When Settling Is Not an Option

A lot of people have the wrong idea about us. They assume that the “alone” part of our moniker means that we are totally at peace being single; that our supreme comfort in singledom means we would never spy on a potential date, ask a friend to set us up, or use an online dating service. Actually, the truth is a bit more complex. We like being single, but that’s not the only reason we spend such long periods in the single state. Our deeply romantic nature commands it—and creates a certain romance that can be equally possible in both the coupled and single state.

Now, romantic is a tricky word. It seems worthwhile to point out that the meaning of romantic as it applies to the quirkyalone is different than the romanticism presented to us in women’s magazines and Hallmark cards. If we’re going to be black and white about this, there are two kinds of romance: upper-case and lower-case. Lower-case romantic is based on sentimentality and formula. It flattens meaning out into a series of predictable gestures: sending flowers means I’m thinking about you; a marriage proposal in an Italian restaurant with man playing violin means I really love you. If you look even deeper into lower-case romance, you find commerce. The same industries that bring us all the rules books about women finding men exhort us to spend lavishly on weddings and honeymoons to prove the depth of our romantic love. It’s not that the quirkyalone is opposed to chocolate, diamond rings, roses, trips to Maui, or marriage proposals with men playing violin in the background. But we prefer gestures that feel more authentic (flowers any other day of the year, rather than February 14th). We also have our own spin on romance that sometimes is about amourous love, and sometimes not.

When you are single for a while, you become more attracted to the meanings of upper-case Romantic. Upper-case romantic is first and foremost about sincerity, but it also can take on the meanings of reverie, fantasy, introspection, intuition, and realness. There’s a power in romantic yearning for the quirkyalone—juice in our visions of a romantic relationship, the stolid power in holding out for a vision, feeling the sense of possibility of being untethered—but there’s also a power in not yearning, feeling self-contained. When quirkyalones are single, we tend to go back and forth between wanting a relationship in our lives, and not really feeling the need at all. It can be very possible to hang out with a couple that you like and not feel sad or jealous at all—just bask in their romantic stability, and be happy to go home unfettered to work on your own projects and sleep in your own bed diagonally.

Romantic takes on yet another meaning here—it is the romantic of large-scale emotion that is equally possible in a single state: the romance of walking down the street, being swept away by cheesy songs on your walkman, when you are very much alone, but in the best possible way. It’s the sort of romantic that makes you feel like you are starring in your own version of Before Sunrise, when you take a train trip by yourself. Just as there is a dream of romancing a single person, there is also the possibility of romancing the world (and yourself) in general.

Quirkyalones are dreamers. In our healthiest, most evolved state, we expand the experience of “falling in love” or passionate interest beyond just one arena. A project can take as much time and energy as a romantic relationship. Holly, a single mother in her forties, says the thing that struck her most in the original essay was the line ‘Better to be untethered and open to possibility.’ She was married, and not even in a horrible marriage, but “because I am a quirkyalone that I couldn’t be in it.” She also sees the quirkyalone part of her personality as connected to work and her family life. “There’s this expression, “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it” by Goethe. I feel that because I do things my way and differently. I am a former TV producer, for fifteen years, I was having a very hard time being a single parent and working in this business. It looked like I was going to get laid off with 200 people. I decided to leave and write full-time. Everyone thought that was a nice thing to do, like every other struggling writer, but I really did make a career out of it. People say all the time, How do you do it? I don’t know if resourcefulness is an aspect of being quirkyalone in terms of making things happen. That was a real hope and a dream to have a lifestyle with my kids as I wanted. I love the idea of not having to go to an office every day. It gave me a sense of being the underdog and making possibilities work for yourself.”

Still, it does seem a bit ironic that we would call quirkyalones—people who are rarely in romantic relationships—romantics. What do we know about relationships that others don’t? We may have less experience than our serial monogamist friends. But what we do have, for better or worse, is a strong internal compass, a gut instinct that must be obeyed.

We prefer to be alone than in a relationship in which we have to hold back an essential part of ourselves, and we can see the romantic drama in states that others might not see as romantic at all.

Pathological Pickiness?
Just because we know this quality to be part of ourselves doesn’t mean that we are always at peace with it. Anyone who holds out for years for this kind of imagined ideal is bound to ask: Is it okay to follow my instincts, or is there something pathological and weird about me? What if I never find what I’m looking for? Am I going to become too set in my ways to accommodate anyone else?

Every quirkyalone will come to a moment (or many moments) when she wonders if she if she is just pathologically picky. It doesn’t help that much of the nonQA world looks at our dating patterns (or lack thereof) with a mix of bemusement and contempt, accusing us of holding out for a perfect hair day, the aligning of the planets, or the Messiah. That we are in love with love is the accusation that is often hurled at us. We should go out on more dates, and stop theorizing about love and practice it more often. Yes, there are very legitimate problems with escaping into fantasy for too long or for comfort’s sake, if you only engage with fantasies. The momentum of quirkyaloneness can build: After one, two, three, or four years of assured singledom, it becomes more and more impossible to imagine getting involved again.

But the upside of being in love with love is maintaining a sense of hope and possibility. People think of romantics as soft, as people who are attracted to illusions. Romanticism can also require a tough spirit—to be brave while all your cousins are getting married (even the ones who are ten years younger). It might be easier to follow convention and marry by the time you hit 35 or 50, or to continue on with a romantic relationship for the sake of having a partner to calm nervous parents and a date to bring to weddings. But when we think about the idea of “settling,” a warm body around for the sake of a warm body, the alternative makes us much more uncomfortable.

In this sense, quirkyaloneness is a choice, and one that requires courage. Quirkyalones are militant romantics. It takes courage to keep holding out when you are told that you are holding out for an ideal that does not exist.

Most single quirkyalones have not led celibate, loveless lives. We have often had a glimpse of the kind of relationship we are seeking; and such experiences intensify the desire to remain open to the possibility of finding a similar one. Most of us will meet a person we’re sure is a lifelong soul mate, and turns out to be anything but. If you are experiencing this trauma right now, I suggest immediately proceeding to to read about R.O., or romantic obsession. The quirkyalone’s innate ability to experience a symphony of emotion may put you at risk.

Everyone has negative romantic experiences. The mark of a quirkyalone is that we don’t let them get us down completely. We would rather be raw, take it, then move on. Of course, the quirkyalone heart can grow calloused over time. Having high hopes leads to disappointment, and disappointment after disappointment, when years go by and everyone else is paired off while we remain single, the romantic in the quirkyalone can be ebbed away by a growing weariness and cynicism. Why bother investing hope again? It happens to the best of us. Cynicism and hope are always in flux. What distinguishes the quirkyalone is that a kernel of hope lives on. No one ever said that quirkyalone wasn’t complex. It really is a paradox—the ability to be happy alone and still yearn.

Tough Love for QAs
Should she? Or shouldn’t she? The question of whether to go on a date or continue a relationship is very charged for people like us; the all-or-nothing mindset is basically hardwired into the quirkyalone personality. We ardently desire the real thing, and can’t seem to deal with the casual or the imitation.

A few words of advice: Every so often, push yourself. Force yourself on the questionable date. The problem with all or nothing is that the “all” comes along so rarely that you may miss out on not only sex and companionship, but also life itself. We want to know from the beginning that someone is “the one,” or one of the “the ones,” to feel stimulated and tingly, uniquely understood. But of course sometimes people turn out to be different than we originally expect.

Part of the challenge of dating is to manage the anxiety of letting a relationship unfold over time. In the beginning stages of dating, we quirkyalones are often practitioners of the fast-forwarded relationship, when we have already brokenup with someone before even going out on a date. Ambiguity in the beginning of a relationship is difficult for everyone. For us it’s especially hard. We want to call the question early: yes or no, and retreat if things are not working immediately. Sayonara!

The challenge is to remember that unless you are developing a relationship with a friend, a co-worker, a church member, or a family member (probably not a good idea), getting to know someone is a gradual process. Friendships evolve over time, as do co-worker relationships and roommate bonds. Let’s face it: The reasons we reject people can seem comical. One friend couldn’t possibly go out with someone who asked her “to give him a buzz.” Another no-no was the phrase “shoot me an email.”

“Practice” Relationships
Practice relationships can be good in and of themselves. It’s true that you do learn something in every relationship. But the difference between the quirkyalone and the typical serial monogamist is that we very consciously enter into relationships just for practice (we don’t want to be 46 and in a relationship for only the third time!). What happens most often is that there is someone who wants to be in a relationship with you, you’re not so crazy about them, but you think that because everyone else enters is doing it, you should try it too.

Attraction can build over time, right?

Sometimes practice relationships work out fine. But sometimes when we force ourselves into relationships that don’t feel right, the time spent together can have a double quality, as if we are watching ourselves in a romantic comedy. Worse yet is the constant second-guessing of whether it’s you or him or her. These can be brutal on the quirkyalone spirit and rarely end well. The big problem with practice relationships is that often they devalue sexual attraction in favor of other supposedly more lofty criteria, such as security, comfort, or “they’re nice.”

When you have to work too hard to be attracted to someone and their skin tastes like garlic and you’re closing your eyes to an extremely hairy back (and that bothers you), it just makes you feel more lonely. If you are in a relationship to feel “normal,” don’t feel bad about ending the relationship. Get out.


Fate? Destiny? Online dating?

Quirkyalones are often attracted to the idea of serendipity, the “cute meet” we secretly enjoy in the romantic comedies. Online dating, of course is the opposite of serendipity. It is intentional, rational, and businesslike, a way of meeting a lot of people at once. You could argue that it is serendipitous to find your true love on the Internet—who would have thought you would both be online and looking at the same time? But the quirkyalone ideal is much more in the flesh.

Whether we admit it or not, the problem most of us have with online dating is that this method of meeting lacks romantic narrative. We are prejudiced against online dating because we prize stories. We want our relationships to have a madcap, chance beginning (magic!) to tell friends and ourselves later on. Let’s face it—which would you prefer: a) “We met online,” or b) “Funny you should ask, we accidentally swapped bags last year when I was coming back from visiting my family.”

Then again, it’s highly unlikely that any one of us would break up with someone we genuinely like with the excuse, “I’m sorry, I met you online and I just can’t seem to get over that.”

Given the choice between meeting someone you like and not meeting anyone at all, well, perhaps it would be better for those who are earnestly looking for love to re-examine their prejudice. When you dig a little deeper, there is always a story to tell. Both of my parents met new spouses through the old-fashioned newspaper personal ads. The fact that they met that way is charming. Perhaps the story is about all the resistance you as a quirkyalone had to fight to write your profile.

There can be advantages. Some quirkyalones actually may prefer online dating. You can get to know each other in a gradual way. You can find out if your quarry shares your love for Wittgenstein, or would be interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail or volunteering at the local homeless shelter with you. And if you think about online dating as an adventure, the opportunity to travel without leaving home, it’s quite compatible with our personality. We’re wanderers, adventurers. Why not break out of the narrow confines of the social circle you already inhabit? One of my two successful experiences was a date with a young Swiss mathematician. We spoke French and ate at a French West African restaurant. Honestly, the whole weekend felt like a low-cost trip to Europe.

If you’re curious, do try online dating. Choose the site that most closely matches your personality and approach the experience as a strategic tool, a jumpstart for life in general. You may not meet anyone you like in your round of coffee or drinks, but if you write an effective ad, you cannot help but develop a glow, a certain “je ne sais quoi.” I call it the “personals prom queen effect.” Suddenly the whole word is begging to go out with you.

Here are some more dos and don’ts for quirkyalones (or anyone) considering online dating:

Do cut to the chase and meet for a drink or coffee after no more than a week of emailing—there’s often very little correspondence between someone’s online personality and their real-life personality. Meeting someone in person is entirely different than exchanging coy emails—and you’re better of getting to know the real them before you become attached to the virtual counterpart.

Do have a friend help you write your online profile—she or he can help you think of charming details like the fact that you know how to prepare brussel sprouts that everyone loves, or the frightening intensity of your Scrabble game.

Do set up an alter-ego email account. No need to compromise your privacy.

Do accept that you may meet a lot of people that you don’t like that much. Meeting someone that you want to keep seeing may take some time, if it pans out at all—a problem for quirkyalones, since we tire of dating easily. Do stop online dating before you get bitter about it. It’s a numbers game; in all likelihood, you will have to meet a lot of people to find someone with whom you “click.”

Don’t be afraid of becoming friends with your personal ad. If you both like each other, but don’t feel that spark, there’s no reason not to transition into a platonic relationship.

Do consider carefully whether you should bother with speed-dating, those gulags of meeting and greeting, wherein you conduct whirlwind three-minute conversations with about 25 people in one night. The chances of meeting another quirkyalone, or another quirky person, at such an event are not great—how could they be, in such a sterile, regimented environment? It goes without saying that you should also not expect to find a qa soul mate on a reality dating show.

Do rejoice in your horror stories. They are the modern-day equivalent of war stories, badges of honor for navigating the often-absurd terrain of “dating.” Briefing your friends after a deliciously awful encounter makes it all okay.

from Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics by Sasha Cagen,

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