I am often told by well-meaning friends and family “You’re so great (or pretty, smart, good at cooking, funny, etc)! I just don’t understand why you’re single…” Thank you, lovely person, for noting my various positive attributes. However, when you say that, what I hear is “You’re not in a romantic relationship, so there must be something fundamentally wrong with you that I have yet to unearth.”
It turns out, there is exactly one reason that I am single: Because I am not in a romantic relationship. That’s it.
It’s not because I spend “too much” of my time and energy on my career, volunteering, or other pursuits. It’s not because I intimidate men because I’m an opinionated feminist. It’s not because I chose to live in rural Eastern Connecticut for my first professional job. These are my usual go-to reasons for why I’m single. However, I’m starting to realize that giving these responses to that question means that I am giving in to the deprecation of my single status, and in the meantime, throwing under the bus aspects of my life and experience that I actually enjoy and value. These are all things that I would not be willing to change for someone else. Because that’s selling out to some crazy ideals about love and marriage and I’m not at all interested in that. The whole point of love is that another person is supposed to complement and understand you and support you unconditionally (or something).
When I was a kid, I never used to play “Getting A Master’s Degree” or “Living By Yourself In Your 20s”. Somehow, these scenarios failed to appear in the midst of many days of make-believe games of “Wedding”, “House”, “Being a Mom”, and “Being Rescued from Near-Certain Demise by the Prince”. Weird how that happened. Weird how no one really said to me as a child, “Ashley, someday you’ll be 25, single, living alone, making your own money, pursuing a rewarding career, and making a difference in your community.” As opposed to “Someday you’ll be a beautiful bride” or “Someday you’ll be a great mother” or “Someday you’ll make some guy very happy”. I simply was not taught to enjoy and appreciate who I am and what I do in life without being tied up in the idea of finding my “soulmate.” The script for singleness just was not there. Being single meant being alone, or worse, lonely. If you didn’t get hitched, you were an “old maid”. You were not to be trusted. You were to be pitied. You probably had no friends but your cats. No one loved you and you couldn’t have children. When single women became un-single, the collective reaction was one of great relief.
In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes tells a story in which the original humans were joined together, but as punishment, were split in two by Zeus, left to forever roam around the earth trying to find their “other half”. This is a perfect example of the pathologization of singleness; one is not capable of experiencing love and therefore enlightenment without finding the appropriate partner, their soulmate, their “other half”. This old tale rings so true in the way that we often think about relationships: That there is some ultimate truth or achievement in falling in love and making it last. That people who are married or are in long-term relationships have something that single people do not have. That single people are operating at a deficit, left to wander the world not yet whole. (It’s worth noting that Aristophanes was one-upped by Socrates’ explanation of “Diotima’s Ladder”, which espouses a very enlightened view of the ultimate love as the love of beauty itself, free of human forms and institutions).
Now, I am not here to hate on people who are in positive, healthy, rewarding relationships. I believe that sharing our lives with other people is foundational to our humanity; I happen to share my life with many people and I benefit greatly from those meaningful relationships. A romantic partnership is but one type of relationship. I am also not taking an oath of singleness for life. I’m totally down with getting married. Healthcare and taxes are a lot cheaper that way. It seems like a sensible arrangement for raising children. It’s a lot easier to pay for your home and living expenses when you’re going halfsies. Lots of great benefits.
I’m just asking that we start giving a little more love to the single people. And that single people, we start loving the singleness a little bit more. I am not broken. I am not missing something. I am myself, as I am, existing in this place and time in my life. And I’m existing fully, with love, beauty, gratitude, and joy. And learning how to appreciate myself and my life as just me is something I wish I had started practicing for long ago.