Sunday, January 27, 2013

Return

It has been a busy week, in case you couldn't tell by my nearly week-long blog-absence. The busy-ness was compounded by the fact that I had some vague cold-like symptoms that rendered me headachey and tired and bleary-eyed and sneezy and snuffly for a few days.

But so far, so good. No flu. My best friend has (had? I hope!) it, and they aren't just whistlin' dixie when they say it's bad. She's a trooper, and she took to her bed, so chances are, I would not survive for more than a few hours.

In the meantime, I've been reading Bella DePaulo's book Singled Out (I know: why? Like I need any more proof...), and I must say, it's a humorous and enjoyable look at all of the myths of what she refers to as American "matrimania."

Case in point: the myth that, "If you're single and you get sick, you'll have no one to take care of you."
Yes, exactly. And you'll probably heal in about half the time, because you can get bed-rest and do what you want without someone pestering you about what you should be doing or asking you, "Any better?" because they have things they want you to do for them, but they don't feel quite right asking you just yet. You look too awful. But at the first sign of recuperation, they'll be asking.

Singles can hide out and hole up when they're sick. Ask any wounded animal and they'll tell you: that's the way to go.

But no one in human culture is ever going to tell you that.

DePaulo coins the term "singlism" to describe what she sees as they systematic discrimination that singles suffer in American society.

If your immediate reaction to that last sentence is, "Oh, COME on... you're just angry and bitter because you're alone... but don't worry, your time will come! You'll find someone!," I'll ask you to hold that thought for just a minute.

While DePaulo is quick to point out that the discrimination of singles is in no way as virulent as racism or homophobia or other forms of systematic social prejudice in the US, she also notes a pervasive current of stereotyping with respect to singles--one that does in fact have economic and political implications.

If I die tomorrow, no one can have my Social Security benefits. They just go back into the system. If a married person works the same job for the same number of years and dies, their spouse is entitled to their benefits.

If two people live together, unmarried, for 30 years and one of them dies, the deceased's benefits go back into the system. If you're not married, the relationship doesn't count in the eyes of the federal government.

I also won't get the little token sum designed to cover "funeral costs."  Why? I'll be needing a funeral too, I suspect.

Although gays have been petitioning for decades to have the legal right to marry, DePaulo wonders whether we should focus on undoing the legal "perks" of matrimony entirely. Expose the workings of "singlism," dispel the myth of "matrimania," and level the playing field. And then let people decide for themselves what will make them happy in life.

DePaulo identifies American "matrimania" as a form of constant mental blanketing fueled by fear and yearning. You know the pattern: If you aren't married, you're "no one." You "need" to get married. You "should" get married. If you aren't married, you "will be," someday.

You're "too nice" to not get married. (Substitute "too smart," "too funny," "too cute," "too rich," "too female"... whatever works).

As DePaulo points out, we've validated the idea of the "significant other" in the form of the spouse, to the exclusion of all other social and emotional relationships.

People have--and always have had--other relationships that nurture their lives, their minds, and their souls. Investing one person with such all-encompassing emotional responsibility is, if you think about it, truly foolish.

You need more than just one other person in your life, because you have more than just one set of needs. And you will change over time. And life will hand you things you simply can't predict.

DePaulo notes how all of the rhetoric surrounding "matrimania" is designed to conceptualize marriage as the sole key to security, stability and happiness in American society.

By the same token, all of the rhetoric surrounding "the single life" whittles that "life" down to a protracted waiting for "the One." The single person is conceptualized time and time again as lonely and unhappy and trying very, very hard not to be bitter.

Singles allegedly join clubs and take up hobbies, not because we're actually interested in them, but because we're waiting for fulfillment in the form of a "serious" relationship (and the clubs and activities are the best way to meet people, of course).

When we get the relationship, we'll drop the clubs and the activities, because the relationship will fullfill us in every possible way. Stated so bluntly, I think we can see the silliness of such an expectation. And yet, it is the source of the fear and yearning that shapes the lives of many, many women and--to a somewhat lesser extent--men today.

Trolling a dating site, I once came upon a username that, to my mind, perfectly encapsulated that fear and yearning: "Imnotbald."

There are all kinds of singles out there with all kinds of experiences (including the divorced and the widowed), but the image put forward is decidedly... singular. It's the woman looking for a man, usually, but occasionally, the guy who finally figures out that a "good woman" is exactly what he needs.

Again, when you think about it, the way in which the diversity of human experience is whittled down to this one, marketable image is ludicrous.

Because, of course, corporate American is involved: the marriage "industry" is a billion-dollar enterprise.
It's out there, ever-present and pervasive, in small ways. Years ago, I started noticing that, almost without exception, clothing models are almost always wearing wedding bands, if the advertisement features a man and a woman.

Look for it. If you don't believe me, read this.

If you've spent any time wondering why you always feel pressured to be in a relationship or why you feel "left out" if you're not, the reason is, because you are. And once you see it all for what it is, you can begin to consider all of the many, many life-options available.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."