The science of singleness, part two

‘All this time, I’d been regarding my single life as a temporary interlude, one I had to make the most of—or swiftly terminate, depending on my mood.
Without intending to, by actively rejecting our pop-culture depictions of the single woman—you know the ones—I’d been terrorizing myself with their specters.
But now that 35 had come and gone, and with yet another relationship up in flames, all bets were off.
It might never happen.
Or maybe not until 42.
Or 70, for that matter.
Was that so bad?
If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I’d be a little … happier.
Perhaps I could actually get down to the business of what it means to be a real single woman.’

The other great point Bolick raises is the way single people, women in particular, are marked out by society as odd, and the way we adopt this as our identity. Sitting alone, as I was, enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon by myself, I was incredibly aware that as I read an article about singleness, I might look like some kind of hideous cliché.

I felt this way in the summer when I sat in Pizza Express dining alone while waiting for a train, reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman and laughing out loud to myself – the stereotypical mad feminist.

I felt this way when friends of mine kindly offered to loan me their cat to scare away our temporary mouse infestation; the idea that borrowing a cat was one step to crazy cat lady spinsterhood, put me off this eminently practical suggestion.

I feel this way every time I get a craving to stay in one the weekend and watch a six hour costume drama in one sitting with nothing but chocolate and wine for company.

It’s hard to avoid being a cliché of a woman when you’re single – they’ve all been parodied so brilliantly. Social psychologist Bella DePaulo described these negative images as a kind of ‘singlism’ – ‘the stigmatising of adults who are single includes negative stereotyping and discrimination against singles.’

But why are we so bothered about how we appear, clichéd or not?

‘Once, when my father consoled me, with the best of intentions, for being so unlucky in love, I bristled,’ Bolick writes. ‘I’d gotten to know so many interesting men, and experienced so much. Wasn’t that a form of luck? All of which is to say that the single woman is very rarely seen for who she is—whatever that might be—by others, or even by the single woman herself, so thoroughly do most of us internalize the stigmas that surround our status.’

What I do know is that many of the single people I know are very happy and fulfilled, but consider themselves unlucky not to have yet found a partner, seeing their life now as a holding position until real, grow-up life begins in front of the altar with wedding vows.

Bolick writes, ‘…the cultural fixation on the couple blinds us to the full web of relationships that sustain us on a daily basis. We are far more than whom we are (or aren’t) married to: we are also friends, grandparents, colleagues, cousins, and so on. To ignore the depth and complexities of these networks is to limit the full range of our emotional experiences.’

Because all of these relationships and experiences, and so many more, I know I’m extremely lucky. It’s just that sometimes I need reminding.


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