While the insensitive remarks can sting, what’s harder for me to take are the people who think that they somehow have the right to tell me that it is my fault that I am not yet partnered. Over the years, at times when I haven’t been in a relationship, several friends have given me lectures on how I just need to “go out more” or “put myself out there more,” with no real idea of how much effort I might be putting into meeting someone, with no real results.
A few years ago, one of my closest friends, who is married, gave me such a lecture (which reduced me to tears). Since then, she’s had some fertility struggles, and a few weeks ago, out of the blue, she apologized for that lecture, because she finally realized just how awful it felt to want something, and to be actively striving for something (hello, online dating) and to have someone imply that if you just DID MORE that thing would immediately materialize. Not once have these “talks” made me feel empowered to “do more,” instead, they reinforce my biggest insecurities and fears.
I’m embarrassed to admit, but sometimes all this stuff makes me question my own happiness. These days, I feel like life is pretty great. But then some awful remark happens and the self-doubt creeps in: “Wow, are you really happy? How can you be when you’re single? You must be kidding yourself. You are a loser.” And then of course the inevitable happens: I begin to covet other people’s lives-specifically married women with children. I project my own insecurities onto them, and imagine that their lives must be so perfect, forgetting that there is no real way to know what’s really going on in someone’s life. I usually snap out of that within several hours, but still, it’s a pattern I wish I didn’t have and one I work daily to try and break.
I always wonder what compels partnered women to make hurtful or patronizing remarks to single women. Is it because they really think they’re doing us a service? Do they really believe my life is empty? Or are they trying to justify their own life choices? There’s probably not one answer to that question-but with a divorce rate at 50 percent, what is it about marriage that still compels people, especially women, to feel that it is the end-all-be-all of happiness and success?
Along those same lines: Why is it socially acceptable to comment on someone’s single status, but definitely not OK to comment on someone’s relationship? There have been many times when someone has said something offensive to me, and I will look at their relationship and wish that I could fire something judgmental back. Some of the people who have said the worst things to me are the ones in the most dysfunctional relationships: married to a raging alcoholic who abuses pets while drunk, a patronizing and controlling man, or a man who refuses to communicate in any real way. Are we so enamored with the idea of marriage that we believe that any marriage, no matter how dysfunctional, is better than singledom?
Of course, the complicating factor in all of this is the biological clock issue. While I find myself content and fulfilled most of the time, I know that I do want children, and that I have a finite amount of time to make that happen. But at this point, I know that I do still have some time, and that obsessing over every day that my ovaries could be potentially drying up doesn’t actually cause fertilization, and that instead, it’s healthier to recognize the time issue, to try and actively date but to not become fixated on a specific year by which I should have a baby. And then I have a contingency plan that if there comes an age where I feel like it’s time, and I’m not partnered, I will explore my options.
I don’t have any grandiose conclusions to this piece. Instead, I offer this: I think that women, both partnered and single, would benefit from being more honest about the joys and struggles that come with either situation. How wonderful for a single woman to talk about some of the struggles of being single without being automatically judged as miserable, or to be able to share her happiness without someone thinking or saying “Yes, but you don’t have a man.” Conversely, how wonderful for a married woman to be able to admit she sometimes longs for alone time, or that sometimes marriage is difficult.
I also want to emphasize that I’m not anti-relationship or anti-love. I believe in love — all kinds of love — and I know its transformative power. I feel like I’m surrounded by love in my own life. And I have plenty of friends who are in (mostly) happy and healthy relationships with wonderful men.
One last thing: I decided to write this under a pen name because while I think this is a subject that needs to be addressed, there is a part of me that feels like I will be judged as a “bitter single woman.” And the fact that I have that fear, despite knowing that I’m anything but, does make me sad.