Who Gets to Talk About the Single Experience?

by Sarah on February 6, 2014

MY friend shared this article on my Facebook page today (it’s not called a “wall” anymore, right?) and I noticed that the article rubbed me the wrong way despite it supposedly advocating on behalf of single people.

I’m still working on putting my finger on the whole reason I’m feeling so upset, but so far what I have identified is that it’s written by a now-married woman.

Now, single is sort of a weird group in this way because even people who aren’t part of the group most likely passed through at some point, at least in American culture. And like the article’s author, they may even have identified with being single, as opposed to folks who view themselves as just not-yet-married, or the ones who are so frequently in relationships that they never really have the experience of singler-hood.

In other words, the author was single long enough for it to become a part of her identity. She doesn’t seem to have been one of those just-passing-through people.

So why does it make me uncomfortable to have this woman ostensibly speaking for me? Especially when, theoretically, it’s an article written with the intention of inspiring more compassion towards single people… towards me… and asking others to stop putting us in boxes?

I think it boils down to the history of married people having more clout and being thought of as knowing better than single people.

Most single people out there know what it feels like to have a married person looking down on us with pity or disdain, trying to advise us on how to “do it right,” without any regard for our own preferences or choices or that fact that we are actually fully grown adult human beings who are able to determine our own life experience without guidance from married people. I think there is this idea of marriage as a rite-of-passage that lends credence to the voices of those who speak from that position.

And even if you haven’t had that experience personally (and trust me, I wish I hadn’t), it’s also pervasive in literature. There’s frequently an older sister or wiser best-friend to the sadly-single female protagonist, and that person serves as confidant, advisor and chaperone of sorts. Single folks are still seen as overgrown children in much of our media.

Then again, maybe at the root of the problem is the fact that I want to be the one writing about the single experience (although I don’t do a very good job of the actually writing part, sometimes.)

And maybe it’s a sense of betrayal. “If you think so damn highly of the single life,” my mind accuses the author, “why the hell did you give it up?”

There’s the underlying sense here, as in almost all articles of this ilk, that the non-single life is better or in some way holds the moral high ground. I know the author goes out of her way to imply the opposite, but there is something in the tone that doesn’t speak up for the virtues of the single life the way I (a bonafide single person and advocate) would.

I agree with what the author is saying, to a point. Overly glorifying the single life, even if it sounds like good PR, can be a bad thing. It puts pressure on people who are living that life sans glory who may feel like they’re doing it “wrong”, and that kind of disconnect may actually drive people away from giving it a fair chance. “My life isn’t turning out like Sex and the City. Maybe this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

That being said, I still feel strongly that I don’t want married people representing my lifestyle. The fact that they ended up in hetero-monogamo-socio-normative relationships seems to me to indicate that they don’t really get where I’m coming from.

But maybe if I feel that way, I need to start speaking up for myself instead.


What about you? What did you think of the article? Do you ever feel frustrated by the representations of single people in media?

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