“Sunny Day / Sweepin' the clouds away / On my way to where the air is sweet” - Sesame Street
Walking home from dinner with a friend recently, she told me how she stopped seeing someone. They’d been dating for several months when he suddenly just… changed his mind. He didn’t want a girlfriend anymore, he wanted to be free, and he walked away from their relationship in a matter of moments. As my blood boiled on her behalf, she said something that really got me thinking about what being single in our society is doing to women. She said she was ashamed that she didn’t see it coming.
Think about the implications of that. Of thinking we’re somehow less intelligent or perceptive because we couldn’t spidey sense the behaviors of a mid-30s male who behaves like a feral cat. She thought she should have known that enjoying time with the same human woman on a regular basis for months was going to freak him out (as opposed to, I dunno, bring him joy?), and that she should have kept her head on a distrustful swivel rather than keep her heart and mind open to beautiful possibility. The greatest trick society ever pulled on single women was making us think that literally everything is our fault.
There’s a lot of shame around single. I’ve felt it my entire life. From a broad, societal view, there’s something wrong with me.
There’s a lot of shame around single. I’ve felt it my entire life. From a broad, societal view, there’s something wrong with me. Why is she single? What’s wrong with her? It’s assumed. I live knowing there are assumptions made about me that I can’t change, so I feel ashamed. And then when I try to not be single anymore, I get a text from a stranger online asking if I’ll send him photos so he can masturbate, making me feel ashamed again. Then, if I date someone, when he flakes or ghosts or decides I’m not exciting enough for him, he dissipates, and I feel ashamed for not seeing it coming. The shame of being single comes at me from every angle. I’m on Hell’s little hamster wheel and I’ll not have this bullshit anymore.
The idea that being single is bad and being part of a couple is good makes me the recipient of societal pity is tired and out-of-date, but no less alive. The sad, empathetic head tilt. The pat on the arm. The pouty mouth. The “I’m sure you’ll meet someone”comments I didn’t ask for. My inherent implied wrongness. The thing about me I need to fix, because isn’t it so embarrassing? You’re the only single woman at this table, Shani, isn’t that embarrassing? You’re the only single relative Shani, isn’t that embarrassing? You’re going to be 37 in 11 days Shani, and you’ve never been married and you have no kids. Isn’t that embarrassing? Isn’t what you are embarrassing?
These are the default, assumed-negative energetic feedings I get any time my singleness is brought up. It’s the first topic of conversation that’s applied to me anywhere outside of my closest circles who now know better. It’s the small talk stamp on my ass that won’t wash off. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in terms of elevating my single mindset but my God why is it so hard to be single around people you don’t see all the time?
That’s where those damned holiday survival guides come from. They’re there to help us absorb the shame without collapsing. We’ve trained our best friends well enough to not inflict verbal pain but Aunt Martha and the twins back home still think our lives are tragic. Because “How Not To Shame Your Single Loved Ones” isn’t really flying off shelves.
As I write this, I’m preparing to go home for my 15 year college reunion. (Yes, college — sweet Mary mother of Marvel Comics how did that happen?) Those in attendance at the riverfront house we’re renting will be eight couples, and me because I’m the only one not in a couple. I write about being single all the time. I host a podcast about being single once a week. I am doing work to improve the perception of myself and others as single on the fucking regular but I am still having trouble mentally preparing for this.
Single shame isn’t real. It’s just something society invented.
These are people who love me, FFS we’ve been friends for 15 years. But every one of them was married before their 30th birthday. We have very limited understanding of each other’s personal lives. And as I prepare for a weekend with them, I’m trying to get my head right around shame.
For me, single shame isn’t real. It’s just something society invented. The only shame I feel around being single comes from my interactions with others, not from my interactions with myself. But it’s really hard to convince other people that there’s no shame in being single when the thought has never occurred to them before — because it never had to. Programming is really tough to change, and I’ve decided that the best way to change it for my friends, myself, and anyone reading this, is not to tell them but to show them.
I don’t live a shameful life. I actively work to address and resolve any shame within it. I love having friends over, but I’ve always been ashamed of my space. I’m moving into a space I’m proud of, I’ll be there by the time you read this. I found a lot of shame in dating apps. I deleted them in February and I haven’t looked back. I’m getting better at saying what I want (and don’t want) out loud, andI don’t hide my desires and intentions as much anymore because I’m too ashamed to think I deserve them.
There really isn’t anything to be ashamed of if you’re single, not when you think about it internally, rather than externally. And fuck externally. I’m not ashamed of making 100% of the decisions, 100% of the time. I’m not ashamed of taking up my entire bed without worrying I’m going to wake someone up every time I move. I’m not ashamed of how free I feel, ever. The more I remind myself how proud I am of myself and the life I’ve built around me, the easier it will be for others to be proud of me, too.
Society will always be a bit of a slow burn when it comes to ending single’s status as sad and shameful. So there will always be situations and events where my singleness is discussed in terms of the shame the world thinks I should be feeling. I’ll get better at addressing those one-offs each time. I’ll get better at communicating the real good in being single, rather than accepting the presumed embarrassment. Because to internalize that embarrassment, to live with it as a part of me because of outside energies, to hang my head because of one thing I don’t have rather than hold it high because of who I actually am, that would be a damn shame.