Sunday, May 4, 2014

There Are No Rules: In Love

There Are No Rules: In Love

Here’s the situation. A confident, successful, friendly and motivated woman in her late twenties is seen to be all of the above through the eyes of her friends, family and peers. “You are gorgeous!” they say. “You’re so clever!” they chime. But there is one fallible flaw in her near-perfect being: she is single.

No stranger to the question “do you have a boyfriend yet?” this modern girl is in constant defense mode. The belief seems to be that once one leaves high school, the single female is placed on the stage of a metaphorical pageant where she is expected to outshine all other female contenders for the attention of the all-male audience. Challenges include to:
  • stand out in a swarm of beautiful women who are far more confident of their physical appearance than you are of yours 
  •  evade creeps
  • strategically friend-zone where needed
  •  avoid making the first move
  •  avoid rejection at all costs
  • inevitably deal with being rejected when an error in judgement has led you to make the first move
  •  and most importantly, maintain your integrity at all times.
The prize, of course is to make it through to the next round, which involves exiting the coruscating stage hand-in-hand with your partner, excited to be courted by this interesting new person. While you blush with plume, onlookers either applaud your triumph or glare at you with jealous eyes (and you secretly hope it's the latter). But not everyone is an instant winner.

If you’re lucky, you won’t be on this stage for long. You begin to notice that as your fellow contestants leave with their new playmates, the stage lights slowly start to dim. You find yourself pacing over a limited area of the hardwood floor, wearing the black finish to a dull grey, now unable to see the exit clearly as it is too far to reach from the centre of this dark and dusty stage. You keep yourself busy. You try to entertain yourself, but before you know it, only one theatre light has been left on, and it’s a standard four-dollar bulb flickering from a distant corridor down the aisle leading to the toilets. The audience left hours ago. You’ve missed your cue.

So, why is being a single female so taboo in this modern society of ours? Allow me to share a little about myself. I am nearly 27 years old and to the curiosity of some, have only ever had one boyfriend.

I was 21 or 22 at the time, and my immaturity and lack of experience led me to make excuses for his errors. I put up with far more than I ever would today and I gave second chances (sometimes third and forth). Our relationship was psychologically volatile: he enjoyed the thrill of playing mind games of which I was absolutely aware; questioned my religious beliefs and dismissed my request to ‘label’ our relationship as paranoia [he was openly in contact with his most recent ex-girlfriend, flirted with his female co-workers and made no apologies for this behaviour]. While he was not the first guy I dated by any means, he was the first I’d fought for emotionally, ignoring my better judgement. Evidently, society’s perpetual fear had subliminally crept into my psyche.

That was five or six years ago and it’s true, I haven’t had a boyfriend since. Subsequently, I’ve been on some first dates but never, if my memory serves me correctly, any seconds. [If there were second dates, they were unremarkable.] I consciously avoid referring to my ex-boyfriend in conversation because the relationship isn’t a reflection of who I am today, nor does it emulate any feelings I had back then or now. Typically what follows the mention of this relationship are concerns like “So, are you single now because no one really compares to your ex?” or “Do you ever think about getting back in touch with him?” And then there’s “Are you too scared to date now because you think you’ll be hurt again?” The answer to each of these questions is no, simply because I know I deserve better.

It baffles me that people from my past or present would want me to settle for a mediocre, if not damaging relationship replete with domestic imbalance. Many insist I date the next random to waltz into my life, regardless of age or past experience. These people find it incomprehensible that I would rather be single than lower my standards significantly. “You’ll find love when you least expect it” they say with great enthusiasm, as if they were gazing into a telling crystal ball.

Well, here’s a (contracted) list of gentlemen I’m supposed to have willingly considered as suitors when I ‘least expected it’:
  • The creepy forty-something tattoo artist that resembled Andy Serkis and who I initially thought was gay.
  • A happily married thirty-something friend of mine (apparently the fact that he’s married with three kids isn’t a concern to some).
  • The suspiciously Russian-sounding “LA native” (his words) that approached me in San Francisco to ask where the nearest Starbucks was. Once I answered his question, he stared in silence, then finally said “You’re really cute”. Keep it moving, buddy.
  •  The countless Indian males (old and young) who have, within moments of meeting me, told me I am beautiful and that they feel an ‘unconditional love’ for me. (Seriously, this happens more than you know.)
  • The sinister 32 year-old storeman I worked with when I was 19 whose advances weren’t welcome.
  • The stout, freckled, opinionated thirty-something work acquaintance whose female bestie refused to believe I didn’t want to date him, having thrown the idea out publicly six or seven times.
  • A few young, attractive males who’ve chosen to complain about their long-time girlfriends to me while sussing out whether I was interested in them by openly flirting. Gentlemen, that’s not ok. Go be with your girlfriend. By the sound of it, you’re lucky to have her.
  •  …and many others, but I need to stop; this list is exhausting me.

Another social taboo I’ve experienced is that of living alone. Apparently it is questionable for a single female to have her own place, even in 2014. An annoying question I am often faced with is, “Isn’t that lonely?” This question is, ninety-nine percent of the time asked by someone who has never been alone a day in their life; often females who jump from one boyfriend to another and don’t know how to navigate the ‘single life’. It is liberating being able to go home to a place that is mine: I can watch what I want when I want; arrange the furniture as I like, and I don’t need to worry about sharing the living room if a housemate decides to have friends over. The fact that it still shocks some to discover that a female can live self-sufficiently in today’s day and age threatens to disturb the progress we have made as a society in terms of women’s independence. Recently, I’ve noticed that society panicking about my relationship status becomes less about my desire to find a partner and more about its need to fulfil quixotic expectations. Living alone in one’s twenties gives women the opportunity to know themselves before entering the relentless dating arena, where selflessness is key.

Today, dating is competitive. Perhaps it always was, but in your late twenties and thirties, it is magnified. Social media plays a major role in fueling this fire and false representations of what is considered beautiful such as sexualised, retouched images in our contemporary society threaten to damage a woman’s self-worth, preventing her from confidently vying for a man’s attention. If we were to revisit the pageantry metaphor, rather than sprucing up my hair; throwing myself into a short, tight-fitting dress with a low neckline; batting my eyelashes and flicking my hair until the judges gave me the thumbs up, my performance would see me wearing edgy skinny jeans, lace-up indie boots, a black hoody and if I’m feeling particularly vehement, the bird times two. Dating shouldn’t be a contest based on appearance and sexual desire alone. It also shouldn’t be a platform for men or women to gloat or objectify their ‘trophy partner’ on social media as a means of concealing their insecurities.

Recently, I confided in a close friend that I’d met someone special, and as cliché as it may sound, I felt a ‘connection’. Though a little younger than I, he has proven himself to be the most mature twenty-something male I’ve met thus far (and genuine, and funny, and smart, and handsome – the list goes on. #smitten). Almost instantly we found common ground, and soon we started talking daily, if only in passing.

My friend (recently engaged to her boyfriend of eight years) listened with excitement and great amusement as I told her of our encounters and my flirtatious faux pas. She then gave me some welcome advice: “Take your time getting to know him, because getting to know each other is a really fun stage of the relationship.” She also said, “Always be yourself.” This advice instigated the realisation that society’s attitude towards romantic partnerships is designed to make women feel the need to rush into a relationship, whether it be because their biological clock is ticking or simply because they don’t want to be considered a spinster at thirty years of age. It also identified another issue: that women experience both internal and external pressure to change their appearance, their personality or alter their beliefs with the sole purpose of attracting a man… any man. Several weeks after my friend bestowed upon me her wise words, I’m happy to announce that I couldn’t agree with her more. Finding out new things about the man you’re interested in is fascinating, and learning every day that you have even more in common with him than you initially expected is near exhilarating. It just goes to show that for the single female, knowing yourself must be your top priority before seeking a partner. If you don’t enjoy your own company, how can you expect others to?

Being single should be considered less about one’s failure to obtain a life partner, and more potently as an opportunity to thrive in improving your own personal wellbeing. The satire of which NBC’s 30 Rock so cleverly represents is the misconception that it is an aberration to suffer defeat in your early adult years when it comes to dating and marriage. The episode titled ‘Cleveland’ sums up this sentiment nicely with a direct allusion to the characters of Sex and the City. The scene features three women in their thirties: awkward and self-sufficient Liz Lemon, vain blonde bombshell Jenna and upper class Christie’s snob Phoebe, who are talking about Phoebe’s quick engagement:
Phoebe      Let’s face it. At our age, we can’t afford to waste any time.  
Jenna        Mmm-hmm. 
Liz              [Laughs sarcastically] Floyd and I have been dating for a month. Do you think I should be mad that I don’t have a ring?
[Phoebe and Jenna nod in pity. Liz looks surprised.]  
Jenna        Well, how Sex and the City are we right now? I’m Samantha, [to Phoebe] you’re Charlotte, [to Liz] and you’re the lady at home that watches it! 

To quote 30 Rock’s patriarchal character Jack Donoughy (as played by Alec Baldwin), “there are no rules in love”. Ergo, women should remember to follow their instinct when it comes to dating, and avoid societal pressures to meet insubstantial deadlines.

If we keep in mind that there are no rules in love, no longer will the single woman submit to feelings of guilt and inner-turmoil because she was not married by the age of twenty-five. If we remember that there are no rules in love, no longer will men (in particular) be influenced by Hollywood dialogue telling them to wait three days before contacting their crush. If there are no rules in love, using your single status to get to know your own wants and needs will surely increase your chances of finding a partner that accepts you for who you are. If there are no rules in love, the metaphorical stage can dim its lights for good and allow these young, single women to venture out into the world and find a man they fancy, no longer existing as just another option to their male counterparts. 

If there are no rules in love, perhaps then the statement “I’m single” will no longer be met with a gasp.

Written by Belinda Pearce

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