That is the question.
It’s a question that I have so far been answering with a resounding “no.” The thought of going online and putting myself forward to be scrutinised by strangers, and not making the grade. The thought of having to sit opposite someone and make small talk, thinking all the while about how they are appraising your appearance, skills, and entire personality as though it was a job interview, but for the Very Important Position of girlfriend, a position that in twenty years of dating, I have found myself in a mere handful of times, and only for very short periods.
I am clearly just not up to the job.
Career, I can do. Motherhood, I can do. I am an adult woman with a variety of skills. I can write, I can cook, I can put together a great outfit. I can do anything I put my mind to. Anything.
Except form a functional romantic relationship with another human being.
Even the word “romantic” makes me cringe a little bit.
People tell me that I am brave, that I am fearless, and strong. They tell me that they couldn’t do what I have done. They couldn’t have a baby on their own. But they have all invariably done something I have never been able to do. They have married, or formed functional relationships with actual human beings for a period of more than a couple of weeks. Often they have been in relationships, romantic relationships, for years. YEARS! My question to them is how. How have they managed to do THAT? I tell you, having a baby on your own is easy compared to ten years of internet dating with nothing to show for it except a selection of bad dates that could fill an encyclopaedia. The Encyclopaedia of Bad Dates. We all have them, unless we were lucky enough to meet someone completely perfect at eighteen and stay with them forever and ever, but even for those of us who had to work for it, who had to put ourselves through the circles of Hell that are Match.com and Plenty of Fish, usually, somewhere along the line there’s a happy ending, a cheerful picture at the end with the husband and children. The One that finally came when you learned to love yourself and stopped looking.
Except that there still is no happy ending. And what is an ending anyway, if not simply a point in the linear perception of the story of your life where you feel moderately contented, and decide to pop the happy ever after in, and ignore the bit that comes afterwards; the bit where Cinderella gets fed up with the Prince and files for divorce; the bit where Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet argue over who gets to use the good carriage for that afternoon’s engagements, and who has to use the one with the elderly horses and squiffy footman.
My romantic history reads like a comedy of errors. And my self confidence when it comes to dating is through the floor. It is literally sitting there, in the actual basement. It’s underneath the basement. It’s trapped inside a limestone cave hundreds of metres beneath the surface. It’s INSIDE THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH, the bit with the enormous iron filings.*
So it is of endless surprise to me that some other single parents manage to actually date. How? How do they do this? I can’t even bring myself to ask my mother if she would babysit Piglet for me so I could dare to do such a thing. She would give me the Don’t You Dare Glare. The one that she reserves for special moments such as when Piglet won’t eat his Shreddies, and when I fail to admonish him for standing too close to the television or trying to “help” with the washing up by climbing onto a stool and then dipping his hands in the water and covering himself with bubbles. It would be the look of “Don’t you dare. You are past it. You made your bed and you lie in it. I am off to lie in my bed, on my own, and not be bothered by your child for five minutes.”
And then there is the fact that I am now just that little bit older, that little bit fatter and that little bit more fragile about the state of my appearance than I was last time I tried dating. I used to be trendy. I own several boxes of FABULOUS shoes that are kept in storage and I can probably never walk in again without being crippled. I used to not have entire sections of my head that are riddled with greys. My stomach used to be REASONABLY TONED.
So what do I do? Do I just give up, and accept my fate as the Spinster of the Parish, learn to knit and start cultivating a collection of cats? Do I leap once more unto the fray, and immerse myself in a world of online dating that now seems to be even more cut throat and ruthless than the one I exited three years ago? Or do I continue living my life, contented and happy with my lot, focusing on parenthood, work and writing, and hope that maybe one day someone will just pop up, presumably in Tesco on a day when I’m not looking completely rough, or the park, or soft play, or somewhere else equally unlikely to be the hideout of an eligible bachelor who just happens to be looking for the perfect thirtysomething single mother to settle down with and pop out a few kids before she becomes entirely barren.
What would you do?
*Apparently that’s what’s at the Earth’s core. Trust me, I saw a documentary on it once. It’s giant iron filings, that are like, HUGE, and they point in the direction of the magnetic field or something. Something like that. I’m not a physicist so if you are, please feel free to come at me with the technicals. I am intrigued at the Giant Bits of Iron in Centre of Earth phenomenon, and would like to know more. For example, one question I may be googling later is HOW DOES ANYONE EVEN KNOW WHAT’S DOWN THERE?