I recently shared an article on Facebook and Twitter called "26, Unmarried and Childless," a moving, thoughtful essay about one woman's experience grappling with not feeling like enough, in a world that’s pushing her towards choices she isn’t equipped to make yet.
I shared the article because I'm also 26, unmarried and childless. Although those aren't the labels I’d use to describe myself. Today “7 and a half, barely solvent and begrudgingly sober“ seem more apt. Tomorrow the adjectives will probably be different. I’m an Aries, which means I spend most days knee deep in my emotions and these emotions change more frequently than Nicki Minaj changes wigs.
Despite my hope that people would notice the glaringly obvious (26 is an absurdly young age to worry about being alone and childless) most didn’t. Instead I received many messages, both publicly and privately, from those who assumed this was my story too.
Someone I haven't spoken to in months sent me a sequence of love hearts accompanied by the message "It'll be ok Christiana." I got a Facebook message from a stranger willing to rectify the situation by marrying me and then populating my uterus. It read like spam, except it wasn't.
I appreciate the sentiment. They were being caring and their intentions were well meaning. They assumed I needed their support. I don’t.
Ordinarily I’d prefer to have conversations that don’t revolve around my relationship status or the things in my life that are absent and that society incorrectly interprets as being indicative of a deficit.
I’d rather have conversations about coffee, John Coltrane, Syria, reality TV shows with odious cast members and how it’s possible to be fascinated by all of these things at once. I’d prefer to speak about some of the low-level ambitions in my life. Like how I one day intend on getting a cat. She will be named Diamond Pussy. I’ll raise her to be just like Beyoncé and teach her how to drink Whiskey (with me). This ambition is complicated by the fact I’m allergic to cats and don’t like them much (but that’s a technicality I’m willing to overcome).
Small talk with associates, acquaintances and distant family members tends to meander because nothing big or important fuses us together. Inevitably we wander down the road that’s signposted, “Ask Christiana about her relationship status.” I answer directly and confidently, “I’m single.”
It’s not as if I don’t see marriage and children in my future, but since we tend to inherit the strengths and weaknesses of our parents, I don’t think it’s wise to have anyone sub-let my uterus for 9 months until I rid myself of my habit of worrying about everything. Furthermore I’m still trying to find some balance in the relationship I have with the woman I stare at in the mirror. To add someone else to that equation isn’t a decision I’m taking lightly.
I’ve noticed that my singleness does odd things to people. It causes them to breech the social contract. They become intrusive and instructive, which under normal circumstances is no way to address an adult. However I’m a single woman, my kind need saving and infantilizing us is the surest way to ensure this mission is successful.
These reactions are hinged on a number of faulty assumptions. Namely that being a single woman is always a burden rather than choice and like all people who have the misfortune of carrying a heavy emotional load, a single woman needs some respite.
Firstly, they offer unsolicited advice about how I can cure myself of my inadequacy. My confidence must be a cover up. It’s a veneer, and underneath it there’s a woman in desperate need of company.
Then there’s the, “But you shouldn’t be single. It makes no sense!” exclamation, which I’m gathering is supposed to be a compliment, but I’ve concluded it’s something people say when they choose not to think about how choice works. Being single makes complete sense. Women are capable of exercising autonomy in the sphere of relationships. An expression of this autonomy may come in the form of choosing to navigate life without a partner.
Finally, I’m the recipient of an emotion I despise--pity. Minus the alarming state of my eyebrows (excessive threading and my right brow’s refusal to stay committed to its own growth means they resemble insolvency), there is nothing in my life that warrants pity.
Even if I were a miserable single woman desperate to escape her plight, pity wouldn’t be a helpful emotion. Pity disempowers. It causes you to sink lower into yourself, feel like terrible things are happening to you and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Pity will accentuate your feeling of otherness and confirms the cruel lie that life would like you to believe--that you are alone.
I despise pity, but I appreciate empathy. Empathy means that a person is able to cut into your emotional experience and stand alongside you. They aren’t making normative judgements about your choices rather they grasp what and how you feel.
Being single isn't an ailment and it doesn't warrant pity. It doesn’t need to be cured. I am not miserable. I do not need to be saved. And I certainly do not want your words of comfort. If you choose to give me anything, empathy’s preferred. If this doesn’t work I suggest you keep yourself where you belong--in your business.
My hope is that eventually society will accept that being a single woman and happy aren't mutually exclusive concepts. In the interim I'm going to keep walking down this interesting road. Hopefully a sassy hypoallergenic cat willing to live and drink whiskey with me finds me somewhere along the way.