Slating the singles. Again...
by Abby O'Reilly // 2 August 2008, 21:09
Firstly, I realise the irony in this statement, but whenever a female journalist/columnist has a deadline to meet it seems lack of originality and laziness forces them to take recourse to the same old tired topics that have been chewed to death and spat out over and over again, single life reigning high on this vomit-inducing menu. Today Stefanie Marsh over at the Times thought she’d offer a refreshing take on the “myth that being single is great,” by courageously admitting her own discontentment with life without a partner. The whole premise behind the piece is simple: unlike so many other singletons who insist they are happy, Marsh thought she’d take the initiative to say what going it alone is “really” like - “it can be horrendous, only I’m not allowed to admit it.” She claims that false press perpetuating the idea that being single can be enjoyable distracts people from the truth, and prevents those who are miserable from making their feelings known. What makes it worse is that she clearly thinks she is being dynamic.
So, there we go then. You’re sad. You’re pathetic. You’re unloved and unwanted in equal measures. There’s a “musty smell in your flat because you spend far too much time in it,” and “absolutely nobody in the world gives a toss about you, but, never mind, you’ve won the lottery of life.” Those who claim differently are either too proud to admit the fact they are crying on the inside, or worse still are trying to convince themselves that their lives are not completely meaningless without a partner. Marsh goes on to explain:
Connected to this syndrome is another unacknowledged truth: that a lot of single people are mad. Some of them are single because they are mad. They tack uplifting quotes to their bedroom walls; they try to allure the attached away from their beloved with promises of a fabulous new life in which no one ever need share a tube of toothpaste again. They begin to excel in those activities that are traditionally dominated by the singleton culture, stalking and conspiracy theorising.
Not only are single people weridos, then, but they also actively try to infect otherwise normal couples with this anti-social malign. Further still, single people are apparently socially inept, driven mad by their inability to forge an intimate relationship. Marsh not only fails to realise that the vast majority of us do not need a partner to validate our status as well-adjusted and worthwhile members of society, but that many single people have actually made an active choice not to be attached.
While Marsh is entitled to her opinion, and to write about her subjective experiences in order to illustrate her arguments, it’s unfair for her to make generic assumptions on a faction of people because of her own feelings of inadequacy. All she has done is perpetuate negative stereotypes about single life, specifically about single women (because she is one), which do nothing but undermine personal life choices. Yes, some people can be despondent with single life, and yearn for the emotional connection with another person that comes with a relationship, but others enjoy the freedoms that so-called solitude can elicit. Despite Marsh’s claims, being single does not necessarily isolate an individual from civilisation, and the vast majority have a strong network of family and friends whose company they can enjoy as and when they please. There are both positive and negative aspects to being attached and single, and neither choice should be berated and elevated above another. It's about choice, and neither should be negated.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this is that it’s a topic spoken about in the main by women. While probably not unheard of, I personally have never read a comparable comment piece by a man, with the malady of single life portrayed by the media as being something that primarily affects women. Or rather, something that reflects most negatively on the female of the species. Being single is less of a taboo for a man than for a woman, but why? Is it because we women should all be aspiring to get paired up as quickly as possible so that we are having sex within a committed relationship, whereas it’s ok for men to spread their seed like deranged sprinklers and shag whoever they want? Is this why there is less pressure on men to pair up?
The vast majority of my female friends are single, and they lead active, full, interesting and sexually fulfilling lives. Unlike Marsh, they don’t consider this as symptomatic of their own personal failings and incapabilities, but rather see their single status as an opportunity to explore their own wants and needs, and a time to figure out what it is that they actually want. They are not maudlin. They do not sit in musty flats in dirty underwear waiting for some handsome night to turn up and whisk them away to a world of perfectly mowed lawns, home baking and picket fences. In fact, by comparison, it is my male friends who find single life more difficult to adapt to when they end relationships. But maybe these gender stereotypes are mutually damaging? While, for the most part, women are encouraged to revel in their single-ness and still feel confident, men are not provided with the same support network. This is because it is always assumed that men have some sort of predisposed aversion to emotional attachments, and much rather prefer the casual sex and variety that can characterise single life. This may be true, but it's not something confined to the male sex: women can and do feel the same way. But does this mean, then, that single men feel disempowered to express their feelings, ashamed of their perceived “neediness,” and so have to internalise these feelings since they do not have a platform to express it? While most women can rely on friends, do men feel comfortable speaking about this loneliness with male counterparts, or have these feelings ironically been “feminised” to such an extent that men feel emasculated doing so? The press needs to stop representing single life as a female problem, because it is neither a difficulty nor isolated to women. Some people are happy being single, some people are not. What's so difficult to understand?
So, generally, who do you think can adjust to single life more successfully? Men or women? Do you think it needs to stop being considered in terms of gender? And to what extent do you think prevailing belief systems precipitate these difficulties?