It just gets me so irritated. Our entire culture is geared
towards celebrating and extolling coupledom. The never married, unattached person, whether
male or female (although females tend to be targeted more often) is routinely ignored and
shunted aside, if not made the object of outright contempt and ridicule. Single people get
hit below the belt, so to speak, every day. And we don't even have an official rite
de passage like a wedding, which seems to bestow a halo of maturity on the chief
participants whether they deserve it or not.
The media certainly does its share in perpetuating this
situation. If, for example, a movie or television show starts off with a single person,
it's inevitable that, if there is a conventionally happy ending, that person will find his
or her true love and no longer be romantically challenged. One show, ostensibly
about young singles, groups them in couples, that being more appealing. And almost
invariably, no matter what the show, adolescents, if any, wind up with a significant
other. It's unthinkable that anyone should be truly alone. And of course, every now
and then a foil to the normals appears in the character of the old maid, who, for one
reason or another, is left on the shelf, who either provides comic relief or elicits pity.
Commercials too often spotlight conventional pairings no
matter what the product hawked. Parents and babies abound. So do pregnant women,
usually with a husband in tow. Everything is cast in the setting of the nuclear
family. All normal people, it is assumed, eventually marry and start families. In
one automobile commercial, which aired some months ago, articles of clothing go by on a
clothesline, the last item being a cunningly inflated maternity slip. This scene is
followed by one in which several children are piling into the car advertised, which is
presumably driven by the paterfamilias, and bringing up the rear is the very gravid
materfamilias, a happy, glowing study in fertility.
Self help and psychology books posit that the state of
ultimate mental health is found in marriage, with mere coupledom (with the appropriate
sex) a close second. Everything, in fact, depends on finding the right one, who can be
anyone, since being particular is a sure sign of immaturity. And being single is the sign!
If passionate love was never present, then if' it's "not too bad" , that's all
that counts, because you're not whole unless you're half of a couple.
Newspaper and magazine items proclaim the benefits of the
marital state and of intimacy with that special someone, while the never married and the
celibate are held at risk for an earlier demise. Although, to be sure, the main
thing to prevent that isn't necessarily a spouse or an significant other but a reliable
support system. Rarely is the fact mentioned that abstinence incurs no health risks per
se. It doesn't make interesting copy. Then sentimental accounts of how people met give the
impression that these are all success stories despite the 50% divorce rate.
And then, of course, peer and family pressure come into play.
Here are the folks who insist that if you don't marry (and you can really just go out
there and tie the knot with anybody we approve of ) you will die alone and forgotten. Are
these good intentioned souls advocating suttee? Because, after all, one or the other
spouse usually goes first. And as for the joys of having children and carrying on the
line, well, those children, when their parents reach a certain age, are likely to bundle
them off to a rest home. So much for filial devotion. And of course, what about that all
too common notion that you only live on in your descendants? Does that mean that the
celibataire will wink out in total obscurity, no one even giving a fig about coming to the
funeral or preserving the memory of said departed? What a narrow view, and too indicative
of what society thinks about singles in general!
What's worse, even in this age of AIDs and other ubiquitous
STDs, celibacy in some quarters is lumped with the perversions. Persons remaining
unattached past a certain age begin to inspire suspicion, any interest in hobbies or
causes dismissed as a creepy sublimation into second rate substitutes, because the
"real thing" is incomparably healthy. Getting a life refers to only that one
thing. Anything else is repression and neurosis.
Also, since we single people are seen as not having a life of
any particular importance and therefore, no real responsibilities, we're imposed upon and
pressed into working overtime so the others can spend time with their families, yet we are
denied promotions because our image isn't family oriented enough.
Every day we have to deal with bias. To list just a few
things, we're shunted to the back in restaurants, faced with more hurdles adopting
children, pay higher rates in hotels and on trips, and, though to a lesser extent today,
face discrimination in housing. We are, on the whole, discriminated against on several
fronts, as if there were a conspiracy to keep us invisible.
So we therefore must speak out and declare our power of one
in the face of the consensus that it's safer to stay politely in the background. We should
actively lobby against any form of discrimination, be it social or governmental, since one
feeds on the other.
When the time comes, we should march on Washington.
Miriam Greenwald is a member of the American Association
for Single People. She lives in Pennsylvania.