded with me to come home.
‘What are you doing here all on your own? This is no place for a young woman alone. You need to go back to London and find a husband.’
‘Grandma, I want to focus on my writing. I’m not interested in looking for a husband.’
So she ups the manipulative ante.
‘It’s not right for a woman to be all on her own. It’s not safe. Anything, could happen.’
She pauses for maximum effect and then reveals what she believes is her trump card:
‘You could get raped.’
Luckily for me I have read enough radical feminist texts to understand what ‘rape culture’ is. I know that the ever-present threat of rape is one of the things that stops women from claiming their rightful place in the world. I could get raped. It’s true but I could get raped in London too. I could even get raped by my husband. What should a woman do? Stay at home hiding and stop pursuing her ambitions? The pressure on me to settle down and find a husband is huge and the suffocating grasp of heteronormative monogamy is so tight that it only recently occurred to me that I might not even actually want a husband or children – and that that might be ok.
Growing up, the single women in my life were portrayed as sad old lonely spinsters. It’s only as an adult that I realise that they all lead pretty cool lives. It was the het-norm filter that I was forced to observe them through that caused my perception to be skewed.
For instance, my ‘poor old maid’ aunt who never married is actually a successful curator who owns her own hip apartment, travels to Venice for the biennale, Paris for private views and London to meet with the head of Tate Modern.
Being in a long-term monogamous relationship is upheld as the holy grail of happiness but many monogamous couples spend their evenings watching The One Show and Eastenders, save their wages up for a sofa from World of Leather and fuck once a week on Sunday.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticising your choice of lifestyle. If you enjoy being a couple that’s great, but don’t automatically assume that coupledom is always inherently better than singledom. Monotonous monogamous relationships are only the tip of the iceberg. What about all the abusive relationships? I’ve seen plenty of those in action, close up. Why would I want to give up my freedom for a relationship that is anything less than wonderful and life enhancing?
My grandma (a wonderful woman in many other ways, BTW) is an avid defender of patriarchy and monogamy. When I went to visit her she arranged a blind date for me and demanded I go. She may be old but she’s tough.
‘Grandma. I really don’t want to go. What’s the point? I’m leaving the country tomorrow.’
‘Don’t be so stubborn. You go. You see. Maybe you like him. Maybe you don’t.’
‘I really don’t want to. It will be awkward.’
‘Come on. Do it for me.’ she does her trademark pause for effect, inhales, and then drops the bombshell:
‘ANYWAY. AT YOUR AGE YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL.’
I’m bubbling up inside but I hold it in.
Fuck it, I think to myself. How bad can it be? I’ll do it to make her happy.
The next day blind date guy pulls up outside my grandma’s apartment. He gets out of the car to greet me. He’s squat – all muscles and no neck. He reminds me of a pit bull, the ones who still have their little testicles dangling down behind them. He oozes machismo. I try not to judge him on his overly tight tank top but I can’t help thinking to myself, This is going to be a long night.
‘I tink we should go to de beach. I know an nice quiet beach where we can be alone,’ he says. Already there’s a hint of sexual suggestion.
‘Ok, whatever you think,’ I say.
‘Haha,’ he quips, ‘your grandma is very trusting. You are in car with a strange man. I could do anything I want with you. I could be a murderer.’
There’s an awkward silence.
‘I’m joking. I’m joking. Of course, she knows my auntie. I’m a good Jewish boy.’
I try to laugh but it comes out like a weird nervous noise. We drive in semi silence until he starts telling me about his antics the previous night.
‘I’m a bit hung-over because I went to a party. Dis girl was all over me.’
‘I tink she was a bit desperate. I don’t like desperate woman. Women – dey love my muscles.’
He takes one hand off the steering wheel and flexes.
When we get to the beach, he hands me the picnic bag.
‘Dis is where I keep de knife.’ he says as he passes the bag to me, ominously riffing on the serial killer theme he began earlier. When we arrive at the spot he has selected on the deserted beach, I say politely:
‘This a lovely spot.’
He begins a little vignette, ’De odder week I took a girl on a date. I was taking her to a beautiful spot in de middle of de forest. As we walked troo de forest she said to me, “This is a bit scary.” I replied, “Imagine what it will be like for me coming back alone.”‘
‘You get it? Imagine what it will be like for me coming back alone?‘
Unfortunately, I do get it. I sigh and try to focus on the beauty of the ocean at night.
He empties out the picnic bag. It contains:
- A blanket
- A mango which he later tells me he stole from his neighbour’s garden
- A bottle of some passion fruit liqueur generally only ever imbibed by adolescent girls. ‘Dis is my favourit,’ he says as he hands me the bottle.
- A bottle of cava
- The aforementioned knife
‘I can’t drink, because I’m driving,’ he says.
From the contents of the picnic basket I conclude that his aim is to get me drunk and take advantage of me without actually spending any money on me.
I sit down on the blanket as far away as possible from him.
‘You wanna go skinny-dipping?’ he says about ten seconds after we sit down.
‘I’m English. I’m not comfortable with public nudity.’ I say, trying to brush off his suggestion.
‘I tink you need to relax a bit. You are too uptight. I am a shiatsu expert. Let me give you a massage.’
He moves over to my side of the blanket and puts his hands on my shoulders and my whole body stiffens in horror.
‘Oh you are tense!’
Too fucking right, I’m tense. I have no car, no means to get home. I have to wait until he decides to drive me back. I try to think of safe conversation topics.
‘So what do you do for a living?’
‘I am a life coach. I believe dat people should go for what dey want in life.’
He tries to kiss me. He smells of garlic. I flinch.
‘Oh you are so uptight,’ he says. ‘You need a little more of dis.’
He waves the bottle of passion fruit liqueur in my face. I take a swig because at this point I need something to numb the edges. I let him talk about himself for about half an hour. He is good at that. All the while I try to muster the courage to say, Can you please take me home? I have a flight in the morning.
Usually I would be more direct, but I am in the strange position of not wanting to appear rude lest I offend his aunty who is a friend of the family. After all, it’s never the man’s fault. Eventually I say it, worried that he might object. Luckily, he grudgingly agrees to drive me home.
As we walk to the car he says, ‘Dis is awkward for me because, you know, I have a stiffy.’
I pretend not to hear. We drive home in silence and I practically bolt out of the car.
‘Call me!’ he shouts after me, seemingly quite oblivious of my feelings towards him.
The next morning my grandma is sitting at the breakfast table waiting for me expectantly.
‘So how did it go? I’m desperate to know.’
‘Grandma. He’s a total creep.’
‘But his mother is a lovely woman. I’m sure you didn’t try hard enough.’
As a single woman in my thirties I am supposed to be grateful for any schmo that is thrown my way. It’s as if, by staying single beyond the age of twenty-nine, I have waived the right to say ‘no’.
On the flipside of that, if you say ‘yes’ you’re probably desperate and you can never ever be desperate. Oh god. There is nothing worse than desperate. You’re damned if you do give a shit about finding a husband and you’re damned if you don’t give a flying fuck about finding a husband.
My aim is to keep my goals in focus and to tune out the constant background buzz of people demanding I come home to the UK and hunt for a husband. It is incredibly hard to have faith in your decisions when you are challenged at every single junction. It hard to keep travelling and it’s hard to trust that goals outside marriage and babies are both valid and permissible.
In an over-populated world people should be grateful that I don’t want to procreate, and yet I am consistently pitied or punished for even expressing the idea.
This morning I ran into faux-hippie in the kitchen.
‘Are you on Tinder?’
‘Why not? With your tits and your lovely dark skin you’d clean up.’
I see that he means this as a compliment but I am unsure how to respond.
So I deflect.
‘Are you on Tinder?’
‘Yeah, it’s fucking great. Look at all these lovely ladies.’
He gestures to his phone and begins to scroll through a vast selection of attractive woman. He stops on – Luciana 25 from Brazil.
‘She’s beautiful.’ I say.
‘Yeah, she is pretty fit. I do have a thing for the Brazilian ladies.’
I bet you do, I think. Poor, relentlessly fetishised, Brazilian ladies.
He flicks through her photos and pauses on one:
‘Oh no, no, no. I couldn’t go there.’
‘Why not? She’s gorgeous.’
‘There’s something going on with her titties. They’re fake.’
‘I don’t like fucking plastic. Women with fucking plastic in their bodies.’
‘Don’t you think women should have the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies? And don’t you think that you swiping through photos and judging women based on their appearance creates the conditions where women feel that they must put plastic into their own bodies?’
‘I just don’t like it. Anyway, swipe should be a buzzword,’ he says, changing the subject. He’s not picking up what I’m putting down. He shows me another lady, a pretty Italian in her 40s.
‘She’s quite fit, but… she’s probably desperate. And she’s past it. So what about you?’ he asks. ‘Do you have boyfriend? Any big relationships? How old are you?’
‘Oh you’ve still got time. You should be going for it. I know a woman who had a baby at 42.’
Yeah, I nod in agreement. It’s feels pointless explaining the might not actually want a husband and babies.
‘I want to settle down,’ he adds, wistfully, ‘but I can’t seem to find anyone long-term.’
‘Maybe that’s because you’re constantly swiping,’ I say and wander off to my bedroom to begin writing.