My friend, fellow Midwestern New York transplant, funny lady, and writer of things sex, relationship, and figuring-my-shit-out-already, Olive Persimmon released a blog post the other day with this heading:
"Wanna Know Why I'm Still Single...
"When you're in your mid-30's in the Midwest and you've never been married, people try to figure out what's wrong with you. Somehow, it must all be your fault. After all, someone as amazing and wonderful as you couldn't possibly STILL be single…"
I related so hard to just those 3 sentences, I had to read the entire blog post immediately. With every paragraph, I thought YES THANK YOU OH MY GOD YES. Olive writing about her experience of this..criticism...has inspired me to write my own “Wanna know Why I’m Still Single” story. (btw, you can read Olive’s entire blog post here. And subscribe! And buy her book Coitus Chronicles here).
When talking about why a woman as amazing, talented, beautiful blah blah as me is still single, the conversation turns quickly to all the things I must be doing wrong. All the things that must be wrong with me. Afterall, everyone knows that women in committed, long-term partnerships are flawless and have everything figured out, which is why they’ve been gifted a man. Therefore, if I haven’t gotten my husband prize, it must be because I’m playing the game incorrectly.
If a man is intimidated by the things I love and was born to do, he is not my person. Full stop.
Strangers in my DMs, to the most well-intentioned of my close friends and family, have offered any to all of these possibilities for why I must be single:
“Do you think guys are scared off by your blog? They probably don’t want their information blasted all over the internet. Plus all the talk about sex. That’s gotta be intimidating.”
I can’t even begin to unpack all of that without getting angry. Woo-sah, Mattie Jo. WOO FUCKIN SAH.
Okay I’m ready.
I am a very good writer. I am an exceptional storyteller. I was gifted the power of oversharing at a very young age and you know what --this whole me sharing shit-- it’s healing for a lot of people. It makes them feel less alone on their journey.
This storytelling thing has booked me jobs, gotten me publishing offers, and connected me with people who set my soul on fire. Most people in the world do not get to live their lives in alignment with the things that get them really freaking excited. I am so grateful that, within having this privilege, I'm also bold enough to choose following my deepest passions. Is this criticism suggesting I stop doing the thing I’m really good at, I love, and brings a lot of good into the world just so I can “get a man?”
Fuck. Off. If a man is intimidated by the things I love and was born to do, he is not my person. Full stop.
Furthermore, if this hypothetical man who is worried about me sharing his dick size all over the internet or whatever, took time to actually read my material, he’d see that dick size comparing all my conquests is not what my blog is about. A little research would show him these stories are about relationships and experiences that have taught me more about myself, not about blaming or blasting others in my life.* Why would I want to be with someone who pays such little attention to detail and has terrible critical thinking skills? Anyway, “those guys” I’m told I should be worried I might be scaring off? They’re not my audience. Moving on.
*With the exception of some of my earliest writing which really does come from a place of blame and blasting, instead self-responsibility. Which I now recognize thanks to therapy and frontal lobe development.
Oh and if I’m intimidating to anyone because I talk about sex -- a very normal human thing we do and SHOULD be talking more about -- I am not the problem.
On the subtle slut-shaming side of the usual “Maybe you’re not putting yourself out there enough” criticism is “Maybe you’re putting yourself out there ‘too much’? Maybe you’re moving on too quickly before you really give someone a chance.”
Here’s the thing, I have spent YEARS teaching myself how to date with intention. Since dating and sex are the two biggest ways Evangelicalism fucked me up, I’ve had a lot of unlearning to do in this part of my life. Through therapy, books, and conversations with people in relationships I respect, I have learned my own boundaries, preferences, and emotional bandwidth for dating.
I’ve unlearned internalized fears from purity culture like “Guard your Heart.” I’ve allowed myself to “date for data” -- dating with the purpose of learning qualities I want in a partner beyond "godly man" -- instead of “dating to marry.” I’ve learned how to stay open to connection, while also not taking it personally when it doesn’t work out.
But being genuinely open to connection also means I will be repeatedly let down, and that gets really exhausting. Over time, I’ve learned which qualities presented in men are not worth my emotional and mental gymnastics. Being tempered with my time, energy, and emotional availability is not the same as “not giving him a chance.”
The point is, I have put a lot of work into this. Do not insult my judgement.
“Maybe you should date better guys.”
I am not bad at choosing men. I do not exclusively date assholes. My daddy issues include my father being exceptionally amazing so I know what integrity, compassion, and being treated well looks like. If a dude is an asshat, I can usually spot it and say BYE fairly quickly.
Except for one (and he doesn’t count because it was a pandemic and I was COPING OKAY), all of the men I’ve been in longer-term committed partnership with have been very stand-up individuals. I’ve loved good men, gotten my heart broken by good men, and have broken the hearts of good men. These men were not my person and staying together for the sake of a socially supported ideal about what makes a woman affirmed in her existence -- being loved and chosen by a man -- is no longer enough for me to stay in a relationship.
“You need to lower your expectations. Nobody’s perfect.”
My expectations are not too high. I’m not asking for a fairytale ending or the perfect man with 17 abs (but like, he’s gotta have at least as many abs as me. I’m kidding*) with lots of money, perfect emotional intelligence, flawless communication skills, a well-trained Golden Doodle, and DTF as often as I am. Like Hannah Montana, I know nobody’s perfect, and I certainly don’t expect my partner to be.
*I’m not kidding
What I do expect, however, is a man who has made the flourishing of his mental, emotional, and physical health a priority. Who has asked himself questions about what would make him a happy individual, instead of relying on what society tells him will make him a happy man. And boy howdy, if he’s in therapy -- a man who knows how to ask for help -- take my panties.
Furthermore, I won’t settle for less than a love of mutual adoration, admiration, joy, communication, deep respect, and commitment. In the throes of bullshit that will inevitably come when doing life together, we will always remember why we chose one another for this endeavor. I suppose if all of this means my expectations are too high, I'll be single forever. And I'm actually totally okay with that.
Maybe God knew I needed this entire-ass decade to learn who Mattie Jo really is, no longer pummeled by shoulds and musts and hurts.
Anyway, I would say that’s not an exhaustive list, but a beginning list of the “not reasons” why I’m single.
Now for why I do think I’m single in my 30s, with few major long-term exes or a divorce.
First of all, when many people from my generation were graduating college and “settling,” I moved to New York City where absolutely no one goes during their early twenties to “settle.” I was pursuing musical theatre, which meant I was leaving my home for months at a time. My weekly (okay let’s be real, daily) schedule was rarely the same. Although I “wanted a boyfriend,” most of my energy was spent just trying to make enough money to stay in the City and on my career as a performer.
The scheduling logistics of my twenties alone were enough to tell the universe “This is not the time for a serious relationship.” In fact, I didn’t have a serious boyfriend post-college until I was on a 5 month performing contract in one place doing the same thing everyday. My life was finally still enough to welcome in another human.
And then there’s the emotional logistics of my twenties.
After years of being raised in a culture that only taught me how to find my value within the context of its relation to marriage with a man, I did something radical: I committed to learning about and prioritizing myself. I’ve been in therapy, read all the self-help books, scribbled through countless journals. I’ve healed my nervous system, learned to trust my body and mind. I’ve transformed my neuropathways to think thoughts that support me being the best me, which in turn has transformed my physical body. I’ve hired coaches to support me in confidently doing what I love most as a writer and actor, committed to this weirdo artist life.
I’m not saying that I couldn’t have done this amount of healing and “finding my true north” with a man alongside me. But I do think it would have been much harder to make full, honest, autonomous choices had I tried to do this growing and expanding thing with another person involved. How could I make full, honest autonomous choices if I was not fully and honestly autonomous?
Maybe God knew I needed this entire-ass decade to learn who Mattie Jo really is, no longer pummeled by shoulds and musts and hurts. I needed to be healed and whole for the kind of partnership I now know I desire. *
*I also realize healing and wholing is an ongoing process that never ends. But I do think learning how to heal and whole so that you can do it as you pick up more shit along life’s way, is an important skill in order to have a healthy partnership.
I’m still single, I think, because I’ve done a brave and dangerous thing as an Exvangelical woman in America -- I have made being loved and chosen by me a greater priority than being loved and chosen by another person. At the end of the day, I know I’m what I can always count on. I cannot ask or expect another person to fill the me-shaped hole in my heart.
I am not seeking partnership to make me feel more certain of my place in life, to prove I am lovable, desirable, or needed. I am not seeking partnership to check off an item on the “to-do life” list. I am not seeking partnership for the fallacy of security.
I am seeking partnership for luscious love. Forever friendship. Radical respect. For someone who will be their honest human self and sparkle alongside me. And also have exceptional love-making sessions for the rest of our days because what is even the point of life if not to jump the bones of your best friend whenever you possibly can?
I’m still single because I have yet to find my sparkly human to do life alongside. I can’t know when I’ll find them, but I do know this -- I am so happy with the life I have created and love. To settle for anything less than a partner who makes this sparkly life even sparklier, would be sparkle robbery for us both.