Of course, all this reasoning goes only so far. If you asked me whether I would prefer for my 24-year-old daughter to remain alone or to find herself a life partner, I have no doubt that I’d prefer the latter. Finally, there is no way around the fact that being unpartnered comes with a certain amount of emotional discomfort, whether it is at a dinner party where you are the only single person, or on a trip where you tire of striking up conversations in restaurants. Not to overlook the matter of sexual companionship— or, rather, the lack of it. To that point, I can’t say I have been completely celibate during the years I’ve been on my own. There was the man from my romantic youth who reappeared decades later and latched on to me with an intensity that I initially found captivating until I found it irritating, not least because our relationship in bed never matched the soulfulness of our discussions outside of it. Then there was the married mogul whose energy and curiosity were as intriguing as his narcissism was not—and whose highly selective availability began to make me feel like an overage girl toy, to be snuggled up to when the missus was out of town or a business dinner got canceled. Still and all, I’m not the sort of woman who specializes in one-night stands or blissfully casual sex, and the arid patches have been consistent enough to make me wonder if I could make do with a life without sex altogether.
And here’s the surprising part: Although I’d be lying if I said that I’ve completely made my peace with sleeping alone night after night or that I don’t indulge in erotic fantasies, some of which have made their way into my dreams, I can’t say I waste much time mooning about my lost carnal life, either. Once you’ve moved past the age when your hormones run riot, sexual desire becomes more containable and less urgent, more of a choice and less of a compulsion. I think of all the energy I once put into romance and sex, and I feel a slight sense of relief at being out from under anyone’s thrall. I also tell myself that given that I’m a writer, there’s something to be said for the power of sublimation. Look where it got Freud, who reportedly stopped having sex with his wife in his forties and then went on for 40 more thrillingly productive years, thinking and publishing to beat the band, without taking up sexually with anyone else. (Although there has been speculation that he became involved with his sister-in- law Minna Bernays, it is unproven and strikes me as dubious.)
I’d like to be able to conclude on a note of cheerful finality regarding the unpartnered state, if only not to leave you, the reader, in as irresolute a mind as I am. I’d like, that is, to be able to say: This is where I’ve ended up, and I’m fine with it. But that would be to underplay my lingering doubts as to whether it is simply a testament to my difficulty in compromising that has left me alone on the raft of life rather than a nobler impulse—as well as a stray, lingering hope or two. Just the other evening, for instance, I found myself in conversation with an attractive stranger…who could turn, if the fates would have it, into an intriguing dinner companion…who could turn (although I’m not betting on it) into someone more permanent, someone whose warm body would grace my bed and whose idle chatter would fill the solitary corners of my life.
Curated by Erbe