‘It’s luck, you know,’ said my friend Maia, who got married for the second time just before Christmas. ‘All just luck. Right place, right time.’ She had been on her own for 12 years; lonely, unhappy, depressed. The first husband had been a total arsehole who eviscerated her self-confidence. She had given up hope, but by sheer chance had met the round-two husband at a party that — familiar story — she had been Rizla-close to not going to because it was raining and she thought the host was a pillock.
It had also been a frizzy hair or a fat day and she was halfway through bingeing on a bottle of wine and an escapist box set in her flat that was cosy, warm, solitary and unfettered by the need to make any effort. Why on earth rouse herself to put on her face — half an hour fiddling about with inadequate cosmetics which, for all their gilded packaging, could not disguise her disillusioned complexion — and face the other side of London, the freezing evening, the miserable Underground, the malignant pavements?
And for what? Three hours of talking to sexually-frustrated-but-still-smug married couples? To a dozen really, really nice middle-aged single women just like her, smiling and wearing their brave faces to stave off social euthanasia? For the privileged exposure to three single men (if as many as that): one gay; one a total twat or useless or a famous commitment-phobe; the third fabulously beautiful and intelligent and gorgeous, indeed perfect, but who would stare into her eyes and confide in her about his unique and spiritual and on-a-higher-plane but unrequited love for a woman blessed with the beauty and body of Bardot in her prime, the brains of Virginia Woolf, the cool of Kate Moss and the chronological age of his undergraduate niece?
She oh-so-nearly did not go, but halfway through the third glass of wine thought ‘fuck it’ and did go after all; still doesn’t know why. Turned out that was the right decision, for the pillock happened to have several friends who were not pillocks, and one in particular who was quite the opposite. That’s why, when you are single, people say ‘It only takes one’ and ‘Go to everything’. Same people who tell you, in all their original wisdom, that ‘it’ will happen when you least expect it and the 1,001 other platitudes that give them so much pleasure to say and single people so little joy to hear.
But nine years since separating from my husband, and after PhD levels of reflection and observation, and several wonderful and rather less wonderful adventures later, I do think my twice-married friend is spot-on. I read various broadsheet dating columns and interviews with single people and it becomes blindingly obvious. Two young women who write bravely of their quest to find love that might lead to marriage and children, ponder their own shortcomings. They wonder what they are doing ‘wrong’. If they are as sparky as their writing and as attractive as their byline photographs suggest, then their lack of someone is many a man’s loss. They are doing nothing wrong. One of those effing platitudes is that ‘there’s someone for everyone’. Pass the sick bucket but, really annoyingly, almost certainly true. And it is simply bad luck that, for some, ‘The One’ can be as hard to locate as the proverbial needle.
A brilliant and hilarious single man I know (would that I were ten years younger) tells me whisperingly that he yearns to fall in love and have children, and searches for a reason why this hasn’t happened. Is it because he is so poor? Nonsense, I tell him, we’re not all gold-diggers. Twice-married Maia, in the divorcee years, used to lie awake casting about in her expansive imagination for answers. In the large intestine of the night, where shitty thoughts wreak havoc, she thought maybe it was her mild OCD that rendered her fatally unattractive. Or her off-centre nose (which only she noticed), her ‘silly’ laugh, her one-glass-too-many, her flat arse and fat upper arms?
But, of course, it was none of those things. As it isn’t for all the single men and women I know or read about. It is purely down to luck, or absence thereof. That’s all it ever is. And, maybe, very occasionally, scotching the box set and venturing out into yet another godawful night populated by pillocks and no prospects.