2010-11-11 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Like a snow globe, life settles into familiar patterns

Many years ago, a good friend and I classified the world into two categories: daters and non-daters. We lumped our friends who were forever in relationships into the dater category, and we put people like ourselves — young women who were more often than not without a partner — in the non-dater section. It seemed like a flash of wisdom at the time, the kind of insight women in their early 20s often make, after the first heartbreaks but before life’s real lessons have set in.

But even now, all these years later, I still think we got it right.

Some people are natural daters. They fall easily into relationships, one after the other. Non-daters are just that: people who rarely couple up. They move from one earth-shattering romance to the next, with lonely interludes that stretch for months and sometimes years.

Neither category has it easy.

Daters suffer the ennui that comes from being with the same partner day in and day out. But what they lose in excitement, they recoup in comfort. Non-daters enjoy the extreme highs of sporadic love, but they wither under the weight of days, weeks and months spent alone.

Patti Stanger, the knockout brunette behind Bravo’s “The Millionaire Matchmaker,” said in a recent interview with the New York Times that she doesn’t believe anyone’s better off being single.

“I don’t think marriage is for everyone,” she said. “But at the end of the day, everybody wants to fall asleep in the spoon position.”

My non-dater friend Sarah often agonizes about her lonely nights. She’s not ready for the compromises a long-term relationship requires, and she won’t sacrifice the high highs and bitter lows of her quick-combusting affairs. But she aches in her solitude.

“I can’t wait until this lonely period is over,” she told me recently, “when I’m in a relationship and happy. These days will feel like a distant memory. I can’t wait to have someone beside me every night. To have someone to go to the park with. To cook for. Soon, I’ll be looking back and laughing.”

For Sarah — and the non-daters of the world — I’m afraid this will never come to pass.

In metaphorical moments, I think of romantic life as a snow globe. There are brief upheavals, and then everything settles back to the way it was before.

For daters, being single shakes the globe. They are unsettled without a partner; they struggle to make it through the nights alone. Eventually they find another romantic interest, someone to keep them company, and life goes back to the way it was — à deux.

For non-daters, the upheaval comes when they are in a relationship, and the fleeting moments of companionship are the exception, not the norm. It’s the loneliness — the ache my friend Sarah described — that defines their romantic landscape.

When Sarah told me about her imagined partnered future, I thought of snow quietly settling into familiar patterns. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the way it is now is the way it will always be. We are predictable creatures, and for some, loneliness is a state of existence. 

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