Not an Odalisque

Flirt With Me, I’m Single

with 6 comments

I get tired of representations of single women. There seem to be two options: the desperate, pathetic girl, seeking her one true love, in the style of Bridget Jones; or the strong, successful woman who hasn’t yet realised that fulfilment will come when she meets her man and sacrifices her independence for something better. What binds them? The great, gaping man-shaped hole in a single woman’s life. Men don’t get the same treatment, the assumption seems to be that, for them, single life involves the favourable absence of scatter cushions and the freedom to have sex with a lot of different women.

Life isn’t really a romantic comedy, so I’ll step away from the stereotypes for a minute. A couple of weeks ago a new acquaintance asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I said no, he said, “we’ll have to get you one, then.” I wanted so say “No, we really don’t!” but it would have seemed rude.

I spend so much time fighting other people’s expectations that there’s no room for the truth about being single. When someone assumes that a single woman wants a partner, I want to challenge their assumption. When men assume that because you don’t have a boyfriend, you’re likely to be interested in them, I want to detail to them their defects and then point out the woman on the other side of the room whom I’d much rather date (I have never actually done this). I refuse to be filed under “desperate or emotionally stunted,” however hard they try.

The problem with being single isn’t, it turns out, the long, cold, lonely nights. You can buy an electric blanket and wait for spring. I love being single: for several months, now, I’ve been revelling in my clean bed sheets and freedom to do what I want without owing anyone an explanation. I have to say it’s rather nice. The sex is usually better when powered by batteries than by the idiosyncrasies of male anatomy, and there has been a sharp decline in annoying requests for early morning blow-jobs.

That isn’t to say that it’s all good. Society is set up for people in pairs. If I was dating, I wouldn’t be writing this right now, but instead spending my Friday evening watching burlesque cabaret or dancing to Rock and Roll music, both options I had to forgo because I didn’t want to attend alone. If I had a partner, dance workshops would be a few pounds cheaper. If I had a partner, we would, together, be able to finish a head of broccoli before it went off. These annoyances aren’t terribly important. I’m not happy at missing out on a fun Friday evening, but the solution to my problems would not be a lover, but a dance partner who came around to tea. There’s quite a difference.

The real problem with being single is hyper-awareness. It works in two ways. You don’t have the cast iron excuse of being in a relationship, so you have to make sure you never get to the point of needing an excuse for not being interested in someone. That means constantly monitoring them, and yourself, for anything that edges you towards an indication of interest. Conversely, you can desire those indications of interest, and find yourself reading much more into something than was intended.

It probably sounds like I’m being contrary, wanting to put people off and collect evidence of their desire. There are a range of factors at play there. One is that in many cases these are different people; I meet many who I would emphatically reject, some I’d get into bed with, one or two to whom I would serve breakfast. Another is that, while I am happy enough without a partner, it is nice when people step into the role now and again. When there’s no one at home telling you you’re sexy, a few minutes of flirting and the odd compliment can make you happy. Yes, it would be better if the world were not structured in such a way to make a woman value herself according to her desirability to men. Mostly, I do quite well at ignoring what they think, but I’m only human, and I was socialised into patriarchy, just like everyone else.

The problem comes when you’re so hyper-aware of these tiny modulations that it borders on obsessive. Last week a man told me that I had a nice smile. He said it was nice to dance with a tall woman. He commented on my wiggle, and when I enquired whether it was a good thing or a bad one, he said, “it works for me.” I think the clincher, though, was when I bemoaned the fact that I am too tall (and, being in proportion, too heavy) for the moves in which the male partner picks you up and throws you around, and he said “I’d throw you around.” There was something in his tone that evoked actions beyond dancing.

I saw him last night. He requested a dance, but never came to claim it.

Week after week this happens: the conversation I interpret as flirtatious, the build of expectation and the resulting disappointment. I wonder sometimes if the disappointment is inevitable. Does it happen because I’m not attractive, or interesting, or a good enough dancer? The more likely scenario is that there was never any flirting at all, since if most of these men had shown any sign of real intent, I would have run for the hills. Only from the safe place of believing they’ll never make a move can I enjoy their attention. So we go around in circles of real, imagined and simulated desire.

None of my friends, during periods of singleness, has ever mentioned this problem. They’ve spoken about the difficulty of the sexual drought, their feelings of freedom, healing, despair, loneliness, and boredom when they haven’t had partners. I wonder, therefore, whether this obsessive reading of relations with others is a personal quirk or one of those things which everyone does, and everyone feels is too silly to mention. I’d love to know, so please tell me if you do it, too.

Written by Not an Odalisque

April 30, 2010 at 8:47 pm

6 Responses

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  1. “The sex is usually better when powered by batteries than by the idiosyncrasies of male anatomy, and there has been a sharp decline in annoying requests for early morning blow-jobs.”

    Now THAT is crushing.

    Virtual Sinner

    April 30, 2010 at 8:57 pm

  2. Enjoyed your blog!


    April 30, 2010 at 9:01 pm

  3. First of all, I totally hear you on the complaint about people who think if you’re not in a relationship you must at least be desperate to get into one. My conversations with new men (usually men, mind) often go something like this:
    “So, do you have a boyfriend?”
    “Why not? You’re so pretty.” (Implication, I must, by default, be single because no man wants me, and that seems strange if I am pretty.)
    “I don’t want one.” (This revelation floors them.)
    I am perfectly aware that this conversation is part of the flirtation ritual (and I do have to admit that if I fancy the guy I may respond something more along the lines of “I haven’t met the right guy yet”), but nonetheless it bothers me how men seem to believe that women are passive (and desperate) in all this, that if a woman is single it *must* be because no man wants them.

    Regarding your question about reading too much into things – I think this is classic behaviour. The world certainly seems more sexualised when you are single. I find it thrilling.


    May 2, 2010 at 9:41 pm

  4. Thank you all for your comments.

    Virtual Sinner, I have to say that real people are more exciting than toys, just less reliable. I decided, after a certain amount of bad sex, that I wasn’t in the business of propping up egos. I may have to be less crushing if I’m ever in a relationship again.

    Courtneykane, you’re absolutely right about the frustration that all these assumptions cause. I like the idea that the sexualisation of the world, due to singleness, can be thrilling, though. I shall try that approach.


    May 3, 2010 at 8:55 pm

  5. Excellent! As a single lady myself I am soooo tired of the looks I get when I inform others of my status. It really is a choice for me. I meet men all the time, and none of them have been able to hold my attention beyond a few encounters, or reveal themselves to be douche bags under their decent person exterior. It’s come to the point where I have asked well meaning friends to stop trying to set me up with their single guy friends. I do not care. And they never believe me when I claim to not be interested in a relationship. Yes, companionship is fun, but I’m a big girl and can function on my own. I mock women I know who are incapable of holding a conversation about anything but their s.o. Unless it’s an embarrassing story, I do not give a fuck.

    And single does not mean sexless. That’s what fuck buddies are for! Women are just as capable of N.S.A as men.

    Sorry for the rant, but this is a topic which hits close to home for me.


    May 5, 2010 at 4:12 am

  6. The problem with being single is the people that aren’t, and decide that you shouldn’t be either.

    I’m a single guy and have been for 5 years now – if, as I suspect, women get more comments about being single than a guy does, then I’m not surprised that it’s driving you mad. Victoria Coren also says the same.

    I became single because I had nothing to offer, and now that I do, I have very little time in which to find someone to share it with. But I’m still having immense fun and satisfaction, which to me is far more important than conforming to everyone else’s ideology.


    July 12, 2010 at 10:40 pm

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