Please Stop Asking Me Why I'm Single
My first and only official romantic relationship started with a kindergarten classroom, some chicken-egg incubators, and a surprising amount of bravado. We were 5 years old and shared a stolen moment in the storage room of our class’s science project. When the baby chicks hatched, we declared our love for each other, and I knew it was meant to be. Sadly, kindergarten love is fickle, and he ended up “dating” another girl in our class within a week. Suffice to say, I’ve been single ever since.
It’s not that I am scarred by this cold sting of young love or that I’m relationship-averse, quite the opposite. Throughout high school, I had a few situationships, but the interactions never grew into anything official. Unfortunately, the details of my limited romantic life, and therefore singledom, are difficult to explain, especially to inquisitive family members and friends. Feeling awkward or discomforted by my singleness, they nearly always throw out variations of the same line: “How are you still single?”
A backhanded compliment at best, the rhetorical question doesn’t sadden so much as annoy me. Firstly, in my experience, this question is more commonly directed toward women than men. Additionally, the comment is an extension of sexist stereotypes and societal gender roles that imply a woman’s happiness is reliant on her relationship with someone else.
I know that the people who care for me mean well and that they want me to find love just as much as I do. However, good intentions don’t exactly soften the blow of the “single status” question. The “single woman” stereotype has a long and painful history of alienating and othering female-identifying individuals. Of course, there are several variations: “the emotionally-cold woman” trope, the dismissive “her standards are just too high,” and of course, the inane “spinster” categorization.
While there are certainly cultural and media exceptions, for example, even Carrie Bradshaw ends up with Mr. Big in Sex and the City. Because of sexist stereotypes, real-life women have little room to savor their periods of independence. Instead, we feel pressured to show that we are capable of being loved and worthy of romantic attention.
Researchers Chelsea Pickens and Virginia Braun note the following in their report titled “‘Stroppy Bitches Who Just Need to Learn How to Settle’? Young Single Women and Norms of Femininity and Heterosexuality”: “Women’s experiences of being single were inextricable from their wider experiences of heterosexuality and pressures to enact a ‘desirable’ femininity.”
Noting how expectations regarding child-bearing factor into this phenomenon, Pickens and Braun identify the patterns of pressures felt by single women. The top four pressures observed were expectations of beauty standards, allowance for aspects of male superiority, gendered standards of sexuality, and mandatory (heterosexual) coupling by a certain age. These themes were proven to deter women from seeking out romance, some feeling overwhelmed and strained by stereotypes.
Another popular assumption surrounding single women: an independent, professionally successful, female-identifying person is considered too masculine to obtain and retain the attention of a man. Her accomplishments are attributed to her callous nature, instead of intellectual savvy, representing how the gender binary dictates mainstream cultural values. This perversion of gender roles hints at Pickens’s and Braun’s discussions of heteronormativity.
Communications consultant and author Ellie Mae O’Hagan gathered responses from single women, inquiring about their experiences with similar stereotypes.
“Despite the contentment of the single women I spoke to, in all there was a shared frustration with the fact that others couldn't seem to comprehend their choices,” O’Hagan said in an article for The Guardian. “Many spoke of being handled with kid gloves by other couples, being pigeonholed as ‘workaholics’ by family members, or generally dealing with bafflement at the sight of their un-wedding-ringed fingers. In a society where a man is not simply a provider and a woman is more than a wife, our popular culture seems to be wearily stuck on repeat—churning out the same tired ideals of dependent Cinderellas and moneyed Prince Charmings.”
This suggests that while many single women may want relationships, they mostly want others to stop asking why they’re single. I couldn’t agree more.
Now, it’s true, I am not on “The Bachelor” actively searching for contrived love and my 15 minutes of fame. However, I am open to and hope to find love in my everyday life.
In reality, my kindergarten ex-boyfriend ended up relocating out of state in the following years, and he eventually came out to his friends and family. Remembering our diverging paths, so different from our interaction in the storage room, makes me laugh. Still, I like to think he taught me something about love. In order for me to find my person, I will continue to reject the stereotypes and embrace the possibilities.
(Photographed by Sofia Farres)
Originally published in the April 2022 issue of Your Magazine.