Fear and the Single Woman

I dove into a rabbit-hole of articles about “modern dating” today after reading a piece in the Atlantic about how single people have to pay more for many things than married people. That link led me to an article about how single people should have weddings, and before I knew it, I was reading five pages about how women in America are facing way more “singledom” than our ancestors.

Now, to give credit where it is due, the last page of that article hit the note that I was looking for in a piece of journalism about trends about increased statistics of high-powered women in education and the workplace: namely, that if this means that fewer people are getting married early/to people who are not good fits/at all, maybe that was okay. There’s lots in life more than a romantic partnership.

It’s the first four-fifths of the article that bother me, really. And I wish there could have been that sense of, “You know what, this does not necessarily need to start a panic” about the article from the beginning. Because what it felt like to me was a lot of fear-mongering that a) revolves around something young women have little control over, b) plays into our anxiety about what it is expected will be the most important aspect of our lives (our romance/marriage/kids, not that these aren’t important things), and c) minimizes some of the real progress that the feminist movement has made by hammering home the idea that it’s all at the cost of domestic bliss.

I’m not going to go on a huge rant about it (OR WILL I?), but here’s my two cents:

The reasons 90-odd percent of people (people, not just women) have gotten married in at least Western Europe and the Americas in the past several hundred years are not necessarily the reasons that people get married now. In Austen’s day, you got married because you couldn’t legally inherit your dad’s estate and you had to figure out where you were going to live for the rest of your life in case your second cousin twice removed who came galumphing in didn’t want to take care of you. Marriage provided for both men and women: Men got the comforts of a family (and, let’s not forget, often a servant), and women didn’t have to worry about working as a governess or in a factory or as a prostitute for the rest of their lives, because those were some of the only options they had. If they had children, there were legal and financial repercussions to either party running off. If someone cheated, ditto. Romantic love was secondary to security, if it figured in at all.

So would I rather live in Edwardian England, worried about my financial stability until I could tie down someone who wouldn’t bore me to tears? Would I like to be a ’50s housewife on prescription drugs, pretending not to notice lipstick on my husband’s collar, or getting soused before my weekly bedroom appointment with my husband because I don’t enjoy myself and he’s pretending I’m a man because that’s who he’s attracted to but he could never, ever admit it to anyone–

Or even just be in a marriage that isn’t great today?

Come on, seriously? No. Listen, I know we’re all worried about our futures. Some people want families, some people don’t, some really operate well in long-term monogamous relationships, some tend to feel claustrophobic…and we’re getting to a place where there is no one clear-cut model for how an “adulthood” or even a relationship is supposed to look. A lot of this is fueled by cultural and economic change for groups that have been marginalized. And my take, at least, is that the progress made in the direction of equality for all people regardless of situation of birth is worth it.

Did I notice, at college, that many guys got away with seeing lots of girls at once or cycling through women or exclusively dating women who were more attractive and even intelligent than they were? Sure. Did that happen less often in the other direction? Yes, as far as I could tell. Is it a little scary to think that there are, it seems, statistically lower numbers of men getting advanced degrees than women if education is something you value in a partner? All right, okay, yeah.

Is any of this really all that new?

People are people have always been people. A four-year college degree is not the only sign of intelligence or initiative in a person. Anecdotal evidence about the preponderance of “players” and “burnouts” dominating the dating field is not proof of a crisis, and honestly, does not sound like anything all that revolutionary. “There are no good men left,” is a cri de coeur that I’m already tired of, and I just don’t believe it. I know so many good men. Men who want real emotional as well as physical intimacy, men who love their partners with their whole hearts, men who pursue their goals and passions and who are able to pretty seamlessly navigate the waters of platonic female friendship as well. Some of these guys were even “those guys” in college, and have changed their minds about what they want.

And even if it were true–even if we were really seeing a revolution in the relationships between men and women, which, let me tell you, I will consider believing when I see women outnumber men as the heads of the majority of industries, in the Fortune 500, and in politics, and when people talk about their policies more than about their outfits–what’s wrong with that?

Maybe I’m crazy. See, I’m looking for a partner who I enjoy being around. Someone who will have intelligent, meaningful conversations with me, who will make me laugh, who I want to see after a stressful day. I don’t want to date, let alone marry, a “player” (someone who values sex with a variety of partners above respect for me and/or a deeper relationship) or a “burnout” (someone without drive or goals). I mean, let them do what they want, but it’s not a loss to me to not be involved with them. In fact, I know myself, and I know I would be way less happy in a relationship like that than I am now as a single person.

Can we all just chill out and acknowledge that not getting married, potentially ever, is not a sign of personal failing or an incomplete life? Can we throw some love to friendships and family relationships and personal achievement in careers and hobbies and trades? Can we stick our heads out of the sand enough to see that if we really want to have kids, there are plenty of children in the world who could use even just one stable parent, and as nice as having a little clone of ourselves might be, adopting a child is in no way a “loser’s choice?”

Yes, I want to fall in love. Yes, I want to build a life with a person I am in romantic love with. No, I don’t think my life is worthless if that doesn’t happen, just like I wouldn’t jump off the Willis Tower if I don’t end up the head of the next Steppenwolf. My life plan is: 1. Figure out what you want. 2. Pursue what you want while regularly re-evaluating to make sure you still want it. 3. Try to enjoy what you have now as much as possible.

I just don’t have time and energy to put effort into a relationship that is unsatisfying because I want a ring on my finger and a joint tax return. And I’m done putting up not being treated the way I would like to be treated.

If that means I’m out of the dating game for good, which, come on, folks, of course it doesn’t, then so be it.

I’mma drop the mic.

One more fish in the sea for all my smart and talented sisters out there. Unless they’d rather come hang with me. It’s fun over here.

We have nachos.



Filed under Rants

2 responses to “Fear and the Single Woman

  1. Beth (BHS class 2004)

    Total and 100% win.

  2. While it many not be the authors’ or editors’ conscious intention, oftentimes articles of the type you mention couple their fear-mongering with shaming. The intelligent, educated, heterosexual woman reading the article receives the distinct impression that 1) she will never be in a satisfying romantic relationship with a man, and 2) that situation is her fault for being so damn intelligent/educated/successful/ambitious/etc. Shockingly, I find this implication offensive. And yet this argument appears over and over in the media, and in The Atlantic in particular (what’s up with that, Atlantic?).

    I appreciate your pushback against such an inane and obnoxious argument (and points, always, for a Mr. Collins reference).

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