In this post-women’s-movement-post-feminist-post-Thatcher-post-just-about-everything really year of 2011, it must be sadly acknowledged that nothing much has changed when it comes to society’s views on the single woman. To paraphrase Austen: ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman, in possession of a living breathing heart, must be in want of a man’. Ms Austen as you might recall ended up being a single woman until she died. A spinster to use the parlance of the day, which one dictionary defines as ‘a woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying’ – what age would that be exactly? A bachelor meanwhile is simply ‘an unmarried man’.
It’s surprising how much this ‘truth’ is perpetuated: modern literature, especially chick-lit, Hollywood movies, TV series, advertising, women’s magazines, men’s magazines (let’s not go there…), the internet, newspapers and other media I can’t think of right now, have all at some point in time peddled the myth that single women are only interested in one thing: getting a man. And if not, then they must be either a) in denial about the whole thing b) beyond a certain age so they have no chance, c) possibly too ugly or d) only interested in women (which of course is fine if that’s your preference).
It is undoubtedly a universal truth that most people, men included, opt not to be single forever. Nearly everyone reaches a point of no return with someone, when marriage or moving in together is the next logical step. It’s reassuring to have someone around who loves you just the way you are (thanks Bridget Jones for that one), to share cuddles, do back-of-the-cab snogging and of course the more energetic stuff too (not necessarily in a cab). To create memories together, perhaps have kids and attempt real intimacy is a wonderful part of life. But no-one should be made to feel like an outsider just because they’re still single.
Being different from the norm also gives rise to unwanted advice. Anyone who has been single for a period of time must have heard some of these platitudes from friends, family and even complete strangers. ‘When you stop looking, that’s when you’ll meet someone’, ‘I’m sure the perfect man is just around the corner’, ‘Plenty of fish in the sea’ ‘Well I personally wouldn’t try online dating but you should try it’, ‘Don’t get too keen, you’ll just look desperate” and the worst one of all ‘You’re just too fussy’. The last is particularly insulting, who isn’t fussy when it comes to choosing someone to have a relationship with?
‘How’s the love life?’ is another little gem designed for maximum embarrassment. If you have met someone (even for a mere coffee), everyone wants to know the details: is it serious, where did you meet, how long have you been seeing each other, when can we meet him? Etc. But if you’re still single, then suggestions (see above), and commiserations with varying degrees of barely concealed bitchiness abound.
Ultimately what other people want is for you to join the couples club. This club is exclusive, and singletons are not really that welcome. If you’re still single when most of your friends have got hitched and/or had children, party invitations suddenly dry up, Sunday barbeques consist almost entirely of talking about or watching the kids, and as for a night out with the girls, they’re infrequent and end by 10pm at the latest. For many, the close-knit group of single women that once partied, gossiped, laughed and swapped intimate details on just about everything, vanishes into the ether. Couples rule and couples’ going out together becomes the norm; single women add a touch of awkwardness, a reminder of what once was.
Being single in 2011 is different from Austen’s day as women now have so much more freedom than say, Miss Elizabeth Bennett. The benefits are many: singletons can do what they want when they want; study, travel, take up dangerous hobbies if they so wish; have guilt-free one night stands, stagger home at 2am without recourse, pursue a career unencumbered, save money, spend money on exotic shoes, have sole charge of the remote control, decorate selfishly, only shave their legs once a week, not get up until midday on a Saturday, have good haircuts, a sole-use bathroom, ironing that only takes an hour – to name but a few! But the downside is the ever-present pressure from other people to become a ‘two’ and thus part of the club; essentially to become just like everyone else. After all, a woman couldn’t possibly be alone by choice, could she?
Categories: Just Thoughts