I’m not single and I haven’t been for quite some time. I met Jake last June and I wouldn’t have called myself single past August or so. As Jake and I move closer and closer to marriage, shopping for rings and spending more and more nights together, though, I’m starting to realize how much harder it was when it was always just me.
I’ve shared, previously, the number of blogs, articles, and comments I’ve come across on the difficulty of marriage, which are usually followed by new parents telling me I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I have a lot of friends who have been sharing this article on the difficulty of parenting on Facebook and I applaud the author for choosing not to discuss how easy everyone else has it… because that’s all I ever hear about being young and on your own. I don’t know if everyone is simply looking at their past through rose colored glasses or if young, single people feel pressured to insist that their lives are fulfilling in every way, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard or read a discussion on how truly difficult it can be to be alone.
Now, I’m certainly not pitying those enjoying the single life and the freedom that comes with it. I had a great time going to movies alone and enjoyed many all night Vampire Diaries marathons over the sound of a whirring sewing machine, when I was single. When Jake visits his parents or goes to Wellston for a few days, I even try to remind myself to enjoy the last chances I’m going to get to be, well… a little bit single. It’s a great time… but it’s also a tough one and no one ever gives anyone credit for the strength it can take…
… to be the sole earner.
As a single woman with an advanced degree, my entire adult life has been something of a financial struggle. In college, I was married to a man who refused to work, so perhaps I had a skewed view, but everyone remembers those years as the Age of Ramen. After I received my bachelor’s degree, however, that stage had already ended for most of my classmates and not because they got jobs, but because they got married.
As I entered graduate school, more and more of my high school acquaintances were choosing to stay home with their babies. These women posted funny YouTube videos about how their friends without children knew nothing of responsibility as I worked 13 hour days and came home to finish a research paper while eating off brand spaghetti rings, because who am I, the Queen? I still don’t buy the name brand. I paid for everything on my own, from my rent, electric bill, and groceries, to the rare nights out with Gail. Student loan payments, car trouble, chiropractor visits, that time my phone was stolen, my $70 asthma inhaler, trips to the vet… they all fell to me, while my peers showed off their new houses and $300 highchairs and longed for my stress free life.
As a successful young woman, I can’t discuss money when sharing my desire for marriage and family, without giving people the impression that I just want a man to take care of me. The women I’ve mentioned above had their own financial hardships. I understand that, I do, but they weren’t solely their burden or responsibility either. When you’re on your own, you’re the only one available to talk yourself out of that designer purse or that second drink, because you’re the only one funding the inevitable emergency. At the end of the month, it’s just you and whatever remains in your bank account. While this is a really great learning opportunity, it’s also really scary. It’s almost as scary…
… to be the sole everything else.
American culture has grown strangely proud of poor time management skills, with everyone from stay-at-home-moms to childless professionals competing to see who can claim the least amount of free time. Never was this more apparent than when I rushed home from a substitute teaching job to take my dog outside, before heading to the library, where I worked circulation until 9:00. When I’d get home at 9:30, it was often to an apartment that looked like an F1 tornado had hit it.
When you’re living with another person, it’s easy to take for granted the things that get done with little to no effort on your part. When Jake and I are married, whoever gets home first will start dinner. If one of us has more free time in the week, we’ll help the other out by doing the laundry, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn. If the Internet goes wonky, there will be two people who could potentially take the morning off to wait for the service call, and two people to compensate for any lack of income that might cause.
When it was just me, every day, working two jobs, I was lucky if I had the energy to microwave dinner, let alone clean up the kitchen or do the laundry. Thank God I didn’t have a lawn. Two years ago, a day off of work to wait for a service call could ultimately have been the difference between being able to afford that Internet or not. Even something as simple as company has become a given, now that I’m in a relationship. It’s easy to forget all those times I ran to the drug store sick or went home after a bad day to an empty and lonely house, now that someone’s available to pick up the prescriptions and cuddle up to during bad Netflix movies. It’s almost as easy to forget how hard it is…
… to have to face the unknown solo, with a smile on your face.
Zetus lapetus, dating sucks. If there is one aspect of being a single twenty-something that none of us feel compelled to talk up, it’s dating and that’s because no one looks back on it fondly… unless they just didn’t do it for very long. I remember getting ready for what was unsurprisingly another dead end date, with Gail’s help, a few years ago. She told me how, although she loves Terry, she sometimes misses that feeling of anticipation and excitement. In hindsight, I’ll admit, there were times when it really was exciting. Toward the end, however, it was just… emotionally exhausting.
The entire time I dated, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to admit that the one thing I wanted more than anything was a loving husband and children. I didn’t want them immediately or solely, but it was a goal of mine to be well on my way by the time I was 30. For some reason, I was supposed to leave something so important up to “fate” or “timing,” while being told my career goals were only subject to effort… even though the former was dependent on how one random person felt about me and the latter hung on how several very specific people felt about me. As a result, not only was I terrified that I may never attain what mattered so much to me, but I felt like I wasn’t even allowed to discuss it, for the sake of all womankind.
Not every woman shares my priorities. Some focus more on career or travel or general life experiences, but most people want to eventually find someone to love and care for and with whom to make all the big life decisions. There was a time when making all of those decisions by myself was freeing. Eventually, however, what I yearned for was a little less uncertainty in the world, some assurance that I would eventually put down the roots I wanted with someone I wanted. In your twenties, there are a thousand unknowns in your existence and when finding someone is no longer one of them, you feel a little more grounded, because you’re not facing the other 999 alone.
I look fondly on the time I spent single, because I made a genuine effort to enjoy it while I could. I had a great time thinking only about me and bettering myself and my career. My Gramma once commented on how exciting it must be to have my whole life ahead of me with all that freedom and all those decisions yet to be made. She was right. It was and still is very exciting. It’s also a lot to take on alone, because no matter how many amazing friends and family members you have, it’s not the same as being in a committed relationship. I don’t doubt that being newly married, having young children, or raising teenagers is stressful. I imagine every stage has its battles and tears. I just get really tired of hearing about how the post college, pre-marriage stage isn’t one of them… because going it alone is, quite often, really very hard. I hope I never forget that.