This article began with a phone call.
A friend called to lament about a friend who experienced a crisis of faith because no matter how beautiful, accomplished, and kind she was, the faith tradition to which she belonged said she was nothing without a man.
“She thinks God has abandoned her because she isn’t married,” my friend said exasperated. “What’s worse is the (black) church treats single women like we are the biggest pariah to the Kingdom of God. They act like single women come to church to take your man. How did it come to this?”
“Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”
Shaming from Without
It’s not just the church that shames single women.
Despite our current infatuation with strong women, a single woman is still the object of derision, pity, and avoidance.
A single woman is always the guest star in someone else’s story – the bridesmaid, doting aunt, witty sidekick, or potential love interest. If she is the heroine of her own story and fighting for a cause in which she believes, there’s always a man around with whom she’s kissing, arguing, or falling in love before they save the world.
Being single for a woman is considered a transitory state – a vast airport terminal in which relationship flights arrive and depart with an accumulation of emotional baggage collected during our travels. Bonus points if the airport terminal is located in a glamorous city with a string of haute couture shops and a luxe lounge filled with quirky friends, cocktails, and an endless supply of partners.
Popular culture also reflects prevalent attitudes, beliefs, and challenges. Things are changing, but not fast enough.
Single women, especially of a certain age, often pick up tasks for parents who work outside the home and are struggling with balancing career and family. We are made to feel either ashamed or afraid if we dine, see a movie, or go out alone. The holidays are a dodgeball of questions and advice from well-meaning family and friends about “finding love” as if we can’t have a meaningful and interesting life without a partner.
In an age where relationships start with a swipe and are disposable at the first sign of trouble, community and connection are difficult to come by. Why should we abandon our faith traditions, friendships, and pop culture interests because our lives don’t conform to idealized images that even married or partnered people don’t have?
And what happens when the greatest opposition to our single state happens within our family?
It was a hard climb to reach single, self-acceptance.
Shaming from Within
It was our last conversation.
My uncle was dying of cancer and only had weeks to live. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but I wanted him to know that I applied the lessons he taught me when I was a little girl and made something of myself. I showed him a video clip of a recent television appearance where I talked about politics.
For generations of low-income, black children, my uncle, an educator, was the only and nicest father figure they had ever known. But after watching a few seconds of the video clip, my uncle turned to me and asked, “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”
I wrestled with it months later when I left the United States and moved to a small beach community in Mexico. Did my uncle have a point? Was there something fundamentally wrong with me, something I had to fix, because no one had chosen me to spend the rest of their lives with?
There’s something about the stillness of the Mexican jungle at night that coaxes your deepest longings, secrets, and mistakes from the hiding places in your heart.
Only in solitude, away from the needs of others, could I grieve my uncle’s death and the subsequent death of my mother, nearly the last of a generation of my immediate family. I mourned their loss, the harm my uncle’s words caused, and the death of the American dream of having a husband and children.
The Price of Freedom
Shame is like pain – you only feel it once.
There came a time when I had to stop mourning what I didn’t have and be grateful for all I did. I played the single hand I was dealt.
I reveled in the freedom to pursue creative and meaningful work, regardless of whether it “made any money.” I gave myself to the practice and sharpening it takes to become a full-time freelance writer. Without a partner and immediate family to lean on emotionally and financially, I gained the confidence and resourcefulness that develops when you realize you (and God, which is what I believe) are all you got and all you need.
Dating is not out of the question. However, I now relate to others from a place of respect and authority within myself, not out of desire and need from what I think another person can give me. I no longer hustle for attention and love because I want someone to choose me. I have already chosen myself.
It was a hard climb to reach single, self-acceptance. In my darkest moments – when I am alone and there’s no one to take me to the doctor or pick up medicine or I lose a client and my finances tighten – I wallow and brood. But then I remember that freedom often comes at a price and it’s one that I willingly and gladly pay.