A spinster's fate

Am I destined to be a great gal who just never finds the right man?

By Cary Tennis
Published March 26, 2004 8:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm a fit, pretty blonde who is very intelligent, funny and articulate. Ever since I was 20, I have known that I wanted to be with a partner. I am now 35, and I have not had a real relationship since that one when I was 20, which had the benefit of making me realize at an early age that that's what I want.

I have dated a lot of people, including many men I wanted to stay with, but they never want to be with me. I have experienced that wonderful feeling of contentedness, where though I know he'll never be perfect, I would never want anyone but the man I'm with. Unfortunately, after about 13 years of loneliness, the belief that I'll ever have anyone love me back has begun to ebb. I've had to realize that though what I've wanted is not unrealistic, it may well never happen to me. I have been given excuses, from "You are not feminine enough," to "You are too feminine for me." Twice I have been told that, "Being around you has made me feel better about myself than I ever thought possible. I now have the confidence to ask out the woman I really want to date."

In the last few years, I've had more of the pathetic cliché of the grown man with full intellectual capacity that claims to "not know what he wants." I have no intention of trying to change anyone, and I refuse to be one of those women I see too many of who are waiting for just that to happen.

For a while, I tried dating men I didn't like but who thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I even lived with one for a few months. It served to teach me that there is one thing worse than involuntary loneliness -- being with someone you know you will never love. It is horrible to know you're avoiding going home because the person you're living with will be there.

For years I tried to "do something different" -- from being nature girl to girly girl to badass girl. I even thought for a while that I should date women. But I like men. I am who I am, and I want to be loved for who I am.

I've been on Match.com and Salon personals on and off forever. It's all the same -- no response from the ones I like, and boring dates with the insufferable ones who contact me. If I had a dollar for every time a therapist has told me, "I just don't get it," I'd probably never have to work again. I'm tired of "it comes when you don't expect it." Sure, how do you stop thinking about what you know makes you happy?

I don't have the energy I used to have. I thought I'd be with someone by at least 27, and here I am 35 and still with no one. I remember when I was 23, and I had been alone almost three years, someone said it was a "dry spell." That was 12 years ago! I don't want kids, am very flexible about where I'm located, and would even stop working if it was necessary. I just want someone I can talk with and who wants to do things like pick me up at the airport when I come back from a trip. I don't want to go out by myself anymore. I want to be with the man I love -- who loves me, too.

I also know that I don't have self-confidence issues. In fact, I think I'm one of the most attractive people I know.

I have remained friends with some of the men that I would have liked to be with. They think I'm one of the most wonderful people they know. I just wish it could be me once at the altar when I'm attending their weddings.

I think I've tried everything I can think of or that anyone else can think of. Any advice is appreciated!

Getting Too Used to the Word "Spinster"

Dear Spinster,

If you were to get a statistician drunk and in bed he might tell you that statistically, it's a virtual certainty that sooner or later a perfectly lovely, marriageable woman is going to go her whole life meeting only men who for one reason or another do not become her mate; either they meet someone else, or they get transferred to Canada, or they join the seminary. Every once in a while purely random fate will produce the most extraordinary results for which there is no explanation except randomness itself. If you keep him awake long enough, the statistician will say that for every possibility there exists the statistical certainty that it will eventually occur. Then he might propose marriage to you, only to be run down by a streetcar on his way to buy flowers.

So, just as an exercise, let's say that you are indeed that fated woman who for utterly random reasons is going to go her whole life without being married. What would you do if you knew? If, say, you were in some sci-fi universe and had glimpsed the future and seen that purely random events were going to keep you single your whole life, would you change the way you are living now? Would it give you any comfort to know the future? Would it perhaps allow you to stop obsessing and concentrate on learning to be a happy and fulfilled person? Perhaps, in a few days, after you stopped screaming and tearing your clothing, you might be able to inventory your pleasures and go about your life.

I'm not saying that you're never going to find a husband. Who can know these things? If I could get a good look at you, maybe I could suggest some different shoes. But I am saying that statistically it's bound to happen sometime -- to a beautiful and utterly marriageable woman, and when it happens it will not be because she did something wrong. It will be pure statistical fate, unavoidable as death, unaccountable as the names of coffees at Starbucks. In fact, that you've gone this far is a bit of a statistical anomaly already, which gives you scant comfort, I'm aware. I'm just saying: It's not your fault. Something strange and ineluctably random is occurring. And it might help you to think through the possibility, so that you can free yourself from the trap of thinking it matters.

Of course your happiness matters. That's not what I mean. Read on, please.

So, in order to empathize, I'm trying to think: What if the one dream I have in life were to be ever elusive? What if, for instance, the little delays in publishing a novel, which is my big dream, were to grow into larger delays, and my difficulties in putting the final touches on it were to metastasize into genuine writer's block, after which perhaps I might even complete a manuscript only to have it languish in the offices of publisher after publisher until my fate begins to resemble the fate of a certain character in that very novel whose life devolves into a dreamland in which he can gain no footing, in which the door handle of his car crumbles like dirt, in which he drives his pregnant daughter up a road blocked by an orchestra with music stands, where the doctor comes out of the hospital dressed like a mechanic and opens the hood of his car and he says, No, it's not the car, it's my daughter, she's having a baby! What if my life turned utterly mysterious and incomprehensible? How would I cope? What if all the copies of my manuscript disappeared and I had to start over? What if I started over and finished it and again all the copies disappeared? What if my intermittent bouts of paranoia were confirmed, and a secret directive had gone out to all the publishers in the world telling them, upon threat of death, not to publish my novel and under no circumstances to reveal the reasons they were compelled to refuse? What would I do? I would go through life baffled and amazed -- as I do anyway!

In truth, I would ask what is behind my desire to publish a novel, and I would find that what I really desire is to share the products of my imagination with other people. So if I couldn't publish the novel, perhaps I could still share the products of my imagination in some way, and thus live in the world as I wish to.

So then I might say, Well, what about you? What is underneath your desire to marry? It is to love and be loved, is it not? And to have life in your home that you share with another being? So must this love consist in only one form?

I'm not saying to give up. But perform this thought experiment, and think about the myriad forms of love in your life, and of the myriad ways you can put life in your home, by having people, plants and animals live there with you, by having music and art and flowers and food there, by calling your mom, by buying a book, by feeding a fish, by eating a sandwich.

Look, I know this may sound ridiculous. You want a husband, not a sandwich. But I want to publish a novel, not daydream on a streetcar. I'm much older than you, and I still haven't done it yet. I feel stupid. Nineteen-year-olds are publishing novels! I thought I was finished with the novel last year. I thought I was finished three years ago! I thought I was finished five years ago! I even announced in this column that I was finished! But I wasn't finished! And I don't know how or when I will be finished. I have faith, but so did lots of dead men; hope is no rational consolation, it's just a way to stave off madness.

But you know what else is not finished?

The world is not finished! You think the world doesn't have hopes and dreams, unfulfilled longings? You think the planet doesn't get impatient? The world is struggling toward completion, and you know what completion will be? Completion will be death at the center of the sun! So why should the world struggle toward its own extinction? Why should anything exist, if the end of existence is nonexistence? Why should we struggle toward accomplishment, which is the extinction of our desires, if our desires are what define us and give us existence? The death of all desire approaches: Why do we crave the murder of our longing? Are we so deluded that we think if we just extinguish this one more longing, that will be it, we will be free of desire, that no new longing will replace the one we quenched? Will we ever cease to long? Is this not the cycle the Buddhists talk about?

Here we are, thirsting on the shore of a vast sea.

When will it end?

It will end when we stop thinking about it.

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Cary Tennis

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