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any more, and even if they did, the idea that it is the tipple of choice for tragic, borderline dipso singletons is so out of date that it might as well be wearing shoulder pads.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?