“What have you been up to?” an old friend asks at a local restaurant in Seattle.
I paused, took a deep breath, and blurted out, “I’m working on my master’s degree in nutrition, I managed to heal that digestive disease I’ve had since 17! Which was really hard!! I traveled abroad last year and I’m juggling a couple of part-time jobs now while in school”
I smiled broadly, knowing what was coming next and dreading it.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
My smile wavered. I’d just mentioned healing a disease, acquiring a degree, and traveling the world, but none of that was valued as much as my next answer.
This is what I wanted to say: “I went through basically a divorce from someone I loved madly, followed by being dumped by my best guy friend and then a brief, disastrous engagement with a European man who was not nice to me. All by the age of 25. My heart has been shredded, faith tested, my spirit wrecked. All I want to do right now is heal my body and my heart and figure out who the heck I am. Do I even like Chinese food or did I just eat it because my ex liked it? Do I want to be a relationship? Do I want to date women? Do I believe in marriage? I am not even 30 years old, and I feel like an old lady, battered and bruised, unsure of who I am and the direction I’m headed. So, no, I don’t have a boyfriend currently.”
Instead, I said “haha, like I have time.”
She rolled her eyes, said “Yeah, right” and walked off.
No words of support for healing my disease. No encouragement for getting into grad school. No excitement to hear my travel stories.
The truth is she just said out loud what all women sense, and feel, and are hyper aware of since we are in elementary school.
Am I likable? Will anyone date me? Will anyone love me?
One reason I’ve been terrified to write these *women* stories is because I worry it will make me “unloveable!” At 46 years old, the conditioning is that deep and ingrained. How fucked up is THAT?
I tell myself: I will find the people who will love me for me, not for what I may pretend to be (like I can even manage to *pretend* anything, I SUCK at it).
Women as well as men are taught to value women based on their “accomplishment” of “landing a man” (barf, even typing this makes me nauseous). I mean the scene with the Smug Marrieds in Bridget Jones is from 2001! 17 years have gone by and I can promise you every one of my single friends still has to ENDURE that bullshit at gatherings.
Why is married/partnered still the default?
How are we going to move forward and become enlightened as a human race if we’re still stuck on the nuclear family as the only *acceptable* narrative?
I don’t know why I never swallowed that as a kid. Maybe it’s because I was helping raise six younger siblings and cousins at a young age in a family that didn’t have much money.
I didn’t see any glamour. All I saw was work. Unpaid. Without benefits.
I watch reality TV every once in awhile these days and I’m shocked at how many young women desperately want that narrative, without really understanding what it requires. I’m all for people getting together. I just hope they are mature and *truly* ready for it.
How did we come so far in the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s, and end up here?
We have definitely made *some* progress. We talk about getting girls to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). We talk about raising gender neutral kids. We talk about so many things.
But are we *really* telling little girls that THEY ARE VALUABLE AND LOVABLE EXACTLY AS THEY ARE and IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY END UP WITH SOMEONE OR NOT?
There is really powerful messaging when we say to little girls “hey check out the woman reading alone on the beach. That looks so relaxing and fun. I hope you have time in your adult life by yourself, to explore who you are, and enjoy the world with only yourself to worry about. And if you decide to live that way for a long time, I totally support that.”
People are more likely to tell kids that they will be loved straight, gay, trans and non-binary than mention anything about ending up single!
In some respects, this post is cathartic. I am writing what I need to say to myself: no matter how you live, you are lovable, you are worthy, you are awesome (ok I added that last one for a little ego boost!)
Whatever path we choose - and I know I’m in excellent company because I know some pretty amazing women that did the same as me - we should be celebrated.
So I am saying it out loud, to myself, to little girls and boys, to all my friends, readers: no matter what your *marital* status (ugh, that’s still part of the description!), you are valuable. You are lovable. You are amazing exactly as you are, all by yourself.
“Activists say that unmarried people are systematically discriminated against. ‘Singleism—stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single—is largely unrecognized and unchallenged,’ says activist Bella DePaulo, the author of Singled Out. “The penalties for being single in this country are worse than in Europe, where individuals have guaranteed access to health care, and they have options beyond a spouse’s death benefits for staying above the poverty line as they age.”
Photo #3b. This is part of a writing project where I challenge myself to write 700-1000 words per day - not in advance - for 30 days using old photos and different writing prompts. This particular set of stories will focus on my experiences as a (white) Gen X woman and experiencing America pre- and post- #metoo movement.