Single as a "choice" is the holy grail of feminist self-preservation while single but "looking for love" puts you in the position of nonstop speculation as to why you can't find love. On an interpersonal level, when you are single, no one believes that you can be happy even when you say you are.
Sometimes you begin to think, Maybe I am not happy, and maybe my life is not fulfilling on my own. Or sometimes, when you are sick of being single, you imagine people are thinking, One day you will find what I've found...(hey, misery loves company). But part of why we get to this place of self-pity in the first place is because the ideal we're supposed to be striving for is marriage, and without it we aren't living up to our full potential.
Being identified as single and having to juggle all the ideas put on you about your life can be very frustrating, especially when you add to it the pressure of everyone wondering why you are single, or your parents wanting you to find someone and settle down. You begin to feel like you should overcompensate and show off how amazing your life is, when at the end of the day it is just your life, you happen to be single, and there are things that are great about it and things that suck about it, just like any life, married or otherwise. And for most of us being single isn't exactly a choice, it just happened because we didn't meet someone we didn't want to not be single for.
And it's not like all single people are doing is sitting around waiting and hoping they can engage in the self-obliteration that is coupling. Perhaps the reason I loved Sex and the City so much was because I was longing for more mirroring of the position I am in as a single woman and for popular culture to showcase some of the nuances of single life. We are not always sad, lonely, pining for relationships, unlovable, food-obsessed, or vibrator queens (well, maybe sometimes we are one or more of these things at once or none of them — cough, vibrator queen, cough). It is nearly impossible to find images of single women as part of vibrant supportive communities, though that is where most people find their interpersonal relationship sustenance. And people forget, some of us like to be alone.
And yes, sometimes we get lonely, we get scared, we don't want to have babies alone, and we want to be in a relationship — and all of these experiences and feelings are just part of life, married, coupled, single, and otherwise. Of course being single can be lonely, but so can marriage. The frustrating outcome of the pressure single women feel to be in a relationship is that many women end up in unhappy relationships, and then they don't see leaving as an option because the thought of being alone is so horrifying to them. Being afraid of being alone, or even dying alone, is something most women can relate to, but there is tremendous power in overcoming that feeling. Feeling comfort with your single status, even if only sometimes, is an act of feminist self-preservation.
Being single is also a concrete act of resistance against hetero-patriarchy. I know you are thinking, Why does my love life have to be part of that?, but the more that single and unmarried people demand equal treatment in all settings, the more normalized this lifestyle and identity become. Statistically we are not outliers, we are the growing majority, so we should claim that ground. Part of the backlash against single women has to do with us being considered a threat to heteronormativity, to the economy, to social policy, and half the time to our friends' relationships. What better way to say fuck you to the system than by not kowtowing to other people's necessity for us to be coupled?
But single women can't do it alone; we need our coupled friends to help us. One of the ways we can fight sexism against single women is for couples, or rather anyone who directly benefits from heteronormativity, to recognize their couple privilege and start to open up about how they think about community and inclusion. It's time to rethink what we prioritize as legitimate social engagements and what types of relationships we privilege. Oftentimes people in relationships are so consumed in their monogamous lifestyle that they don't realize how they prioritize their lives around being coupled as opposed to being part of a broader community. Couples can start to make more of an effort to include single people in their lives and work toward pushing against the couple-centric structure of the world. While that may take courage and effort, it is one more step toward pushing against a society that demands heteronormative coupling for all people. We single gals are not going to be able to fight anti–single woman sexism without the support of our coupled sisters.
The fact of the matter is that being single is hard, and being in a relationship is hard, and most of us are going to vacillate between these two and many other relationship formations at different points in our lives. Granted, the pressure to be coupled is real, but as we get older we learn more about ourselves and the world around us. We start to make more informed choices about the kinds of partnerships we want and we start to see the joy in both single and coupled life. We are pickier about the relationships we become part of. These lessons are invaluable and can happen only when we have courage and take the opportunity to relish being on our own.
The most power I have gained from my single life is in the friendships I have with other women that have flourished in a non-competitive environment where we don't prioritize our romantic relationships. Building powerful communities is the only way to keep us from being isolated in a world that wants to portray us as failures, to make us feel bad about our success, or to shame us for having pride. And since single women have nurtured their communities, we have people who take care of us. We laugh and enjoy our lives, go on vacations with friends, yes, often as a result of love or heartbreak, but for other reasons as well. Single women can't maintain their lifestyles alone, and when we go about it the right way, we don't have to.
From the book Outdated by Samhita Mukhopadhyay. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright (c) 2011.