The Atomic Hypothesis

Because I am a weirdo and I have a compulsion to keep my gmail inbox down to a tightly-curated one-page group of things that constitutes an extended and occasionally aspirational to-do-list-slash-personal-guilt-trip, I have, since September of 2012, kept this – one of my favourite quotes – as the standing last message in my box.

If, in some cataclysm*, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

– Richard Feynman

I emailed it to myself back then as a bookend, both for a period of my life and a little reminder I could conveniently run into every time I did a filing job on my digital everything. It’s positive and beautiful and embodies everything I love about Feynman and creativity and science and life. Of course it takes on a different meaning every time I read it.

I ran into it again last night. This time it socked me in the gut.

As a long-single, unapologetically feminist, bossy, independent woman of the world, people don’t really expect you to announce publicly that this also often equates to a lot of loneliness.

I’m quite happy with my ability to be on my own and do whatever the fuck I want, whenever I want, and make questionable financial and adventure and position-of-bedtime decisions along the way. However, I am a grown-ass woman among a sea of very good friends in committed, supportive relationships. I am overjoyed for them, because it makes me happy to see people I love happy and lucky in love. But it’s an immensely frustrating spot to be in, particularly when many of them have not been in that spot for a very, very long time, and certainly not At This Age.

This has come to the surface increasingly often lately, perhaps bizarrely because I’m living my life more the way I want to than I ever have before, which is rewardingly difficult but also makes it into something I want to share even more.

At the end of the day, I have a pen and a keyboard to talk to about the problems that come with steering your life where you want it rather than an intelligent, engaged human being. The longer this goes on, the more I fear I’m losing the ability to communicate properly with that human being who will hopefully be there at some point in the future. Sort of in the way that living on my own for 5 years has already made me much worse at being a flatmate.

A page does not have useful, informed opinions to engage with. And I can apply as much imagination and thinking and editing and consideration to written words. Not so much to realtime human interaction.

I am smart enough to know that having a partner does not solve your problems. I also have lots of very good friends (single AND partnered) who help me pick apart my often over-anxious, too-hard-on-myself brain addled with modern life problems. But the best of friends is still not the same as a partner in plenty of significant ways.

I’m not saying this to whine about being single. I’m saying this because it’s not often addressed and that makes it feel whiney to admit in real life, and that seems unfair.

To the extent that it’s a problem at all, singledom is not a problem you can solve like most others, so it’s easy to get moody when you can’t seem to work that shit out. Especially when you’re able to work out most of your other worldly problems by applying the aforementioned imagination and thinking.

All the creativity and logic in the world cannot bring you the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time, both mentally and physically, to meet someone you click with who, quite importantly, is ALSO in that right place.

I read a lot of books and listen to a lot of smart people’s takes on this. Comfortingly, the general consensus is that finding a partner these days is REALLY FUCKING HARD WORK. Like harder than ever before. Thank you, internet. Thank you, phone life. Thank you, paralysingly endless choice. Thank you, increasingly disconnected human beings. This also makes the work of a relationship itself harder, and I fully acknowledge that. But at least if you’re in one you’re over that one massive hurdle.

And yes I have tried online dating and it is not something I look down on, but it has done nothing but make me feel like a horrible, undesirable commodity. (If you want to understand a little bit about that, listen to this episode of The Allusionist. Being yourself in the world of online dating gets you absolutely nowhere. Which funnily enough, we know because of science!)

Self-care and common sense dictates that I avoid things that make me feel like garbage, so I’m chugging along the old fashioned way, trying to live my life and let it happen.

My friends go home to their partners. I go home alone. Occasionally this doesn’t matter. Occasionally it’s even awesome. Most of the time though, it’s a sharp reminder at the end of the night. When I subsequently also have to remind myself I am in perpetual motion just like everyone else, and tomorrow will be different. And the next day. And the next day.


*Let us, for a moment, step aside and acknowledge what a fucking stellar word ‘cataclysm’ is. This at LEAST 10% of the reason I love this quote.

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