“Choosing to Be Single” and Looking Like Carrie
We don’t need men. Or we don’t need men to be complete. Or we complete ourselves. Or we’re happy that we don’t have someone else living in our space, leaving caps off toothpastes. Or that we like having our own space, our own time, to pursue our own interests. Or that we have the freedom to just be ourselves. Or that it’s not us, it’s them. Or that boys are stupid and we should throw rocks at them. Or that men may come and go, but our girlfriends are forever.
While there are people who believe some of these excuses, to many other people, they are just excuses. They are phrases that we utter to ourselves to make us feel like it might not be our fault, that we might not be fundamentally unlikable, that we’re doing the best we can, and our inability to find that special someone might mean that it’s just not the right time for us, not that it will never happen, even if it feels like never’s the most likely possibility. They are sanity-preserving reframings of things that feel like they’re out of our control.
And then there are people who tell us that we’re too picky (because we won’t endlessly date men we’re not interested in), or that we’re (I love this phrase) “choosing to be single.” This implies that every day we leave our apartments, pick up our New York Times from our doorstep, and step over the lengthy line of suitors waiting with flowers and chocolates and rings and hoping that we’ll give them the matrimonial time of day. It implies that suitable men have proclaimed their desire to commit to a lifetime together, and we’ve said, “sorry, I really like being single. You know, because of Carrie Bradshaw. And you know, because Angelina and Brad don’t have to be married to have fuifilling lives, and so neither do I.” (The analogy to Jolie was apparently invoked by Katie Couric on CBS.)
Now, you all know that I literally can’t even walk down the street without someone mistaking me for Carrie Bradshaw (even though she’s fictional and I’m real) or Angelina Jolie (whose lips, I’m convinced, are fictional, even though mine aren’t). But the realities of single life aren’t always glamorous in the manner of Hollywood, and aren’t always a liberation.
by a margin of one percent, more women are unmarried than married in America. The article, to no one’s great surprise, hinting as it does at the problems of sex and love, was the number one most emailed today (or as Gawker, in its inimitable style, put it this afternoon, “Also, 91% Of Women Are Now E-Mailing Spinster Article To Their Single Friends.”)
Leaving aside what struck us as strange methodology (like the fact that the survey counted anyone over the age of fifteen as a woman), there was something else disturbing about the piece. It had a tone of exuberance that spun the numbers as an unambiguously positive piece of progress for women. A quote from William H. Frey of the Brookings Institute captured the mood of it. The shift away from marriage, Frey said, represents “a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women.”
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re choosing the single life. It means that our options are more open in terms of timelines and in terms of the men who are (theoretically) available to us. And sometimes, this means making different choices than our mothers and grandmothers might have made.
There are certainly women, especially those who are recently divorced and feeling free for the first time, who choose the single life. But those of us who choose not to marry the first person who asks (or who are stubborn enough to insist on waiting for someone who is actually appropriate and whom we love), are not choosing the single life. We’re choosing life itself.
Unless that’s just one of those things we tell ourselves.