It’s time to put our ongoing obsession with single womanhood on the shelf

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Age /
September 15, 2016 /

Click here to view original /

Last December we were sharing a plate of noodles. On his side I’d been piling up everything that once had a heartbeat.

“Have I been cockblocking you?” he asked at a gentle lull.

I’d returned the day prior, having spent six months away. Had the question been brewing for half a year? The maths did add up. I met him the day after I parted ways with my last boyfriend. We met, we clicked, we’ve been best friends for the three years since. I’d been on a few dates, sure, but no new relationships.

But cockblocked? It sounded all too aggressive on his part and far too pitiful on mine. Not that I didn’t appreciate the homoerotic splendour of duelling penises – hell, I’m only human – but was this what was happening? If some sexily smartarse gent found me adequately funny and whose company didn’t make me want to bathe with my hairdryer, would I pass him up? Had I found myself in some sort of Clayton’s marriage? If so, would it really be my worst outcome? A zillion hours in each other’s company and only four minor spats. One centring on a birthday cake shaped like a panda. It’s the most functional relationship I’ve ever had with a man.

According to the ABS, some 40 or so per cent of women between 25 and 64 are single. To me, 40 or so per cent makes it all sound pretty normal. And yet social media drip-drips a steady supply of articles on this apparently mind-boggling phenomenon.

Newish books like Kate Bolick’s Spinster or Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies have recently done a roaring trade. Seemingly all of those statistically normal single women want to read material that reassures them of their normalness while treating their normalness as something needing to be analysed, rationalised, legitimised.

This marital status shift, according to the numbers, isn’t new: the proportion of women not marrying has looked this way for a good decade or so already. So why are we still spotlighting it? Is the topic still worth so many punny headlines, reappropriated song lyrics and felled trees? Maybe. Because while the ceaseless chatter makes me bristle, I probably wouldn’t have that reaction – wouldn’t have anyreaction – if it still didn’t mean something.

Half a century on from Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girland books on women doing the solo thing still sell. And they only still sell because 50 years on it still doesn’t sit quite right with us. The bristling is situated here. Being single may not be something I think too much about – and while I may have no shame to confess here nor any tickertape parades to throw myself – I know I’ve ended up somewhere different.

Choice features prominently in single-woman celebrations. Choice, the catchcry of the modern age: as though, somehow, every option was there for the taking but we are here. Here, because it’s exactly where we wanted to be. Choices in reality are constrained. The choices of single women are dictated by the dating market: what you have to sell and who’s interested in buying. To pretend, therefore, that every woman has the same opportunities in the dating game is delusional. Age and location and levels of attractiveness and one’s inclination to pretend to like Game of Thrones all work to expand or contract our options. And sure, this is just reality, but it’s a reality that skews the applicability of the C-word. Would we all still chooseto be single if our husband didn’t leave us for that bouncily nubile dog walker? Would we still choose to be single if we hadn’t been so significantly scarred by all those dud dyads? Would we still choosethis single life if options to meet people existed beyond peddling our arse online?

Choice of course, gets used to own our circumstances and to try to distance ourselves from the idea of singlehood as the place we’ve been banished to. By articulating that our “situation” was chosen, apparently agency gets stirred in. I haven’t been rejected by the dating market – hell no – I’ve rejected it. The reality, alas, is still every bit the same: there’s a woman who’s on her own. Dwelling on how or why she got there is just judgmental white noise and yet somehow it manages to creep into our subconscious and see us constructing narratives to try to quell the self-loathing.

From the earliest blue-stocking days of feminism, an objective was to have women viewed as more than just daughters or wives or mothers. Centuries on, women continue to be discussed, to be judged, in the context of their relationship with men. Prattle about sisters doing it for themselves still makes the story all about men by virtue of their absence. I’m not interested in denying the data nor in silencing the conversation. But there’s something anachronistic about claiming that women can – and do – get shit done on their own despite the manless road we’ve taken. Until we lose the “in spite of their singleness/their loneliness/their solo income” caveats, this doesn’t feel like a feminist story to me.

I resent the word effort. It turns things that should be organic and easy into labour that lacks serendipity, panache. And yet I’ve promised a pal that I’d put in a little more of it. I’m a vegetarian who knows how to roast a chicken: my wifely virtues truly are being wasted. “I totally made banter with a security guard this afternoon,” I told her the other day.

“Did that banter involve sarcasm and an inappropriate story?” She didn’t wait for my answer. “Doesn’t count.”

Meh.

© Lauren Rosewarne