Why is our culture so threatened by a single woman who chooses her own path? Why is single womanhood seen as such a terrible thing that must be overcome in order to be happy?
I’m a single woman who’s dating, online and offline. That’s already a fairly challenging state of affairs.
But it would be so much easier to not feel angry at several men’s butthurt responses when I turn them down if they didn’t make it sound like singlehood was the worst thing ever.
The worst thing, I say.
It’s happened on more than one occasion that I have received a reply that sounds a little bit like that:
Well, with that attitude, no wonder you’re single!
The “attitude” they’re talking about is one where I don’t take any bullshit, like that kind of bullshit. The one where I don’t let myself be negged or bullied into feeling sorry for a guy who can’t take rejection, or even mild criticism of his approach. The one where I have standards and hold myself to them.
And yet here they are, trying to undermine my self-worth by saying “well no surprise you’re single then!” The implication is obvious: nobody would want to be with you.
The single woman curse
In Québec we have this expression to describe a woman over 25 who’s never been married: vieille fille, or old girl. Not a woman, because she’s not married; not young, because she’s over 25.
There are stories in our folklore of forlorn vieilles filles who become old, sad ladies looking jealously at their friends who are now mothers, and getting in all sorts of non-Catholic shenanigans.
And yet, despite this folklore being from the late 19th and earlier 20th century, there is still an attitude of why aren’t you married/settled yet?, not only in Québec but in North America in general.
When I meet extended family, there are always questions of aren’t you married yet? and when will you give your mom some grandkids? It seems as if my only function on this planet is to sign a contract binding my finances and my estate to another person and to reproduce with said person.
Not done any of those things by the time you’re 30? Don’t wait too long… you might have to settle to start a family… you just haven’t found the right person yet…
Being a single woman, by choice, is not seen as a serious proposition. As a woman, there’s no way I can choose to not get married and to not have a family! What a ridiculous thing to say!
Popular culture displays such anxiety towards single women… especially those who choose to be single. Aside from the latest Ghostbusters, very few single women are portrayed positively by television or movies. And don’t get me started on romantic comedies… (well, maybe. But that’s a future post, so keep checking the blog.) I like Britta from Community because at least she’s a character aside from her relationships; a few failed ones throughout the show don’t turn her into a bitter bitch. She’s still looking for a good man, but she’s okay being single too.
So, if we accept that popular culture mostly portrays female singlehood as a challenge to face (i.e. the arc of the story, finding a good man), then it makes sense that we absorb the message that a single woman must be in want of a man (with all my love to Jane Austen). And that is the beginning of many stories—but not always the right ones.
Can we accept singlehood as a choice?
When a man decides to remain single, we think of him as the old bachelor, a generous if quirky uncle who is mostly absorbed in academic pursuits, smokes cigars and drinks scotch in his well-appointed library.
Singlehood as a male choice is acceptable, because maybe he just never found a woman he could really form a bond with. Or maybe he just didn’t have enough time or interest for starting a family. But it’s fine, because he’s a man! Not all men want families!
But when a woman says she might want to remain single and/or childless, it’s a whole another bag of worms.
All right, here it is.
Remaining single is a perfectly valid choice. Not having children is a perfectly valid choice. Getting sterilized is a perfectly valid choice.
I am no less of a woman because I choose never to bear children. I am no less of a woman because I choose never to get married for love (maybe for economic reasons, but I shall retain my freedom with such an arrangement). I am no less of a woman because my life isn’t dedicated to pooling my money with another person and raising a small human that I pushed out of my vagina.
I remember one discussion I had with my mother and great-aunt when I was over there one summer. It was shortly after my abortion. I mentioned that I never wanted to bear children and that I’d rather adopt. My great-aunt said:
But isn’t that selfish? Think about your mother who carried you and gave birth to you!
Uhm, excuse me. I don’t owe my mother a grandchild just because she had me. I don’t owe anyone a child just because I exist as a human who happens to have a uterus.
I am a single woman. I have goals and dreams for myself that go beyond finding a man and breeding his spawns. I am not bereft of love, intimacy, companionship or sex; in fact, I have all of these things with multiple people, on my own terms. My cat provides me with all the companionship I need on a day-to-day basis. I have plenty of friends as well as lovers who are there for me when only a human will do. I am part of a community that is larger and more interesting than a nuclear family. I regularly come in contact with interesting, vivacious sex-positive and kinky people from whom I learn a lot about love and life.
Being a single woman is not a curse. In fact, being in a committed, monogamous relationship was the curse for me. I couldn’t pursue my own goals and dreams without fearing it would get in the way of his; I couldn’t seek the kind of intimacy and sex I really wanted because somehow I was supposed to find it in him and only him. I was rudderless, depressed, without joy or a semblance of purpose to my life.
Leaving this relationship gave me back to myself: I started writing again, I decided to go back to school, I’ve made better and closer friends than ever, I found wonderful men and women to share my bed with, and I feel like I am leading a happy, fulfilled life.
Ultimately, you are the only person you must answer to. If singlehood is what you crave, if singlehood is the best choice for you, then you should absolutely pursue it. If you want to get married and have children, all the more power to you. One choice is not better than the other. One choice is not inherently more moral or more womanly than the other.
The last word… on my life
I’m the one who gets to have the last word on how I live my life. To the guys who ever told me or will tell me No wonder you’re single!, I say:
Tell that to my three boyfriends!