It seems that I have reached a milestone. No, not in age – that’s still a year or so ahead of me – and I wouldn’t mind but nobody thought to tell me that this milestone even existed so I couldn’t prepare myself. Gird my loins, as it were, for the barrage that suddenly hit once Christmas 2013 had finished. It seems that there is a specified amount of time you are allowed to be single before this question comes up: “So have you thought about internet dating?”

I heard that question five times between the dreg ends of 2013 and the bright newness of 2014. At first, it being a new phenomena to me, I was dismissive of the idea but touched by their concern for my emotional welfare – not that I think internet dating is necessarily any good for anyone’s emotional welfare, regardless of what the shiny people at Match.com would have you believe.

On the third occasion, however, I was annoyed so turned myself round and round physically, desperately clawing at my (holey) jumper. “What are you doing?” Looking for my sell-by date – I think they must have stamped it on my arse at birth.

By the time questioner number four came along, I was ready with a big, dramatic “OH NOOOOOO!! I shall become an Old Maid!!!” exclamation uttered in tones of shocked Victorian spinster. In the high street. Because if you’re going to be ill-mannered enough to ask me a question like that in public, I am going to make a scene.

It was perplexing, this sudden interest in my life, as though I’d reached a some kind of deadline that caused a banner (invisible to me) to pop up above my head saying “quick before she re-virginates herself, get her dating again, she’s had long enough”. Was I supposed to be showing signs of morphing into Bridget Jones, weeping into my chardonnay, cooking things with blue string and generally running around in just my pants getting into ‘hilarious’ escapades? I loathed Bridget Jones – the book and the film – and have no intention ever of singing 80s power ballads.

However, as Sara Maitland put it in her wonderful article in the Guardian recently “if you tell people enough times that they are unhappy, incomplete, possibly insane and definitely selfish, there is bound to come a cold, grey morning when they wake up with the beginnings of a nasty cold and wonder if they are lonely rather than simply ‘alone’.”

And so it came to pass, dear reader, that sometime between the fourth and the fifth, there occurred an unusual occurrence. I did wake up, conduct my usual morning check on my faculties and, surprise surprise, found myself lonely. That’s a peculiarly hard sentence to write, the word feels almost humiliating. This is mainly because I’ve never really been lonely before (yeah yeah, I know, lucky old smug me). There are a number of reasons for this: child at an early age, boyfriend/fiancée/husband ditto, close family – I’ve usually greeted days and nights on my own with pleasure at being alone. And that’s the key. Being a self-sufficient little sod, I’ve been alone, and happily, but not lonely.

I have also felt unhappily alone before now, marooned and isolated, during the big split, but nothing like this. A to-the-bone, deep aching loneliness that left me gasping and shaking and (sigh, okay, I’ll admit it but only to you, alright?) crying at 3am sat up in bed with my head pressed against my knees, whispering “no no no stop it, stop feeling like this right now“. This state of affairs lasted about four days and I could have done a number of things to stop it. I could have fled to my family (in fact, if my Mum reads this, she’s going to be furious that I didn’t); I could have visited friends but couldn’t bring myself to invade their happy family time yet again; I could have packed everything up and hoicked myself off somewhere else for a day or two.

In the end, I chose to sit there, turning this new feeling over in my hands, subjecting it to a microscope gaze and demanding to know it’s reasons for visiting me. It was, apparently, just my turn. I’d been running for long enough from it – and I had run hard over the last couple of years. Time to feel it, even if that meant wandering around for almost a week feeling as though I was watching the world through a glass observation screen, unable to interact.

“So be lonely…Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.” Elizabeth Gilbert.

So I sat with it and made my map, and not just because feeling lonely had turned me into an evil tempered shrew fit for nothing other than sitting on her map and feeling fucking sorry for herself, but because I needed to get through this Myself. By the time Questioner #5 sat down next to me and asked, over a game of scrabble, my answer was still no. Because even loneliness is survivable and being lonely on your own is infinitely better than being lonely with someone else.

However, we did then spend an hour or so thinking up the only truthful profile information I would ever be able to put up:
Eats more cake than she should – will punch you in the throat should you ever try to take it from her.
Wears clothes with holes in them and/or poor attempts at darning because she likes them and would no more part from them than she would throw the cat out.
Will correct your grammar. Even in public.
Opinionated, bossy, stroppy and plate-shatteringly hormonal.
Veers heavily on the side of ‘artfully dishevelled’, passing frequently over deep into the territory of ‘through a hedge backwards’.
Responds to the question “What are you reading?” with the words “a book” and will not elaborate.
Talks through films. And tv programs. Sometimes while standing in front of the telly because she was only passing through the room and doesn’t actually want to watch this.
Watches far too much Poirot and Murder, She Wrote.
Has a look that will freeze volcanoes when pissed off or when you’ve been unutterably stupid – colleagues call it her Medusa Look – she is really quite proud of it.
Will not play demure and order merely a salad in a restaurant, will order chips. And eat them. And then try to eat yours too.
Will expect you to be understanding of her phobias of both spiders and zombies and will expect you to make it your lifelong mission to protect her from both.                              Doesn’t so much laugh as cackle. Loudly.
Won’t share last Rolo.

File:TheOldMaidPoster.jpg

PS. Bette Davis is completely and utterly my heroine so if being an old maid means being Bette Davis, I happily submit to my fate.

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8 thoughts on “The Old Maid and the New Year

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  1. Yes, yes, yes. I have been through this exact same thing. I actually remember writing in my diary that I needed to get comfortable with the aloneness “sit with it for a while and really feel it”. I sometimes think that loneliness is like the ‘flu virus and by exposing myself to it I might build up antibodies to ward off any future outbreaks. But I am not sure it works like that. I think I am going to do online dating in the spring. Also, I am shamelessly going to borrow some of you profile, especially the bits about chips and cakes and hormones.

    1. I think for many people, online dating is good for them – so I’m not knocking it – but you know how inept I am with other humans. I do hope it works for you.
      Ha! You absolutely have my permission to use anything from the list; the one about the hormones is a sure-fire winner…

  2. The key phrase in all this (such good) writing is ‘being lonely on your own is infinitely better than being lonely with someone else’ – so true, I know, been there. So don’t make the mistake of thinking another person can fill all the gaps. I’m liking your profile – so long as you’re NS and have a GSOH too! Sounds like you’re out the other side already – keep swimming x

    1. Thank you – do feel much better (despite a nasty bout of tonsillitis) and less removed from humanity. Think it was just something I had to go through. Doesn’t everyone at some point? X

  3. Really thought provoking post – think I’ve done things the opposite way to you. Single for a long time & then met & had a child. Sometimes four o’clock was the lonely hour…

    1. Four o’clock is worse – even if you could get back off to sleep, what would be the point as you’d have to get up soon anyway? So argued my brain, anyway.
      I think I expected to follow my parents model but found that it didn’t fit me. And then, what to do? Most of my friends have done things the opposite way round to me!

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