Today the Huffington Post had a “debate” about whether or not women can or cannot be happy being single. This article automatically causes me to be defensive not only because I am happy as a single woman, but because NO ONE EVER asks whether men can be happy singles. This causes the perception that relationships exist only to please women and the men we partner with are just doing us a favor.
Debates like these are meant to reinforce the idea that for women, happiness is directly related to their relationship status, while for men happiness can be more strongly attributed to their job, how much money they make, or even how well the Mets played last weekend. This is dangerous because the more women hear that we can’t possibly be happy on our own, the more we believe it.
This repeated discussion is meant to shame women into refocusing our lives on the archaic, societal belief that a woman’s purpose in life is to find someone to complete her. It’s meant to make even those “selfish career-women” feel badly about not pursuing relationships because if they can’t be happy without a relationship, they are denying themselves their selfish desire for happiness by not conforming to society’s gender roles and hitching up with the first guy to look longingly at them.
Very rarely have I heard relationship gurus talk/write about men taking their part of the responsibility in a relationship. Advice is always directed to the woman and what she should be doing differently, how she should be the one spicing up the sex, how if she dare age or gain weight she deserves to be left. This is why assholes like Steve Harvey get to write books that tell them if they don’t keep up their appearance or sleep with their husbands regularly they can expect to be cheated on so women should forgive their cheating scumbag husbands, but women can’t be forgiven for infidelity. The closest relationship advice I’ve seen that respects and empowers women is from Yashar Ali, whose column I LOVE, but even though he regularly tells women that sometimes the problems are the man’s fault, his articles are still written for women not men, ergo relationships = women’s problem.
The other seriously terrifying notion that these debates put in the heads of women is ANY relationship is better than no relationship. I have no doubt that when I meet my soul mate, I will be significantly happier than I am now. But that doesn’t mean I am not happy now, and it doesn’t mean that any willy-nilly relationship I have until I meet my soul mate will make me any happier. To quote Samhita Mukhopadhyay, “And frankly, being alone is just more manageable and makes you happier than being in a relationship that’s the pits. So you didn’t marry him, even though you probably could have.” (And in fairness to Samhita regarding the previous paragraph, I have not yet had the opportunity to read her book.)
To be honest, I haven’t been happy in any of the relationships I’ve been in thus far. Sure, there were the couple of days when I was gushing because someone was actually interested in me. But after those short days, I was overwhelmed with feeling like one guy was trying to strip away my feminist identity, another though he was sweet and interesting ultimately couldn’t make the time for me that I needed for a relationship, and the last guy was hot, knew it, and ultimately cheated on me.
Terry McMillan’s argument annoyed me on a couple of different points. First though she conceded that women in their 20’s to mid-thirties could be happy being single, she didn’t consider them to be truly single because they probably had relationships even if they were only short-term. But even if they are in a relationship, women are considered single until there is a ring on her finger. However, that’s not why this part of her argument really bothers me though. It bothers me because even though your life my end up one way, it doesn’t mean that the rest of your life was any less fulfilling. It doesn’t even mean that you spent that part of your life in a desperate race to get to where you are now.
Second, she uses media as an argument. Because we have established that media accurately represents women, their wants and their needs. (Note the sarcasm). And she also assumes that women watch those shows for the end relationship, not for the catfights or drama or whatever else draws people to those shows – I just know it’s probably not the engagement at the end. As far as Say Yes to the Dress goes, yes, I am addicted. But not because I want desperately to get married. I watch it because I love pretty dresses! And to laugh at how much money people will spend on a dress. Really, if there were more occasions to wear over-the-top beautiful dresses that didn’t require a fiancée or husband, we might see a decline in women getting married…
And third, she uses babies/families as an argument. I would just like to note, that not all women want babies. So let’s stop ignoring them and give them some respect instead of demonizing them.
I love the way Anna David opened her argument for women being happy as singles,” Of course we can. Or let me rephrase: There are women who need relationships to be happy and women that don’t, and the most I can determine about the members of each group is that they spend a hell of a lot of time judging the other.”
I like this point because it says, Hey. Women, like men, are individuals and different things make us happy. Stop trying to sell us all the exact same package.
Or, if you can’t bear to stop pushing marriage on us singles, do us the common courtesy of pushing half of the responsibility on men.