Thursday 23 October 2014

Selfish? Sad? Crazy? No, just plain single

Published 22/09/2012 | 06:00

Only a fundamentally flawed woman avoids marriage, says a new book. So where does that leave Helen Croydon?I know what you're thinking: I'm going to die alone with cats. But this is a myopic vision

I've spent most of my life single. I've had a few long-term relationships and far more than my fair share of short-term ones, but I've always felt a greater zest for life when navigating the world alone.

My energy, my sense of adventure, my fitness, my career, my joie de vivre all seem to thrive when single.

I have loved men ferociously, but a part of me wilts when I belong to someone else.

But Why You're Not Married . . . Yet, a candid relationships guide published last week, suggests the reason a single woman doesn't have a ring on her finger is because she is either a bitch, shallow, a slut, crazy, selfish, a mess, hates herself, a liar, acting like 'a dude' (author Tracy McMillan is American and has been married three times) or thinks she is a goddess. There is a chapter devoted to each reason.

While the labels are tongue-in-cheek, McMillan's underlying message is that 'single' is a dreadful affliction.

Not only does this send the image of independent, modern woman back to the dark days of Bridget Jones, it is also way off the mark.

McMillan's advice may have been appropriate for the 1950s, seen by historians as the golden age of marriage because of the universal male-bread-winning, female-happy-homemaking, family-focused ideal. Back then, it was hard for a woman to imagine any other future.

Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, in her extensive study Marriage: A History, mentions a survey from 1957 that showed 80pc of people believed that anyone who preferred to remain single was "sick, neurotic or immoral".

In the 1950s, married couples represented 85pc of all households in the UK. Last year, this figure was 67pc. The number of "married" and "never married" women is predicted to be equal by 2031 -- evidence of how out of touch McMillan is.

To modern women, marriage is no longer Nirvana.

As a journalist specialising in relationships, I've met single women who have chosen to have babies through sperm donors, committed couples who live apart, single men and women who function as co-parents, asexuals, bisexuals, polyamorous 'triads' and all manner of different arrangements.

None of them seemed like sociopaths to me.

I'm not against relationships. In fact, for the first time in six years I am in one. It's wonderful.

A warm fuzz of shared intimacies, jokes and a constant narrative on someone else's life. But there are aspects of my single life that I miss, too: the freedom not to plan, more time to see my friends, and a seven-day staple of quality sleep.

I don't view coupledom as more or less honourable or enjoyable as singledom.

I've nothing against commitment, either. I've more than sated a thirst for sexual experimentation (and written a book about it).

Maybe we'll be together forever, or maybe we'll tire of each other, but marriage is not a goal.

If it happens, I won't feel a great sense of achievement or of completion. On the contrary, I think defining oneself through the legal, permanent association with another person is a cheap tactic for gaining self-esteem.

Telling women how to improve themselves to come by a spouse devalues marriage.

It makes it a fake accolade of success, like a designer handbag. People can love more fiercely and loyally without a ring and a ceremony.

I adore the man in my life, but I've made it clear that we won't be sharing front doors.

There is no nicer sound at the end of a full day than a handbag thudding on to the floor of an empty flat, the clicking on of lamps and the opening of the fridge to see what's there -- and finding everything is!

Unless I had children -- and, at 35, I haven't yet had one of those pangs -- I can't see one benefit of sharing living space.

Whoever thought that drawing a daily compromise agreement on everything from choice of wallpaper to what time you set the alarm clock was romantic needs their head examined.

I know what you're thinking: I'm going to die alone with cats.

But this is a myopic and selfish vision. Selfish because it presumes that we should use a relationship as an insurance policy: commit your life as protection against the possibility that you'll become lonely or dependent in later life.

One survey last month claimed 51pc of us are over-insured. And that, I doubt, doesn't include people staying in mediocre relationships just in case.

It's myopic because by the time I am 85, I doubt loneliness will be as menacing as it may be for today's octogenarians. The single women McMillan targets are children of the social networking revolution.

If I reach 85, whatever well-worn, wizened state I am in -- there will be many others like me, all using über-techy networking apps to be in touch with each other.

In the same week as McMillan's book was published, another book -- Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, by Canadian academic Michael Cobb -- argued that single people are marginalised.

Despite studies showing that marriage doesn't make us happier, he asks why we still put it on a pedestal.

He complains that in books and films, negative emotions such as despair, anxiety or isolation are always the lot of the singleton. No happy ending is complete until the protagonist is firmly attached.

Whenever I've been single, my friends have tried to do something about it. They'd get excited if I said a date was enjoyable -- as though there were hope for me.

I hear that marriage is "the hardest thing you can do", "the toughest test of character" and "living with someone requires compromise". Well, I concur. And that's why I'm staying well away.

'Sugar Daddy Diaries' by Helen Croydon (Mainstream)

Irish Independent

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