I recently caught a glimpse of an article in the Telegraph with the headline “Liberating, not lonely: the truth about being single”. Only a journalist could have penned that line.
Only a journalist could have such conviction in their own experience to make it read as standard.
‘Truth’ is not only a bit definitive for me, it also marginalises something more important, which is choice.
Choice in how we live our lives is liberating. Lack of choice, whether we are single or coupled, is detrimental.
If you have the confidence to insist that you are single by preference, and that you could just change that whenever you please, fair play to you. I can see why that would be the popular view.
I, on the other hand, try to convince myself that my hopeless plight is not as uncommon as alternative ‘truths’ would suggest. The choice has rarely been mine; and when it has, I’ve never been in control of it.
I’ve dated three people in my lifetime, one of which lasted just a week. Some people I know might see even that as a luxury. I don’t know when the next chance is coming, and maybe others don’t either.
That’s not liberating – that’s frightening.
Being preached to about how to feel is always difficult, especially if you find yourself in an ignored or minority camp.
I don’t live to be a contrarian, but life hasn’t always handed out enough breaks to afford me the more secure side of life or the confidence it brings.
This is why, even though my future career probably lies away from academic positions, writing my doctoral thesis meant as much as it did.
Trying to understand an enigmatic man like Andrew Marvell, whose lyrics are riddled with sadness and loneliness, affected me profoundly.
While intensely proud of the emotional attachment I had with my work, in the end I had to acknowledge that it was speaking to me in dangerous ways that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone else.
Working on Marvell has given purpose – almost validation – to that extreme sense of loneliness I’ve endured. It’s the closest I’ve come to saying that I chose that deliberately.
But I wouldn’t have chosen that, no. I don’t see Marvell as a happy man. He consumed himself with work, and threw himself from one extreme to another in an attempt to avoid that chronic sense of emptiness that filters through his verse.
Take the tragic ‘Dialogue between Thrysis and Dorinda’, where two lovers who are imprisoned by mediocrity agree to a suicide pact. The naive Dorinda is forced to witness the degree to which her perspective has been stunted and her opportunity suppressed.
The lack of choice – even for a couple in this case – isn’t liberating. It’s suffocating.
We have a poet bullied by life becoming the bully of his own fictional world, writing a sequence of insular, trapped and miserable lives that plead to be fixed just so he can let them suffer.
Maybe – and this isn’t a thought I’ve ever contemplated before – it was blind faith that held Marvell back from publishing most of his lyric poems.
Blind faith, that is, that opportunity would arise, that happiness would blossom, and that all of his deep-rooted concerns would seem like the premature and frivolous over-reactions of youth.
But as his most widely known poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ reminds us, you cannot rely on the clock to stop ticking. One of my former dates is now married with a newborn; people who only fairly recently were stressing about their loneliness and singularity more than me are now sailing by in married life.
I’m still on square one, waiting for a dice to turn up. Until that happens, it will remain considerably less than liberating.
(But thanks for the advice, Daily Telegraph. If nothing else, I feel better for thinking out loud.)