A SPACE HOPPER FOR ONE.
Aristophanes tell us that long ago, humans were not like they are today. We were a two-for-one package deal. One spherical body, with two faces, four arms, and four legs, something like a pair of humanoid tortoises seamlessly stuck together by some genetic superglue. And we came in three, hip styles: boy-boy, girl-girl, and girl-boy.
God, we were jolly! We bounced around in a state of euphoria, adept and graceful in movement, small children on their third birthday, gifted a space hopper and reaching a sugar-high nirvana - only infinitely more horrifying.
How life was perfect. Until one ballsy doubled-headed bouncer ruined it for the rest of us. They got a little too confident and tried to overthrow Zeus (we’re in sexy Ancient Greece, btw), who responded much like a drunken grandfather would to a small space-hopping child when they go off-piste and knock his seventh can of Guinness to the ground. He sliced us (the space hopper, keep up) in two. After our initial wtf-shock, our wounds were sewn up, and Zeus probably shouted “suck it up”. This left us as we are today, one half of a genetic monstrosity, desperately searching for our formerly conjoined love.
Interestingly, this tale of origin doesn’t actually hold much status in the scientific community. Nevertheless, the idea of finding a partner is deeply ingrained in our society. From Plato’s Symposium to every 90’s Disney film to the plus-one on your wedding invitation, it’s all about pairing up or be left behind in a miserable abyss of loneliness, with no one to enrage by your vulgar number of morning alarms.
What a great tragedy, to be alone.
Except that it isn’t. As a 27-year-old gay man who has never been in a relationship, I’ve been on dates, had continental dalliances, and stared at those two blue ticks until my forehead vein sprung to life like expanding foam through the walls of my overpriced foam-embalmed Hackney flat. But while my friends turned sparks into great blazes, for me, these little fires burned out fast, and often left an ashy mess that wasn’t worth the warmth it gave. In the little wells of melancholy I then found myself in, I would try to shift my focus from the fantastically illusive Lumber-Jaques to whom I was meant to be outsourcing my happiness to relationships that actually existed. Albeit embarrassingly slowly, the questions started to change from “Is there something wrong with me?” to “Is there something wrong with this?”
I’d been caught up in a game that I never really wanted to play, like “spin the bottle” at a family reunion. I was taught to feel like I was missing out on something, when in fact, I wasn’t. I had friends who inspired and nourished me, family who understood and appreciated me, and a vibrant sex life with amazing partners who happily kept our passions confined to the bedroom or occasional wet area. The idea of cramming all of these amazing people into one human seemed unnecessary and rather painful, especially when an abundance of wonderful experiences were already available through the multitude of human connections woven around me like a beautiful byzantine tapestry. These souls neither complete nor need completing, and are drawn together to bask in our own completeness.
I could continue to wax lyrical about how lucky I am to be single and happy, but am I the exception? Apparently not. If 10,000 hours of practise leads to mastery of a skill, I’m an expert in singledom five times over, but sadly, uncertified. Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard, 1979), however, is. In 2016, this pioneer of the “single and satisfied” narrative panned through over 800 studies in an effort to debunk the myth that alone equals lonely, and she found some nu©ets.
According to a 2015 American study by Social Scientists Natalia Sarkisian and Naomi Gerstel, uncoupled individuals (regardless of race, gender and income) are more likely to engage with their social surroundings, and give and receive help from family and friends, when compared to their wedded counterparts. Us unbetrothed are active members of our social and geographical communities.
And the told tale of finding “the other half” to “complete” someone doesn’t really correlate with findings from The National (US) Survey of Families and Households, which shows that uncoupled people report a greater sense of lifelong continuous growth and development, and express greater willingness to participate in experiences that challenge their self and world views, when compared to their coupled counterparts.
Fuck, we might even be fitter. Apart from the fact I’m writing this mid Kegel, a 2015 study from the journal Social Science and Medicine, involving 4,500 participants over nine European countries, showed that my unwed brethren maintained, on average, a lower BMI than those who were married. And release.
These findings aren’t meant to slingshot the uncoupled onto some sort of lofty throne, prime for the toppling by a bouncing quadruped, but rather to illuminate the beauty and benefits of aloneness. Seeing my partnered friends learn and grow from each other brings me great joy, but the reality is many relationships are borne of fear of loneliness rather than an authentic collaboration of two or more humans already happy in their individual completeness. Perhaps we need more cultural reinforcement that the most important relationship to nurture, the one from which every other interaction we will ever have springs, is that which we have with ourselves.
If you are happily coupled, be satisfied and full of love, use your combined strength to change the world, little or large. For those whose heart strings might have been slightly jostled, remember: you don’t need someone else to have fun on a space hopper.