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In the months that have followed England and Wales embracing the righting of a historical wrong through the adoption of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Law 2013, it’s an apt time to take stock and reflect.
For those deep in love, going steady, or just in pursuit, same-sex marriage represents an exciting and vital recognition that our love is the same as your love, and should by nature be treated with the same legal and social acceptance. For those deep in singledom, going unsteady, or just in pursuit of that non-existent, abstract prince/ss, the picture may be more of ambivalence at the looming void rather than out-and-out celebration.
It struck me a couple of weeks ago, as I spent hours lovingly crafting and caressing a vat of bolognese sauce, that I had lavished more care and attention on its meaty glory in 3 hours than I had on any man for about 9 months. In essence my single existence has gone full circle. In essence I have become Sophia Petrillo.
For the uninitiated amongst you, Sophia is the sassy, defiant and cutting matriarch of The Golden Girls, a sitcom that ran from 1985-92. It focused on the love and friendships of a group of ladies living out their twilight years in Miami, Florida. Free from the ties of marriage through either death or divorce, the group of Dorothy Zbornak, Blanche Devereaux and Rose Nylund took on the world of dating in their latter years with a vengeance. These girls had appetite.
As I melodramatically look back at the past year and a half of lost love, dating and ennui, I have seemingly unconsciously followed The Golden Girls route of grieving, celebrating, accepting and angsting over single existence.
Most of us will have been there and know the raw cocktail of emotion that comes with the end of a relationship all too well. Some sink, some swim, yet I can’t help but feel that if we all recognised the cathartic example of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia, the world would be a much happier, less angst-ridden place.
The girls are a modern (ishishish) parable of how to address singledom, with each character representing a different stage of the healing process. If that moment of detachment ever rears its head again for you, bear this guide in mind and watch some Golden Girls. Here’s hoping the road will be less brutal next time round. Here’s the seasonal cycle of accepting singledom:
Winter – Dorothy Zbornak
First stop on the single express is Dorothy, played by Bea Arthur. Dorothy represents the coalface of single existence, fresh out of divorce after 38 years of marriage and still reeling from the emotional fall-out. Perhaps unready to fully embrace single life, Dorothy is the most reluctant of the group, reserved and sarcastic. She’s a shady bitch.
The man who proposed to you by hiding the engagement ring in a baked potato has run off with an air stewardess half your age. He wasn’t perfect, but he was your Mr Imperfect. We’ve all been there.
It’s undeniable that the violent pangs of the heart that come with the end of any relationship leave their wounds, and Dorothy is the first stage on the road to moving on from these. In the aftermath that followed my personal car crash of a break-up, I became a Dorothy, torn between self-doubt and a general shady numbness in the face of making new connections.
It’s winter, it’s cold outside, it’s cold inside, and the bed’s too big without him. You hide yourself away and struggle to think of the coming spring.
Unlike the other girls who are widows, Dorothy has living, breathing baggage. Left with an awful last name, broken trust, and lingering memories of this bobbing about on top of her, this first stage of moving on is difficult. You see them on the scene, you find their stuff around the house, you get whisked away by memories every time you walk past Wagamama, and their Facebook posts make you shiver. We all carry our mistakes, our past, and our delusions, although admittedly not all of us have to live with our sassy Sicilian mother constantly undermining us with them.
Following a break-up we have to grieve, recognise the state of play, and accept that our world has changed. Dorothy could potentially remain damaged goods, yet as her character progresses and she grows with the other girls, she does not seem so constrained by the past.
The betrayal and loss is real, particularly when cheating is involved, and we all need time to hurt, but we should not feel ashamed of being a Dorothy. Embracing those snide, sarcastic inner demons will let the world know that you’re hurting, but you’re strong. This is the beginning out of an end, and the start of the rebuild. It will ultimately give you a steeled composure and some great comebacks:
Spring – Blanche Devereaux
When it rains it pours. As Dorothy’s icicles start to thaw and the initial Ice Queen stage has run its course, it’s time to have some fun. A few months into your new single life, having lost the puppy fat coupled existence has lulled you into (God hates feeders), and being a new recruit to the Grindr cause, this is the Blanche stage.
Played by Rue McClanahan, Blanche Devereaux is a Southern belle with a passion for the older/younger/any gentleman. “I’m from the South. Flirting is part of my heritage.” I’m from South London, not sure if I can claim the same. Blanche’s bed unashamedly has more miles on the clock than the treadmills in an army barracks gym, a sweaty situation Blanche would no doubt revel in.
It’s at this stage that the shackles that the routine sex many relationships find themselves set in are cast off. Free from the man who only liked it a certain way, always wanted the lights off, or just went in-out-rollover, spring is here and it’s time for self expression.
It’s the season where you realise that others find you attractive, others want you, and others can have you. It’s the first stage on the confidence rebuild as your new single status opens up a whole new world of connections and “connections”. It’s not for everyone, yet the freedom of opportunity can feel cathartic in throwing off the hang ups and sexual scars that your relationship has endowed you with.
This is the interim season, starting to move on, yet too soon to even contemplate a new long-term match. Blanche’s life is an extreme, as over the entire 7 seasons of The Golden Girls it’s rare to see her date any one guy, or even utter his name, for more than one episode. Ultimately this sustained sexualised lifestyle may not suit everyone. As she warns herself, “There is a fine line between having a good time and being a wanton slut. I know. My toe has been on that line.”
In the first spring of singledom you express yourself, you cross new boundaries and bury old baggage. It’s natural, it’s necessary, yet it’s too soon for something more.
For all Blanche’s celebratory debauchery, her approach to singledom is tainted with a hint of deep sadness. Moments of heartache seep through the free-living exterior which reveal Blanche to be still reeling from her one true lost love, her now deceased husband, George. Everything else is but a substitute, a feeling she cannot leave behind.
As Blanche ultimately wants to remain Mrs. George Devereaux despite her promiscuity, so you may come to the end of spring and realise that despite the fun and freedom, you actually preferred it as it was before. The seeds of accepting singledom have well and truly sprouted in spring, but there’s still a way to grow.
Summer – Rose Nylund
When you’re done with spring, tired of the morning after feeling, and unable to look half the bar straight in the eye, it’s summer and time to prioritise you. The urge to “connect” lessens and you start to focus on whatever actually makes you happy.
This is the Rose stage, the air-headed, I’ll-do-my-own-thing-thanks, phase that sets you fully on the road to recovery. Played by Betty White, Rose Nylund’s approach to single life is not as cold as Dorothy’s, and not as thirsty as Blanche’s. She still dates, but she is not obsessed, instead finding new interests and taking everyone closer to death with long drawn out anecdotes about St. Olaf, a bizarre Norwegian farming settlement in northern Minnesota.
I am not one to blow my own verbutenflugen, but the summer stage of singledom let me reconnect with life outside of a couple. No longer defined as their other half, no longer having to pretend you like Marina & the Diamonds, you can revisit old flames and passions which somehow got lost along the way. I rediscovered reggae and sushi, god help my neighbours.
Rose’s care-free approach to single life takes the emphasis away from being with someone, and makes you realise that looking after yourself should be the priority. You can go it alone if you want to, and that’s not so intimidating a thought anymore.
Rose embraces cheese making, glove puppets, bowling, girl scouts and Vikings, hobbies you may or may not share, but all parts of life not defined against any man. While Dorothy is defined by absence of men and Blanche by abundance, Rose is just naive and all the happier for it.
This one time, in St. Olaf, the summer sun shone and the ghosts of that past relationship somehow seemed less scary and floated off out of mind.
This is not a manifesto to be a simple-minded push over, but rather the realisation that you can be kind-hearted, fun and free all by yourself. Rose does have relationships, she does have connections, but her instinct is more heartfelt, less reactionary, and all the shadier for it: “I feel so common, so cheap… so used. How do you usually deal with that Blanche?”
Autumn – Sophia Petrillo
The final stage of accepting singledom, in which I am currently residing, is the Sophia stage. Played by Estelle Getty, Sophia’s approach to being single could be seen as pressing the reset button, interchanging between square 1 and 100 in the game of life.
Summer has been and gone, you have taken up new passions, reconnected with all the things and people that your relationship distracted you from, and now you’re, well, bored. You respect the mantra of I-don’t-need-no-man, but equally think one would be quite nice right now. The only problem:
The journey post break-up is a sapping and character building one, one that makes you self-reliant and able to easily justify your melodrama following your relationship schism. When you come out the other end you aren’t the spring chicken who sought solace in “connection”, you aren’t the care-free summer simpleton who just didn’t think about it, you’re the finished steeled, ballsy product. The only issue is, does anyone actually want this new, enforced you?
Picture it… with her husband, Sal, long buried, Sophia is free from baggage and can take on life with a refreshingly stoic and energised insight built from all her years of experience. You see things as they are and were, and can see where things are going, or not going. Sophia’s approach to life and men prioritises the importance of the moment, as she lovingly reconnects with her childhood sweetheart in her final visit to Sicily, and has a love affair with a Miami Casanova which couples love and sex on a one-off basis.
As the autumn leaves fall, you wrestle with your journey and try and strike a balance between all the past stages of singledom: reserved, knowledgeable, resilient, free, fun, interesting and self-appreciative. When no one then takes the bait, it’s depressing.
It’s at this point that you realise that you have really gone full circle and are back to normal, back to square 1. The lessons learnt and scars inflicted through the break-up’s fall-out will undoubtedly stick with you, making you wiser, potentially more cynical, but ultimately more aware of how to spot the warning signs next time round should they come back, and how better to appreciate real connection.
You are single, you are not sad about being single, you are not happy about being single, you are increasingly less obsessed about being single (despite writing melodramatic Golden Girls tributes about being single) – you are simply ambivalent.
When you are not looking, things happen, or so the fairy tale goes. In the face of ambivalence, with past trauma neutered and your baggage checked into Shady Pines, a special someone might pop up, they might not, but once you have gone full circle you understand that life keeps churning regardless, and that’s ok. You should be your own priority, outside of any potential man. This is the life lesson The Golden Girls has taught me. Thank you for being a friend.
Finally, in the moments where loneliness bubbles up, I’ve joined the gym, so you can do like Estelle and distract yourself by releasing your own keep-fit video: