Dictionary.com, one of my favorite websites (seriously), defines the idiom “in the same boat” as “in the same circumstances; faced with the same problems: The new recruits were all in the same boat.”
It’s a common phrase that those of us with some mastery of the English language probably throw around a lot. I’ve used it countless times I’m sure, but lately I’ve found its use towards me to be disturbing rather than offering the comfort that I think was intended by the speaker. If I am in the same boat with certain people, somebody pass me a life preserver and I’ll take my chances out at sea.
The first time I had to stop myself from audibly screaming out “You ain’t trapping me in a sinking ship with you!” was several hours after a family gathering. A relative was sharing the news of another’s engagement as we drove her home, and as I do with so many things, I made the conversation about me. I was happy for my family member, but felt like I was being once again left in the dust when it came to the milestones indicating a normal, healthy adulthood. The relative who shared the news with me has never been married. When I expressed my bittersweet feelings on the subject, rather than offering me the usual empty encouragements that a very single girl over 30 is bound to hear, my relative said the following: “You want to get married? I never married. Do I regret it? Well, yes, I suppose, when it comes to things like having to carry heavy packages or eating meals alone, but we’re smart, educated women. You and I are in the same boat. It may never happen for you, but so what? You’ll be just fine.”
I think I gagged a little when she said that. I didn’t want to be in the same boat with her. Her boat was leaky and lonely. She only had one broke-down oar to paddle with. The sails wouldn’t. . . sail (If you haven’t noticed, I know nothing about boats, ships, and/or sailing.). I wanted her to tell me that I was on a jet ski racing off to the Island of Eligible Bachelors, not that I’d be “just fine” when and if I ended up like her. I’m pretty sure I cried after receiving my relative’s declaration. Those tears must have tasted particularly bitter because so far, my life is most like hers than anyone else in the family. The possibility of my being over 60 and still alone is creeping near; my relative is holding out her hand to me while I stand unsure and scared on the dock, ready to help me sail off into a lonely sunset.
Most recently, an old friend repeatedly mentioned that she and I were in the same boat. My old friend does not date and makes no effort to. In fact, she is contemplating swearing off any attempts at or offers of romantic relationships for the foreseeable future. My old friend isn’t one to talk about s-e-x, but I assume that if she did, she’d mention that she’d be just fine with never having it again. Ever. With anyone. Ever again. Forever. Yikes.
When she told me that she and I were in the same boat, at first I chuckled. Yeah, poor us. So unlucky in love. She’s the only person I know that is my age and knows what it’s like to go more than a decade without knowing the gentle touch of a man. It’s been years since she’s even been on a date. I yukked it up with her. Hell yeah we’re in the same boat! But the more she said it, the less funny it became. Did I really want to be in the same boat with someone who has given up on love? My old friend has plenty of justifiable reasons for her decision to swear off the opposite sex, but still. To not even try? And wait a minute. I’ve been trying. I’ve done online dating, I’ve gone speed dating, I’ve tolerated mediocre dates with men I wish I could forget. I’ve embarrassed myself by asking for sex because TV and well-meaning friends tricked me into thinking I’d get a ‘yes’ if I did. I can’t show my face in my local YMCA because I’ve tried (It’s not what you think, I swear!) so hard!
It’s not fair to be shoved into a boat where the captain (Skipper? Admiral? I don’t know.) has given up. The boat hasn’t even capsized, it’s just aimlessly meandering around and around, like a bathtub toy circling the drain. I understand that my old friend doesn’t want to halfheartedly row her ass to nowhere by herself, but that’s like telling a kid who studied for a test and failed that he’s just like the kid that didn’t even crack open the book. “I don’t know that shit. And you did just as bad as me.”
Maybe to some people I deserve my place in that boat next to my friend. I found myself having yet another bitch fest about my loneliness and frustration with Dick and Jane over dinner and I couldn’t shake the feeling that Dick was annoyed or bored or disgusted with me and what he perceives as my lack of effort. When I told them that a dating guide I’d stumbled across online read that women ought not rule out the bar scene after all, Dick asked me when I was going bar hopping. I stumbled and stuttered as I told him that I was afraid to go alone; I’ve seen way too many episodes of “Law and Order: SVU” to be okay with that. He rolled his eyes and muttered something about my making excuses. He found my outrage at being an unwilling passenger on the SS Pusty Dussy humorous, maybe because to him it’s exactly where I belong.
I like the water, but I’ve always been wary of boat rides, probably because that first one ended so well. I don’t want this post to seem as though I am claiming to be better than my never-married relative or my old friend who has (Temporarily, please let it be temporarily!) given up on love. I’m not. I know that I’m not. But what I do know is that I want to keep trying to swim to shore on my own. I’m not resigned to either fate; neither boat can take me where it is I so badly want to go. I’m going to keep floating alongside lots of different boats, waving at the people on board while I try to keep my goggles from fogging up. Could I try to swim harder? Of course I can. And I probably will.
But be patient with me. Just by being in the water at all I’m bucking a stereotype.