Single and the City
Unlike Carrie Bradshaw, there was nothing sexy or cool about my time as a single 30-something in a roaring metropolis. I did not lead a glamourous lifestyle and did not spend more time in coffee shops and fancy bars than at work. I didn’t have as many gorgeous shoes either.
I wanted my blogs to cover all aspects of my story, for anyone who may find themselves at any junction of it and feel alone. This includes one of the elements which at the time I felt most ashamed of. Nine years of being single in London. A huge city full of busy bars, hundreds of eligible and single men. How did I manage to not find a single one which suited? I guess with a population of close to 9 million, along with all the commuters, it was like a needle in a haystack, so maybe I was the naïve one to think anything different. But, at the time, I felt the amount of people should have provided an advantage and the fact that it didn’t must have been a reflection on me. No one else seemed to have the same difficulty.
My first brush with infertility was with social infertility. A term which I think has yet to be adopted by the Oxford English Dictionary. A term which potentially some people do not understand or relate to, but I do. I wanted children. Desperately. My singleness was a blocker to having my family and one which I fought tooth and nail to rectify, whilst unwilling to compromise on finding true love. I’d had the dream, like so many others. Meeting the love of your life, dates, holidays, the wonderful wedding with your family and friends, followed by a baby. I thought that was the journey I had been on and found letting go of the promise of this really hard. But whilst I felt an urgency to begin my motherhood, I was not willing to settle or to compromise on true love. It was always really important to me to be with someone because of who they were, not just because they happened to bring sperm to the table.
Being single was a very lonely experience for me. I know that seems obvious, but it wasn’t necessarily why you would think. I don’t mind my own company and actually quite enjoyed living alone and having my own little flat. My little inner-feminist was overjoyed at me, born in a sleepy little market-town me, living in the biggest city in the UK, in my very own flat, with no one who loved me close by. No one. Who loved me. Lived close by. I was truly alone in the big city.
I spent a long time heartbroken over the loss of my first soulmate. It had been an entirely unexpected split on my behalf, I hadn’t seen or felt it coming. One day we were a little family, a team, soulmates. The next we were strangers and all that had been and would have become was just erased. The grief I felt for a loss with no bereavement, was all-consuming. It did mean I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about filling the boyfriend gap with a poor substitute. I dated all the same and became quite disillusioned about what the ‘market’ looked like.
I wasn’t the only single in the city, but I seemed to be the only enduring one. I was surrounded by people who were either paired up or generally finding dating a breeze, remaining single at most a few months. I went on many first dates, but rarely a second. My childlessness grew ever more evident as all around me families blossomed and the pain of my social infertility became increasingly overwhelming.
Many seemed to feel that somehow I was doing dating wrong. Including me. I was told I was being fussy, I was expecting too much, I was told to settle to have my family. I was told to change me, be more this…..; be less this……I was absorbing all this helpful advice as additional evidence that I was the problem. Whilst trying desperately to convince myself that I couldn’t be THAT bad? I felt invisible.
I read all the books doing the rounds at that time, to be better at relationships, things like ‘Men are from Mars’ and ‘He’s just not that into you’. I read every magazine article I could find about ‘How to keep a man’, a long list of things I needed to change. Make sure on a first date you say this and do that. As a girlfriend you should do this in the kitchen and that in the bedroom, wear this, look like that..... I should also avoid various subjects of conversation, never frown, never mention wanting a family. Feminism may have begun years before but had a LONG way to go, to reach Women’s magazines in the late 2000’s. With my esteem at rock bottom I couldn’t help but feel that all these were directed specifically at me. I was clearly doing everything wrong.
One date springs to mind, a gentleman who talked about his ex-wife the entire evening. He clearly was not ready to date and I had just been his counsellor for the evening. He wanted to meet again. Nice friendly ear, to talk through his divorce, of course he did. I declined. And yet somehow I felt that I had done something wrong. I felt that I was the one who needed help in how to date. All I wanted were sparks or at least a flicker of something which could lead to sparks. I never felt that was asking too much.
I was however, never able to be anything other than me. Even with useful advice I received, like: “don’t laugh so loud”; “don’t always be the first/last on the dancefloor”; “don’t be so opinionated”; “don’t be so independent”; “don’t appear too clever”; “don’t be too sarcastic”. I couldn’t help it. I could not put on a more ‘dateable’ me. All the while these comments only served to confirm that the issue with my singleness was me.
A couple of years after I became single, I came up with my 5-year plan, which was my fall-back, my plan B. In the unlikely event I didn’t find someone suitable, I would do Solo-IVF. Most of the 5-year plan was taken up saving. Saving to move up from my one-bed flat to a two-bed, with a garden. Also, since my local authority did not support IVF for single women, I had to save up for that too. I optimistically felt sure that I wouldn’t need to go through with this. I would find someone. Everyone does.
When four of the five years had passed, I realised I needed to make a decision. It was a decision I found really difficult to make. When to accept that love was no longer on the cards for me? How can you chose between love or a baby? I kept thinking another 6 months won’t hurt, whilst painfully aware my fertility was ebbing away. I decided that there was no time limit on love, but there was on motherhood. So began my journey to solo-IVF, which is a blog for another day.
Being single in a world of couples is tough. I had a few relationships which lasted a few months, but nothing of consequence. I attended weddings; baby showers; christenings; first birthdays; Christmases; BBQ’s surrounded by couples and families, feeling more and more disjointed with my peers and as the years went on, with younger and younger friends and contacts. I saw happiness everywhere. Life was continuing all around me whilst mine felt on hold. Stuck in a loop.
I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to find someone, because I wanted a family, but I also just wanted love. I had had a wonderful relationship where I felt entirely seen and understood. I had been part of a team. I struggled meeting strangers who didn’t know me. I wanted to pick up where I’d left off, but there was no familiarity. I was hurt, I was ashamed of my long-lasting singleness and felt certain it was proof of my unlovability.
Now I look back, most of the dates I went on wanted to meet again. I was the one saying no. A lot of them did seem quite socially awkward and entirely unsuited to me, but maybe that’s all I was attracting. So keen was I, to prove I wasn’t being picky, that I accepted any date offered, which in hindsight anyone could have seen from the outset wouldn’t work. I felt it was a numbers game, the more I met the more likely I’d be to meet The One. What I was doing was exhausting myself trying to make conversation with the wrong people. I was also tainting my view of ‘the market’ and became very jaded. I wasn’t unloveable, I was not able to love. For a long time also, I was probably not in the right frame of mind to love.
I don’t know exactly what changed but I met my boyfriend just after I lost my first baby, following solo-IVF and as I was starting round 2. I broke all the rules, we talked family early on, we had to, I was likely to get pregnant using donor-sperm. I laughed too loud, I talked too much. I was opinionated and sarcastic. I was me. To the right person, all the things you do ‘wrong’ are right. There was an instant connection, in the time we had been chatting to when we had our first date, we already had some in-jokes, we already felt familiar. This felt like a continuation, to my story. Being mid IVF, the timing couldn’t have been worse. But, it just felt right. We fell in love.