Last summer, when I lived in the country, an ad for a local dating service would come on the radio every time I drove around. "But I'm as pretty and interesting and nice as my friends. Why am I single?" a petulant voice would say. Then an announcer would cut in and tell her to go to speed-shuffle date night; her friends would soon be choking with envy, he'd imply, and each time I'd think, Yeah, right.
Okay, she existed in drive-time and was doomed to lament her situation every 15 minutes, but that wasn't what made me doubt that she was heading toward paired happiness. It was the question. She was asking the wrong one.
If you've been without a partner for a while and aren't happy about it, it's natural to wonder why. But put that question to yourself, and the result is you find yourself confronted with obstacles—some considerable. You're single because you moved to New York, where the odds are tipped in favor of men, and not to Alaska, where they aren't. Or because you take jobs that keep you at the office till the dead hours, or because you keep falling for married men, or because your husband died, or because you're over a certain age, which, beginning at about 25, is generally ten years less than what you are right this minute. Then what do you do? You consider cashing in your career and moving to Anchorage, or signing up to be a mail-order bride to China—and then you weep.
I'm not saying that any of these obstacles are permanent or insurmountable. We all know stories of people who found flaming happiness exactly when everyone was convinced they wouldn't. I recently heard—true story, I swear—of a woman in her 60s who was widowed unexpectedly and two years later married a Canadian mountie. Another woman, a landscape artist obsessed with her work, turned down man after man on the grounds that they were wrong for her, then, to her tsking friends' astonishment, ran off with the right one. I was one of the friends who tsked, so I can testify firsthand. She's radiant.
But what's the point of finding happiness after years when you can find it right now? "Yeah, right," you say. How? Easy. And hard: You change that question.
Consider, for starters, what happens when you ask yourself, "Why am I still single?" You immediately lump yourself in with a designated sorry category that, I'm going to argue right here, doesn't truly exist. Let me explain. In all those social science studies of singles versus marrieds, everyone knows that the singles group is considered the unfortunates. That's why it's always news when they find—who would believe it?—that the single women have managed to eke out some happiness in their otherwise bleak lives. And yet, in actual terms, there's no such thing as single as a bloc. It's not a solid category like Armenian. It's not a fixed characteristic like shoe size. If anything, it's a false social construct. Nowadays we're all single at some points in our lives, involved at others, which is why it gets you a whole lot farther to ask yourself, "How can I make the most of whatever stage I'm in?" And then set about to figure out the answer.
Now here comes the hard part. To find answers, you have to truly embrace this stage you're in now. Do that and, paradoxically, you're more likely to end up with a boyfriend—for reasons I'll explain—but you can't be doing it to get a boyfriend. You have to relish where you are right now, without a view to side returns—something of a Zen conundrum. How are you going to "be here now" when you're bombarded with all the single-woman messages? "You'd better hurry up and find someone." "Time's running out." "There are no men out
there." "Watch out, he's about to cheat on you." (Oh, wait, that's the one the married women get.) "Leap into another [relationship] just to shore yourself up from the last, and a nasty cycle sets up."