I hear it all the time. I don’t think they mean any harm, but it grates like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear it.
“You and your husband . . .”
“You and your boyfriend . . .”
And why is it that people are always so taken aback when I correct them? Is the fact that someone lives happily on her own without a significant other so incredibly strange? I’ll admit it. I’m twenty years old and I am, and have always been, very single. I used to have a problem with this, but lately, I think I’m starting to settle into my single-ness with more grace. However, it is clear to me, and I’m sure to my fellow singles as well, that we are living in a couple’s world.
I can go into reasons why I believe I am perpetually single, but this isn’t the point. The point is the glaring idea that it’s, apparently, still not completely appropriate to be my age and still single in this society. Not between boyfriends, not divorced, not done with men, but completely and totally single without any real, traumatic reason and no real prospects on the horizon. Of course, no one will come out say it’s inappropriate (unless they’re my grandmother), but the implication is as plain as the shock on peoples’ faces when they realize I’m single and not doing anything about it. It’s just not natural.
I work with kids a lot at my church. I’m often asked by these children where my husband is. One child told me that you aren’t a grown-up until you’re married. Good night, some of these kids already claim to have boyfriends or girlfriends. We’re talking eight-year-olds, here. It’s no surprise that TV shows aimed at adolescents (but are often watched by younger children) usually carry plotlines revolving around boyfriends and girlfriends and the acquisition thereof or the whinings over not having one. This mirrors what has been going on in middle schools across the country for years and is therefore prime material for the age group. I also understand it’s part of adolescence to be interested in the opposite sex, but the fact that there are children – literally children – getting more action than I am is a bit of a concern. Children are even starting to give each other, and adults, advice on relationships. A book came out in 2008 full of dating advice called How to Talk to Girls. There are many such books on the market today, but what made this book a media sensation was that it was written by nine-year-old Alec Greven, who in a YouTube video about his book, confesses to once having a steady girlfriend. Whatever happened to boys and girls thinking each other had cooties? And why this obsession with being “in love,” or at least attached to someone, at such an early age?
This thinking progresses into adulthood as well via the same medium as children receive it. Most movies and television shows have an aptitude to portray single people as incomplete or mopey or desperate, or, at worst, promiscuous and unable to commit. Or singles are portrayed as people who are newly out of a previous unhealthy relationship. In the film, The Holiday, the two main characters’ present lives are wrapped around the fact that they either just dumped their long-term, live-in boyfriend or just found out their on-again-off-again lover just got engaged to the woman she broke up with him over. As a modern romantic comedy, the ending had to include each damsel in distress being rescued by her own knight in shining armor, but not until they both reach some pretty pathetic points.
This leads to the thought that single people are this way in real life. For instance, I realize that eating out and seeing movies in theaters are social things people tend to do in, at least, pairs, but should people really be considered strange if they do these things alone? Every time I go to a restaurant on my own, which isn’t often (I’m a college student with no job), servers ask me, sometimes more than once, if I’m waiting for someone. Surely, I wouldn’t be so pathetic as to dine alone. Why should I feel compelled to bring something to work on when I go to restaurants that don’t include a drive-through window? Should I be confined to my apartment ordering cheap take-out if I don’t want to cook and can’t find my friends or don’t want to bother them?
Perhaps another reason why I’d rather go alone is the fact that most of my friends are no longer in the single boat. I’ve had four sets of friends (and one cousin) get married, three couples get engaged, and several relationships begin this summer alone, among my friends. This is not to say that I’m jealous or wish them any ill will. I’m thrilled they’re happy. I’ve been waiting for one couple to get married longer than they’ve been dating. But it is awkward to be the one odd person in a group comprised entirely of couples.
Guys do not have nearly this much difficulty. It just seems to be more acceptable for a guy to be single than it is for a girl. Guys are allowed to do things alone without question. I mean, how often do guys go to bathrooms in groups? Even the terms we use for single men and women back up this claim. Bachelor for men, spinster for women. Stag for men (if you don’t believe me on this one, check thesaurus.com), old maid for women. Bachelor for men, prig for women. Stag for men. Crazy Cat Lady.
By the way, why do we only rarely hear of Crazy Cat Men? Single guys who would be living all on their own if not for their inordinate numbers of cats with idiotic names like Bimpie? They exist. My dad was on his way when he met my mom. These CCMs have other obsessions besides cats, too. Video games, Star Trek conventions, role-playing games, name the stereotype. However, these are the minority of single guys. The majority of single guys are accepted, usually, without question or ridicule.
This doesn’t mean society hasn’t come a long way, baby, in the acceptance of single people who are completely happy with their position. Samara O’Shea, a blogger for the Huffington Post wrote a post about single-ness, saying it is not only nothing to be ashamed of, but something to celebrate. In an interview with a fellow blogger for the Psychology Today website, she tells Disabled and Thriving writer, Melissa Blake, that there are several benefits to being single, such as not having to discuss spending significant money with a spouse or being able to come and go as she pleases. According to O’Shea, 42% of American adults over the age of 18 are single, though I’m inclined to believe this statistic to be more of a discrepancy between married and unmarried individuals. However, this does not mean these reasons for rejoicing don’t ring true. (A note here: it probably wouldn’t behoove us to snap back at those who would show pity on us, as I’ve seen some do, but to simply smile and nod and maybe roll your eyes a little when they aren’t looking. Just because they feel you should be sorry for yourself and you disagree doesn’t mean you should get nasty and tell them they should join the party or get out.) O’Shea says, “I believe the idea of being single has become much more acceptable over the past thirty years. Of course there will always be people who will feel sorry for the single among us, but I think that’s because they are projecting their own fears of being alone on the single people that they see rather than considering that a single person might just be okay.”
All bets are off, of course when elderly female family members are involved. I’m beginning to get really tired of people coming up to me at various get-togethers, some of whom are people I barely know, but apparently know me, asking, “So have ya met anybody?” Um, no, I haven’t or he’d probably be with me so I’d have someone to talk to at these things. It’s like the old anecdote – the old ladies comes up to younger people at weddings, telling them “You’re next,” and the younger people doing the same thing to them at funerals.
And the attempts at matchmaking! I feel like I’ve stepped into the world of The Fiddler on the Roof sometimes! It’s not acceptable to be a single female, so someone must find a man for you. Usually this someone has no idea what you are looking for in a significant other and doesn’t really care. These matchmakers often have no real reason for pairing, or attempting to pair, you with another. They just want to go to a wedding. I’m sorry, but ‘he’s such a nice boy’ is not going to start the ringing of wedding bells for me. If he’s so nice, why don’t you marry him?
A famous quote from the film The Fiddler on the Roof is an excellent example of this:
Tzeitel (daughter): “But Mama, the men she finds. The last one was so old and he was bald. He had no hair.”
Golde (mother): “A poor girl without a dowry can’t be so particular. You want hair, marry a monkey.”
Bless our mothers’ hearts, they want to see us married off, too. Fortunately, most mothers today aren’t as ambivalent towards the type of men or women their children will be marrying or dating as Golde was, but after a while, I think almost every single person, man or woman, is asked about his or her lack of relationship by Mom. Personally, I believe this stems more from wanting to ensure their children are taken care of for the future, rather than out of pestering them to give up their singleness, but the pestering, however gentle, serves as yet another reminder that we haven’t grown to our potential in her eyes. That or she just really wants grandchildren.
I realize I’ve been generalizing greatly throughout this post and this might not the experience of other singles. However, the assignment I was given that gave birth to this piece was to analyze and critique an aspect of culture from my point of view and I will hold to my opinion.