Monday, 6 July 2009

Stupidest headline of the week (and it's only Monday)

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am considering collecting a series of idiotic headlines and making them into a book. It would be more socially relevant than a book of quotations, a state of the nation kind of thing. It would reveal The Way We Live Now. Or, it would just show the horrid prejudices of certain newspapers and would achieve nothing except the blindingly obvious.

Today’s candidate for worst headline is: The Art of being Single – Stop sobbing into your Chardonnay, being single does not have to mean sad. (I don’t know if you have ever seen the sweet but slight film You Got Mail, but if you have you will remember Tom Hanks writing Meg Ryan a lot of emails, and when he wrote something that he thought was too sappy or idiotic he would screw up his face and waggle his head from side to side in disgust and narrow his eyes and pull his mouth into a grimace; well, I am doing that exact same thing now. Just so you have the visual.) There are several vacuously stupid things about this headline, and if that’s a tautology I am not going to apologise for it, that’s how cross I am. First of all: no one drinks Chardonnay any more, and even if they did, the idea that it is the tipple of choice for tragic, borderline dipso singletons is so out of date that it might as well be wearing shoulder pads. Everyone knows that single women drink Grey Goose martinis, straight up, with three olives. Second of all: the assumption behind the headline is that all single women are so brainless that they ascribe any moments of sadness in their life to their lack of coupledom. It is so reductive that it practically eats itself. All humans suffer from melancholy, whether they are married or single, gay or straight, white or brown. Third of all: it perpetuates the false divide between the hitched and the unhitched, which is so staggeringly dull and wrong that if I have to think about it for one more moment I shall start banging my head on the desk. And fourth of all: it obscures the fact that the actual article is a reasonably nuanced examination of one woman’s life post divorce (turns out, she chooses to look on the bright side).

Whatever is happening in the news – however bearish Russia grows, however tumultuous the streets of Iran, whatever those fascisti Burmese generals are up to – through it all runs the low hum of The Problem of the Single Women, as if that is really what is important. The newspapers cannot leave it alone. They run ghoulish articles about ‘unlucky in love’ Kylie or Renée or whoever it happens to be that week. The ‘epidemic of childlessness’ is another favoured headline. Occasionally they throw in a token article about how being on your own is not really that bad, but their hearts are not in it. And all the time I grow crosser and crosser, at the clichés, the mild bigotry, the lazy thinking.

Here is what makes you demented when you choose to live alone: that you have to explain it all the time. Because marriage is assumed to be the default position, most especially for a woman, most especially for a woman of child-bearing age, if you reject it, you must tell everyone why. (I am thinking of printing up a little pamphlet which I can distribute whenever I get the quizzical look and the inevitable question, or, even more crazy-making, the knowing ‘Oooooohhhhh, reeeeaaaallly?’, just to save time and sanity.) No one marches up to a married person and says: ‘Did you really consider that you were emotionally evolved enough to pledge the rest of your life to one human? Did you do it for the right reasons? Are you sure you were not just marrying your father in an excessively Freudian manner?’ No one says that, and it is absolutely correct that they do not. But faced with a renegade single, no such restraint applies. Maybe they think we can take it, because we are so freakily beyond the pale that we have lost any shred of social nicety ourselves and so must get doses of our own medicine. Or something.

Here is what I think happens: some people get married, and some do not. Some people wish they could get married but cannot find the right person. Some people find the right person and get a horrible shock when the right person turns into the wrong person and goes off and shags the secretary. Some single people are happy, and some are not. Some married people are so crushed by loneliness that they do not know what their names are, and can barely make it out of the house in the morning. Some people who live alone find solitude their highest balm in a fervid world. Everyone is different. It is not a huge sociological drama. It just is what it is. So could everyone just stop with the stupid headlines and write about something more interesting?


  1. All my single female friends are confident, gorgeous and would NEVER consider crying into Chardonnay. At least two of them actively don't want to be half of a couple, as they feel their lives are so well-organised to their own tastes that they wouldn't want to have to, say, move the coffee table or wear clothes when drifting from bathroom to kitchen...
    My single male friends, on the other hand... mostly one can tell why they're still single...

  2. Lucy Fishwife - Ah yes, the gender gap. Lots of statistics on this one, actual scientific data about men doing less well on their own than women. And yet the Chardonnay-weeping stereotype persists. What happened to empiricism, I should like to know?

  3. Would this be a bad time to tell you I bought a bottle of Chardonnay last week, and that I'm single? I promise I didn't cry into it though, just made spritzers with it instead. As soon as I typed that I wondered if that would reveal me to be a Bridget Jones type. Hope not.

    I agree with everything in the last paragraph, but Everyone Is Different doesn't really make a good headline does it? Especially for the Daily Mail (is that where the original one came from?)

    I'm very happily divorced, and while single I don't cry about it...well, not often anyway. I dont' think I want a conventional relationship again, I'd much prefer a 'living together but apart' situation where you both keep your own place and meet up when it suits. Now if I could just find a suitable candidate...

  4. notSupermum - I too dream of an eventual separate houses deal, although not just yet. Too much writing to do at the moment to concentrate on an accomodating gentleman (or accomodating a gentleman). I very much like the idea of visiting, I think it's too civilised for words.

  5. Although not exactly on the same topic, I did feel slightly enraged by the Sunday Times sports section, where yet another epic and brilliant women's Wimbledon final was relegated to P4. The Williams sisters are epoch-making in their tennis - whatever your feelings, although mine do border on adulation, partic for Serena and her sheer animal power - but naturally the football story and the Lions story took prominence. Obviously, men do read this section more than women, I suspect, but it's hardly engaging with a new demographic if the excellent achievements of women in sport (cricket and football too) are continually pushed to the back pages.

  6. This is officially my favorite blog post of all time. I absolutely agree with everything said. I'm a writer trying to land a great agent who will help me get published. I work part time and go to college full time. I will graduate in May and when I do I will be co-writing health books with my boss. Do you see any free time in there for a man? Haha I don't! Some people dream about having a family and completing their world that way. I dream about creating worlds, period. I don't have time for a man to hold me back. If I could find one that complimented my passion, that would be awesome. But there aren't many of those my age. Lead on single, dreaming, complete, tough women. I'm right behind you.

  7. Jo - never understand the sports thing either. I wrote a whole post about Nina Carberry to let off steam about it.

    Kori - what an absolutely lovely thing to say. Hurrah for you, and I hope your writing career blossoms.

  8. just well HURRAH.


    ps adjoining yet separate houses has always been my idea of heaven

  9. Completely agree with LLG. The life of Ms Bonham Carter and Mr Robbins for me please.

    I just can't stand it that those most clever, witty and beautiful friends of mine who have had the courage to walk away from unhappy relationships in their mid thirties are made to feel like there is something wrong with them for doing so. Why would they ever stay in miserable relationships? Because of articles like this trying to make us believe single = tragic.

    Well said Tania.

  10. Another brilliant article.
    I was single for quite some time, and it was really only too much champagne that made me cry (still does for some reason) anyway. For the last 4 years I have been living wih a lovely lovely man.
    But it is hard. I'm amazed we manage it but suspect it is because we have an allotment each with two sheds, and an overly chatty down stairs neighbour that the OH has adopted and dissappears off to to sort out his love life/bills/garden affording me the solitude I still love.
    I would love the same street two houses scenario if I had the pocket for it (and so would he I rather think) doesn't Margret Drabble have that arrangement?
    I don't know why single women are cast as they are, it's an old script, outdated and irrelevant. And really bears no relation to the experience of myself or my friends, male or female.


    Again, not exactly on topic but thought this might be of interest to you all....

  12. LLG - Hurrah right back at you. So agree about adjoining houses - the romance of the connecting door.

    MissMthebeekeeper - (Do you really keep bees? Such a lovely thought.) Cannot understand why the single=tragic story still gets written with such frequency against all available evidence.

    EdwynUK - so interesting that even with a lovely man it can still be complicated. That's the nuance that never gets noticed. Also I would say: life is complicated, single or coupled up. (Thank goodness you have the heavenly digging dog, most uncomplicated thing in the world.)

    everybodysaysdont - thank you so much.

    Jo - shall go and check out the New Statesman piece as soon as I can tear myself away from the Ashes.


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