V-Day Reflection: On How I’m Finally OK Being Single
by Kirk Klocke
One day this fall I sat in a small Upper West Side café parallel to Amsterdam Avenue, where groups of kids dressed up for Halloween went into local storefronts Trick-or-Treat-ing in the safety of afternoon daylight. My friend Alyson, who I hadn’t seen in 10 years, melted in little-person awe with each passing group. OMG! So cute!!
And they were cute. Young mothers in the neighborhood had clearly put a lot of effort into their kids’ costumes, mirroring the greater tradition of New Yorkers who spend the entire year planning and designing their costumes, taking the otherwise goofy holiday to the level of cinematic arts.
My reaction to seeing kids always falls flat. In my 20’s, the possibility of kids was filed away among all of the other, “I’ll think about it, someday, when I grow up” thoughts. I remember observing many I knew, including all three of my siblings – wittingly or unwittingly – structure their entire lives around building up reproductive material resources, like birds building a nest. All the while I continued on a path of yearning for footloose spontaneity, avoiding positions of responsibility in both work and personal life.
I wanted a romantic relationship, but I didn’t want it bad enough to clean up my chaotic shit show of a life. I didn’t yet know how to grab onto that desire and use it as a source of strength to move forward. And some of those loveless years were a matter of self-sabotage. One night I showed up to a first date with a medical student drunk and in a vehicle I rented just for the day to make it seem like I owned a car. I couldn’t figure out why I never heard from her again. Another time I pursued a young woman, also a medical student, who offered to hang out as friends but told me in no uncertain terms she wasn’t interested in dating me. Again, I couldn’t figure out why I got ghosted.
That theme of wanting something but not being willing to change anything about myself continued for several more years. I was significantly overweight, drinking upwards of a half-gallon of 80-proof liquor every single day, and unable to keep a job for more than two months, yet I simply couldn’t figure out why healthy, high-functioning, intelligent, gainfully employed women weren’t interested. Didn’t they know who I was?? I was talented, you know, going places … so I thought.
Be who you want to attract, my Dad, an internal medicine physician and healthcare administrator, advised me one day. The answer was simple, but I couldn’t connect the dots, and I continued on a path of self-destruction in part for fear that if I did land a relationship with a healthy, like-minded woman who also preferred career over kids, I’d be forced to change my ways – and I couldn’t. And that means I’d have quickly been on the receiving end of a painful breakup. And being an expert at emotional pain avoidance, on some level I knew that I had to stay single, because the blow of a breakup might push me over the edge and kill me.
Over the last few years I’ve finally begun to untangle this excruciating emotional knot of wanting love but not being available for it. Several things have helped. For one, I had to ditch the idea that I’ll ever fit the mold of Midwest expectations: Gainful Employment>>Dating>>Marriage>>Family. Rinse and repeat. That’ll never, ever be me, and I’m more than okay with that. Next, I had to stop looking for love in all the wrong places. By wrong places I don’t mean bars and nightclubs. I mean I had to stop projecting relationships that weren’t really there onto therapists and others in my life in a professional capacity. That’s right, really, really, wrong places. Men with ultra-low self esteem do this all the time. They might delude themselves into thinking that their favorite bartender really cares about them, or they might turn to prostitution. I never crossed that line, but there were lonely drunken nights when I thought about it. There have been studies that link infant death rates with lack of human touch. Adults who lack human touch are for years or decades are at much higher risk of dying of suicide or complications of maladaptive displacement behaviors, including heavy drinking, violence related to gambling, and intense physical risks inherent to thrill seeking.
I also had to stop thinking of ‘being in a relationship’ as an all-or-nothing thing. Everything in society from what we are taught about marriage in church as kids to red- yellow- and green-light style relationship status dropdown menus on social media profiles fail to commute the vast nuances of the multidimensional relationship continuum. The more I take inventory of all the connections over the years I’ve had that fall in between mere acquaintance and marriage, the more I realize how rich that area of my life has been, even in my darkest days.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, I’ve almost always had exactly what I want right in front of me. I have periods of intense loneliness, yes, but when I really think about it, the void in my love life has more to do with the disconnect between society’s definition of a “good” life and what I want for myself. That part of me that wants to want what everyone else is supposedly supposed to want from life tells me I should be sad that the ways I’ve mismanaged my life preclude ever having a family.
But my truest self beyond being a slave to societal expectations doesn’t want a white-picket-fence life, and it never did. The most talented, intelligent, insightful therapist I ever had called me out on this once: Smart people tend to do exactly what they want to do and get exactly what they want, she told me. Our behavior, not our words, says what we really want in life.
There are so many kinds of love, and though I’ve been missing physical intimacy for a long time, sex comes at too high a price for me. My unique worldview, kindness, strong intellect, and idealistic, philanthropic bent are too valuable to me and others for me to allow myself to get swept up in the world of arguments and fighting and disappointment that follow the first 18 months of most romantic relationships – the time when people start knowing each other for who and what they really are. Paying child support isn’t ever going to be my thing. Kids aren’t my thing. And in small doses, they can be, and my ample supply of nephews and nieces are there to scratch that itch.
The love I do have in my life right now is exactly the love I need and want. It is that simmering glow I get from collaborating with other high-functioning creative types here at Not Quite Sunday in Minneapolis, at MPR News in Saint Paul, and at The Nocturnists in San Francisco.
My wife is my work, and for that, I’m grateful. ♦