The complaints of a single person don’t begrudge or contradict the pain of the harangued parent or the anguished daughter missing her sick father. Our struggles are not undermined if society also concedes that there are people who once got substantial meaning from interacting in ways that are now impossible — through dating or casual sex. We are also going through something painful, without even the socially approved validity of the nuclear unit to back us up.
Most of society does not really believe that casual, nonmonogamous encounters can actually hold meaning, rather than simply serve as crude ways to blow off steam. I know that they can. Living as a purposefully single and promiscuous person was one way to know others, one way to find joy in the world, and it’s gone for now. Single people have lost something important, and should be allowed to bemoan it. I don’t have to want children to sympathize with families; you don’t have to share my priority to accept its validity in my life. There are not a finite number of ways to have felt pain this year.
A friend asked me a few months ago whether I didn’t perhaps regret having ended a long-term relationship in early 2020, at such a particularly bad time in history to choose to be alone. I won’t pretend it didn’t cross my mind that life would have most likely been far more pleasant if I had been with my ex during the worst of lockdown. Not only would it have been good to have company in general, but I also missed him, specifically. I loved him; I still love him, which does not mean that it made me happy to be in our relationship.
I left because I identified that my desires and needs were not being best served by monogamy. This would have been impossible in my earlier life, when I was crippled by need, leaking out of me onto every passing man who looked like he could fill a boyfriend-shaped gap in my life. Back then, I could no more have turned down the offer of companionship and love than I could water and air.
Now, I need differently. I need very little from individuals, but I am greedy for the world. And why not? Why shouldn’t I be? It’s a reasonable and good-natured greed, one fueled not by desperation but by a tremendous love of the world and the people in it. How could I be ashamed of that? That this impulse was thwarted in 2020 does not make it a malign one.
Some single people are not living in constant wait for the relief of a marriage to put them out of their misery. The restrictions of this year happened to suit couples and families best, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us were getting life wrong.
As we move into 2021, I know now more than ever that I was right to do what was best for me. I won’t be pretending that I want things that I don’t for the sake of temporary comfort. I’ll be waiting until the life I do want — trashy, frivolous and shallow as it might seem to some — is possible again.
Megan Nolan (@mmegannnolan) is a writer and critic. She is a columnist for New Statesman, where she writes about culture and politics, and the author of the forthcoming novel “Acts of Desperation.”
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