Whenever women get together, particularly if you’ve not had a good catch up, then every aspect of life, work, and relationships has to be picked over and dissected. On Saturday I met my friend R who brought along a young American student she’d been hanging out with for the afternoon, since she was alone for the Easter weekend. Inevitably we got talking about our love lives.
These conversations become a well-worn groove between friends, told in a kind of shorthand which picks up the ongoing stories where they were last left off, to be told with much gesticulating, theatrical despairing and general eye-rolling at the hopelessness of men to not want us, and our own hopelessness to not snare them.
My friend and I were enjoying launching into this conversational groove, when the American student chipped in, ‘The thing is, when you stop looking for someone, that’s when they come along.’
Between the American student, and me and R all of a sudden appeared an almost tangible wall of scorn. We turned to her, and both began to make sarcastic comments about the idealism of youth.
But she insisted. ‘No! It happened to me.’
Unspokenly agreeing to generously humour the youth, R and I let her tell her story. When she came over to the UK she decided she was done with guys – she was going to travel and enjoy being single.
We both nodded sagely – travelling and enjoying being single is a good decision.
She took a trip up to Edinburgh and got chatting to another American in a crowd of people watching a street performer. As you do. She friended him on Facebook, and by some freak of circumstances, he knew a guy who she’d been at high school with, though he’d been in the year above.
The high school guy contacted her, they chatted on Facebook a bit, and then she told him she was very dedicated to her faith. ‘Well,’ he said to her ‘Since God has put you in front of me, don’t think I’m coming onto you, but…’At this point, the wall of scorn rose again as both R and I jumped in again with variations on:
‘but actually I am hitting on you’
‘but how about it baby?’
‘but I’m talking downtown’ and so on.
‘No!’ she said. ‘Actually he said he wanted to pray for me.’
R and I rolled our eyes.
‘And now he’s my boyfriend. And it’s so cool because I wasn’t looking for it and that was the time when it came along, and so randomly. So just let go of it and that’s when something will happen.’
‘I am 33.’ I said. ‘There have been lots of times when I’ve not been trying to pursue anyone or thinking about getting involved in a relationship. It doesn’t work. Though I’m happy for you, cos that’s a cool story.’
Good grief, I thought, maybe if I’d actually given it more thought and effort in my early 20s, I’d be in a relationship by now.
And then it occurred to me that this is the significant difference between being single in your early 20s and being single in your early 30s. Not the obvious the bitterness and cynicism – less than ideal as it is, that’s pretty much a given.
No, the difference is that in your early 20s you DO believe that doing nothing is the best way to find a life partner. That one day, if you stop thinking about it, you’ll just trip over your perfect man, fall in love and live happily ever after. There’s this delightful expectation that life will deliver the goods for you on time and in one piece as you requested it.
By your mid-20s though, if that method hasn’t worked out for you, you begin to question the universe and how it can have failed to deliver for you so miserably.
By the time you get to your late 20s and early 30s, you realise it’s not the universe’s fault, but that actually doing nothing is precisely how to stay alone forever. Not that you now feel the need to throw yourself at the feet of whichever remaining, passable, single man walks past you and beg. But age has told you that effort has to be made to go out, to meet people and to look half decent and be engaging while you’re doing it.
That poor American girl definitely didn’t deserve the wall of scorn she got from us. I guess I recognised an earlier version of myself and wondered where that optimistic certainty that all would work out had gone. Is it possible to keep your youthful hopefulness without being a fool? That’s the tightrope we older daters have to walk. So forgive us when we’re scornful – we’ve got scuffed knees from having fallen off one too many times.
Still, take courage from us too. In spite of the scabs, we still get up, climb back onto the tightrope and keep walking, going out, looking half decent, being engaging and smiling nicely, meeting new people, and being endlessly hopeful.