I'm single and I smoke, which means on some subconscious level, I'm more comfortable with getting into an iron lung than a committed relationship.
Why I'm like this I'm not sure, but when I look around at my single peers it seems both weird and valiant that we have resisted the alleged two-ton influence of a culture that makes finding a partner seem as elemental as finding the bathroom. Writer Sasha Cagen in an issue of To-Do List magazine (reprinted in the Utne Reader) even has coined a term for the "deeply single." The Quirkyalones, she says, are great "romantics, idealists and eccentrics," and she cites, as illustrations of the archetype, Katherine Hepburn, James Baldwin, and Laverne and Shirley. Preferring their own company and that of their friends to any romantic pairing that might be imperfect, Quirkyalones know that the road can be lonely, but that a lonely road is better than one you have to walk down with another person who you really don't like anymore and wish would just get bitten by a scorpion and leave you in peace.
A dated concept
Being one of them, it's hard to say whether Quirkyalones are born or made, but it's probably a combination of the two: a naturally fierce independence coupled with the fact that coupling is just so incredibly tedious it often doesn't seem worth it. I can't speak for anyone else in this category (not that they would let me), but I got my first ideas of what dating was like from TV shows like "The Brady Bunch" and, at the time, it seemed incredibly easy.
What would happen is that you, Marcia Brady, would go to high school where there would be plenty of boys, most of whom would be pleasant or at least tolerable. All you had to do was show up with your cool clothes and lustrous hair, a real perk to all us 5-year-old girls and our budding transvestite classmates. The only thing that might put a kink in your confidence would be getting hit in the nose with a football. From this view, dating was as easy as 1 (get asked out on date), 2 (go on date), 3 (have fun on date). The end.
What they didn't tell us, probably because antidepressants for preschoolers weren't in vogue at the time, was that this process could drag on until you were dead. Finding that right person was tougher than matching Garranimal tags, which is about as much effort as it always seemed to take on TV. Dating would not involve anyone from Central Casting, but people who were several degrees of weird, including you. Marcia didn't find herself rolling the dice in hopes that the Big Man on Campus wasn't a stalker, a bum, a vehicle for herpes, a liar, a religious freak, a dog, gay, wanted, addicted, sociopathic, emotionally constipated or just unavailable. If Marcia had to wade through all the touchy insecurities most of us do, she'd have looked like Alice by the time she graduated.
Another source of confusion, and a relatively new phenomenon in post-Marcia America, is that even if you do find someone, you still may be in for ambiguity. For example, are you going out or just hanging out? Seeing each other or spending some time together? What constitutes a "date" anymore, and how do you know whether you've been on one? You might rather get into bed than into an ontological argument, but dating definitely can have an "is what you see as red the same thing as what I see as red?" feeling.
Neither here nor there
I've known several women who have been baffled by it, who thought they were just having a drink with someone, only to realize they were on a date, or vice versa. This lack of definition can be a comfort zone for the Quirkyalone, but it might speak to a wisp of commitmentphobia in women as much as it does to that of the men we so freely ascribe it to. We don't often seek to define our terms, either. We may be a little Quirkier than we think we are.
And if it is a new phenomenon, this women-willing-to-be-more-ambiguous-than-we-once-were (e.g., the recent study that showed more of us than ever are avoiding marriage), where is it coming from?
Personally, I think it's from childhood. How many hours did we spend sitting in schools or churches or other activities, from ballet to swimming, stuff we committed to only to realize after a few weeks that it just wasn't working out but having to still waste time there day after day? Maybe as adults we've realized that if you never really said you were joining, no one could ever accuse you of quitting. Ambiguity, then, is not just a new dating trend, it's a comforting refuge for the Quirkyalone who might like the game but doesn't care to join a team.
As for that iron lung, at least a relationship with cigarettes is unambiguous: You don't have to wait to know that it's just not a good thing.