Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Designating someone single is similar to calling someone homeless—this may not be of uppermost concern to the individual. Your own projections figure heavily in the label, too. A homeless person is likely also boatless and horseless, but you are probably thinking of them as lacking the kind of house or apartment or condo you happen to live in. Calling me “single” likewise may involve your projection of a missing hunky husband, say, rather than a butch wife or a breezy playmate tailored to my needs. You may even visualize me as a potential custodial partner rather than the one benefiting from someone else’s daily care.
Maybe you mix the two concepts, I don't know, and calling me "single" means I don't own and share a house in Chula Vista with a landscaped backyard for California barbecues and birthday parties. Or a brownstone along Commonwealth Avenue in Boston big enough for piano trios. Or a little beachhouse along the peninsula Tróia, or perhaps an oceanview vacation-share down in the Algarve or over in Miami.
In any case, just as we do not initially attribute “Ferrari-less” to a homeless person, neither do we see them as primarily coping with cancer or schizophrenia. Perhaps their immediate struggle involves not having an ID or a cellphone. Or vital medication. Or a way to get through the night. We may completely miss the thing that most needs resolving.
As a professor, my urgent concerns had little to do with preparation for being a logician or philosopher of science. I'd mastered that stuff, at least enough for wall credentials and hiring prospects. What was difficult was simultaneously obtaining, transporting, organizing, and utilizing all the required infant care and household items. I didn't see married women parents as much ahead of me in this department, since they appeared to be doing pretty much the same squishing of outside labor and indoor tasks into the identical 24-hour frames. As far as I could see, their perks accrued to occasionally going to the store alone and sleeping in on weekends. They had zero time to offer me, in any case, any more than I had time for them.
I identify with much of the literature on being single, as does the IRS for me at tax time, and likely would have shipped myself off to a medieval convent rather than endure the short-lived fate of a female house slave. Nonetheless I experience most conversation even now as subjection to a kind of optical lense exam. As you place your lenses on me, I try to gauge the depth of your meaning, the scope of your periphery, the fundamental frames of your Weltanschauung. What is it that you see in me? Which frames are lit and which dark? How and where are you running with my words, and am I using the ones you recognize? Do you see blue where I see green? How many is a lot to you?
It's exhausting, always has been. Requires a great deal of recovery-time. At the Conservatory there were times when I'd stay in between Thursday and Tuesday orchestra rehearsals. Once all I had was a bottle of vodka and a loaf of bread and I still didn't go out, sat there looking at Back Bay Fens from my Peterborough windows the whole time. I could hear the Red Sox games through the courtyard.
Human social adaptation requires cognitive effort, and my personal neural networks developed with gaping Swiss-cheese hole requirements for solitude amid the connective tissue. Single doesn't begin to explain the condition. The absence of a live-in partner might be relevant to a few years here and there, when I consciously pursued the idea and engaged in promiscuous sex, dating rituals, attempted marriage, or sadly, all of the above at once. The rest of the time I was busy being a kid, a musician, world wanderer, professor, mother, writer, patient, survivor. The absence of cohabitation doesn't describe me much better than the absence of a coronavirus or even comorbidity with pre-existing ailments. Lately there's been an absence of noisy neighbors, for which I am inconsistently grateful under current lockdown circumstances.
Today I am lacking a functioning coffee machine and instant decaf is not doing the trick. If offered, I'd take a good cup of java over true love, no hesitation.
So sitting on the sofa...what do you see? Am I bored? Busy? Writing? Waiting for cookies to bake? A baby to wake up? Am I sleepy? In pain? Memorizing La Vie en Rose? Or maybe Bitte geh nicht fort? Am I missing someone? A man, a woman, a cat?
You don't know.
That's right—you do not know.
It's okay. I don't know much about you, either. Until you tell me.
23 MARCH 2020