I must have taken leave of my senses last week when I said that I hoped people’s optimism and independence shone out of their stories. To re-cap, I interviewed a cross section of people about the idea of ‘not having found love’. The interviews were published in the Guardian and I often felt, whilst doing the interviews, that when push came to shove, the people I interviewed had chosen the paths their lives had taken, albeit subconsciously, in order that they got to do what they wanted to do in their lives, and not what someone else wanted them to do.
But, one doesn’t always have control over one’s edits and so, in order to fit all the stories in, much of this optimism was edited out. No matter. It’s a fascinating collection of testimonies. But more significantly, the comments on the Guardian website are enough to make me think that I have opened an interesting can of worms. I think what gets me the most is the sheer amount of shame people feel when they talk about not having settled down with The One. And some of them, in my opinion at least, are way too young to be worrying about this. Where does all the judgement that they feel come from? How has society conspired to make people feel so terrible about themselves, even when some of them admit that they quite like their lives the way they are?
From my own point of view, the single life is not half as awful as people would like to believe it is. I’m human. I have moments when I really hanker after the comfort and physicality of an intimate relationship but boy do I make the most of my time whilst I have it. Being a woman in the 21st century is an exciting proposition and whilst books are clearly not baby substitutes, having the time and the inclination to write one which, even if it doesn’t reach JK Rowling proportions will still outlive my stay on this planet, is a good feeling. The drive to work in areas that were not typically open to our mothers, to walk paths that are more diverse than most of our female descendants is really intoxicating. That’s me. Not everyone feels the same and as ever, I’m always interested in hearing your points of view.
In the meantime, I thought I’d publish two of the edits in slightly longer form as Stella in particular, got lost in the mix and Steven just makes me laugh. He has a brilliant turn of phrase. Even if he did inadvertently issue a series spoiler for The Killing. Warning: if you have not yet seen The Killing, do not read the second story.
Also, in the spirit of this blog, here are some lovely and at times very poignant animations on the subject of virginity loss from Swedish film director Jonas Odell.
Stella aged 59
'I’ve only had two loves in my life that meant anything to me and neither of them was for that long. Most of the time I’ve been on my own and I’ve got so used to it, I barely think about it anymore.
With the first one, I don’t think I realised until afterwards what I had lost. I was twenty and I had just arrived in London. I was a single mother but I wanted to do my teacher training and make something of myself. Steve was a good solid father to my daughter even though he wasn’t her father. He wanted to look after us – and he wanted to marry me. That’s why we split, because I’d never been a ‘Miss’ before. I’d been a ‘Mrs’ since I’d fallen pregnant at sixteen and suddenly found myself with a house full of furniture and a husband. I didn’t want to do that again and I let him go.
The second one was the most exciting thing. We met when I was backpacking and it was all part of the dream. We never actually lived together because we were on opposite sides of the world. It was like a holiday romance that went on for years. I used to lose weight on the plane with excitement just going over to visit him. I loved not thinking about the bigger picture but it just wasn’t sustainable. He’s in his early fifties now. He still hasn’t got his life together and actually, I find him as dull as dishwater. How times change. Steve is the one that I still think about and would go back to if the opportunity arose. I was madly in love with the second one, but I realised a lot of years later that he wasn’t what I needed.
One of my oldest friends got married when she was twenty-one and they’re still happily married. I remember saying to her once, ‘oh you were lucky when you married Bruce,’ and she corrected me and said ‘No, it wasn’t luck.’ She meant that she’d thought about it. She knew he would be a good husband and father in the long term and he was all of those things. But you don’t usually think like that when you’re young, you go with the heart.
Someone put me on a website dating thing recently and well! The people that come up are so unattractive. And then I look and I think well actually, I’m still interested in Steve even though he doesn’t look so great now. I see past all that. I just see this chap who was nice and kind, and funny. He’s married to someone else now.
I’d like to find love. When I lie in bed on a Sunday morning having a cup of tea I think, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone next to you, someone to chat to about the day. I’d like to travel again and I’d like someone to do it with. It doesn’t have to be LOVE in capital letters. It’s companionship more than anything as you get older. You’ve got over that heady lust thing which gets in the way. Because it changes what you think. It stops you thinking rationally'.
Steven aged 40
'If I go back on past history, I started off with really good solid girlfriends who were all marriage material. I lived with a gorgeous girl for several years in my twenties who wanted to settle down but I just hadn’t got the wild chip out of my system. There was always a fear of, oh my god, I’ve not done anything. And after that I went berserk. I went from safe and nice to the other extreme and I’ve never settled down since. I definitely do have days when I’d like someone to be around but since you phoned and said about this interview, I’ve realised that about 90% of the time it doesn’t even occur because I’ve always got some interest or project on the go. I think this is just my life card; I’ve never had to consider anyone else and I don’t think I’d be capable of it now.
There are times when I feel lonely; there are times when I wonder if I’ve made the right decision. Christmas is painful on your own but you’re not telling me that people in relationships don’t feel exactly the same thing. They may lie and tell you that they’re happy but hey, I’m a therapist. I see the back end of people who’ve been in loveless marriages for twenty-five years and they are riddled with stress and disease because they’re constantly unhappy.
Don’t forget as well, this concept of love that we’re exposed to on the media is all fake. It’s the stuff of Hollywood. It’s an indoctrination that’s been going on forty, fifty years, and pre that time I think relationships were different and probably a lot less pressured. Now there’s a pressure to have sex five times a week, to have multiple orgasms every time, to never have an off day and it’s just all bollocks. And that puts me at odds with the vast majority of the population because the vast majority of the population believe that that’s what love’s all about.
The one thing I do not like about being single, especially coming from a working class area is that you’re always viewed with a little bit of suspicion. Did you watch The Killing on BBC4? It’s the most fantastic series and it turns out that the killer was the forty-two year old single bloke. And you think, hmm! Great, thanks for that. Luckily no fucker round here would be seen dead watching BBC4 because it’s on at the same time as X Factor, so I got away with that. But it’s something I feel very uncomfortable about because it comes down to the presumption that if you’ve got any chance of happiness you have to be in a relationship'.