The Many Labels of a Singler

by Sarah on June 18, 2013

hello-my-name-is-singlerSometimes labels can be really useful; They can help define our sense of identity, allow us to describe ourselves easily to others, and give us a sense of belonging.

But for marginalized groups like singlers, labels are often complicated.

The label “single,” for example, has been corrupted. No longer meaning, “a person who is not in a relationship,” it now carries a negative connotation. A single person is seen as a person who must be looking for a relationship. It’s considered by most of society to be a temporary, and sad, state of existence.

Of course, there are plenty of other labels singlers may apply to themselves. Some singlers, for example, might be asexual, although not all asexual folks are necessarily single or singlers.

Singlers may be divorced, never-married, widows, widowers, single parents or child-free individuals. Singlers may fit into any one of these groups, but they may not necessarily feel a sense of belonging due to their additional identity as singlers.

The category of labels that proves most intensely challenging for me is the category in which we try to describe modes of connecting, or different ways in which we relate to other people.

For example, I’ve had the conversation twice in the past week about whether I would consider myself poly, and the short answer is “sort of.”

A few months ago, I read The Ethical Slut, and was both happy and sad to find that there was only one chapter about folks who choose to live singly. While the book was well-written, informative and useful in many ways, I felt like a footnote.

Did I fit into this world? Well, sort of.

I mean, there was a chapter.

But most of the book was dedicated to poly “relationships” in all of their various configurings (or as many as would fit in one book, anyway), and so it didn’t really seem to apply to me.

The beautiful part of the term “poly” is that it can be fairly inclusive and is often already used to describe a wide variety of very different types of shiop configurations.

On the other hand, it’s hard to consider myself part of a group where, at least as far as it’s been presented to me, a large majority of the people have very different lifestyles, goals and challenges than I do.

On the other other hand, I suppose that’s only true insofar as I choose to look at it that way. We’re all individuals and within any group, people may vary widely. This doesn’t necessarily affect individual’s abilities to identify with the group. And yet, I’m still just not sure.

I certainly like the people. To make a rather large generalization, I tend to like poly or poly-friendly people more than non-poly folks, if for no other reason than that they have done a lot more of the work of figuring out what they actually want/need in the world, how to set boundaries, how to communicate effectively, and how to see beyond what the mainstream says is normal. On the average, they tend to have done a lot more self-work than those who just accept monogamy as the default.

But do I belong? I’m left wondering.

In a similar vein, I had a conversation with a friend the other night who I was seeing-ish for the last five or six years, in which we were talking about why we never formally dated. But even while he was explaining his reasoning, he was also trying to tell me that he considered us sort of having dated-ish.

It doesn’t quite make sense when I try to describe it that way, and it didn’t even quite make sense when he was saying it because we’re not equipped to talk about these things. The language for whatever it was that he and I shared doesn’t exist in any dictionary that I’m aware of.

I had a realization similar to his a few years ago when one of my non-relationship “shiops” was coming to an end. I felt sad about it, and also felt some weird shame about feeling sad. Because I didn’t have a word for what the relationship was, I didn’t feel it was legitimate to mourn it’s passing.

How very wrong I  was.

This is why I co-opted the word “shiop” to mean what “relationship” should actually mean... any way in which two people relate to one another. Without it, we literally don’t have words in our language to talk about things that aren’t conventional dating, monogamous relationships. Phrases like “open relationship” are okay, but there are a ton of connotations that come with the word “relationship” that don’t necessarily go away just by adding a modifier. An “open relationship,” to me, is one specific configuration that doesn’t begin to cover the range of possible configurations or experiences.

And when we don’t have the words, then we don’t have the capacity to talk about and process experiences that don’t fit into the mainstream idea of what is “normal.”

And that, my friends, is what leads to marginalization, isolation, discrimination, and a whole host of other bad things.

I’m adamant about creating an identity for singlers because we need one. Our lives and our existences are valid, and so we need words to describe ourselves.

Singlers deserve meaningful labels too.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kylie June 19, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I’m glad you mentioned The Ethical Slut, because that book has been such a great resource for poly and poly-curious folks. And you would think that it would be more inclusive of singlers, but I see why it isn’t, because poly is so not the norm in our society that there’s a lot to say about it. But now that I’m reading your pieces, I’m realizing how much of a dearth of information and community there is for singlers. Which makes me think, oh my gosh! man! Sarah! You need to write this book! I mean, no pressure. But I think it would be incredible and that there’s a definite need for it. So if you ever do start thinking about book-writing, know that I’m in full support. ♥

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Sarah June 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hahaha, I have so many books I want to write! But thanks for the inspiration, Kylie. 🙂 I will definitely consider it. There are some great books about living the single life (Single By Choice and The Spinsterlicious Life are my faves so far), but none of them particularly address it from a poly perspective. I’m not actually sure how either of those women handle the line between dating and single-hood, so I can’t speak for them, but I do feel like I have a unique angle on this. The question is, are there others who are interested in reading it? I feel like there must be, right? Even if they don’t know it yet… 🙂

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Cat June 19, 2013 at 3:26 am

Language is so important. And while sometimes I despair over people (mostly queer youth) boxing themselves in with label after label and agonizing to find a set of obscure words that fit, I realize it is very important to have words we can use to share ourselves, our goals, identities, experiences…. I like the term Singler. I’m going to use it in life whenver I can.

“…if for no other reason than that they have done a lot more of the work of figuring out what they actually want/need in the world, how to set boundaries, how to communicate effectively, and how to see beyond what the mainstream says is normal. On the average, they tend to have done a lot more self-work than those who just accept monogamy as the default.’

And this is why, though I am only maybe monogamish myself at most, I feel I have learned SO MUCH from my fleeting experiences in poly configurations and am very comfy having such a relationship with my current partner. (Sorry Singlers, just an ally here….)

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Sarah June 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Yay!!! So much love. And thanks for helping spread ‘singler.’

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Max June 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Ah, this is so good! I had a similar painful episode when an un-label-able relationship ended some years ago. Now, I too see how unnecessary it was to pile shame on top of the pain. And these days I throw labels around with mad abandon. Unilaterally. Ha!

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Sarah June 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Yes! Not being able to talk about things creates shame about them. Finding out that the thing has a name can really help dissolve some of that shame. Great point, Max, thanks!!

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Rob June 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm

It takes bravery to be vulnerable and authentic like this, but I’m so glad you have. I’m all for any kind of discussion which challenges people’s preconceptions about we we “should” behave. My own view is pretty liberal – I’m happy for anybody to live in any way they please, provided they aren’t hurting anyone. Well done! I’ll follow this blog with interest.

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