Confusion Corner: All the Single Ladies

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February 12, 2017

5:27 PM

Every time I walk into a grocery store in the month of February, I am overwhelmed with the primal urge to heave my arms across the shelves and purge them of their cheap, pink, parasitic overgrowths. It’s even worse when Google starts sending targeted chocolate ads with a saccharine-sweet message about how “It’s okay to just date you. Treat yourself!” How did Google guess I was single? Was it the repeated searches for vegan frozen-dinners? I dread the time when the final optimistic days of January slip into a bitter-cold month that is so uninspired it couldn’t even command the proper amount of days. Inevitably, some Sadler tabler with Valentine’s Day cards will reassure me that I can always just send one to myself after I awkwardly explain that I do “more of a solo thing.” I have never had a valentine (my dog doesn’t count even if she gives me tongue kisses), and this strange Hallmark holiday brings up an internal debate for me that extends beyond the gaudy clutches of Valentine’s Day into a broader discussion about being single in a society obsessed with love. I have to ask: is dating yourself lame? Is it something that demonstrates emotional immaturity and personal failings, or is it a perfectly acceptable, even enlightened, relationship stance? For that matter, what does dating yourself even mean?

It is not uncommon to hear a friend say, “Oh I’m just dating me,” in response to an inquiry about their love life. The subtler response, for those who prefer not to be associated with cliched sitcom quotes, is to excuse their suspicious lack of romantic attachment by claiming a lack of interest in being “tied down” or “distracted.” This is often a satisfying enough excuse to end the probing, at least momentarily. The need to excuse one’s appalling singleness stems from an expectation in our culture that people should be, and should want to be, in a narrowly defined relationship. After all, the American dream is a two-car garage and 2.5 kids that you made with a loving and committed partner, not a mid-range townhouse for you and your birds. Being alone is perceived as symptomatic of underlying pathology, and for a single individual, especially an older person, the burden of proof that they are healthy is solely placed on that individual. If you aren’t dating someone, you are dysfunctional until proven otherwise. To be fair, love and romance are the pinnacles of the human experience and can propel your individual sense of fulfillment to new levels. It is something most people really long for and with good reason.

So I guess I am dating myself, but something about that still seems perverse. I don’t even know how I can date myself.

But dating also sucks. When you are single, you get to do whatever you want. There is no fighting over Netflix, going to your partner’s boring games and rehearsals or having to pretend that you care about jazz as much as they do. I get more time with friends, who love me without the sex, and every day is an adventure of self-discovery. And it’s not lonely, at least not until I am in a situation where society rudely implies that I am defective for not tying myself to another terrified, lost soul in the hope that we can bootstrap ourselves into meaning. So I guess I am dating myself, but something about that still seems perverse. I don’t even know how I can date myself. Do I take myself out to movies, fight over how I’ve been too tired to masturbate (it’s 2017, girls do it too), and tell my friends about how great I am? What do I buy myself to make up for when I have been selfish? It seems strange to me that we have created a term for a state of existing, being “single,” that still has to be expressed in the vocabulary of romantic attachment. Just being me is never enough.

There is still some part of me that feels genuinely alone at times. I question if I am just deluding myself with a story of self-selected empowered singleness, which is where the issue gets complicated. Sometimes being single is great, and other times it creates a yawning pit of despair in your core that feels like it will consume your entire being. Yikes.

So in the end, when someone says that they are dating themselves, how should you take it? I don’t think there is an easy answer. It could well be a muted call for help. But it could also be a bold statement of empowerment and a rebuking of mindlessly enforced social norms. Maybe, just maybe, when someone says, “I’m dating me right now,” they are really just trying to dodge your intrusive expectation of romance with a socially acceptable answer. They may not give a flying buttress about love. I don’t know. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but there is a very important one I would like to leave you with: Will you be mine?

Emily Gardner is a Confusion Corner columnist who will be taking “treat yo’ self” to new levels this Valentine’s Day.

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  • Emily Gardner