An interesting article appeared yesterday in Clarin, one of Argentina’s biggest newspapers (http://www.clarin.com/sociedad/tendencias/single-moda-mitad-portenos-pareja_0_401359927.html). The headline dramatically announced that “being single is in” and that “half the residents of Buenos Aires don’t have a partner.” It goes on to say that being single is a choice more and more people make, a trend across all ages that’s no longer stigmatized as it used to be. What’s interesting is that although the article claims to be talking about singleness as a pattern in society, what she’s really talking about are single women. It’s clear in every point, every expert’s opinion cited, every example. Because after all, single men who refuse to settle down, who enjoy women but preserve their independence, have been around for a long time. These “bachelors,” these “studs,” behave in a way that society considers normal, admirable, and understandable. So they’re hardly the ones making the news. What’s confounding enough to merit the front page on a national newspapers is that women, who are supposed to be emotional, loving, and unfulfilled without a man and a family, are shunning what everyone (read: men) thought was their natural purpose in life. How can a woman be single and be happy, they ask! What could have caused this strange phenomenon?!
What’s weird to me is that even though the article is written by a woman, even though it purports to enlighten us on this new trend that it constantly reassures is seen more positively than in the past (do we need that reassurance?), it still can’t escape reinforcing all of those assumptions and judgments about single women that fuel the fact that this is news in the first place. The picture it paints of singleness is contradictory– by assuring us it’s not a disability, it’s making it seem like one; by conjuring the image of moldy food in the fridge and being the odd one out at dinner parties, it’s not really selling us on the idea. Furthermore, the article goes on to call those who bear the label of single with pride “fundamentalists,” making them seem like some kind of angry, crazed, bra-burning sort of cult. What it also makes the single-choosers seem like are women who for whatever reason, probably their personal defects, wouldn’t be in a great relationship anyway – as it says, they would have to share a bed with someone with touching and settle, at great personal expense, for whoever was “left in the used-goods market.” Seriously??
The little “history of relationships” given goes something like this: before the women’s liberation movement, submission and domination were the structures that reigned women’s relationships, and to be able to stand it, they came up with the damaging concept of the soul mate. The search for one’s “half-orange,” as they call it in Spanish, and the presumably unhappy marriage that followed, signified the price that had to be paid to find our other half and thus be a complete person. But when women started seeing marriage and childbirth as more a choice than an obligtion, they had no reason to desperately search for a partner. Men freak out when they realize they’ve lost the power they once had, and don’t know what to do with these intelligent, independent women who mke profound emotional demands on them – so they lie to cover their fear and then they flee. A wonderfully creative explanation for the Argentinean man who lies, plays games, cheats, and disappears – make it the woman’s fault. Also, what happened to love in all this? Love, respect, fulfillment by sharing your life with someone despite all the difficulties –don’t quite seem to have a role in this depressing version of the tale. Nor do people who truly feel happier alone, NOT because they couldn’t find anyone or won’t settle for damaged goods, but because as they go through life they find that’s what actully does give them the most fulfillment. And why does being alone equate not having romantic relationship?? That ignores the many other types of families that people form, whether related by blood or not, who share their lives with loved ones and despite not having a long-term, romantic partner, are certinly not alone.
Some of the article’s points, about how people wait longer to get married and women are no longer willing to sacrifice their dreams, goals, and identities to form a relationship and a family, are good ones. But what’s lacking is soome balance, some recognition that the vast majority of people find that their desires and experiences are not at one of the two extremes (romantic, butterfly, give-up-everything love at the one end, versus a pragmatic, individualistic choice to be single at the other), but rather lie somewhere in the vast continuum between. But the article presents, and then condemns in its own way, both extremes. It shouldn’t have to be a choice, as they say it is, between “the old mandate of looking for someone who completes and guides you” and the new supposed technique of looking for someone “with whom you can make a good corporation.” Why not look for both? I really think that often we have far more power to create our own destiny than we allow ourselves to believe. What’s wrong with idealizing what you want? At best, your high expectations will lead you to it. At worst, you’ll realize that you made a mistke, that that wasn’t quite what you wanted, and you’ll learn from the experience –isn’t that what dating is all about? I think that being alone and being with someone are actually mutually beneficial possibilities. To be alone for a long time makes you stronger, self-sufficient, more confident in yourself. It teaches you what you need and what makes you happy outside relationship. Your life is your own and it’s an incredible chance to make of it what you will. Then when you’re with someone, you add, not replace. You add love and support to everything else about you, and they enrich one another. You can open a part of yourself to another without needing them to fill a hole, because you know you’re ok as an individual. You can have butterflies and business, because you know you deserve it.