Friday, January 28, 2011

Surviving Singledom

Let me start this blog with saying, no I did not recently become single - Mr. HK and I are doing well. However, where it was a number of years between serious relationships, for me, I can understand and appreciate this article. It was posted by a friend on Facebook and I thought there were many great points (even if it is heteronormative to an extreme).

To The Ladies Pining for a Relationship, Fret Not
By Jane Ganahl

It happened far too many times on the book tour. After a reading from my memoir about turning 50 as a single woman (Oh the places I’d gone! The adventures I’d had! The men I’d slept with!), I’d open the floor to questions from the predominantly female audience.

In addition to queries about writing, the publishing world, and the true names of my lovers, I could count on at least one from a 20- or 30-something, clutching her purse anxiously: “Um, can you tell me where I can go to meet guys in the Bay Area?”

I’d smile, sigh, and utter my standard response: One of the best ways to meet like-minded men is to find a cause you’re passionate about and volunteer. I’d relate an anecdote about a friend, an animal lover who helped rescue dogs stranded after Hurricane Katrina, and how she met the love of her life in the Marin County shelter while she was covered in dog hair after two days with no shower.The questioner would nod enthusiastically and smile, cheered to have added yet another arrow to Cupid’s quiver.

But what I really wanted to say was: STOP IT. Stop it right now—the sad-eyed, self-doubting, nail-chewing longing. Eau de desperation is a stinky fragrance, and men can smell it a mile away. And you’re not even 40 yet! Get out there while you still can, sleep around, and enjoy that young body before nature’s forces drag it south.

Of course, this kind of reply would not have sold books and might have even cleared the room. So instead, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’m seizing this opportunity to write and send an open letter to all you young ladies pining for a husband. Read this in the privacy of your living room, cocktail in hand, thoughts focused. Are you ready? Whether you land a man or not, you will be F-I-N-E.

Because in case you didn’t get the memo, being single is now a lifestyle—a way of life that women have learned to love and, I dare say, even perfected over the past five decades. The 40-year-old spinster of 50 years ago is now considered to be in the prime of her life, and she’s got a huge sorority to hang with on Saturday nights.

The Census Bureau tells us that 43 percent of all Americans over the age of 18 are single. One main reason for the increased numbers is that we’re marrying later, and if we divorce, we often don’t remarry. No big surprise there. As one who’s been on both sides of the equation—married twice but single for most of my 58 years—I can tell you that I prefer a ring-free left hand. This is partly due to my exorbitant need for personal space; but also, I wasn’t a very good wife. I was apparently born without the selflessness gene. I resented how much of my energy was spent making sure everyone else was happy and thriving and how depleted it left me of time to tend to my own life.

I suppose I could have enforced the current self-help advice, “Take care of yourself first,” but most wives (especially mothers) will tell you that’s an uphill battle. It’s possible I could marry again, but it would have to be an extraordinarily good deal. Guaranteed sexual benefits, written promises of equal toilet-cleaning time, and tons of solitude. Any takers?

Were marriage a better deal for women, I’d understand why women still crave it. But as Isadora Duncan famously said, “Any intelligent woman who reads the marriage contract and then goes into it deserves all the consequences.” Granted, Duncan lived during an era when wives were little more than indentured servants, but it’s not like things have improved significantly. We won the right to work outside the home but apparently not the other benefit men have enjoyed for ages: The right not to work inside it. Even though men are now doing twice the housework and child rearing they were in the ’60s, studies show that even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two-thirds of the housework.

But it’s not just about housework, is it? Relationships themselves take work. And we all know who does the bulk of that work. Ask yourself: How many countless hours did you spend in pursuit of his happiness instead of your own, making sure his ego was massaged, his quality of life upheld, his needs taken care of, your needs communicated in the most amenable way? Then imagine if you’d spent half as many hours taking care of yourself as you did of him and the relationship. If housework is unequal between men and women, emotional caretaking is even less on par.

Consider, too, that the financial incentives to marry are no longer what they were. These days, women comprise nearly 60 percent of college graduates, and according to Census Bureau statistics, single urban women in their 20s actually out-earn their male peers. Throw in the fact that if you’re dying to have a baby, you can still do it and join the growing legions of single moms out there who are making a nice life for themselves without the presence of a traditional dad.

Add it up, ladies. Is the single life really that scary and unrewarding? Or does it offer its own deep pleasures and fine times? I’d vote for the latter.

Although being a happily single person does take practice, in my experience in writing about the single life, I can tell you that the happiest, least lonely singletons are those who actively maintain their work ties and friendships and get involved in community or religious activities they feel passionate about. That’s why my response about volunteering, while glib, is heartfelt—there’s no better way to meet great people of like minds.

To make the most of being single, it also helps to acquire a slightly tough hide. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that our culture is officially off its nut when it comes to weddings and marriage. It’s also hard to ignore relatives who cluck their tongues when you come to yet another family dinner solo and wonder out loud why you keep rejecting that nice friend of theirs who sells insurance over in Fremont.

But stand tall, single girl. Stop fretting about your ring finger, and worry more about finding your best self during a time that can be the most fabulous of your life. No perfume in the world is sexier than confidence—and no outlook more sustaining than one that actually bears up to reality.

Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: the Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife (Viking Adult) and the anthology Single Women of a Certain Age (New World Library). A journalist of almost 30 years, she is also codirector of Litquake.

*Published in the February 2011 issue of 7x7. Subscribe to 7x7 magazine here.


  1. Thanks for sharing, m! I agree- good article. I am fascinated though by everyones obsession over marriage, and think this has MUCH to do with our obsession over singledom and being in relationships. imagine- if marriage wasnt the end goal, would we really care so much about being single at any given time? As a single lady (cue music) with some not-so-great-marriage role models (and some great ones, to be fair) i can empathize with a lot of what she says about marraige being hard/not all its cracked up to be/women getting short end of the deal. But that being said, i still desire to have a healthy, happy lasting romantic/intimate relationship in my life and have it not lead to marriage. I think once we shift the focus off the end goal of marriage, we can talk more honestly and effectively about how women in their 20s/30s can strive to have meaningful romantic relationships in and of themselves, and deal with the people around them who dont "get it." because i think having a healthy relationship, when the goal is transitioned off "marriage" and onto "healthy relationship," can lead one more strongly to working towards the best self without the type of destructive sacrifice (different from compromise) she talks about that one often finds in marriage (not that it doesnt happen in other relationships for some people).

  2. i love this article! :) definitely makes me feel better about some of my life's choices...and also gives me some ideas, too! ;)

  3. Excellent article M! I agree. When I turned 28 a few weeks ago, several family members were like, now its time to settle down and get married and not move around so much and I've got a full time job now, so I can focus on a job. When I look back on how much I learned in my 20s and how I became comfy in my own skin, it's crazy to think that our culture is obsessed with throwing us into a marriage. How can we be married when we barely know ourselves and our own wants and needs? (To be fair, there are some people out there who at 19 know exactly who they are) How do we teach people to grow in a marriage at 23 is they still are growing as adults? All the focus on the wedding takes the focus on the growth and commitment. Finally, like Sarah, I think it takes focus away from the meaningful relationships we can and do form outside of the "protected" marriage bond and how to make them healthy.