Fourteen is the number of consecutive nights I’ve ever spent with a man. So when people talk about singlehood, I’m often skeptical. What do you really know? I want to ask the divorcee, the serial monogamist, the widower. At 44, I am the expert witness, outstanding in my field.
People ask whether I’m lonely, and I tell the truth: Loneliness has been my most constant companion. The blue tsunami, I call it. Without warning, the weight of a lifetime of yearning crashes over me, takes my breath if I’m not careful. The wave grows taller, more monstrous, every year that goes by without someone who understands me intimately, who sees me as I truly am.
But the wave always recedes, and what’s left in its wake are only the practical dilemmas: If I wreck my car at 3 a.m., who do I call? My friends would come, but who sleeps with their ringer on, when their households have been accounted for? My family would come, but again, how would they know to wait up? If I forget to go in for the biopsy my doctor recommended, who will remember to remind me? If I went missing, how many days would go by, before the call to 911?
Of course I’d prefer to sleep every night next to someone who can’t imagine a world without me in it. Who can’t rest until he knows I’m home and safe. But love is not a thing anyone can conjure. On the flip side, there’s the suitor who’s courted me forever, with the most intense and relentless ardor.
Few things feel more wondrous than walking a city or diving deep into a sea that was, the day before, just a photograph or a point on a spinning globe — a dot on a continent held in my palm. Stasis, not lust, is what has always felt deadly, is what must truly be the sin.
Too often, love and adventure seem set at cross purposes. Love can take words like Vienna and Barcelona, and replace them with water heater and insurance rates. “Let’s go” becomes “how can we?” “We should” turns to “we can’t; not now, not yet, maybe someday.” It’s strange how romance can suck the romance from life.
This is the too-sharp double edge of solitude: Autonomy on one hand. Heartache on the other. But heartache isn’t reserved for the uncoupled. Show me any non-sociopath who’s immune to loneliness and longing. The upside is that as long as I’m single, which I am, and childless, which I always will be, I can simply go.
Google “sail the world” and you’ll see how easy it is to get dengue fever or malaria; lose a limb; go missing; go broke; get shipwrecked; or be murdered by pirates. Still, I signed on, two summers ago, to work alongside a crew of strangers as we sailed from Fiji to Nova Scotia. I shared a room with a dozen men and handed over my passport to an employee of a company that asked for my life savings but didn’t take credit cards. A sail-training adventure, the website said. A circumnavigation. No sailing experience necessary. That was all it took; in large part because there was no one in my life to say: “That’s crazy; what if you die? A year is too long to be without you.”
I can’t imagine that conversation. But I know what it’s like to stand at forward lookout at 3 a.m. in the middle of the Indian Ocean. To go weeks without hearing the sound of a plane or a car or a train or a television or a radio. To not be able to remember the last time I saw a light from land or another ship, or even a satellite gliding across the sky. To hear no sound except the wind in starlit sails and the creaking of the rig as it cut through the sea.
I know what it’s like to see the entire Milky Way, hundreds of billions of stars, laid out like a shimmering blanket across the sky. With no moon, even, to dim the light of the universe. I learned to lean into the rhythm of the ship’s rolling, let my body balance in opposition. To watch for the glinting bioluminescence in the wake of her hull, and to feel it fully: The only thing between me and 20 percent of the Earth’s water — 12,000 feet deep, 3,000 miles on either side — was a riveted piece of steel.
Moments like these have been the siren song of my singlehood. An infatuation that never fades, a temptation that intensifies the more I give in. Myths will say such songs are deadly, that they’re sung to lure sailors to their doom. But I believe in an opposite truth — that the real danger lies in resistance.