Me, Myself and I
by Spike Gillespie

Standing in line at the post office, I hear a young woman ask for three hundred and fifty-six LOVE stamps. I have to fight the impulse to lunge, grab her by the shoulders, stare hard into her eyes and shout, "DON'T DO IT!" It's not just marriage that I think she should avoid. I also think she might like to come over to my side. No, I'm not a lesbian. I am a heterosexual woman who has given up men.

By "given up" I don't mean I avoid them all. I have more guy friends than I can easily count -- good, kind, aesthetically pleasing, cerebrally superior dudes who fulfill all but one of my needs. But I have, finally, quit pursuing boyfriends/lovers/fuck buddies/one-night-stands -- all those guys I used to think I couldn't live without but who, I finally see, mostly failed to meet all but one of my needs.

It took me some time to get to this place where I am more than comfortable by myself -- and I prefer life this way. Unlike quitting drinking and smoking (which I've also done), I did not consciously set out to permanently free myself from partnering. The last guy cheated on me and that was the very big straw that busted this camel's back, the culmination of nearly twenty years of relationships that all ended in heartbreak.

At last, I started to admit the truth to myself: Some of us are powerless over booze. Some of us are powerless over nicotine. I am powerless over dicks, and by that I don't mean the appendage, I mean the personality type. Before the cheater was Ren Fest Man, a guy who dressed up like a king on the weekends and expected me to always bow down in his presence. Before him was the drug-addicted sociopath that stalked me. Before him was the mid-divorce guy who not only couldn't commit to a relationship he couldn't even commit to staying the night no matter how good the sex was. Before him, the alcoholic.

Perhaps if I really put my mind to it, set a goal, resumed frequent therapy, and had a committee of friends helping screen... perhaps then I could find a decent guy to call my own. But thus far, in the decades since my first boyfriend (the one who threw me across the room), I have yet to find one, shall we say, appropriate partner.

Weary with sorrow and disbelief after that final, awful fight with that final, awful man, I thought, "It's going to be a long time before I try this again." What did not occur to me then was that I might grow to recognize the joys of never trying again.

That process began nearly five years ago. I no longer think of my current situation as interim, a static circumstance that will become suddenly dynamic: Just Add Boyfriend. The things I did to distract myself from the deep pain and fill my time as I adjusted to the loss of the last one mushroomed to include more and more activities, until those activities stopped being time killers and became things I became eager to do. And then I added more to the list.

I learned knitting and swimming and sewing -- things that had previously idled on the to-do list for years. I added to my mammal menagerie, building up the collection to three dogs, three cats and a one-footed bird. I wrote two novels and published an essay collection. I started teaching writing workshops to kids. I threw more dinner parties. I went to Japan. I tossed my son in the car more than once and drove him thousands of miles at a stretch, reveling at the lack of complications incurred when I didn't have to check in with, or worry about missing or arguing long distance with some boyfriend left behind.

I paid more attention to my friends whom, unfortunately, I'd often neglected when in the throes of some one-on-one relationship -- I seemed to most often have had a thing for guys who didn't like my friends, who preferred to have me to themselves. I focused on my martial arts, then added yoga and daily mediation. The daily meditation proved an excellent antidote to the clinical depressions I have suffered since adolescence (and which, I might add, were often triggered by my insistence on staying in shitty relationships far too long.) And I really got back into my reading, which is the single solo activity I most enjoy, another one too often neglected in the past, given up to watch bad TV in tandem.

If I described an average day to you, you might not believe me. An average week, you might think me unnecessarily hyperactive. But the truth is, in finally ceasing to try somehow to define my life as it relates to some man's life -- possibly the worst, most persistent addiction I ever lived with -- I have come to value my own life tremendously, to recognize it for the short precious gift it is.

I leap from bed now, workout, teach lit classes at the alternative high school for a couple of hours. Come home, work on my writing, talk to my friends, hang out with my kid. Nights I drive the soccer carpool, I'm in no hurry to get the kids home. We go to eat and I listen to them laugh and tease each other about their seventh grade crushes and I don't have that low-level anxiety that used to dominate me, the voice urging that I must get back to some guy and his needs and work on our relationship. When I do get home, I gather the dogs in bed. They scratch and circle and settle around me, oh happy pack we. I sink back against a pile of pillows and extract something from the bedside tower. I am never lonely anymore, though I used to feel swelling vortexes of loneliness suck at me many times when there was a man beside me.

I hear my partnered friends, even the happiest of them, talk about the hard work that coupledom requires. I'm no longer interested in that struggle. The calmness is my reward for giving up men. That and the infinite number of choices, nearly all of them happy -- what to do today?

A year or so ago, my mind really settled into this Loving Living Single state. I knew because I woke up one morning and, in my grogginess, began to have an imaginary argument with an imaginary lover who wasn't really beside me. I'd had so much experience arguing with lovers before it wasn't difficult to conjure the scene. What made me laugh was the topic. "No," I told this non-existent man, "You cannot move in with me. I'm sorry. I'm not willing to even rearrange one poster on the wall to make room for your stuff. I like my life just the way it is now."
About the author:
Spike Gillespie is the author of All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy: A Memoir, the dotnovel thebelljar.net, and a collection of essays entitled, Surrender (but don't give yourself away): Old Cars, Found Hope and Other Cheap Tricks. Gillespie is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and her work has appeared in, among other places, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, GQ, Playboy and Elle, and online at Salon, Nerve, Oxygen, Underwire and AustinMama. She is a reformed circus poodle and mother to three spawn-of-satan mutts and one freakin' hilarious and very tall boy ("But remember, son, I'll always be wider than you...").  She is currently working on a novel about how utterly fucked up love can be (How novel indeed...).