One of the most insulting things you can say to a single person is “We just want you to be happy.” My mental response is always, “Huh, thanks. Until you just told me I wasn’t happy, I thought I was.” Granted, I understand most 30-something women probably do want to be married. And it certainly occurs to one – especially if that one lives in good old, conservative, family-oriented Western Michigan – that the next natural step in life after college and profession is to get married and start a family. However, then there’s me. I’m not saying I don’t want to get married; it’s just that I’m very, very good at being single and generally am happier when I don’t have to deal with the entire romantic realm. However, I have to acknowledge that this is probably due to my various experiences…
Let’s catch up.
One would think that I got off to an earlier start in the romance department, what with my first kiss being when I was three and all. I remember it perfectly. Poised on the couch on his hands and knees, Broch (or was it Brody?) leaned down as I puckered and lifted my face to his from the floor below. I believe we were playing Rapunzel and got our characters a bit backwards. All this while our mothers looked on and mine took a picture that would haunt me for years.
However, it was all downhill after the age of three. My well-practiced response to “Why aren’t you dating anyone?” is “If you knew my options, you’d understand,” and this truth started early. In elementary and high school, the pickings were slim – like eeny, meeny, miny, oh-I-guess-you’re-the-best-I-can-do. I have always had this thing about not settling, and even early in life I wasn’t one for wasting time – why put energy into a relationship with someone when you just know it isn’t right? It’s not that I’ve ever been anything incredible, but none of the boys who liked me while growing up were quite…right. Plus, I was a major tomboy, and I think my girl friends’ stupid flutterings over such characters as Chad and Kevin turned me off to the point that I never wanted to act like that. So, I didn’t. I maybe had a handful of crushes in my childhood, but I never acted like it – I had better things to do, I didn’t want to act girly like my friends, and my heart was never into anyone enough to give in to the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing. (Exception: Randy Emmery in 4th grade. Every girl in my class liked him, he liked me, so I just kinda went with it and said I would be his girlfriend. He made me a banner printed off on a dot-matrix that said “I Love You.” I gave into peer pressure at recess and kissed his arm. Yep, his arm.) In high school in particular, my romantic run-ins with guy friends started my abandonment issues, so I kind of started to hate the idea of love because it always meant I ended up losing a friend when I inevitably ended things. But these were my options, and since they were all I had, I opted out of the whole affair. It was just easier. And better.
By college, I was honest enough with myself to realize that I was a mess, so I figured that being alone for a while and sorting out my issues was a good idea. And, I was once again surrounded by silly girls who fluttered over boys. My earliest roommates in college constantly bemoaned that they were single. One roommate would constantly sigh, “I’m going to die alone,” and another friend and I mocked this by repeating “I’m going to die alone” whenever we did anything remotely dumb, such as dropping a fork on the floor. I grew incredibly sick of hearing the campus mantra of “if it’s God’s will” – which I like to believe God hates as much as I do. Anyway, everywhere around me, couples were blossoming in young love.
I felt absolutely nothing. It was around this time that it occurred to me I might be screwed up in the love department. Why was I refusing to even consider the idea of liking someone? Was it just learned behavior to protect myself from getting screwed over by people close to me – ahem, high school? I’d refused to care for so long that I wondered if I ever would find anyone to make me care. My Aunt Sharon has a poster that had always haunted me – a woman stands, her back to the painter, looking out a window at the world, an empty room behind her. I realized that I didn’t want to turn into that. I was also haunted by the fact that I’m supposedly related to Emily Dickinson, whose love life was so bad that reportedly she didn’t fare a particularly cheery life. (We covered her poetry in a Lit class once, and it didn’t help that, when I told my professor of my relation, his only response was “Why does this not surprise me?” I’m still not sure how to take that.)
Also, I’d by this time noticed a pattern in my suitors – I seemed to attract only complete losers who were convinced they were god’s gift to womankind. As my brother quoted for me, “I wish I could attract men like crazy instead of crazy men.” I hate the whole caste system of knowing your own league, but it might be right. (I know how arrogant that sounds, but keep in mind that I attracted some serious weirdoes.) I had first laughed at this pattern, but now I wondered if I was being too exclusive. Maybe I had become the Ice Queen I’d been accused of being in high school. It was here that I developed an “inferiority complex about my superiority complex” (yes, I just quoted Buffy). I felt bad for holding myself aloof as if no one was good enough for me. Maybe someone would surprise me after all, and how would I know if I wouldn’t give them a chance? So, I decided to loosen up my “I won’t waste time if he’s not quite right” stance. I’d be more open. I wouldn’t immediately reject guys who showed interest, not even the usual weirdoes who plagued me.
Bad move. By trying to make something out of nothing, I only let guys get too attached to me, and I quickly realized that sometimes you do have to be cruel to be kind, even if it means I lose a friend and once again fuel the fire of my abandonment issues. I learned the hard way that sometimes you have to nip a problem in the bud before the other person gets the wrong idea. After one particular experience where I let things drag on for far too long before ending it, I realized that I could never, never hurt someone like that again. And it killed me to try when I knew my heart wasn’t in it. It was far better to be alone than to be with someone I wanted to push off a cliff…not hypothetically speaking. I think the idea that “I can handle being alone alone, but I can’t handle being alone with someone” is pretty much what I’ve always felt. (And there’s an Ally McBeal quote.)
As college went on, because freaks were the only type of men who were interested in me, I developed a completely anesthetized reaction to the opposite sex as a whole. It was simply easier to turn off. And it was easier to laugh about the fact – I hold to the truth that it was a fact – that I attracted only losers. And I wasn’t the only girl suffering this problem in college, for my roommate Gloria was also so sick of being creeped out that she also avoided the relationship issue entirely. We weren’t sure how to fix our jadedness, but in our twisted, mildly crazy, typical way, we turned romance into a joke. Our apartment was already known as the Protestant Nunnery, and we named our apartment door The Door of Sarcastic Girly-ness. We taped to the door pictures of babies, “perfect” men, reasons women are stupid, and a compatibility chart with trick questions. It was a joke, but also an open declaration that there was something warped about our view of love.
Baby steps have always been my method of healing.
Later, in Detroit, I fear my jadedness only got worse. I certainly noticed guys more, but it was for professional purposes as a model scout, so I wasn’t any less numb. Some of my female coworkers couldn’t work up the nerve to approach some of the prettier specimens, but I was so numb that I could have talked to…who was popular at the time, Orlando Bloom? I was basically encountering men and saying (literally), “he’s pretty,” without so much as a flutter. Also, it was still true that my only suitors were, as my friend Carmen said, “sorry men.”
When I moved back to Grand Rapids, I realized that I should probably stop making excuses and get on with this supposed next step of life. I felt free to get over my jumbled past love life and try. Okay, that’s a lie. Once I moved back to Grand Rapids, I was happy with where I was and so didn’t bother. And anyway, what were my options? Most of my guy friends were more asexual than plants, and the thought of going out just to meet guys has always made me want to chew off my own hair. There were random blips on the romance radar every few months or so, but I held to my standards and didn’t let things continue once I knew it wasn’t going to work for me – this is the one lesson I’ve held to that I’m absolutely sure is the right way to go.
So that about catches us up to now. Because I like lists, I hashed out the below revelations about my love life:
- I’m “low maintenance to the point of seeming indifferent.”
- I like the idea of commitment, but I’m terrified of committing to the wrong thing.
- I would murder Prince Charming.
- One of my rather anti-girl characteristics is that, even with “The One,” I would need serious space. I need my space and individual identity or else I feel squeezed, not known, and then freak out and panic. I don’t like clingy. I could never spend my life with someone who actually believed the Jerry McGuire line about “you complete me.” I prefer to get different things from different people, and I don’t want to rely on any one person for my personal completion. I need someone with interests and hobbies and friends and work that is just his so that I know he’s a fulfilled person already and I’m just adding to the party.
- I’m passive-aggressive about my abandonment issues. I always do everything in my power to make sure guy friends don’t like me so that I don’t have to hurt them or lose a friend later. This includes the use of decoys, most notably Drake Metcalf, who is a fake, Joaquin Phoenix look-a-like we created on Facebook to use as a fake boyfriend whenever one of us needs him.
- It’s my own fault if guys get the wrong idea. I’m very open honest, and unfortunately this gets translated as my being this way only with you. Also, it doesn’t help that model scouting left me with raging objectivity – I am very free with compliments to men in my life, and while I really do mean them, I don’t mean them. This leads to all kinds of misunderstandings.
- I’ve never had a “type.” Attraction/chemistry, for me, just kind of happens based on something I can’t put my finger on. What I’m attracted to is that thing of connection that I can’t explain – a comforting, natural surprise where someone is and does what fits without having to work at it. Something that makes me think, “THAT!”
- I need someone who respects me but is going to stand up to me when I am being stupid or stubborn or wrong. I need someone not intimidated by me, someone stronger, bigger, and more dominant than me – I don’t like feeling like I wear the pants in a relationship, and I lose interest immediately if I’m not challenged.
- As Kaly once said, “I want someone who is brave enough to wake me at 3 am to tell me to look at the meteor shower.”
While lying in bed one night, unable to sleep, I started counting sheep. However, I don’t know any sheep. So, instead I switched to counting what I like to call my Almosts. These are the boys/men/mutants in my life who fall into any one of the following categories: Outright boyfriends, guys I’ve almost dated, guys who had crushes on me, etc. Basically, anyone who was in any way a romantic prospect. After thinking through my entire life history, I came to a total of 43…make that 44.
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a few stories/examples.
My First Nerd
As a teen, I helped out at a church camp one summer where a totally scrawny geek with Coke-bottle glasses, a mullet, and a windbreaker winked at me and blew me a kiss from across a crowded sanctuary.
In high school, some random basketball player from another team left a note for me on one of my projects that had been left in a classroom where the team had been for halftime. The note contained his phone number and a message about how I was “lookin’ fine.” To my slight amusement and extreme embarrassment, a few of my male classmates called the guy and had a little fun with him, pretending to be my angry father and brothers.
Even funnier, years later my friend Reka from college turned out to have gone to the same school as this guy. She remembered him well and had even had a crush on him.
“Partial to Ya”
Ever since Bob Palma’s son and I went to elementary school together, Bob had tried to fix us up. This wasn’t so annoying in middle school, but skip forward about a decade and it will get on a girl’s nerves. See, Bob was a member of the Haymarsh Hunt Club, and therefore I still saw him even once far removed from elementary school.
Every summer since I began working at the Hunt Club in 8th grade, Bob was in the Sporting Clays league. This meant I saw him and his friends every Monday during the summer season. And, every Monday, he would remind me that “Mike was partial to ya” back in elementary school. I tried being polite for the first couple of years, but after a while being a smart ass about it seemed acceptable.
It was particular fun because the men on Bob’s league team became about as exasperated with Bob as I did. Dan Banister was my hero and will forever bear the title Favorite Hunter in my mind. Dan is Bob’s nephew, I think, and whenever Dan was around Bob would be on his better behavior, for some reason. One time, Dan came directly to my aid and said, “There’s such a thing as harassment, you know.”
Another time, Bob wasn’t doing very well shooting and he yelled from the station, “If you give me a pair together, I’ll bring Mike next time!”
I shouted back, “Boy, there’s an incentive!”
The rest of the men in the group cackled with laughter.
Bob did not get a pair together.
That Damn Ad
One day during a hunters’ catered lunch, there was a man who was relatively within my age range – this was rare. Naturally, my grandfather thought we should meet. (It was very similar to my mother’s approach when I was young – if a person was my age, we were destined to be friends. Hmm. I wonder where she picked that up!) Anyway, I flat out told my grandfather that I didn’t care and wasn’t interested. He then took a bite of his bread and said – almost jokingly – that I should put up a “Marry Me, Hunt for Free” ad on the clubhouse’s bulletin board.
I did not forget about this, but somehow everyone else managed – only, I didn’t realize they’d forgotten. So, one Sunday before Sunday school, we were all sitting around and chatting. My Aunt Penny happened to mention that she had run into a “gorgeous” hunter that morning who had an accent and was younger. My brother jumped in and said what a shame it was that our then-single cousin Stefanie hadn’t been there. (She suffered as much as I did, I must admit. I will forever love her for it.)
Then, I did a thing I will long regret: I mentioned the “Marry Me, Hunt for Free” ad.
My Aunt looked at me and started laughing as if she’d never heard this before, and she said, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all week!”
Well, the commotion caught everyone’s attention and I had to repeat the ad title to the entire Sunday school class. One lady asked what “Marry Me, I Have a Degree” was about, and I corrected her and gave her the right line.
My brother then pitched in and said, “Yeah, like Grandpa cares if you have a degree or not? How is a degree going to help you cook or clean?”
While working as a receptionist for the model management company, I regularly had to welcome people who came for their interviews. Now, some people think they could be models for reasons that are completely lost on the rest of us. One man, who definitely qualified as a leader in this group, came in one night after being late for his previous three interviews. Because he was early this time and had to wait, I had to put up with him while he sat on the waiting room couch.
“Are you married?”
“No,” I answered.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Without blinking, I said, “Yes.” (Normally, I at least hesitate before lying, but I didn’t this time. That should tell you how bad he was.)
“Oh,” he said disappointedly. “I guess that ends this line of questioning, then. Can we be friends?”
I chuckled in a non-committal way and got up from my seat to see if the person interviewing him was finished yet. They weren’t, but I hid in a back office until they were ready to take him. Then, the person interviewing him told the guy that he would be considered as a model, but only if he stopped hitting on the receptionist. When he left, the guy didn’t even make eye contact with me on his way to the door.
He was rejected anyway.
Grandpa Bud and Grandma Marie came over to tell us about a funeral they’d been to. A young man from the community had killed himself, and it was really sad because he’d been a smart guy, everyone had liked him, and apparently he’d been a good-looking kid. He was also a hunter who had been to the Club once or twice.
Grandpa looked at me and said without joking, “Too bad you never met him. Then he wouldn’t have killed himself.”
I looked at Mom in amazement, but she could only stand there with that look of helplessness I know well.
At a bar with friends in Grand Rapids, a Freddie Mercury looking older guy came to our table and deposited a beer for me.
Brooke joked, “Don’t drink it. There’s probably a roofie in it!”
He then kept coming over to check if I was enjoying the beer and to tell me that it was much better in a glass than a bottle, so that was why he had asked for it in a glass. Okay, great.
Denver, The Fun Period
Rachel thought she was a brilliant matchmaker, and this picture ended up on our frig.
Walgreen Hookup, Aisle 4
I went to Walgreens one day and sat in my car for a moment to turn off my phone. A guy walked by my car with a look that I interpreted as, “Oh, it’s a white girl who’s going to sit inside her car until I’ve safely walked by.” So, I defiantly hopped out of my car and started following him to the door.
He turned and said, “Hello.”
I took this as a challenge and responded with a perky, “Hey.”
He then let me enter the store before him. I thought that was the end of it, but then he came down my aisle and said, “I have to tell you, I think you’re beautiful. You have the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen. I just couldn’t leave without telling you.”
I muttered thanks. I thought that was the end of it, but I got out to my car and found Dre’s phone number in my car window.
Why the Word “Prospect” Is Ruined for Me
In one of those instances where groups of friends converged, we in the Knapp House met a whole group of guys who were wonderful if for no other reason than that they were new and we needed new people desperately to mix things up (enter Group Yay). One, however, decided he would like me a little too much. Carl even invited me to India, which would not be so odd except that this would be the third random person who had told me I would like India.
Enter passive-aggressive, unlikable Sunny, but even that in all my glory didn’t stop his interest entirely.
However, after a few weeks of my girl friends laughing at me, I was slightly vindicated when it turned out he considered all of us “prospects.” Yes, Carl told us we were “prospects” to our faces. Talk about making a bourgeoning friendship awkward, especially when Miranda and I were both invited to India: “It would be completely platonic. Of course, if something were to happen…” Here he sheepishly (he may have thought he was cute) rubbed his hair.
Fortunately, Carl ended up staying a friend longer than average, and we would later go on to joke that he had become my non-gay gay best friend. He was also the only person I ever bitch-slapped.
Just when I thought maybe I wasn’t a magnet for freaks anymore, the girls and I went to a Lions football game. The game sucked – that’s hardly a surprise – but by the fourth quarter the row of men in front of us didn’t care because they’d had 48 beers between them. The one on the FAR END FROM ME who was sitting directly in front of Rachel at one point turned around and obviously looked the three of us over. Seeing/sensing what was coming out of the corner of my eye, I stared down intently at the field. The man reached OVER Rachel and Miranda’s legs and laid a hand on my knee.
“Why do you look so bored?”
(Sidenote: I get asked this way too often, not only by creepy men. Once at a concert in a local lounge, the singer/songwriter actually stopped between songs to look at me and ask if I was bored. It must just be a look on my natural face?)
For once, with this guy I had a reasonable excuse. “I’m watching this game, aren’t I?”
He kept blathering on for a while, and I kept obviously ignoring him. (Did I mention the entire row of men were over 45 and looked like the average Hunt Club member? If memory serves, there was a lot of plaid involved.)
By the time the game was over, Rachel and Miranda were nearly falling out of their seats with laughter. My new friend wished me well and left my life forever.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Stop It
Rachel is not subtle. It got to the point where I became very wary of being near any guy whenever I saw Rachel with a camera at a party. I also learned to make not-so-subtle faces in response to what I knew she was doing.
Maid of Honor
For Kaly’s wedding, I had the whole Maid of Honor thing pretty easy. $40 total. However, being single led to the mother of the bride (who is also like an aunt to me) thinking there must be someone to hook me up with. I’m not entirely against the idea of being fixed up, but this wedding was in Sparta. In a barn. Where country music was played. I like to think I’m not an elitist snob, but line dancing is crossing a…line.
I ended up telling people a variety of things to get away before being introduced. My excused escalated from “I’m happily single” to “I’m not interested” to at one point “I actually have a pretty severe crush on someone right now, so I don’t think I could find anyone else attractive right now if I tried” which was a complete lie. I later realized how sad it was that I couldn’t even think of who I could have a fake crush on. I may have dropped Drake Metcalf’s name a time or two.
Fortunately, so much booze was flowing that everyone soon forgot about trying to fix me up. Though, the best man’s girlfriend did grind on me, and I’m still a little troubled by that one.
Pepe Le Pew (alternate title: The Worst Valentine’s Day Ever)
I’ve developed a radar for what I term “twitterpated face.” This means that a guy clearly is starting to think I might be a good idea. I then become more annoying, but unfortunately this sometimes gets translated as me being cute – go figure. One Valentine’s Day, I was at a bar with some friends, and by 2:00 a.m. a new guy was aglow with “twitterpated face.”
When we finally left, I discovered that my LOST Dharma light on my key chain works as a kind alternative to Mace, because we stood in the parking lot by my car for a bit, it was clear what he wanted, and I kept flashing him in the face to keep him at least at arm’s length. Then I SHOOK HIS HAND, went to get in my car, and suddenly a hand was on my waist. At this point, I went to my usual place of “Oh, frak it – he’s drunk, just put up with it until he leaves.” He kinda pinned me against my car and kept looking at me and asking, “Nothing, really?” And I kept shaking my head and going “Ut-uh. Nope.” Finally, he backed off and said he’d see me later. But as I turned to my car, he pecked my cheek. I muttered something like “Razzin’ frazzin” and got in my car, at which point hysterical laughter took hold.
The next morning, I woke up because some connection my brain had been trying to make finally clicked – Pepe le Pew! I hopped out of bed, emailed Racie the rest of the story of what happened after she left, and got on Facebook to post a clip of Pepe le Pew on her wall.
Last Single Granddaughter
My family means well, but…
As soon as my cousin Stefanie got engaged, all attention shifted to me. Aunt Penny, my mother, and Gma Gummer combined their powers and intensified their matchmaking efforts on my behalf – unsolicited, I add needlessly. When I went home to help with a Pampered Chef bridal shower, I was helping my mom with her hair when this happened:
Mom: Your aunt thought she found a good guy for you at the concert last weekend, but then she found out he was poor and so scrapped that idea. But it doesn’t matter anyway, because your dad and I have a better guy.
Me: Super. Who the _____? (I don’t remember exactly which edited expletive I used.)
Mom: Randy’s son. He has his own house. And a plane, so your dad approves.
Later at the shower, Aunt Penny explained her side of this exactly as my mom had told me.
Penny: …And he likes bread!
Me: (laughing) Oh, well at least we have that in common! A love of bread is foundational to a relationship, so I’ve heard. (turning to Stef) Have I mentioned, thank you so much for getting married!
Later still, Aunt Penny realized what an amazing haul Stef was getting from the shower and yelled to me across the room, “Sunny, when you get married, we’re doing one of these for you!”
I fake chuckled and went on cleaning, only to hear my grandmother throw in, “Just don’t wait too long, or I won’t be around.”
Justin, one of my wonderfully platonic friends (with the exception of one hiccup that I’m pretending never came up), is always a good sounding board for whining about my sucky love-life. We had a conversation one night where he helped me discover that I finally had a goal for my life – to die alone. It was a goal I felt I could accomplish, and I’ve always needed direction. (Goal #2 is to find a briefcase full of money which I will partially use to build a music studio where Justin and my brother can record music, and my payment will be that they will write a song about how much they adore me.)
Justin: “I take it you don’t want kids?”
Me: “I firmly believe that you should want to have kids with someone, and so far I haven’t found anyone to make me want to vacate the dust bunnies from my uterus.”
And that about sums it up. Miranda and I joke that we’ll probably end up settling beyond our worst nightmares, but I don’t see this happening. I’m not so bored with being single that I’m going to abandon my #1 life goal.