I am a single woman in my late early 40s and I am not married and I would like to be, and let me tell you why I am not running screaming through the streets in a desperate panic.
1: I really do believe true love comes at every age. My grandmother remarried at 80, to a man who wore bolo ties and built homes with Habitat for Humanity. Also, if I had gotten married in my early late 20s, I would be divorced, because I was not fit for it.
2: Because I have a plan, and the plan is what I would like to discuss today.
I am single because of other priorities, circumstance, laziness, and pride.
Other priorities: I have spent the last four years writing my second novel. One of the weird things about writing a novel is that in building a world for your characters, you spend a lot of time there yourself. In many ways, I feel like I have spent that time half in my own life, and half in their lives. I know this is bananas. Additionally, writing is an intensely solitary act—not just the time spent in the physical act of writing, but the time needed to think everything through. I was living with a boyfriend while I wrote my first book, and I remember being constantly pulled from my fictional world into my IRL world. Being single is better for my book, if worse for me.
Circumstance: To facilitate writing that novel, I live in Paris. There isn’t enough room in this paragraph to fully explain why I am not the ideal candidate for a French relationship—but I discuss it in this story for New York magazine. Also, the expat community here, I swear, is 80 percent women, so there’s that.
Laziness: When I wasn’t working on my novel, all I wanted to do was (a) sleep or (b) spend time with my friends, who are, in Paris, 100 percent women.
Pride: Until I became a stay-at-home novelist in a francophone city, I never had trouble meeting guys. My daily circuit, though, has become so small—my apartment to the grocery store to the fruit store to the post office to my apartment—that I rarely meet anyone new. I haven’t met a guy I liked since my building-mate threw a party 18 months ago—and it has taken that realization to accept the fact that my old system (which depended for its success not at all on a system, but on chance) is no longer working.
These are my problems. But now, the plan.
I’ve been studiously ignoring this situation—probably waiting for my neighbor to throw her next party—until lately. Lately, I’ve been waking up in a panic at 6 a.m., terrified that I’ve missed my chance. Rationally, I truly do not believe this to be true: I have my grandmother’s example, and those of other friends who’ve found each other later in life, or found that early marriage, and for “early” please read “under 40”) led to nothing but agony. But still: It’s there. And so I recently resolved to make dating a priority.
Around the same time, a close friend began talking about the dating expert Matthew Hussey. On her strong recommendation, I bought his book, Get the Guy. I am not exaggerating when I say it has changed my life.
The entire book is worth reading (and rereading—I’m a total convert), but for me, the most valuable section is right at the beginning of the book. (Seriously, just go buy it! It’s the best!) How many guys do I meet a month? In Paris, in the past 30 days, I met none. Before I came to Paris, I was a magazine editor in New York, where my job was literally to find the coolest guys in the world and write about them. I interviewed chicken farmers, Neil Young, environmental activists, chefs, authors, directors, and Ryan Gosling (three times). In this kind of low-stakes, culture-centric reporting, an interview is in some ways like a blind date: I needed to talk to them in such a way that would get them to open up to me, at least a little. Maybe one out of 200 times (this number is significant!), the interviewee and I would really hit it off. I never seriously dated anyone I interviewed, but between my job and the rest of my life, I met plenty of people, and I liked my options.
I haven’t felt like that since leaving New York. Flash-forward five years, the length of time I’ve been in France. Hussey:
You assume that in time the right guy will come along—and in the meantime, you focus on your work, your ambitions, your family, your friends, your hobbies. … When people put aside their love life to focus on these other areas, years pass—and one day the lack of urgency turns into panic. We become frantic as we realize that not only is nothing happening in our love life—but we’re at a loss as to how to make it happen.
Now, I wasn’t completely at a loss to make it happen, because I’ve made it happen before: volume! But I needed some extra direction, which Hussey also provides:
Rituals are the best kept secret of anyone who has ever succeeded in business, love, fitness, family life, learning a foreign language or any other area. … The rituals that we’re looking at here are designed specifically to help you meet more men. Increasing the number of new men you meet each week from one to three or four would have a dramatic impact on your love life in just a few months. Four men each week would translate into 200 men each year. That incremental increase would transform the entire landscape of your dating. How would your life have to change right now if you set yourself the challenge of meeting 200 new guys in the next 12 months? Imagine just starting a five-minute conversation with 200 new guys this year. What would you have to do differently? How would you have to spend your time differently from the way you spend it now?
I don’t know how to explain my reaction to this, so I will instead describe it. I was driving a car, and I paused the recording and pulled into a gas station to listen more closely. Even without thinking about it very deeply, I knew immediately that I would have to spend my time in a very different way. Here is my schedule today: work (at home), work out (at home), work on art project (at home), write (at home), buy a new shirt, meet my two (women) friends for a work date, meet my (woman) building-mate for a drink, work (from home). And all of this will take place in Paris, which means that the odds for any casual conversation are low.
So I thought about this a ton, and how few people I meet in Paris. How would I have to spend my time differently from the way I spend it now? Would I need to move to a different city? Travel more? Go to more anglophone events? (Go to any events?) Go back to magazine writing, even if it meant writing my book a little more slowly?
It was then, sitting in that gas station, that I decided to do a little experiment. I was headed home to America a few days later—surely I could speak to 200 guys in the month I’d be there?
And I did. Well, I tried. I didn’t get to 200. I got to four(!). But I also got an unbelievable amount of data. I’ve been reminded of how easy it is to talk to strangers when you share their language and cultural codes. I’ve realized how often I don’t want to talk to someone because I don’t look my best—because I’m in my workout clothes or didn’t brush my hair properly. I’ve also realized how out of shape I am at talking to people. I see it now as a skill that gets better with use, and deteriorates with a lack of it.
Most of all, though, I’ve found this process incredibly hopeful. I know this: With my last two boyfriends, all it took was one conversation, and I knew. The hard part wasn’t figuring out what to say—that part was easy, because they were the right people. The hard part was saying hello: sharing a physical place with them, and then beginning a conversation. And I believe—we’ll see—that the same thing will happen this time. I believe that one of those 200 conversations will lead to something wonderful.