When you’ve been single for as long as I have, approximately twice to thrice a year you will marvel at how steeply the odds are stacked against you. Far from being elastic enough to stretch and accommodate the lifestyle of single women, our social structures struggle to simply comprehend her.
She will usually be slotted into one of three categories: the wild, promiscuous type, the workaholic (or the one who was so busy with her career that she missed the marriage bus), and the one who wanted to get married but never found the right person (this one, I’d say, is the worst because of the interminable pity it generates). Aside from the fact that for a single man these categories never serve to indict their singlehood (on the contrary, for men, all three would be points of celebration, the last a tribute to his unattainability), that the single woman experience can be as layered and subjective as the married experience, is something that eludes almost everyone.
Related reading: How being a single Muslim woman is not very different
Practical tips for talking to single women
With scattered and, more often than not, one-dimensional, misleading representation in film and TV, a few general tips sometimes come in handy:
- If you are married/in a heterosexual relationship, appreciate right at the outset that you are, hyperbolic as it may sound, privileged. Because however much you may sympathise with single women and the challenges they face, the society we live in is built around families of marriage. And you, even without meaning to, are a part of it. From twin-sharing travel deals to gated family housing complexes to the absence of the shield of a Plus 1 at hostile social gatherings, the single person is an afterthought. Respect that it’s hard to be a single girl. Admire single women (yes, choosing to be single is worthy of admiration!). Desist from offering advice or opinions, yet if you must, acknowledge that your context is very different from hers.
- When we talk to you about why it’s hard, don’t say something like, “I used to be single too; I know what it’s like; here’s what I did.” Sentences like that exemplify that you don’t remember being single. This tends to also feed into the catch-22 situation all single women must negotiate: on the one hand, everyone will tell you to date/put yourself out there/marry; on the other hand, if you ever say that you do feel lonely, you’ll be immediately chastised because that goes against the non-negotiable requirement that single women be strong and never confess loneliness. Here’s the thing. When you are married, you may feel lonely. Single people also feel lonely. Different kinds of loneliness.
- Single girls aren’t aliens. They are people who have made certain well-informed choices in their lives. Just because these choices don’t match yours doesn’t mean they aren’t valid and shouldn’t find a place in the world we live in.
- Lastly, to my fellow single girls, rally around each other. There are enough people deriding us, without all of us adding to the derision too.
Related reading: How to be single and why
My own experience of being single
Circling back to my own life, being single wasn’t something I planned. Like assorted personal experiences, it was something I discovered, unexpectedly. I don’t believe it’s necessarily a permanent state of being. The bar is high though, because singlehood in your 30s can be both isolating and incredibly liberating – I’ve learned more about myself, I love my own company, I haven’t languished in embarrassingly one-sided love affairs unlike in my 20s, my crushes are more for my own entertainment than for the benefit of the men I’m crushing on, dating is lighter, healthier and actually fun since there’s no pressure for it to lead to something bigger (equally, it’s fine if it does). I have – metaphorical and literal – rooms of my own.
Now imagine if our societies were less heteronormative, treated marriage with a certain amount of levity and didn’t seek to overrule the single female experience, instead giving it space to be. The order of things wouldn’t collapse. You’d only have a richer society.