Another dig at single women

// 6 June 2008

The single woman is still a source of confusion for many people who have to try and dissect the life choices that would encourage one to actively remain without a partner. If you’re a single woman, no doubt you will be bored almost to the point of jumping on the nearest man and forcing marriage, especially after hearing the diatribes and psychoanalysis offered by so-called experts claiming to know what is wrong with you. Because there must be, surely? What, you’re over thirty and not married? You mentalist!

But why is it always assumed that the single woman must be living an unfulfilled life? Without doubt, being in a partnership does not automatically ensure that you have a rich and exciting existence, does it? And is it not possible that many women stay in unhappy relationships because of the fear of “loneliness”? Being lonely is, of course, considered synonymous with being single. Forget friends, if you don’t have a man in your bed, then you’re on your own. Women’s magazines are filled with advice columns and features telling the sad singleton how to ‘bag a man,’ so it’s not surprising that it’s considered an anathema to be avoided.

Dr Pam Spurr, alleged sex and relationship expert at the Daily Mail, has had her thinking hat on yet again, and unfortunately the results are just as infuriating as usual. For those of you not familiar with Spurr, she has been responsible for a number of ‘helpful’ articles for women, controversially claiming at the end of last year that feminism has made women “selfish” and inadequate lovers, in a piece titled “Why women must learn to say yes in the bedroom,” and more recently published a piece on the politics of housework, discouraging women from ‘nagging’ (yes, nagging – feel like I’ve been transported back thirty-years to have tea with Alf Garnet) their partners to help around the house: “Are you in danger of nagging your way out of your marriage?

Now Spurr, a.k.a misogynist-in-woman’s-clothing, has offered her opinions on the female singleton, claiming that any woman over thirty who claims she is happy without a partner is a delusional liar:

In fact, do you believe any single woman over 30 is being honest when she claims to be happy that way? I don’t. What’s really going on behind that confident demeanour and fulfilled exterior is crushing loneliness and desperation. Single women become adept at playing the isn’t-life-grand game. They have to do it around men so they don’t appear desperate. And they come to do it around other women, too…

Apart from providing sweeping generalisations, her argument (based on a few case studies) is largely ignorant of the complexity of expectations placed on the modern woman. Spurr fails to realise that any insecurities a woman may feel regarding her relationship status may not entirely emanate from an innate desire to “satisfy an urge that’s been around as long as humankind.” A single woman after a certain age is expected to provide justification for the reasons why she is not married or without a parnter. As a woman in my early twenties I find that there is increasing pressure on me to settle into a long-term relationship, something that is only going to intensify as I get older. But this is not mine, nor any other woman’s, problem, but rather the result of the expectations society places on us to settle down, get married and have children. Regardless of professional achievements, on a very basic level if a woman fails to fulfil what is seen as her traditional and biological destiny then she is considered a failure.

A woman’s achievements are often devalued by the fact she hasn’t married or had children; instead of being successful she is viewed as an object of pity – as having had to fill her time (that would otherwise have been occupied by a partner/children) with other tasks. A career is always seen as a substitute. By assuming that every single woman is unhappy about being Spurr implies that this is the correct, normal way to react: if you are single, you should be desperately sad, cryinging into a bowl of ice-cream every night and reading self-help books to try and recover some semblance of a romantic life. Why is it so hard to understand that some women don’t want to get married? Some women don’t want to have children. Some women don’t want a partner. Some women like to have their own apartments; their own things; their own useless, pointless goods which sit on the shelves and just look nice. Why is female contentment always seen as a shiny veneer masking unhappiniess emanating from male absence?

Sex outside of relationships is now acceptable – women are empowered to satisfy their carnal desires without having the obligation of a serious commitment, and so what’s wrong with indulging in this behaviour? Something men have done for centuries. Why is it that we can only be legitimatlely happy by fulfiling social expectations?

I may only be in my early twenties, but I can honestly tell you that I have no desire for a relationship. I’m sure many women my age and older feel the same way. I’m not going to generalise like Spurr and claim that ALL single women are happy, as not only would that be ignorant but it would undermine the feelings of those who would like to have a relationship. But what I will say is that I don’t need a man to validate my existence. I am not, as Spurr remarks, like many singletons “too embarrassed to admit it [that I want a relationship]: that’s why they end up as single, lying females trying to protect some semblance of their dignity.” I do just genuinely like having my own space. I don’t feel that staying single in some way compromises my dignity. Why would it? Because, let’s face it, while many women love being in relationships, there are many good reasons to enjoy single life:

1. You can do what you want, when you want and with who you want without having the obligation of spending time with another person. However good a relationship may be, you are prevented from fully indulging in all the spontaneity life has to offer.

2. You can make career-decisions without worrying how they may impinge on your relationship.

3. You can be friends with whoever you want without worrying about your partner becoming jealous.

4. You are forced to take control over your own life. You have to be more independent and more confident, helping you to determine (without influence) what you actually want. Surely being happy with who you are will help you enter a relationship in the right, healthy state of mind?

5. You can have sex/flirt with whoever/whenever you want without feeling guilty afterwards. Let’s face it, relationships can be stressful. Being single means you can get what you want, often without the aggravation that comes with a long-term partnership.

6. You don’t have to worry about the way you look for anybody but yourself. If you don’t want to wear make-up, you don’t have to. If you want to cultivate a muff like a mammoth you can. While it’s unfair that this is on the list, in all honesty some women in relationships feel pressured to look a certain way all the time, and some partners expect this.

Yes, I appreciate that being in a relationship can be life-enhancing for some women, and that single life is not without its downfalls. But will not the wider-world begin to understand that single-life does have its upside? Surely a woman’s decision to enter a relationship or not should be made at the discretion of the individual, and be something she does not have to justify or be berated for. While women in relationships are rarely questioned about their happiness (it’s assumed they must be content), us singletons are presumed to be desperate and pathetic. Hopefully the above list will perhaps, in some way, indicate the reasons why being “alone” is for some of us an attractive option. Loneliness is not a valid criticism. Women in relationships can be lonely just as much, or even more so, than women who are single, it’s just the former are doing what we are meant to do and thus they are not provided with the forum to express their anguish.

Comments From You

Marina // Posted 6 June 2008 at 6:16 pm

O I get it! When a male cant stop nagging and whining even during sex, a woman should pretend that a nagging lover is not a turn off and simply say yes. However she should completely forget about her own demands. How wise. It is like revelation to me LOL

Kayleigh // Posted 6 June 2008 at 6:23 pm

As a twenty something single lady as well i totally agree and this is very reassuring, after having spent a week listening to my family banging on about marriage and babies….. give me a break! lol

Feminist Avatar // Posted 6 June 2008 at 6:35 pm

It’s also not entirely suprising, that as a counsellor, the women she meets are unhappy. If you were happy, why would you be seeing her? Studying the insane is not always the best way to understand the sane.

chem_fem // Posted 6 June 2008 at 7:11 pm

“Single women become adept at playing the isn’t-life-grand game. They have to do it around men so they don’t appear desperate. And they come to do it around other women, too…”

You could probably say the same about women who’d been married to the same man for 30 years!!

Neither option is easy, you have to try to make life as good as you can whether single or not.

Sam Jones // Posted 6 June 2008 at 9:00 pm

I’ve got a degree, a high flying career and have my own home. When I go round to see my relatives what do you think is the first thing they say? “So when are you going to get married? When am I going to be a grandma?” Grrr. It makes me so angry I want to spit!!!!

Sarah // Posted 6 June 2008 at 9:37 pm

I think one of the most disturbing things is the idea that women should settle for any man within reason, regardless of whether you love him or feel attracted to him, simply for the sake of not being single. While being in a good relationship may be better than being single (though both states have their advantages!), being single is absolutely, definitely much, much better than being in a bad relationship. As I’m sure anyone else who has been in one of those will agree. It’s also pretty demeaning and insulting to the man to treat him as a more-or-less randomly chosen man to fill the ‘husband’ role, rather than a partner you love and respect and freely choose to share your life with.

I’m pretty sure Germaine Greer wrote something to that effect all those years ago in ‘The Female Eunuch’ – it’s not true that any man is better than no man at all. How sad that it still needs to be said.

The same goes for having sex whether you want to or not. Sex can be a fantastic thing when it’s good, obviously, but forcing yourself to do it when you don’t want to and are not enjoying it, or with someone you aren’t attracted to, that can be an awful, demeaning, soul-destroying experience, especially if it becomes a habit. And again it’s not fair on the other person. If you honestly don’t feel that way about them, better to say so and you can both be free to find someone who is right for you, or to live your lives as you choose, not waste precious years in a loveless marriage and having pleasure-free sex just because that’s the ‘correct’ thing to do!

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 6 June 2008 at 11:23 pm

Oh so all ‘single’ women are heterosexual are they? Yawn – the Daily Male really needs to get out more but sadly they remain firmly stuck in a fantasy 1950’s world. The myth that all single women are miserable, repressed ‘old maids’ is not new because it has been around for over a century now. It is called patriarchal conditioning wherein women’s supposedly only role was in marriage. Any woman who did not want to marry was considered deviant or ‘unfeminine.’

News flash to the Daily Male some women marry, some women do not and there is nothing wrong with a woman remaining single because it is her choice. Likewise women who marry or form long-term partnerships that is their right – but I see I was mistaken because the Daily Male knows what all women want and it is having a man in their lives.

vxn // Posted 7 June 2008 at 2:34 am

Spurr’s words make me want to start a campaign of violence.

On second thoughts, no.

Doing that would cement in her mind gender stereotypes, and would just show my own gender conditioning coming through.

Pah.. It’s a sad world =/

Adele // Posted 7 June 2008 at 9:32 am

Ultimately, what I hate about this is that it assumes that all women are a single, cookie-cutter entity. Apparently all women have the same psychology, the same needs and desires, and the same situation in life. Humbug!

I’m happily in a long-term relationship at 17 and thinking about children in the near future, but that’s my choice and I’m sure as hell not going to force it on anyone else. My mother, on the other hand, is in the middle of a messy separation from a 20+ year marriage. She would love to be single at the moment.

Just goes to show, as above posters have said, the presence of a partner does not necessarily lead to happiness.

Laban Tall // Posted 7 June 2008 at 10:26 am

“why is it always assumed that the single woman must be living an unfulfilled life ?”

Is it true to say that’s always the assumption ? As someone who writes a fair bit about demography, culture and feminism I’d say that most of my unmarried, unchilded female friends have lived a pretty good life – although it remains to be seen what happens as they hit 50 and beyond.

But that still doesn’t alter the fact that they have no kids.

The feminist explosion of the sixties and seventies was among the baby-boomer kids, born in the post-WW2 years when UK fertility reached levels not seen since Victorian times. Since then fertility’s dropped by 40% – and it’s exactly those people with feminist and ‘progressive’ views who aren’t reproducing. Where will the next generation of feminists come from ?

This only really struck me a year or so back, when I was writing Christmas cards to friends and realised the number of intelligent, competent women of my generation who are childless (and by now will never have children). It distressed me to think that the many admirable qualities of these women would never be passed on to another generation, but would die with them.

cb // Posted 7 June 2008 at 11:11 am

What is it about the Daily Mail that just makes me want to scream every time I read about it (note – not read it!). I almost wish I’d joined the people who were protesting outside its offices. I was single for many years and hated the implications that I was constantly searching.. I actually enjoyed it.. I think Sarah said exactly what I would probably write less concisely.

Better happy alone than miserable coupled. I just hate the implied idea that being single means you must be lacking something.

‘Confirmed batchelors’ have been a part of the culture of centuries and surely, you’d think we’d moved on to the stage that unmarried women could be afforded the same respect based on a lifestyle choice..

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 7 June 2008 at 11:20 am

I am in a long-term relationship, but when I met him I wasn’t looking for it. It just happened, naturally. And it has been fantastic. But I am not “happier” with myself than when I was single because I don’t define who I am by my relationship status.

I’m in my mid-twenties. I stopped reading women’s magazines and advice columns years ago now. I would definitely say that doing *that* made me a happier person (more so than meeting “the man – or woman! – of my dreams”!)

I think that you could write massive lists of the advantages and disadvantages of having a partner or being single. But at the end of the day, you aren’t going to be happier either way if you aren’t comfortable with yourself.

So I wonder about Dr Pam Spurr’s advice…how happy she be with advice like that?

Amy // Posted 7 June 2008 at 12:15 pm

This was an interesting post to read for me, because I can honestly say I hated being single, and I am so much happier now I have a partner. And at the same time Spurr is beneath my contempt for her misogynist comments. I think the argument that every woman needs a man (i.e. *any* man) to ‘settle down’ with in the ‘traditional’ way is bull, partly because you can’t generalise like that. Every woman is different and Spurr obviously needs reminding that not every woman is straight. And also, what about single men? Spurr obviously assumes they’re all as happy as larry, when research actually suggests that single men are more likely to be depressed than single women (source: Backlash by Susan Faludi).

However we are social animals, and I think there is a lot to be gained from being in a close, supportive relationship. But there is a difference between being in a good relationship and just ‘being in a relationship’. When I was single, I was terribly lonely, but I put up with this for five years because I didn’t want to ‘settle’ and experience being lonely *within* a relationship, which is arguably much worse than being a lonely singleton. I wanted someone who I really clicked with and eventually I found him. I don’t particuarly want babies, I just want him. And I’ve found that despite being a high achiever in academia and work etc, it is my relationship that is turning out to be the most fulfilling and satisfying aspect of my life. I think that the idea that being in a relationship with a man is somehow weak or ‘serving’ him is a myth that needs exploding… my partner and I are completely equal in all respects and I know I’d be unhappy if we weren’t. I would never preach to anyone and say ‘get a relationship’ – far from it – but I would say that I hope heterosexual women aren’t being put off relationships by the idea that they will be stifled by a man. There may be many men out there who would want to be the ‘traditional’ boyfriend/husband/father, but there are plenty who are more mature and enlightened than that.

I think that Spurr is actually doing her best to keep women from having good relationships to be honest… by saying that 30-year-old singletons are desperate and unhappy she is provoking a justifiably angry response from those women who resent being labelled as pathetic, and who want to assert that they are not incomplete without relationships. Further down the line I think this leads to a defensive ‘I don’t want a relationship’ stance in many women (I’ve seen it in my own friends and felt obliged to play along). But there is a difference between needing and wanting. How many people, men or women, would, if they met someone who they fancied, liked and clicked with enough, would say “no thanks, I’d rather be by myself”? If people like Spurr actually left women alone and stopped berating us, leaving us to find a relationship that suits us in our own time, and not making us feel pathetic in the meantime, perhaps we would all be more open to the fact that having a relationship isn’t ‘giving in’.

Rachel // Posted 7 June 2008 at 12:48 pm

Right on! At 22 I have spent six years of my life in two serious relationships, and only now that i am single do I realise how sad and lonely I was being in a relationship, unfulfilling and somewhat psychologicaly abusive as they were. I would like to have another boyfriend at some stage – but i’d much rather be ‘alone’ with all my friends and lovers than unhappy in a relationship i can’t stand….

Feminist Avatar // Posted 7 June 2008 at 1:43 pm

It’s also interesting that ‘being in a relationship’ has to be with a sexual partner, as if single women have no connection with the rest of the world. It is possible to have deep, fulfilling friendships without sex and a ‘relationship’, that are just as rewarding, and perhaps, time consuming as ‘having a man’.

Did sex and the city teach us nothing? ;)

Anne Onne // Posted 7 June 2008 at 3:06 pm

Right, let’s keep this succint:

single =/= unhappy

single =/= unable to get a date

single =/= not good enough to get a relationship or ‘keep a man’

relationship =/= happiness

‘keeping a man’ =/= being happy

woman =/= heterosexual woman

Women are not the borg! We aren’t a hivemind enslaved by a need to clean up after our man and our biological clocks! What suits one person doesn’t have to suit us all!

Some women are happy being single, some aren’t.

Some women are happy when in a relationship, some aren’t.

Some women want a relationship, some don’t.

By putting the emphasis on getting a relationship, ANY relationship over being a healthy, happy, emotionally fulfulled, society does women a great disservice, and makes them more miserable than they would be if left alone. Yes, a good relationship sounds very nice, it IS (if it’s your kind of thing), but it is not easy to have. And being in a bad relationship will make you far more miserable than being alone. Women shouldn’t be encouraged to shut up and put up. That’s the patriarchy talking.

Oh, and let’s not forget that for some people, not being in a relationship is the best, most responsible choice for them. If you know that you’re not ready for a relationship, or feel you have too many issues to make another person deal with, you might feel it right. People assume that everbody is ready to be in a relationship, when in fact that simply isn’t true.

Amy // Posted 7 June 2008 at 7:48 pm

“If you know that you’re not ready for a relationship, or feel you have too many issues to make another person deal with, you might feel it right.”

I just have to comment on that briefly… I think sometimes awareness of our own ‘issues’ can make us frightened of a relationship or make us wish not to inflict ourselves on others. Me and my partner both have issues but we help each other… I have chronic health conditions and am disabled by them to quite a large degree – these are serious issues to make another person deal with, but if I’d decided not to burden him with them I’d still be alone, and I’d probably grow old and die alone as my disabilities will be lifelong. That was never going to happen though as I couldn’t *not* be with him, I like him too much! What I’m saying is that no-one is perfect and everyone has baggage of some kind. It’s not a reason to be single but of course it can be a reason to exercise caution. I do tend to think that for all the talk (and men do it too) of being ‘ready’ and ‘issues’ and all the benefits of a single life, the bottom line is that if you like someone enough you’ll want to be with them and if you don’t, you won’t. And we should all be ‘allowed’ by the media etc to take as long as we want to find/bump into/etc the person that we like enough, and not be criticised for refusing to settle for a bad relationship. I actually blame the patriarchy, stereotyping and Men Are From Mars etc for most of those bad relationships but that’s another story!

batty // Posted 9 June 2008 at 11:08 am

I love this article. I couldn’t of put it better myself. I never did understand the relentless pressure on women to be in a serious relationship, as if the world may break and crash and burn if they choose to be single. Right now I can’t think of anything worse than been in a long term relationship, but thats for me, and thats my choice.

Lizzie // Posted 9 June 2008 at 8:43 pm

Here’s another little gem from ‘Why women must learn to say yes in the bedroom’; feminism…’went too far with the “I will only do as I please” attitude to sex it engendered.’

Oh dear, what were we all thinking?

Back to missionary submission ladies, it’s the only route to a fulfilled life!

Excuse the extreme sarcasm, it’s the only outlet for my rage.

Clare // Posted 26 July 2008 at 4:57 am

I read the three Daily Male articles Abby linked to in her post.What really mademe angry was “Why women must learn to say yes in the bedroom”. Has it occurred to Dr Pam that “Sarah”, “Jennifer” and “Elizabeth” are the main breadwinners in their relationships AND are most likely doing half if not all of the housework and childcare? Which could be what’s putting sex way down on the agenda. Of course, it has to be the woman’s fault… no chance of them “bad luck you married an unsupportive crybaby who goes off to sleep with someone else when you don’t give him your full attention. Send him to me and I’ll turn him into a decent partner.” Does anyone know a high-flying successful man who comes home from work early to spend quality time with the children, and cooks dinner, and cleans the house, and does the family wash (including ironing her work shirts)… and drops everything to give his partner orgasms whenever she’s in the mood? I’d love to meet this guy. Hell, I’d love to marry him!

Dee // Posted 10 October 2008 at 5:30 am

It’s great so see some support out there for women like me, who are just flat-out happier single. I can’t stand kids, have no interest in having them, and otherwise have no motivation to be married, and I’m the happiest woman I know! Judging from my married female friends, marriage for women is a scam to make women do even MORE free work for others, than we already do. No, thanks. Having had several long relationships with perfectly nice guys, only to become completely bored with the each situation after a couple of years, I can honestly say that spending an extra hour at the gym after my fantastic day at the office is MUCH more spirit-refreshing than having to spend time with the average guy…and 99.9 percent of them are pretty average.

Barbara SWWAN // Posted 3 December 2008 at 6:29 pm

You said it all! It’s a sad thing that we must constantly defend ourselves, but one day, through our persistence and passion, the world will view single working women as the tremendous power they are for good. Women who don’t depend on someone else’s good will or have to adhere to someone else’s agenda often develop an attitude of reverence for the whole of creation. What a gift to our world when the gift is finally accepted.

Heather // Posted 24 December 2008 at 10:57 pm

Spurr is fullashit. I’m enjoying this. All single women need is a pretty, socially-accepted ceremony declaring our happy rejection of being married and we’re off! Marriage is Bronze Age property ownership bs invented by heterosexual males. Look at a wedding – full of bait to lure and capture women: sweet food, envy of competition, gorgeous dress that makes us look like a princess, sense of being “princess for a day”… if it were meant to capture MEN there’d be Hooters gals, rough-housing and sports at weddings. Weddings are designed to blindside and capture US. I am enjoying the fuck out of my singleness, Spurr. Go fuck yourself.

Paula // Posted 8 January 2009 at 9:38 pm

Just some unsolicited advice from a married 40 year old. I miss my single days terribly!!! I was single until 32. I felt pressured to settle down and was not as resilient as some you ladies. I married a man that loved me but I wasn’t sure about my feelings for him. Now I have two children and I feel trapped. I cannot leave because I am afraid. I have lost my privacy and most of my freedom.

He is a kind and good husband and father, but I am not myself anymore. One day I will find the courage to be on my own again. looking back, I should have enjoyed my single self more.

Be true to yourselves!

Pauline // Posted 15 March 2009 at 1:41 am

Who says you have to have a spouse/husband to be happy? Those who keep thinking that someone else will fulfill them or is responsible for their happiness will be disappointed. It’s not their job. My hope is that women will find happiness within themselves and if they want to find a partner, great! But for some of us who prefer to stay free and unattached… leave us alone! Our brains function fine and not all of us are lonely and miserable!

Thank you for so much for posting this. It’s nice to find other empowered single women. Stay true to yourself and live out loud!

Here’s an article that might be interesting:

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