12 April 2007

Singledom, or Single-dumb?

I am a woman who is single. In fact, I'm a woman who has had a divorce, but consider myself more single than divorced because I don't want my past relationships to define me. I'm not sure I want my current relationship status (single) to define me either, but considering the fact that this status affects many aspects of our lives (think taxes, employment, social standing, insurance rates) I'm willing to use it in some cases. I don't mind being single. I don't mind not having a man in my life because I know the work and tedium involved in keeping one happy. (And, dammit, next time I refuse to be responsible for his happiness! *Furiously taking down notes for a future post*)

I mention all of this because there is a cultural construct in our society that favors coupled people over single ones. Or, more accurately, favors heterosexual couples. I have firsthand experience with this, especially since moving to Virginia.

The place I live isn't exactly rural, but it's a tiny town surrounded by rural areas. There's a definite downtown and definite suburbs, maybe even exurbs. While I'm most comfortable in large cities, small towns have benefits, too. But, one thing I've noticed is that this small town isn't friendly at all to uncoupled people. Many of the social activities are geared toward families, children, couples. People seem very isolated from one another, except in their tight-knit and seemingly impenetrable families/cliques. You can imagine how difficult it has been for me living here as an uncoupled woman who knows nobody.

But I've also had some very blatant "single-dumb" experiences. The first was a dinner at a college administrator's house. I received an invitation in the mail, it seemed lovely, so I responded that I would attend. I understood that it would be a very small gathering, about ten people total. I was actually quite excited since this would give me a chance to speak with colleagues I don't interact with very often while probably eating a good meal.

I showed up at the administrator's house, eager for the evening's events, and was struck by what I saw as I entered the door. One of my colleagues was standing in the receiving room with an unfamiliar man. I'd never seen him before, and I wondered if he was a new professor, so I worked my way over to introduce myself. It turned out that he was the husband of my colleague.

Okay, that's odd, bringing your SO to dinner at an administrator's house. "Party foul!" I thought, imagining myself spilling the contents of my wineglass over her head. How unprofessional, right? As we talked, the rest of the guests arrived, each with a spouse. I started to get the hint, so I walked over to the host of the dinner and asked, "I didn't know we could bring a guest, how foolish of me!" I was thinking that I could have invited my (then) current flame, although I would hesitate because he'd probably be bored. "Yes, we have a list of everyone's spouse in our directory, so we invited them as well. But since you aren't married, we only addressed your invitation to you."

This next thing actually happened, I shit you not. The room fell quiet. The only reason my face blushed was because all eyes were on me, burning my skin. (In case you haven't noticed, I don't like attention and prefer anonymity.) Well, that, and the fact that I felt like a complete troll since someone thought it was appropriate to point out that I'm not married, and this is supposedly a bad thing. The colleague mentioned above broke the silence with, "I didn't know you weren't married." Thus began an interesting night.

When we sat down to dinner, I was the odd person out. Everyone was talking about their spouses, so I talked about my (then) current flame as though he were sitting at home feeling left out. I wish I hadn't done that. I wish I had the confidence to relish my independence in front of these people, who were so smug with the fact that they had someone to go home with and argue about the kids' homework/messy house/walking the dog/not being in the mood. Instead, I felt singled out, and bullied. The colleague quietly said to me, in a very passive aggressive way, "I don't think I could come to one of these things alone." Well, I can't imagine bringing a SO to such an event. Why would I bore him with the tedium of academia?

The second instance of "single-dumb" might be better classified as "singlism". Yesterday, I was looking at the website of a semi-local zoo. I clicked on the "Events" link to see if there was anything interesting coming up. There was, so I clicked on "More Information" to see about getting tickets. For me, the tickets would have cost $15. Not much. But for a "couple" they would only cost $25. So, if you happen to be one of the preferred "coupled" folks, you get a $5 discount on the event. I cannot see any reason why it should be cheaper for a couple to attend than for one person alone. I can understand advance tickets being cheaper, or tickets purchased online, simply because of the overhead required to sell tickets at the event. But is it really cheaper to feed a couple than it is to feed one person? Does the couple get a smaller plate? Or maybe they don't get salad or dessert? Somehow, I doubt it.

I know that many charity events sell tickets this way. I think it's repugnant. If I ever organize an event for charity, I will be strongly tempted to make the ticket for the single person cheaper than the ticket for the couple, considering that the single person probably only has one income to work with and has probably payed for being single in the past. (Okay, I admit it, I'd really just like to stick it to all those singlist assholes.)

To top all of this off, homosexual couples are almost invisible in many parts of the US. Do I think that the college would have acknowledged a homosexual couple and invited the SO to dinner at an administrator's house? Hell no. I know many people who love the homosexual folks in thier lives, but just wish they'd "get over it" and settle down with an opposite sex partner. Because, you know, being in a homosexual relationship doesn't count. You can't get married and have kids, and we all know that the planet needs more kids!

It's amazing that more than half of all women in the US are single, but we still treat coupledom as an ideal. Maybe when more than half of the men in the US are single, people will start looking at relationships differently, because THAT would be a crisis. Right? RIGHT?

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