We were laying side by side, both face deep in our iPhones—checking our email one last time before going to sleep, setting our alarm clocks for the next morning, basically saying goodbye to the day. I turned to him, his face lit by the tiny screen, and watched him scroll through his Facebook newsfeed.
“Anything exciting?” I asked.
“My cousin really loves Drew Barrymore. Check out the exclamation marks.”
“Should we change our relationship status?” I asked, as if that were the natural follow-up.
We had only been dating for two months, but we had been writing partners for seven months, so it felt like a perfectly normal and logical next step to broadcast our love on Facebook. Plus, we had both been single for the past three years and had never had a little graphic heart next to our names. This was going to be fun.
“Um,” he started to mutter.
Oh no. Not another guy who didn’t want to claim me. I had been engaged to a man, who upon proposing, told me he wanted to “wait to feel joy” before getting me a ring. A year and a half went by—no ring, and apparently no joy.
“What? You don’t want people to know you have a girlfriend?” I asked, sitting straight up in bed.
“No, Kimberlee, that’s not it. It’s that I don’t have anything up right now. No personal information whatsoever. I’m not listed as single or anything. So it seems weird to change it.”
“I’m listed as single,” I said in a hands-on-hips kind of way.
“That’s not good,” he said, thinking about it for a second. “OK, let’s do it.”
Just like that.
He clicked on his personal information and answered all the prompts. There were two options. He could choose: “in a relationship” or “in a relationship with Kimberlee Auerbach.” If he wanted to put me down as his girlfriend, I would have to approve. That seemed fair. “Done,” he said, turning to me. “Now you.”
I tried to log in, but every time I did, it logged me out, in true buggy iPhone fashion. He jumped out of bed and brought in his laptop. “We’re doing this,” he said and handed it to me. I followed the same prompts, and voila we were an internet couple!
I started to laugh. “So, that just happened.”
“Let the commenting begin,” he said, and kissed me goodnight.
I figured I might get one or two “likes,” maybe a comment here or there, but when I woke up in the morning, I had six thumbs-up and four comments with smiley faces and tons of exclamation marks, trumping his cousin’s love for Drew for sure. By the end of the day, I had 21 “likes” and 13 comments. Wow. I was not expecting that. I switched over to his page and saw that no one had commented on his relationship status change. Not one person. Not one “like.” Weird. People commented on his posts and updates all the time. I really didn’t understand. I checked back the next day and he had one comment from an old teacher: “She must be very special to merit this announcement.” Hmmm. Interesting. I liked that she was happy for him, but it still seemed weird that no one else had hopped on the “YAY!” bandwagon.
A few days later, we were eating quinoa pasta, when I turned to him, and asked, “Can you believe everyone’s crazy response to my relationship status change?”
“Well,” he said, “You are beloved.”
“So are you,” I insisted.
He grinned and nodded in concession, as if I had just won a popularity contest.
“I really think it’s because I’m a woman.” I really did think that. Men aren’t told they’re not going to be OK without a girlfriend or wife. If they’re still single, no matter what age, it’s considered socially acceptable, cool even.
I tried to look at the facts. We had both been single for the past three years. Check. He is 32. I am 37. OK, that’s a big difference. Being a 37-year-old woman definitely has its pressures, not only from overactive, pleading ovaries, but from random old ladies. “So, are you dating anyone? You know you should really think about freezing your eggs.” He sure didn’t have anyone telling him what he should do with his sperm.
I guess the biggest difference between us is that I survived a broken engagement. But I was the one to break it off, so it was more of a victory than defeat. I had gotten to the point where I truly, in my heart, knew I would rather be alone for the rest of life than to be with a man who didn’t want me. It was a hard transition though. I went from sleeping in on Sundays with someone wrapped around me, to not being able to go to bed until four in the morning from anxiety about what my life was going to look like. But slowly that changed. I started to enjoy my time alone. I liked being able to have my out-of-town girlfriends spend the night on the couch in old-school, slumber party fashion and that I could go to the movies and sit wherever I wanted and that I could visit my family without having to worry about someone else being bored or stressed out or having nothing to say. It was just me and myself, and I loved it. I had even come to peace with the fact that I may never get married or have children. Sure, I wanted that, but I could find ways to love in the world. I started counseling 8th grade girls. I had tons of friends. I had a lover here and there. I was going to be just fine. So, why was everyone so over-the-moon happy for me?
I could look at it one of two ways. I am a super loving person and friends were happy that I had finally found someone to really love me back. Or, whether people admitted it or not, they felt relieved that I was no longer alone, as if everything were going to be OK now, because, for as far as we’ve come, there’s still the underlying belief that a woman needs a man to be complete.
I am certainly happy to have a boyfriend I love and who loves me back, but honestly, I would have preferred if friends and family had celebrated my Facebook single status with the same gusto. Learning to love being alone is hard, and, in my opinion, is worth way more “likes” than an added “heart” next to your name. Too bad there isn’t an icon that indicates: “I’m single, just went to a yoga class, bought some flowers, and feel really good about myself these days.”