Sometimes I’m still shocked to find myself in a loving, happy relationship. It’s so off brand. I spent the majority of my adult life being alone, happily or unhappily, bitterly or less so. Being single was an important part of my identity for so long that even now that my romantic life has become fulfilling, joyous, easy, I still can’t completely part with my single lady angst. Years of receiving tepid advice like “it will happen when you least expect it,” of sitting at the singles table at weddings, of honing my expertise in making breakup mixes, will leave their mark. There are those of us who feel like our romantic travails can be summed up by a choice Stevie Nicks song, and those who don’t. “Silver Spring” will never not be my go-to karaoke song.
Before I met Josh I had lived alone for ten years, fiercely independent and somewhat proud of the regimen of weird habits and eccentricities I’d developed. I was committed to the idea that I didn’t need a man to be happy, but still, I wanted a boyfriend. I hated myself for pining for the heteronormative ideal of romance–all that stupid old shit, as Liz Phair sang in the 1994 single lady anthem “Fuck and Run.” But I did want it, with an intensity that made me feel like a subpar feminist and a failure at doing things that normal women have been doing since the beginning of time. And one of the most dismal parts of experiencing this kind of longing is that I was the victim of a certain brand of single lady concern trolling disguised as friendly advice. Everyone had words of wisdom (often unsolicited!) about how I should fix myself, as if singledom was an ailment for which I could find a cure if only I tried hard enough and took the appropriate steps to get healthy.
I’m here to tell you that I didn’t do anything differently than I normally did. I didn’t fundamentally change any part of myself to finally find a happy relationship: I didn’t read a slew of self-help books and start going to SoulCycle to Get Right. I didn’t try a new dating app or a new therapist, and I didn’t arrive at some place of spiritual enlightenment at the end of which I announced to the world, “I am ready for love,” with my arms outstretched in the air. Reader, I got lucky. That’s it. For once in my life I got phenomenally lucky. I’m still the same old me with the same insecurities and biases and hangups but now I’ve found someone I love very much who loves me back. My before and after photos look almost identical, except I’m not alone in the after one.
And I’ve at last gained some perspective on all of the love advice with which I’ve been barraged for most of my life.
First, I’d like to say fuck off to everyone who constantly told me to “put yourself out there!” I mourn for all of the books I could’ve read, for all of the TV I missed, simply because I was so determined to be out every night, socializing and meeting people. Yes, being around other humans is a great first step in trying to find a mate, but still, the pressure I felt to be constantly out and about could make a sometimes-introvert feel guilty for scheduling some much needed recovery time. I’d have a full-blown panic attack if a Friday night came around and I didn’t have plans, so then I’d be sitting on my couch chugging wine and frantically swiping through Tinder when I could’ve been relaxing and reading a significant portion of the modern canon all while keeping up with the Kardashians.
Even worse were the people who parroted life coaches or women’s magazines, who told me to “date like it’s your job.” Because if you’re a woman who lives in an impossibly large city where eligible single men are hard to find, apparently you must work to find them. You’ve gotta put in the time. But wait. Do you have a job that inspires you and brings you joy? Then delight in how wonderful your career is and enjoy it. Do you find your job to be tedious or dead-end or soul-crushing? Then why would you want to take on a whole other job that feels exactly as miserable? One terrible job is more than enough.
Then there were the particularly judgmental people who offered tough love by saying I should “be less picky,” perhaps inspired by a hateful 2010 book which implied that too many single women have impossibly high standards and are delusional about whom and what they deserve. Related: The well-meaning family friends who couldn’t wait to set me up with random single dudes they kind of knew, as if having a penis and a pulse and approximate geographical location were the only criteria that truly mattered in a potential mate, and any further need for complexity or compatibility just showed how snobby and difficult I was. Being lonely is awful, but it’s not nearly as agonizing as going through the motions with someone you’re ambivalent about.
I didn’t settle. I’m glad I remained stubborn until I found someone who delights me and challenges me every single day. It was easy. Josh made it easy for me to love him, and so I did, and so I do. And I deserve his love. But if he hadn’t come out to that particular bar that night, if our paths had never crossed, I’d still be me. And now I truly believe that with a loving family and great friends and great books and some Fiona Apple tunes and maybe some good bourbon, I would still be complete, even if I were single. And though I’m not planning on it, if I ever find myself single again I will try to love my flawed, picky self, and take relationship advice sparingly, if at all.
Maris Kreizman is the author of Slaughterhouse 90210. Follow her on Twitter.