If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year of dating, it’s that dropping the phrase “By the way, I only have a single bed” into conversation is a great way to sort the wheat from the chaff. So great, in fact, that it’s turned out the dating scene is populated entirely by chaff. Great, undulating mountains of the stuff. I’m drowning in chaff.
First, though, a step back. When I initially tuned in to the possibility of buying a single bed, about a year ago, it wasn’t a very deep thought. At the time, the thinking was more about space and decluttering; as I no longer rent an entire flat or house to myself, I needed to be realistic about how much of my private space I wanted to give over to a box spring. That, and I wanted to fight the Big Expensive Mattress Industrial Complex.
This purely practical thought soon became an ideological one: in maintaining my double-to-queen-sized-bed lifestyle, was I in danger of repeating the same romantic mistakes (and there had been plenty of them) indefinitely, by virtue of being able to literally accommodate another person in my personal sleeping space?
When I finally unrolled the single mattress back in October, there were some immediate benefits, not the least of which was my surprise at no longer waking up with an aching back (who knew a 15-year-old spring mattress might not be supportive anymore??) or a sinus headache. The deeper repercussions of downsizing are still unfolding.
It hasn’t affected my love life directly because it’s hard to affect something that doesn’t really exist: I’m not ashamed to tell you that my dating reality is and has been, for the past few years, maybe one or two “home games” per year if I’m lucky.
And though both Bob Marley and Noosha Fox have immortalised the single bed as a site of enduring passion, so realistically the single bed should be no barrier to a bodacious bonkfest, as I get older the idea of a lasting connection being built solely on initial physical attraction is almost laughable.
Talk about not being especially interested in casual (or committed) sex and people give you the sort of expressions that will tend to inspire you to do your best impression of Meg Ryan as Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally (“It just so happens that I have had plenty of good sex!”). Dating apps are full of “ethical non-monogamists” and references to polyamory that are a very effective sleep aid.
In a dating economy that is based almost entirely on initial attractors like great photos, funny bios, or first dates that crackle with Ernst Lubitsch worthy repartee, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine there’s a place in the romantic landscape for those of us who can’t “nail” their Tinder or OkCupid bios, or who are too nervous on first dates to secure a second, or who aren’t naturally the hot or mysterious person at the party.
Most of the time, if I attend a party or an event, I hear Joni Mitchell’s words in my head: “I’m just living on nerves and feelings/With a weak and a lazy mind/And coming to people’s parties/Fumbling deaf dumb and blind.” When I was younger and punishing my body into an outward representation of “hotness” (read: thinness), I let my physicality do the flirting for me; now, older and having put down the fake tan can, it’s harder to move in those flirty worlds. I blush, I get nervous, and I will walk away from boring small-talk rather than find a reason to justify turning a half-baked conversation into a six-month fling. You could argue that this is a good thing, but it does tend to make the spectre of “alone forever” linger.
Consequently, I find myself in a strange purgatory, where I’m pretty good at being single (and not just by circumstance; I actively enjoy it most of the time) but I would also love a partner. This is a strange position for many to grapple with; so, wait, are you lonely or not? The honest answer is “sort of”.
(Being an older single person means you’ll also become intimately familiar with the special if well-meaning nightmare that is “oh, I know a single person, you two should get together!”)
Heather Havrilesky, who if there’s any justice in this unforgiving universe should become the first person to win both a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize for an advice column, has given much sage advice on the topic of singledom. This is because there seems to be an awful lot of people out there who – like me – are trying to be super-stoked on their single status but still occasionally find themselves crying from loneliness in the darker hours.
In one column, Ask Polly: I’m Pretending To Be Happy Single, But I’m Not!, Havrilesky wrote: “We all feel discouraged, often, because life is up to each of us. We are all alone. Our happiness and joy and longing and sadness are in our lonely hands. We have to allow some room for darkness. We have to admit that we are not in control of our destinies, even as late-capitalist American culture seduces us into believing otherwise.”
When I was 25, I thought I’d be married with kids by 30; I guiltily hid a stack of Cosmo Bride mags under the bed like pornos. At almost 35 and single among married and parenting friends, the line “I always thought I’d be a mom” in No Doubt’s Simple Kind Of Life feels extra poignant (and not just because I was a true ’90s teen).
But the more I think about it, the following chorus’ lyric, “All the simple things are simply too complicated for my life” is the one that really rings true.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my dating life hit a brick wall around the same time I decided to take my own career and creative endeavours seriously. Time I had previously spent obsessing over romances was now taken up with writing; where once a date might have been a gateway to a new relationship, it now felt, more often than not, like an inconvenience. (If it weren’t for my therapist stressing the use of bad dates as “good material”, it’s possible I wouldn’t have gone on any at all post-2014.)
The dream is to find a person who can exist within this space (and if they enjoy cultural theory, pro wrestling, and can squat 250kg, even better); even though the dating world in 2017 does make this seem like an uphill battle, I remain hopeful.
And if this magical person does appear, like Atreyu passing through the Sphinx Gate en route to the Southern Oracle, they’ll still have to face one final challenge: the words “Oh, by the way, I only have a single bed.”