My scientist father is notorious for taking photos at every occasion – and not just one photo. Each picture he sets up must be captured multiple times just in case. Statistically speaking, it makes sense: a wider sample group means you’re more likely to get it right at least once, especially with multiple variables like people (who are known for an inability to look perfect at all times). There is shot after shot of family birthday photos, with multiple arrangements of the five of us. Those five would be my mom and dad, my brother and his slowly revolving cast of girlfriends, and me. Just me.
I recently was at my parent’s house going through old photographs. On birthdays, posing with a plate of my mom’s broccoli in peanut sauce steaming in front of you, practically melting into your tastebuds simply from the aroma, can feel like torture. But while looking at those family birthday photos, from high school years on, I don’t notice the food as much as I do the people we’re celebrating with. Occasionally I have a friend with me – usually a gal-friend, and twice, a boyfriend – but most always not. It’s just couple sitting next to each other smiling. Another couple sitting next to each other, beaming. Glaringly obvious single girl eating her buttercream frosted birthday cake, alone.
You wouldn’t know by looking at me, or even having a conversation with me in line at Whole Foods that I’m harboring the fairly mortifying secret of being single. I seem reasonably normal for a just-turned-30 year old living in Oakland, California: Tiny piercing in my nose that my parents hate, though they love me anyway; a penchant for brightly colored shoes while wearing modest and dark colors; uncontrollable dancing when I get interested in a conversation or idea.
Okay, fine. My rational mind knows my Facebook relationship status is no big whoop. Singleness hardly deserves the descriptor “mortifying” let alone “whackadoodle” or “pathetic” or any other negative-Nancy qualifier that could possible be pinned to those without partners. My emotional mind, however, thinks my Facebook relationship status signifies severe defects and is demonstrative of profound loneliness. Which my rational mind knows is absolute, abject bullshit.
I mean, come on. I love my life. My roommate built a tee-pee that stands nine-feet tall in our living room, and we occasionally hold blanket-fort parties where we serve cheap wine and expensive brie. I take long runs through the Piedmont hills and witness scenery that can only be observed right here and right now, and then I go home and blog about running and health and fitness. My circle of friends has become more of a spiral that weaves together and has gotten to know each other, and the people I know are brilliant, witty, charming, and wildly talented in a remarkable number of ways. Obviously, I’m neither defective nor lonely.
Yet I still feel like I’m being judged by everyone — my mom and dad, my brother, my best friends who accept me for being wonderfully flawed, and my peripheral friends who still seem to enjoy my company, and strangers at the supermarket — when I don’t have someone to snuggle with at night. And the worst part is that I know none of those people are judging me. No one is walking around thinking “Man, Alicia is pretty lame that no one sane has stuck around. She must be a total Helena underneath a cool cucumber exterior.”
Except me. I’m walking around thinking that.