Well, it’s taken me nearly a month to respond to this, but better late than never. There aren’t a great many similarities between my situation and Natalia’s, but there are enough for her piece and the brief discussion it inspired to strike a chord; and I was concerned that one of the early responses sought to restrict the experience to a purely feminist issue, when I think it’s indicative of a wider social problem. I don’t know what it’s like in Ukraine, but I do know what it’s like in Exmouth; and while they may not be so obsessed with marriage over here, they’re certainly no fans of being single.

I like being a confirmed bachelor. While it’s clearly very nice to have someone special in your life, it’s also nice to get home and know that one’s time is one’s own. In fact, the only part of it that’s ever annoying or depressing is society’s attitude that there’s something wrong with it, or me, or both. For example, one relative asked another if I’m gay, apparently not realising that it wouldn’t be my way to keep that a secret. Well, I suppose it’s an obvious assumption if you’re a cretin: doesn’t have a woman around, must prefer men. A well-meaning but quite insane neighbour rather impudently told me that it was sad I was on my own and that I should get a girlfriend; as though my life were a hell of soul-crushing misery, which it isn’t; or that sweethearts are acquired in the same way as suits, which is more than a little demeaning. I do hope that’s not really how she sees other women. The thing is that when this comes up an assumption is being made that I can’t possibly be happy without sharing my life with someone else – someone else, that is, apart from my friends and family, who always seem to be forgotten in this sort of conversation. Another assumption is also made that is far worse: that lovers are emotional commodities, to be acquired to enhance one’s lifestyle; and not people who are valued enough to be invited to share it. Both this assumption and the belief that everyone ought to be half of a couple are unhealthy, and I’d like to know why people think this way.

Surely one reason is the taste for romantic fiction. Every month it seems that there’s another generic romantic comedy about two people who meet inauspiciously but blah, blah, blah, skip to the end and put on something with guns in it. Stories, as Terry Pratchett has pointed out, are powerful things, and I think that this one has burrowed its way into our thinking to the extent that it we’ve forgotten that it’s fiction and not reality. No wonder so many people are caught in miserable and destructive affairs of the heart: it’s taken for granted that it must be better than lying on the sofa with a film or a good book and a nice sparkling Rheinhessen. People are idiots.

Then there’s the way in which singles are regarded. Comedy is full of introverted social failures of thirty-eight, who live with their parents, don’t have driving licences and are scared of girls; and this indicates quite well how single men are seen unless they’re shameless womanisers. I suppose it makes sense in a way: if you regard love as a game, then surely everyone is either winning or losing; and if you’re losing, you must be rubbish. Nobody stops to ask if someone like me is playing the game, sees it as a game at all, or feels that it’s even necessary to an enjoyable life. At the moment I’m happy to sit this one out; and if that ever changes it won’t be because concerned associates think it should, or because some moron thinks I’m a failure. Society has the right to ask many things of us, but affaires du coeur are fortunately not among them. We need to be careful that we don’t covet things for other people so much that they lose their value.

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