What’s the Alternative? (Published in Gloss Magazine- Cover Story-Single Sex-Playing the Field)

11 Sep

imageYears ago, when I still believed that marriage was something I should strive for, I was told a joke by an older woman who had more experience than me. “A woman needs a man who is good in bed, is good with kids, has a good job, is cultured, is a good cook, and who is a good handyman,” she counselled. “And she must also make sure that none of these men ever meet each other.” In the sweet naiveté of youth, I failed to get the joke. I now understand it completely, as it has turned out to be my life. I was born in Ireland in the mid-1970s to free-spirited American parents who never married. By the time I was five, they were separated and my brother and I lived in Ireland with our father, visiting our mother in the various countries she lived in, including the United States, Turkey and Germany. Despite this anything-but-conventional upbringing, I still somehow became conditioned to believe that I should be in a marriage-track relationship by my mid-20s. I met a lovely man at university in the United States when I was 22 and, as many of our friends were getting married right out of college, we moved to Berlin to practise our language skills and teach English. We were very compatible, and he is the man I probably should have stayed with and married, but there was one problem. He did not feel the pull and pulse of the city as much as I did. I was yearning for adventure. As I was terminating our four-year relationship at the age of 26, he sobbed and pleaded with me. “I have a fantasy of your lovely curly hair flowing down over your pregnant belly,” he implored. My decision was made, however. I wanted out, and nothing was going to change my mind. Ten years later, he is happily married, and has beautiful twin daughters. I am single living in Berlin. My adventures in Berlin in the years following our break-up were intense, to say the least. I became well acquainted with the nightlife and culture of this fantastic city, meeting people of different ages, races and sexual orientation. I also enjoyed a very successful teaching career, and I was full of vibrant, youthful energy. But when I hit 30, I began to feel a little weary of such a whirlwind life, and it was then that I made my first attempt at engaging with what I now like to call “the pretense of security”, and I began dating a wealthy German engineer. It failed quickly, however, and as I was breaking up with him due to the lack of chemistry, he said to me by way of warning: “In ten years, you have to have found a relationship that works because, by then, all your friends will be gone.” By “gone” he meant married and leading insular lives but, while inwardly the thought unnerved me, I was unwilling to settle with him. Next, I joined an online dating website. Within a few weeks, I met wealthy German engineer number two. I made more valiant an effort to make this relationship work, but it too failed after two years. I felt strongly that he did not appreciate my true merits, and that I was just an accessory in his life. It seemed that he just wanted any pretty woman at his side to play the role of wife. I felt that my creativity and sensuality were being hindered by him. It turned out too, that we had different ideas of what constituted a healthy sex life, and once, as I was diplomatically trying to improve things with him in the bedroom, he made it clear how little it mattered to him. “Look,” he said grumpily, “sex, is just something I want to get done, and move onto the next thing.” “What, like a mundane task like changing a tyre on a car?” I retorted in horror. “Time for me to change boyfriends then.” Some of my friends and family deemed me mad to terminate such a materially rich relationship with a seemingly caring and stable man – “Think of your security,” they warned – but I took this as an insult. Did people not think I could continue to support myself as I had been doing for years? I have since learned that he found another girl on the internet to replace me a few months later and they are now married. I can’t help but wonder what sort of a relationship they have. Is it a sexless marriage? Is it one where she is happy to be an accessory and spend his money all day? Who knows – maybe they really are compatible. In recent years, finding myself back in the adventure that is dating in Berlin, I have often thought about that joke I was told years ago. I have met a lot of different men, men who have fulfilled my various needs in different ways and I have come to realise that being independent and having my freedom suits me far better than being married. My wealth of experience has shown me that you truly cannot have it all with one man. For a while, I dated a Canadian guy, with whom I could discuss literature and poetry for hours, and although we shared a bed, it was not because we were having hot sex, but rather because we shared a mutual affection and respected each other greatly. I also have a dear German male friend who comes to my aid whenever I am having a computer or a domestically themed meltdown, which happens frequently enough with me. I have a good American male friend with whom I play sports and go to the Berlin Philharmonic. He wows me with his great sense of humour and his knowledge of classical music. We occasionally end up in bed together too, because we both admit we miss the intimacy. For a spell of about two years, through no design or manipulation of my own, I actually found myself in two relationships simultaneously. They both knew of each other but never met. One of them was a Scottish musician whom I considered to be my soul mate and best friend (he cooked the best chilli con carne in the world … ). We did not have a sexual relationship, but were very close on every other level, offering each other constant moral support. We were like an old married couple, complete with arguments over how to best solve a problem. And while he was out playing music and dating other women, I was seeing an Irish entrepreneur with whom I had a lot of great sex. He had told me on our third date, however, that he had no intention of engaging emotionally with me and that he intended to spend his 30s playing the field, sleeping with me and lots of other people besides. He hurt me deeply, and drove me halfway to insanity, but it is an experience I would not have wanted to go without. The combination of these two men in my life for such an extended period of time truly provided more than I could have dreamed of in one stable relationship. They were both completely different to each other and I cared for them both dearly. But am I not worried about being all alone if I don’t settle by the time I’m 40, as my first German engineer boyfriend warned? Not really, to be honest. I am certainly less afraid of it now than I was a few years ago, because I see more and more women my age who are also remaining childless and unmarried, and I hear about the interesting ways that single, childless people are choosing to live communally as we get older. Berlin, especially, is known as a “single city” and many people are here to work on interesting art, music, language and writing projects and to enjoy the excellent nightlife and culture that the city has to offer. I recently heard about an apartment block here where single people choose to live their separate lives in individual apartments but have a communal living room where the can meet – and they are slowly buying the building together. I truly believe things are changing and we do not have to live with the fear of growing old alone. I have a wonderful family who are spread across Ireland and the United States and I usually spend a Christmas with them but, this year, I decided to stay in Berlin and host Christmas dinner myself. I love cooking and I had eight for dinner: two gay guys, four single ladies in their 30s (including me) and one married couple. I keep my online social network in place too: one of my New York-based aunts reunited with her old college boyfriend on Facebook and they have been dating the past three years, and meeting people through Facebook has been a more positive experience for me than online dating. As a single woman who lives alone, Facebook is my faithful friend: I get all my music, entertainment and news about my friends there on a daily basis. Recently I admitted what a huge amount of time I spend on Facebook to a friend who is a married mother. “Oh,” she retorted, smugly, “I cancelled my Facebook account. I think it’s a silly waste of time.” Well, I can’t live without Facebook. Yes, I would still like to meet someone to share my life with and I continue to go on dates and there are, admittedly, moments of desperation, especially as I am acutely aware that a large percentage of my still-single male peers, men that I used to consider my dating pool, are starting to set their sights on women five or six years younger than me. But what can I do about it? I am following my path and simply trying to lead an honest life that makes me happy. I have a friend who used to live in Berlin and, when she was 26, she started going out with her boss. They both worked and earned good money and then they got married and moved to LA together to earn even more money. When she was 37 she gave birth to their only child, a beautiful blonde son, who is spoilt, but lovely too. She visits Berlin every year and I meet up with her for coffee but I’m not sure whether I will bother the next time she is in town because some of the things she said last time put me off. Things like: “Are youstill not settled?” and “Why do you spend so much time out at night in Berlin, don’t you want a steady boyfriend?” And the clincher was, “Once you have a baby, all these other things you had been filling your time with seem so meaningless.” I guess she doesn’t understand my life at all. I am confident that if I remain true to myself and to the people I love, I have a pretty good chance of continuing to lead a satisfying life – with or without a stable partner. I know from experience that settling for the wrong relationship out of fear is a bad idea. And I have filled my life with people who share my opinion on these matters, so that gives me courage. Together, we discuss the possibilities of forming those communities and networks as we age and consciously decide not to marry and settle for passionless existences that stifle freedom and creativity. Single women have never had it better in all of history, and there is every reason to be optimistic for the future if we remain single, which no doubt a lot of us will.

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