Observations, Self, Writing

on the single life.

Yesterday, I was sitting alone at a bar waiting for someone and wound up finishing the book I’d brought with me. The bar was in downtown Brooklyn, right off the train, large and bright and full of empty tables, but I preferred to sit at the counter where I could, despite being absorbed in reading, be around people. I’ve always liked that– being around people doing their own things, while doing my own thing. When I finished the book, which I did fast and greedily, I immediately texted my roommate.

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“Have you ever gotten that feeling after reading a really good book?” I continued. “Like: full, warm, maybe a little sad, and at the same time really open and clear?” It’s been such a long time since a book made me feel that way– probably years since I read a book I could both escape into and learn from.

The book, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, is a memoir about author Kate Bolick’s love life, interlaced with anecdotes and biographical snippets of five woman writers from history who remained single– or maintained a “single spirit” while married– whom she positions as her “awakeners” to the possibility of an adult life sans marriage: Maeve Brennan, Edna St Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, Neith Boyce, and Charlotte Perkins

It’s meandering, full of poetic musings about the pleasures of singledom and fears about rejecting convention, woven (occasionally clumsily) with biographical anecdotes about her court of authors, who chatter on in her head like derelict guardian angels. Bolick writes about walking and living alone in the city, eating greasy fast food in her bed, cobbling together freelance jobs that barely pay rent, going on boozy dates, chatting with a widow who drinks tea on her stoop: she paints a picture of life in New York City that reminds me of my own.
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Bolick’s desire to be single, which outlasts a rotating cast of boyfriends, seems to be inextricably connected with her desire for the financial independence and emotional detachment she feels is required to be a “real writer.” She enjoys her wide swath of “weak ties” afforded by city life and delights in reflecting on her world from the vantage point of an unattached person: that is, a person who doesn’t define herself by her relational roles. She seems to believe that she notices more as a single person than married women might: that she can observe and appreciate more of the color of city life by the lack of a relational commitment weighing on her mind. Her desire is urged on by the awakeners, whose marriages didn’t last even when happy, and who found living alone while being sexually and socially extroverted most conducive to their productivity. Still, she feels pulled towards marriage by abstract notions of conventionality and the real comfort of having a stable partner.

The book is less about her decision not to marry than it is a scrapbook of reflections of what it means to carve out a life on one’s own, which is increasingly the question I ask myself the longer I stay single: how to live independently and confidently while also in community, how to find meaningful work that pays, how to balance professional success with alignment to one’s values, how to be a feminist and enjoy going on dates, how to be an extrovert while also listening to one’s need for solitude. It provides no easy answers to these questions. But a book that asks them, and while giving me glimpses of the lives of fascinating literary women to boot, is a gem to me.

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Self, Writing

Introducing: dear Mel.

Dear Mel,

I’ve met my soulmate. I’m over the moon thrilled about it. He’s wise, he’s generous, he’s creative. It’s like I’ve known him in another life. He seems to understand things about me I didn’t know could be true– recognizes a strength I didn’t know I had.

We met at a museum curation program and fell to talking. He’s older, by a lot, and I have a lot of insecurities about my appearance, so I had no presumptions about him being interested in me. But he started seeking me out after class, and eventually we were staying up till 3 or 4 in the morning together. Drinking beers, talking about life, about how to create meaning, about why I don’t love myself enough. These moments were potent, sensual, magical.

He’s Venezuelan and has had a hard life. But his generosity is overwhelming. When he was a broke poet, doing nothing but writing, he met an old man who took him in and allowed him to cook and clean for his keep. Now he’s literally given people the shirt off his back.

I don’t know why he loves me, but he does, and I’m enraptured. I’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years, including an assault and the disintegration of a long, unhealthy relationship. He’s the only one who’s made me feel safe.

There’s just one problem. He’s married. He married his wife when he got her pregnant at 18, and he doesn’t love her, and she knows it.

What do I do, Mel? I need this so badly, and there’s something undeniably otherworldly about our connection. I’m determined to keep him, but I don’t know how to give myself permission to love who I love.

Overwhelmed.

Dear Overwhelmed,

Oh honey. You’ve come to the wrong girl.

My first instinct is to give you a quick hard slap of love across the face.

You don’t fuck with marriage, girl. No matter what. Period, donezo, poof, it’s over. Break it off, immediately, now.

You have no real information about his marriage/. You have only what he told you. You have zero information about their history, their chemistry, their relationship, their life together, and for all you know his wife could be madly in love with him and believe he is with her.

He is cheating on her, and that’s wrong. Sorry to get all black and white, but this is the one thing in life for which I cannot leave moral wiggle room. Most things are ethically gray; this is not. Marriage is holy– set apart. If you’re not 100% sure about somebody, don’t get married! He should not have married her if he didn’t want to be tied down– and no, having a kid is not a reason to marry someone; you’re married to the mother, not the child. If he wants to be free now, he needs to be open and mature with her about it. I repeat: you don’t fuck with marriage.

And honestly– and I say this with all kindness and loving feelings towards you– he sounds like a dick. He is behaving highly inappropriately, and it even sounds like he’s taking advantage of your delicate position to feed his ego (which it sounds like you do well.) It sounds like you’re caught up in the romance of the forbidden and the mysterious and have forgotten the reality, which is that he is cheating on his wife, and you’re now the other woman.

He may have gone through a lot and done all sorts of generous, creative things. He may be insightful, and he may be telling you things that are true about yourself. That’s really cool! I’m glad you learned from him that you appreciate those things! The trouble is, he shouldn’t be relating to you in this way, it’s not appropriate or right, and if he’s as wise and mature as he claims to be, he knows it. That should worry you.

Tl;dr: he’s not good enough for you.

The flip side, my darling dearest, is that your willingness to buy into his spiel tells me that he has indeed healed something in you. Something he’s got going on– you like it! It satisfies parts of you that have been wounded or empty. My recommendation is that you spend some time (away from him) figuring out all the ways he seems like Mr. Right so you can know them when you see them in someone else under better circumstances. Is it his generosity with possessions? Is it his commitment to his craft? is it his openness to spirituality?

Find the thing(s) and divorce it from him. He, with his complicated circumstances, is not your soulmate. But he may be a guidepost, showing you what to look for in another place. The universe would not drop a perfect-for-you man in front of you and say, “Buuuutttt being with him is wrong.” The universe might give you this man and say, “Look here! He’s not the one, but you’re getting warmer!”

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, Overwhelmed. But I’m confident that someone as sensitive and attuned to what matters in life won’t be happy with him.

Much love,

mel.

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