[Bella’s intro: For decades, I have been yearning to find books about single people who live their lives fully and joyfully. Books that do not make some tired old romantic plot the centerpiece, but instead showcase the kinds of experiences that can make single life so meaningful and so fulfilling. Fiction would be great. Nonfiction, as in memoirs of real single people, maybe even better. Sadly, those kinds of books are hard to find. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover Edie Jarolim’s new memoir about her life as a writer, Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All. I told the author that if an endorsement from me would ever be of value, she was free to use this: “Edie Jarolim is a single woman leading a rich, complicated, exasperating, inspiring, and adventurous life of a writer. Fortunately for all of us, her insights, wit, and story-telling skills are superb. More, please!”
In her book, Edie Jarolim mentioned an essay she wrote, “Single by Design,” that appeared in the Guardian in 1991. I asked Edie for a copy when I couldn’t find it online. I loved it. A quarter-century ago, Edie was already raising the question that we should have gotten past by now, but haven’t: Why is it that “being on one’s own can’t be considered an end in itself rather than just a transition”? I knew I wanted to share the essay with “Single at Heart” readers, but one potential obstacle remained: Did Edie have the copyright, so I could reprint the essay in full here? Turns out she did.]
Here’s Edie’s essay from 1991. At the end, you will find her answers to a few questions about her life and her recent book.
A Woman after Her Own Heart
Guest post by Edie Jarolim
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, my friend and I, and we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. We talk about work, mutual friends, our health. And sooner or later, the inevitable question: “Are you seeing anyone?”
“No,” I say, “I’m not, but I’m not really looking.”
“That’s good,” she says, approvingly. “That’s when you always find someone—when you’re not looking.”
The idea that a man would come along when I wasn’t interested in being with one used to cheer me up. No longer. Lately I’ve been finding it irritating that people should think being happy and single is just a ruse to placate the cruel misogynistic gods in charge of keeping love out of the reach of desperate women. I have begun wondering why being on one’s own can’t be considered an end in itself rather than just a transition to “real” life—that is, a sexual relationship.
I’ve been married, single, in between and I think the single times have been the best. I married young, went in with the notion that I’d be better off having been married. That way, I figured, I would never have to feel I couldn’t have done it—and I wouldn’t have to do it again if I didn’t want to.
I liked and loved my husband, respected what he did, thought him a terrific lover. But as soon as we crossed that legal threshold, I felt trapped. As a result, I ended up having affairs with men I liked far less, paradoxically as a way of getting out of a situation I didn’t want to be in.
It seems that wanting to be alone is only okay for the occasional brooding movie star. When my mother asked me why I got divorced and I said marriage just didn’t seem right for me, she couldn’t accept that. “No really,” she said. “You can tell me. Did he find another woman?”
“No,” I said, less truthful but still honest.
“Did you find another woman? Did he find another man?”
“Mother!” I was shocked. But clearly, to her, opting out for solitude was far less acceptable to her than opting out for a relationship, of whatever sort.
The notion that I couldn’t live without romance was one of the things that drove me to try to find someone, even though I was enjoying being on my own. I haven’t given up wanting love in my life, but have come to realize that it can take many forms, including friendship. Maybe I’m getting too old for the highs, the lows, the sleepless nights of the romantic type. I admit I’m a sucker for the mean, emotionally unavailable me, the ones the self-help books tell you that you fall for because you fear commitment.
Instead of suggesting you might be better off on your own, however, those books always advise you to go for the nice, safe, dependable (read: boring) guys. Hah. I wouldn’t want to spend a single evening with someone who had those qualities. Why would I want to spend my life with them?
Certainly I’d like to have sex occasionally, but it always seems to be attached to angst of some sort: possibly deadly diseases if you don’t know your partner; romance and it’s own anxieties if you know and are attracted to him. I’ve found that sex is a lot like caffeine – an addiction you can kick.
The fact is, not everyone is good at relationships that have sex in them. I have lots of male friends with whom I am relaxed and happy. But add an orgasm or two to our evenings and where I am now tolerant of their faults, I become hypercritical; where I have been easygoing about their past girlfriends, I suddenly become anxious about those shadowy rivals; where I am happy now to spend whatever time we have together, I suddenly become jealous and possessive.
I have taken to wondering why there is such a fear of single women in our culture. The media loves cautionary tales about how we’re going to get left high and dry if we devote too much time to our careers and not enough to what should be our primary goal—coupling and procreating. They had a field day with that “about as much chance of getting married after 35 as being kidnapped by a terrorist” statistic, and the Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoon heroine with tears running down her face and a balloon saying, “I can’t believe I forgot to have children” seemed to be everywhere.
Why don’t the counter statistics and messages get the same attention? Where’s the cover of Time magazine exploring the study, reported with little fanfare in the New York Times and other places, that single women—and married men—are the healthiest people in the US? Maybe I’m kidding myself, thinking I’m happier on my own, but if I choose to labor under that delusion, who am I threatening?
[End of essay]
Bella: So has anything changed about how you think about your single life since you wrote that essay 25 years ago?
Edie Jarolim: No, not really. It’s clear now that, when I wrote this piece, it was an exercise in will and bravado. That is, until fairly recently I was unable to resist the lure of sex and the conflicting emotions that accompanied it, although I always ruled out co-habiting with anyone. Being post-menopausal and having a lowered libido has made things easier.
Sadly, although the pop culture references have changed and a wider range of sexual preferences are accepted, the idea of being single as a viable life choice has not become any more mainstream. Gay marriage has been increasingly sanctioned, and that’s terrific, but living on your own, no matter your sexual proclivities? Not so much.
Edie Jarolim:Although its frame is a humorous memoir about my life as a guidebook editor and travel writer, I often call my book a coming-of-middle-age story. I didn’t start working towards my goal of becoming a writer in earnest until I was 40. The underlying message: It’s never too late to pursue your dreams, no matter how many mistakes you make along the way. I was a klutz with no sense of direction, a driving phobia, and a fear of heights who managed to become a successful travel writer. In a memoir, you get to choose the parts of your life that you want to highlight. I consciously set out to showcase my career angst rather than focus on anxieties surrounding romantic relationships, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, I think that’s fairly rare in writing by women.
Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All is available on Amazon.com in paperback and ebook versions; not coincidentally, the Kindle version is on sale today (November 28) for 99 cents.
[Bella, again: Thanks so much, Edie, and good luck with your book! Readers, you can learn even more about Edie Jarolim and her writing at her website. And, if you want to know the latest on whether getting married makes you happier, healthier, more socially connected, and all the rest (mentioned in the last paragraph of Edie’s essay), check out Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong, or this brief essay in the Washington Post.]