Single Blessedness vs. Tragic Spinsterhood

So on my blog about feminism and Sex and the City [pauses for a moment to indulge in shameless self-promotion--why not go visit said blog, Back on Carrie's Stoop?], I have been thinking a goodish bit about Single Womanhood–how it is represented, discussed, considered, and experienced in our culture.

One of the things that I love about SATC is the way that it takes one of the very fundamental assumptions of our culture–that finding, having, and keeping a significant other are mandatory items to check off on all of our personal to-do lists–and picks at it. Pokes it, prods it, questions it. Does not let it lie easy, but instead keeps picking it up and shaking it–like a snow globe which has been left too long dusty and untouched on a shelf.

It does it problematically and imperfectly, I’ll grant you, but still–SATC ultimately affirms singlehood as a legitimate, valuable, and even joyful state of being. And living in a culture which all too often presents being single as a tragic, pitiable thing for a woman over (what, now, 25?) to be, it warms my icy spinsterish heart to see a show which presents being single as something which women (yes, even women over 30) can actively choose, and deeply enjoy.

Because being single has been, and continues to be, quite a lovely thing, for me. I have not endured it, I have not tolerated it, I have not learned to live with it–I have loved it. And continue to love it, even though I have reached an age at which society indicates that I… shouldn’t. Shouldn’t still be single (one) or contented with said singlehood (two). Though I stand a mere stone’s throw away from thirty, I am still quite happy in my single state. And it’s nice to see something of that reflected in pop culture, for once–to not always be Bridget Jones, mopily waiting around for Mark Darcy to come and put her chaotic life into some kind of order–to give her her very own happily ever after. (I see the merit in waiting around for Colin Firth to show up on your doorstep in a reindeer sweater, I do, but still–that is not my life.)

Please note that I’m not saying here that there’s anything wrong with being single and not loving it. I don’t want to topple the “everyone is happier when they are married/partnered” orthodoxy just to replace it with an orthodoxy of my very own. (“Mandatory Single Contentment”?) I am deliriously happy being a teacher, but I don’t expect that everyone else on the planet would be. I love living in my little failed steel town at the edge of Pennsylvania, but I don’t expect that lots of folks would do so. I itch if I don’t get on a plane at least once every few months, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with wanting to stay put. We all want, need, and love different things. Given that, I don’t want to say that other people should be happy single, just because I’m happy single. And, given that… why is it that our culture tells us that there is only one proper way to be, and that that way is coupled?

In a similar vein, please also note that I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being married or partnered and loving that. I don’t want to to do the reverse of our culture’s “getting married is the mature, responsible choice, and will necessarily make you happier” thing, and pull a “being single is the only path to true contentment, and if you think otherwise, then you’re duping yourself.” I also don’t want to suggest that, for the womenfolk, being married/partnered is somehow less of a feminist or independent state than being single is, because I don’t think that that’s true–I have too many amazing, fiercely independent female friends with boyfriends, girlfriends, fiances, partners, and husbands to ever make the mistake of thinking that that’s the case.

It’s kind of like that Kelly Clarkson song that drives me up a tree (okay, ONE of those Kelly Clarkson songs that drives me up a tree), “Miss Independent.” You remember it, do you not? It’s all about this girl (Miss Independent by name, as you may recall) who is all stand-offish and do-it-herselfish–and then she falls in love, and poof! Miss Independent is no more! Soooo… a couple of problems there: 1) why is “independent” presumed to be a dirty word for women–why is independence presented as a troubling condition which we need to rid ourselves of, and should, indeed, be proud and eager to shed?, and 2) why do we assume that once Miss I. finds true love that she is no longer, in fact, independent? Are the two mutually exclusive? I’m going to go with… no, they are not. I have a friend who met, and has been with, the same delightful bloke since she was fourteen years old, and a stronger, more independent-minded gal you rarely do see. So love and independence… perhaps not as antagonistic as Kelly Clarkson would have us believe?

I think of it kind of like going to college. I loved the school that I went to, and I simply could not have been happier there. It was lovely. But what if I had gone to a different, equally delightful school, somewhere else? I’m sure that I would have been happy there, too–that I still would have learned wonderful things and had grand adventures. It just would have been different, that’s all. Different lessons learned, different adventures had.

I think of “partnered v. single” as being rather like that. If I had met the love of my life as a lass of twenty (as my mom did), it’s not that I think that I would have been unhappy, or that my life would somehow have been less than it is now. It just would have been different. A different path with different pitfalls and different pleasures–different frustrations and different contentments.

The thing is, I am just so darned glad that I ended up on the path that I did. It’s the college thing all over again. When I went to Smith to work in their archives a few years ago, did I fall in love with the place at first sight? Yes. Did I think about what an amazing thing it would be to be an undergrad there, generally, and what my life as an undergrad there might have been like, specifically? [Pauses to cackle at the very idea of actually being able to get into Smith as a lass of seventeen, or ever.] Absolutely. But remarkable as I’m sure that Other Life–as the many Other Lives which I might have had–might have been, in the end, I only want the one I have.

It’s not that my icy spinster’s heart is closed to the possibility of couplehood or of love. Said icy spinster’s heart is quite open-minded, I think. (If hearts can have minds…?) Charlotte Bronte is my favorite author, for Pete’s sake. I love me a “sarcastic, difficult lass meets a bloke who loves her not in spite of, but precisely because of, said sarcasm and difficulty” story. Maybe a version of that story will be my story, one day. Maybe it won’t. But either way, I hope that I’ll have an interesting story.

And so I’ll never know what it’s like to be married for more than half a century, the way my grandparents were. (Unless I meet the love of my life within the next five minutes or so, which–looking to both my left and my right–seems doubtful.) I’ll never know what it’s like to spend my entire young adulthood with a person I love, the way my parents did. But still, I wouldn’t trade any of my pleasures for their pleasures–any of my experiences for their experiences–any of my lessons for their lessons. I want exactly the memories which I have behind me, and exactly the future which I have in front of me. And to have a TV show reflect that the idea that my life (as a single lass of nearly thirty) might actually be a life worth wanting, rather than pitying–well, THAT feels pretty darned revolutionary.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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