Rebecca Traister writes in her 2016 book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women & the Rise of an Independent Nation, that “there is an assumption, put forth by everyone from greeting card companies to Bruce Springsteen, that nobody likes to be alone, least of all women. But many women, long valued in context of their relations to other people, find solitude—both the act of being alone and the attitude of being independent—a surprisingly sweet relief.”
Personally, singledom is my natural state of being, so Traister’s book validates my—along with an increasing number of women’s—choice to embrace spinsterhood, old-maidism or whatever the epithet du jour is to hurl at single women.
While long-term, monogamous, two-person heterosexual relationships are still the norm, marriage serves less of a purpose. It harks back to a time when women were property and, more recently, needed a man to be able to obtain credit cards and worth in society. Modern partners are having kids and buying homes together before putting a ring on it, which are far more binding than marriage. Perhaps the only value marriage still holds is for non-hetero couples that aren’t granted its privilege, but that still leaves single women out in the cold and doesn’t take into account the different types of relationships we have.
Melbourne-based writer Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen’s last relationship was long-distance in its final year, “so I learned to be independent from that, which I found really useful and I’ve always been the type to want to have separate lives from a partner anyway,” she tells me.
And just think of all the money we’re obligated to spend on celebrating the legal union of those close to us and everything that comes with it: engagement and bachelor/bachelorette parties, kitchen teas, bridal showers, the wedding, baby showers, first birthdays… this isn’t to mention the cost of the actual wedding to the bride and groom, which can be upwards of $35,000 in Australia. As writer and Fusion editor Dodai Stewart tells Traister, “If these women are living in a dual-income household, why am I buying them a present?”
Even for women who share-house or live at home (guilty!), we may be cost-saving on our living expenses but we’re forking out more in other arenas. Car payments, travel accommodations, subscriptions, memberships and bills that might otherwise be split with a partner all cost single women more, even before the wage gap is factored in.
If I wasn’t single, I’m not sure I’d have the opportunity to live at home, two hours away from my job and friends, for the past year while I save for a three-month sabbatical in New York. I wouldn’t be able to juggle my day job and freelancing with the added demands of a partner, spending my free time and money on myself while relishing being selfish. Furthermore, I don’t have any designs on owning my own home, which is near-impossible on a single woman’s wage, and I don’t want kids so a biological clock isn’t urging me to find a partner.
Nguyen agrees, savouring the small things. “I do find I have a lot more time to read because I’m not sharing a bed with someone every night and have those few hours alone,” she says.
Only having myself to rely on means I’m not afraid to go places alone and I know how to change a lightbulb, kill a spider and care for myself when I’m sick. I’m often amazed that my coupled-up friends have to wait til their partner gets home to pirate Game of Thrones or fix their car ‘cause they don’t know how to.
I do find I have a lot more time to read because I’m not sharing a bed with someone every night and have those few hours alone.
Writing from an entirely white, straight, middle-class perspective, marriage and coupling up may not be an imperative for me, but I understand that for many women hitching your wagon to an upwardly mobile partner is sometimes the only way to get ahead. It’s all well and good for single, white women to flip the gendered switch and take advantage of the “domestic infrastructure” offered to single women in the city, but this perspective (which Traister is guilty of prioritising in All the Single Ladies) ignores the women who still provide this poorly paid labour.
Nguyen, who comes from a Vietnamese background, writes openly about casual sex. When I ask about her parents’ response, she tells me that “they really don’t care, surprisingly,” about her unattached lifestyle. “[My mum] recently told me that she’d rather [my sisters and I] stay single forever than get into awful relationships with shitty people.”
Women such as Traister, Nguyen and Neha Kale writing about contentment with living the single life normalises a long-reviled relationship status and show that single women can and do forge ahead, even if society does make it harder for us.
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