And Then there was One

Time to another installment. For a brief recap, I am still in the probation period of my new gig, and have just crossed the 6th month line. This is midway through the time frame needed to go from “conditional” to “permanent” (or close to it) at my new city job. It already feels like an eternity. Between micro management, poor luck and the sense that provisional employees are treated like canon fodder, it feels like a lifetime. But, if someone had told me a year ago I’d have a job like this even for this long, I’d have called them crazy. I still feel the zen, and that’s about all I feel in terms of being touched by others. I still get less play than a vinyl record of gangsta rap in Esperanto.

In between of this, of course, I remain the Dateless-Man; possessor of the “anti-hormone” where seductive energy can neither enter nor escape. Yet while I continue on my routine, life moves on for those around me. Last month I attended an impromptu reunion of my best friends based upon the brief visit of an old high school chum. Yet among the cast of characters, there was one friend who was missing; my old friend “T”, who is often busy with being a police officer. I wish I had come up with a better nickname for him back in 2014 like I had for the various women in the flashbacks. I’ll expand it to “Tee.” He’s one of my oldest friends, having met him in junior high. During my high school and college years it was rare to go even two weekends without seeing or speaking to him. He was actually among the pals who “convinced” (more like playfully threatened to blackmail) me into joining Facebook in 2012-2013. The idea was to make it easier to communicate, especially for semi-monthly gatherings.

Yet in recent years, it’s been Tee who has been scarce. He barely shows up online anymore and I actually haven’t seen him in person since sometime in 2016. That’s the fate of pals sometimes; schedules conflict and life gets in the way. But that all changed last month. All of a sudden he was back on Facebook, and he wasn’t alone. Just like that, Tee’s status changed — he was married.

Married. I’d barely heard he was engaged, and all of a sudden within the span of 48 hours he was spamming the internet with wedding and honeymoon photos. I’d met most of his past girlfriends — even befriended one of his exes — yet I’d never even heard of his new wife until now. Tee certainly looks happy, and as buff as ever; as a former “fat kid,” he’s since become a champion weight lifter. It wasn’t so much that I thought he could “never” get married or anything like that; he was a serial monogamist. It isn’t that I was jealous like some friends get when others marry and suddenly have less time to hang out; as I mentioned, I’d hardly seen him since the end of the Obama administration.

What took me back was the suddenness of it, as well as the addition of Tee among the ranks of my “married friends.” Out of my main circle of “guy friends” who I met in junior high and high school, most of them are now married. One other is engaged in all but name. Even the pal who visited was with someone steady. The only one of my pals who isn’t is the one I dubbed “M****“, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he announced something similar at random any time now. Many of my friends who are women are married, but in a way that’s less of a shock. This is probably for social conditioning reasons, since even to this day women are expected to “settle down” quicker while men are encouraged or allowed to be free wheeling bachelors as long as they want to. Yet the realization that among my pals, I was practically the only one who was not either married, engaged, or seeing someone long term despite being the eldest in the circle (even if by a few months), hit me. Heck, even many of my more casual acquaintances are married now.

Married. While I have had three dates in my life. Have never been kissed. Have never been touched. The other day while wedged in the train commuting to work during rush hour, someone accidentally touched the side of my hip. It’s the sort of thing which accidentally happens during the crush of commuters. Yet it made me do a double take, as if I’d been electrocuted. I wasn’t sure what it was for a moment until I realized. I am not used to being touched by anyone, especially below the belt. Even something casual or accidental can feel jarring and foreign, or at least unfamiliar.

This isn’t a feeling of envy. I don’t want to be married right now. The very notion of fatherhood terrifies me, and at least one of my friends (not Tee) is a father now (which feels all sorts of weird). Nor is this a feeling of entitlement; I don’t feel I am “owed” a wife or a lover, nor do I feel “denied” anything by birthright. It was merely a reminder of how “behind” I was in terms of social romantic experience, especially for people my age. It was a sign of difference, of otherness and separation. Around some of the circles I travel online in what some could call the “dating advice” community (or, bluntly, the website of Doctor Nerdlove and an unofficial spin off message board), people preach the idea that there are supposedly no such things as “norms” for romantic experience. That it is folly to compare your experiences with those around you because “you’re comparing your unedited footage to their highlight reel.” That everyone lives and loves at their own pace, that nobody ever pays attention to media expectations or peer pressure, and all sorts of Pollyanna baloney.

Yet in living my life and interacting with the pals who know me best, I cannot help but feel like someone or something else. According to at least one recent survey, the “average” number of lovers that people in America and the U.K. sleep with in a lifetime is between 4-7 different people. That isn’t “stud-muffin” level, that is average. And to a man, all of my close pals match that. While I don’t keep firm stock of their love lives and I may have missed a fling or two, all of the married ones match in line with that figure. Even my one pal who is engaged who could be considered the one who “got around the most” isn’t beyond that range of 4-7 different people. It isn’t just the male ego’s drive to “rack them up”; the search for an ideal lover to settle down with is a marathon, not a sprint. The ideal trend is that as the journey begins, people “experiment,” learn how to handle relationships, or at least have enough that they know what they truly want.  Now, like all averages, there are outliers. There are people who still marry their first or second lover for whatever reason, and there are those who carry the same mistakes and baggage into dozens of relationships. But those sorts of people are outliers, and the latter group are usually seen as dysfunctional.

I am older than all of my friends. Yet, barring divorce, they are at the end of their romantic journeys. They muddled through the teen years, being young adults, and then career professionals (for the most part). They “sowed their wild oats” and settled down. They learned enough about what they want in long term lovers by actually having a few. And I haven’t even begun that journey. I have never been kissed. Touch for me is so rare that an accidental pass on a subway train can cut through me like a chilly wind. This doesn’t mean I am a better or worse person, but what it does mean is that the romantic road ahead is likely to be more difficult, since I am starting later than average. And that I may not have many opportunities if and when I did, and therefore more pressure would be on them unintentionally. It means I am different and unusual, against the norm. I may have missed a window of opportunity that I may never have a chance to reach. Or if I do, it may be akin to the journey of anyone who starts late and behind schedule — full of stress, half measures, and overcompensation. Not exactly what I look forward to.

The cheese stands alone. And apparently, so do I. I just hope I age a little better; I’d hate to become runny.

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