Last year, a friend of mine, who had been searching for a girlfriend for a decade, finally found someone. When I heard the wonderful news, I texted him, “I’m happy for you.” His reply was odd but familiar. He wrote, “aww thanks, it’ll happen for you one day, don’t worry.” I was slightly irritated. I had never expressed that I was searching for a relationship, and his assumption that being single was not my choice bothered me.
He was not the first one to manifest such a bizarre judgment regarding my single status. I have gotten used to being stereotyped as the lonely, single woman who is unable to find love — the future “crazy cat lady.” I have internalized these social standards by constantly bombarding myself with question: “What if I never find someone?”
In reality, I am grossly burned out from trying to find a life partner because I have had a little too many eerie and rather unpleasant experiences with serious relationships, non-relationships and flings. Between the ages of 15 and 20, I had four long-term relationships. Until August last year, I was technically “single,” but in a non-labeled relationship with someone. In other words, I have gone to great lengths to eschew the forlorn psychological state widely known as “loneliness.”
As a teenager, I settled for incompatibility, convincing myself that being slightly unhappy was better than solitude and loneliness. I jumped from one dysfunctional relationship into another, seeking another person every time I was encumbered with the emotional vacuum and fresh scars of a breakup. Allowing myself room to breathe, grow and develop myself was not an option.
At 16, my first serious relationship ended somewhere between hell and the wildfire that wrecked the Battle of Blackwater (Game of Thrones, Season 2). Its repercussions demolished my sense of self-worth, which expectedly takes time to recover from. But I wasn’t one to stop dating. I entered another serious long-distance relationship. The three months between my first two relationships felt like purgatory gaps in my search to find “the one.”
Romance was my main priority in my teenage years because the vignette of a partner heavily imprinted my vision of an enviable adult life. I grew up watching romantic comedies, both of the Bollywood and Hollywood variety, which all end with a grand reconciliation between the male and female protagonists. Even the “happily ever after” in Disney princess movies depicts romantic partnership as the basis of a happy life. The word “couple” remains an essential component of the socially sanctioned boxes of adulthood that include a real job, a house, a family and, of course, a partner. Like myself, many friends of mine entered toxic relationships and stayed in them for long periods of time.
When imagining myself single, I visualized a lonely woman, sitting on the floor with Chinese take-out and cheap wine, blinking tears as the tragic cloud that reads, “You are alone” settles around her aura. I was apprehensive of an embarrassing scenario — having only my parents to call when I got into colleges. But, since I always had a boyfriend during that time in my life, I would deem myself lucky that I wouldn’t have to do that. Yet, my relationships ironically brought loneliness and insecurity into my life.
I was perfectly happy with my friends and family until I stumbled upon the repetitive relationship syndrome. My self-confidence went missing, and I wavered with bitterness and fragility. I spent nights wondering if someone was cheating on me. Days unfolded in horrid blurs, arguments and tears. But I delicately camouflaged the negative aspects of my relationships under the shiny wrapper called “love.”
I was too spellbound with the idea of having a boyfriend to recognize the infringement on my personal development every time I embarked upon a journey to share love with someone else. But when my last relationship met its distasteful demise, I celebrated my newly acquired singledom as a marker of freedom to casually date whomever I want. My divorce from relationships lead to the “party girl” lifestyle.
In today’s millennial world, being single envelopes the hook-up culture, in an effort to free the term from an association with isolation. As a result, non-relationships have become the new relationships. I frivolously dove into a rampage of “friends with benefits” arrangements. I would have frolicking hook-ups that would turn into a salacious game of “who’s going to be the first one to text.” My non-relationships eventually involved the same amount of work as relationships, except with a confusing headache that emerges with the gray area.
My mind would perform gymnastics with thoughts like, “Should I message him now? I don’t want him to think I’m his girlfriend. He’s not my boyfriend, I can’t randomly message him on a Wednesday night.” Non-relationships weren’t the “chill” I expected. It was the same as relationships, except without a label. It was like trespassing the same danger zone with a “lifeguard” Halloween costume.
During this phase of my love life, going home alone on weekends was another scenario I dreaded. Finding someone at a party to fulfill my sexual needs was my definition of being single. Men flocked to my life like pigeons, and I considered it my pride. But I knowingly resented the pressure of having to text a man when I just wanted to be alone. In some ways, I loved the idea of attention more than the attention itself.
After two years, I realized that I was paradoxically sustaining the ideals of finding a partner that I hoped to dispense from my ideological landscapes. I was denying myself that room I needed to breathe and learn who I am and what I want from my life.
Last August, I moved into a studio apartment and decided to concentrate on myself rather than men, sex, love and relationships. Alas! I discovered what it means to be single and happy. I began watching more television, reading more books, talking to my parents and friends whom I had lost touch with. Strangely, I didn’t feel that void I predicted I would feel if I were single. There has been a surge in my independence and I finally have headspace to think about the different things I can do with my life. I even began writing and publishing, and I discovered domains of my life that brought me pleasure and satisfaction.
I’m not saying relationships always blind individuals from unearthing their own inner potential. But we often feel this need to be with someone else, and thereby forget that self-sufficiency and self-love are important dimensions of a happy adult life. I enforced this requirement in my life at the cost of subjugating my personal fulfillment. Though I don’t regret any relationships, I am glad I finally went on hiatus from them a hiatus from them. Every significant moment of my life, such as graduating high school, leaving Bangladesh for boarding school and beginning college, involved a partner.
Three months away from graduating college, I truly feel refreshed and ready to start a new life by myself. For now, it is me, myself and I, on my couch relishing chicken wings, tacos and ice cream. And I couldn’t love it more.