Notes & Queeries: The Wisdom of Exes

Notes & Queeries is a monthly column from Malinda Lo that focuses on the personal side of pop culture for lesbians and bisexual women.

In the fourth episode of Exes & Ohs, Sam (Marnie Alton) tells her father, “Being single is a choice; being gay isn’t.” She has just decided to refuse her father’s offer to help her get a loan to buy a condo, because he thinks that Sam’s ex-girlfriend Jennifer (Michelle Paradise) turned her gay. Accepting his help would mean accepting the fact that he doesn’t fully accept her for who she is.

But what I found most interesting about that line wasn’t the part where Sam affirms that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice — that’s not news if you’re gay — it was the first part of her sentence: Being single is a choice. And it is.

Marnie Alton (left) and Michelle Paradise

It may seem obvious, but it certainly wasn’t obvious to me. I didn’t figure it out until years after I came out. The majority of those years I spent being single.

It’s not like I walked around complaining endlessly about it, but it didn’t exactly feel great. Who enjoys being single while all your friends are either in relationships or seem to have no problem finding a hot fling?

I didn’t spend all of those years pining away in solitude. I did have my moments (I’m not by nature a shy person), and I also had more than my share of relationships that felt like roller coasters gone haywire. But I still felt solidly, lumpishly single throughout most of my 20s, as if this were a judgment that had been passed upon me without my consent.

A few years ago, one of my single friends told me that she loved being single, and that being single was a choice. I remember her saying it, but it didn’t fully resonate with me at the time. Unlike her, I didn’t love being single. I didn’t want to go to another holiday party by myself; I was tired of going to dinner parties and being the only single person; I was sick of the single lesbian scene.

So, being the overachiever that I am, I decided to start dating. And by dating, I don’t mean going out to a club, having some drinks and macking on some hot girl on the dance floor — or meeting someone and then spending a whole weekend with her only to have it go up in flames on Monday. I decided to go on actual dates. I would go out to dinner; I would not kiss anyone on the first date; I would start assessing these candidates for long-term relationship potential. In other words, I decided to act like a straight woman.

To my utter shock, it worked in a way that I never expected. I met a woman who was, to say the least, hot. She used to be a model, even. She was edgy; she was sexy; she was really into me. But I just wasn’t that into her, and I called it off after a few dates.

That was the first time that I began to understand what my friend had meant by saying that being single was a choice.

Then I met another woman. She was smart, she was successful, she was cute and she was super responsible. My parents would love her. Too bad I wouldn’t. After that experience, I realized that I had just met two women who both wanted to be my girlfriend, and I chose to be on my own instead.

The light bulb went on. For someone who has several advanced degrees from ivy league universities, I’m the first to admit that I haven’t been the brightest when it comes to relationships. But once I got it, I got it. For years I had chosen to be single, but those choices had been unconscious, and that made me feel powerless. Understanding that I was consciously choosing this made all the difference in the world.