I never knew I could dread the sight of a pumpkin as much as I did recently. Gliding around Sainsbury’s a few weeks ago, pop music assaulting my eardrums through my in-ear headphones, I suddenly found myself at the ‘seasonal’ aisle – the dumping ground for all the disposable tat vaguely relating to the time of year.
Despite the massively unseasonal blazing sunshine outside, the shelves insisted that summer was well and truly over, and we were moving onto the next stage, the last gallop before Christmas – hello, autumn.
I love autumn. It may be a cliché to harp on about its colours and the smell of bonfires and the transition from wearing the same old pair of shorts to digging out your favorite cable knit, but it is my second-favourite season (spring is first), and it is beautiful; there’s no getting away from that.
Winter lashes at you with freezing rain and skies greyer than George Clooney’s hair, summer either burns you half to death or disappoints you by not turning up at all, but autumn dazzles you with its good looks, charm and invitations to social events. Trouble is, one can’t date autumn. The leaves would get everywhere.
In spring and summer, it’s fine to be single. People spend most of their time outside, showing acres of flesh, which naturally facilitates flirtation. There are parties and get-togethers, sure, but the hotter seasons seem to have a much more relaxed air about them. It’s the time to hang around in a large group of friends, formal occasions are barely a consideration and, a few bank holidays aside, summer likes to keep it unofficial. “Turn up when you like”, it says, “we’ll be there all day.” No milestones, no red letter days, just sunshine, cheap cava and a spring in your step. Autumn, however, much like Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, works best as a duet.
Thanks to the preceding generation (and, of course, endless generations before it) enjoying drunken, Christmas sex, there are piles of birthday parties to attend in September. Attending these alone is no big deal unless you’re cripplingly shy, but the conversation inevitably steers itself toward your search for a significant other, even if you’re not looking that hard.
Next is Halloween, with its associated parties and fancy dress opportunities. Some couples like to dress up in outfits which complement each other (whether you think this is bloodcurdlingly twee or really ‘cute’ depends on how bitter, scornful and, in my case, drunk you are) and as a lone traveller, your datelessness can stand out a little more.
Sometimes, horror upon horror, there will be a fellow single person there, perhaps in a similar costume to you, and people will assume you’re together. Or worse, said fellow bachelor will take this as a sign that he should come over and chat you up, while you peer intently into your bright green vodka jelly, hoping that it will suddenly come to life and swallow you up whole, while he drones on about his job and the new flat he’s trying to buy.
Only a few days after is Bonfire Night, where couples will snuggle round the fire in a friend’s back yard or go en masse to “ooh” and “aah” at the local fireworks display, pausing only to look at each other with a milky-eyed expression, in mutual appreciation of the colossal amount of gunpowder exploding in the air above them.
Once you hit mid-November, party season is in full swing. The shops are full of Christmas lights and decorations and ‘Gifts for Him’ aisles, filled with all manner of video boxsets, crap shaving foam and atrocious novelty ties and golfing mugs.
You wander round the high street, and witness thousands of couples having arguments in a throaty staccato whisper, or watch guys panicking over what to buy their other halves.
Mulled wine at a Christmas market is only really tolerable if you are sipping it while looking at the face of somebody who fancies you, and who can forget the thrill of the freak-out when the person you’ve been dating for all of three weeks solemnly hands over a Christmas present wrapped in a huge bow, when all you can offer in return is, well, a half-full cup of tepid mulled wine.
I don’t know whether it is because autumn is the first brush with a chill in the air for months, but it feels like autumn is for couples. It’s for kicking up golden leaves while walking in the park arm-in-arm and adjusting each other’s woolly hats.
You shouldn’t be alone. Make haste, then, sweet singletons, and line up a temporary diversion to see you through to January, at least. Who else are you going to text on Christmas Day to say what Santa put in your stocking?
This post originally appeared in edited form on Huffington Post in October 2011.