I've been single for most of my adult life. My longest relationship was three years and for most of those, I was well and truly on my own. So I'm quite used to it. And it is frequently brought to my attention--notably when an attached friend has to clear or at least mention any possible plan with their attachment--that there are things that are quite wonderful about being un-
attached. Singledom carries with it a certain freedom that is enviable to people who have been attached for a long time, in much the same way that smoking carries an attraction for people who used to smoke. They often wish that they could still smoke, while at the same time they enjoy being able to look down upon people who do.
If I were to examine the times when I longed for a mate, excluding the practical--mouse wrangling, jar opening, etc.--I think I would find they frequently occurred when I was watching a movie or reading a book. Women complain a lot about how men are fed idealized versions of women in the media and have come to expect that of the real women in their lives. But I think that claim is universal and goes beyond gender.
Last night, while re-reading one of my favorite historical fiction novels, I felt the sting of singleness when the male protagonist said to his wife, "I talk to you like I talk to my own soul, Claire, and your face is my heart."Who talks like that? But unrealistic expectations aside, at that moment my bed felt very big and I wanted nothing more than for those words to be about me.
Or how about this? "I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle in your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."That monologue right there is the reason almost every woman I have ever known has loved the movie When Harry Met Sally and why most guys roll their eyes about it.
In Plato's allegory of the Cave, humans, chained and bound to face the cave walls, are only able to view the world via the shadows the fire in the center of the cave casts on the walls. They have no idea that what they are viewing is not reality. Plato further postulated that a human could turn around, and while at first the glare from the fire would be blinding, they could eventually see the world as it was and not merely its shadows. This, he said, was the path to enlightenment.
Today, perhaps a better analogy would be the images cast on a film screen by the movie projector. We've absorbed standard movie plots and movie endings and accepted them as our own realities--the way things should be. And while we might say we know that "real life," "real men," or "real women" could not possibly live up to these expectations, for most people this has only become only something we are supposed to say. And it's often said while staring raptly at one screen or another.
I realize that storytelling, in whatever format, is, and always has been, a vital part of the continuation of the human race. But, I wonder if it is possible to turn more to each other for the things we've begun to expect various media to give us: comfort, reassurance, entertainment, conversation, stimulation. Would our ideals (about love, courage, strength, beauty) change? Or have we simply come too far for that?