Katie Heaney wrote and published a memoir, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, before she turned thirty. Some people find that tedious, but I found it inspiring. See, Katie’s story is interesting because she has been single for her entire life. Yet she is heterosexual, and for most of her twenty-five years “there has been at least one boy [she] was thinking about and hoping to date, in the abstract….[and] there has been a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind more often than there hasn’t been.”
I wish someone my age had written this kind of memoir when I was in college, and that I had found it then. I have twenty years on Katie, but I get her completely. The writing that I’ve been doing is similar in scope and theme to her memoir. She wrote about every crush from grade school forward, describing her experiences with boys and lack thereof. I’m writing about every relationship, however ill-advised or doomed, to try to figure out why I’ve felt the need to do what Katie has done–have a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind most of the time–or go even further– have an actual boyfriend or husband a good portion of the time.
It’s funny how the image we have of ourselves when we are teenagers never seems to go away completely, or is really hard to change. I was the boy-crazy one, the fat girl who was always chasing someone but never catching anyone. Like Katie, I didn’t date anyone in high school, but in my case, it wasn’t for the lack of trying. Many things came together so that it never happened for me. And when it did happen, I wasn’t very picky about who was interested, how I really felt about him, and how he treated me. That came much later.
Katie got to an “end to the era in my life when I might have felt the need to do something for the first time to get it over with” and ended up writing the book as a twenty-five year old who hasn’t had sex. She refers to Tina Fey saying that she was twenty-four when she had sex for the first time because she “couldn’t give it away.” I may not have had the exact same experiences, but I know the feelings.
Why am I writing and thinking about this now, more than twenty years later? I’ve been deliberately single for more than three years. This is the longest period of time since college that I haven’t been in a relationship or trying to get into a relationship. I still think about men often, both specific men I might like to date and in general when I see them out and about. But at the same time, being with someone after three years of not being with anyone makes it all seem theoretical, like it happened in another life to another person. And I have a hard time imagining how a man would fit into my life with everything I have going on such as work, raising my daughter, my family and friends, and the things I want to do, like reading and writing.
But I’ve also realized that I’m writing about my sordid past relationships because I’m trying to change the story I tell myself about myself. I’m not that fat girl who couldn’t get a date any more. I have dated and married and divorced and broken up and been broken up with. I’ve got almost two hundred pages with all of the gory details. Katie’s memoir spoke to me because she has realized a lot of the same things I’m trying to, without the twenty-five-year detour. That’s why I wish her book had been available to me when I was in college.
The status of a relationship, whether I am in one or not, or dating or not, does not define me. Katie writes, about dating: “Why would I want to go out to dinner and a movie with someone I’m not completely crazy about when I already know how much I like eating dinner and watching a movie by myself?” When a friend finally recovers from a bad breakup, she does so partly by realizing that “she could do whatever she wanted, work wherever she wanted, and live wherever she wanted…she didn’t have to think about anyone else’s goals or desires and then try to make them work with her own…It’s not that she wouldn’t do those things. It’s just that she didn’t HAVE to. She could live for herself and herself alone.” Katie realizes that her friend never felt this freedom before, but that it was “the same freedom I’ve always had, for my whole entire life.”
Last night, Friday night, there were two other possible things I could have done instead of what I did. A female friend had an extra ticket to a gala that would have been so much fun, to get dressed up and go downtown to a fancy ballroom and people-watch. And an online friend was in town with her husband and wanted to try to meet for dinner. Either would have been enjoyable. But my daughter isn’t old enough to stay home in the evening by herself, babysitting is expensive, and I am using a lot of my childcare “credits” with friends right now because of a two-week fall break. So I didn’t do either thing. Instead, after work, I changed into my sweatpants, made pizza from scratch, and then my daughter and I watched The Voice episodes we had DVR’d from the week, while I knitted a scarf I owe for a charity auction. Then she went to bed and I read for a blissful hour of peace and quiet. I don’t know how dating would fit into all this, and that’s all right. Like Katie, I am “sure of who I am and what I want (and don’t want) in other people.” I can take wisdom from anywhere, even from a tall, awkward girl twenty years younger than me. Thanks, Katie.