Why Should Single Women “Settle Down”?

Around the world, around the world
Around the world, around the world
-Daft Punk, Around The World, 1997
I live with words. They’re my passion, my livelihood, and now that we’re in a global pandemic they’re basically the best company I’ve got — though my French press coffee gives them a run for their money. I’ve never been a big fan of the words used to describe a woman who isn’t in a relationship. There aren’t too many positive euphemisms there, which is a big reason why I do this work in the first place. If all the messages we send out to single women are negative, I fear for our opinions of ourselves. While some words are degrading and some are just antique, there’s one way to talk about my romantic status that isn’t offensive, per se, it’s just kind of a bummer description? I’m talking about how I’m not “settled down.”
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Illustration by Vesna Asanovic
Settled down, for those who have never been single at Thanksgiving dinner, is another way to describe having found and formed a solid relationship with the person you’re going to be with “for the rest of your life.” I put these words in quotes because while we don’t have many words to describe impending marriage that aren’t overwhelmingly positive, I also know the current divorce rate. It’s hard to deny how nice “settling down” sounds to people. It’s the spoken equivalent of a nice cup of tea with a little shortbread biscuit on the side. Here, I’ll show you: 
“How’s Jane?”
“She’s doing well, she’s single.” 
“How’s Jane?”
“She’s doing well, she’s settled down.” 
Tell me you felt the same level of comfort in both of those scenarios and I will call you a liar to your face, then steal your shortbread biscuit. 
Settling down just sounds sad. It sounds like the end of adventure, the end of freedom, a massive societal “waa-waaahhhh” at the end of a game show. As though we’re these helium -filled, brightly colored objects floating around in the ether — but our freedom makes other people feel uneasy. They’d be much happier if we were neatly tethered to a park bench so we don’t float away forever. 
Illustration by Vesna Asanovic
To think of coupling as “settling down” implies we were previously up. I intend to stay “up” always, partnered or not. My freedom is a core value of mine, and any relationship that’s right for me won’t make me feel as though freedom is something I’ve given up in exchange for love. I’m still going to Paris by myself once a year, is what I’m saying. Also, I hate the idea that something ends when you partner. I love thinking of partnership as the beginning, and as an addition to an already full life. I don’t want my partnership to end a damn thing, I want it to mean that all sorts of new things are about to start. 
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I take no issue with partnering up. Quite the opposite. I look forward to it and I can’t wait to see what kind of couch we get. Where I feel the icks is when settling down makes the people who care about whomever just settled down feel so goddamned comfortable. Settling down is a sigh of relief for everyone who loves you — and I don’t like it. I don’t like that no matter what I accomplish in my life, none of it will make people stop worrying about me as much as getting married will. I still want to get married, I just want to be seen as a finished person before then. 
Illustration by Vesna Asanovic
If you’re a single woman (particularly in your 30s but maybe also any age?) there’s a sense that the world is waiting for you to finish. Like they’re all peering into the oven on the Great British Bake Off, wondering when the toothpick is going to come out clean. And while it’s fine if those who love us want love for us, what’s not fine is living life well into adulthood receiving message after message that you’re not there yet.
We’re human, and in some ways we’re pre-wired for accomplishment. It feels good to achieve things, to have goals and then to meet them. Part of how we know we accomplished something is that there’s typically a clear finish line. Our society is structured full of them.
I think we treat partnership like a kind of graduation. After formal education ends, there really aren’t any accomplishment milestones that occur, except for marriage and children, and then you start observing your children's milestones, and so the cycle continues into infinity. 
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But single women don’t graduate to that next section of life. We’re in a kind of odd holding pattern because, societally speaking, you can’t progress to the next level of the game alone. I, of course, think this is bullshit, and matriculated long ago. But society doesn’t back me up, and therefore it’s not backing up other single women, either. So I will
Illustration by Vesna Asanovic
I think we’re done. I think we’re fully cooked, absolutely complete human beings who deserve to receive the same kind of pride and confidence from their loved ones that partnered people do. I don’t want to live my life thinking everyone I care about is holding their breath for me. More than anything, when I do partner, I want the looks on their faces to be expressions of joy, not relief. Relief implies I’d been failing up until then. Joy implies they were proud of me all along. 
When I was a kid, “settle down” was what I heard when someone wanted me to quiet my emotions and excitement. I was suddenly being “too much” for the people around me and it was time to stuff me back into my well-behaved box, a place I’d come to spend an inordinate amount of my life. I came to understand it to mean “feel less.” Or, “be less.” Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time attributing the phrase to a happy ending. I think it’s possible to have something with someone that doesn’t feel like a slowing down or a calming, but instead a higher vibe, a fuller way to feel. Honestly, settling sounds like a shitty idea in any direction. Settle down? No... I don’t think we will. 

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