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What Single Women (Don’t) Want

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Being single isn’t the Lonely Hearts Club some people seem to think it is. Amal Awad talks about the misplaced ‘advice’ directed at singletons… all the time.

What Single Women (Don't) Want_Aquila Style
Your girlfriends’ misplaced vision of your future? AFP / ERIC FEFERBERG

No romantic comedy is complete without the requisite lecture scene. Some girlfriends are at a diner with a quirky name, bingeing on cake and ice cream, and one is lamenting how much her love life sucks. Another girl is enjoying the ‘honeymoon period’ where her man is perfect, or she married a Samwise Gamgee – no rock star, but sweet and stable. The latter then dispenses frilly advice about what her friend is doing wrong, rather than telling her to act like the lead character in her own life.

You see, it’s not that the loveless friend is complete but just hasn’t found the right guy. No, she’s doing something wrong. She missed the memo. Whatever contentment the singleton could feel in life is tempered by the lack of a significant other. She is, essentially, missing a part of herself.

It’s what we’re fed our whole lives. Whether it’s in a book or movie, we’re told that ‘he’ will show up and the soundtrack will swell and you’ll just get each other. Bliss.

We’re all conditioned to believe life is incomplete until we find a partner. And it’s not a cultural thing, though Muslims are subjected to a whole other level of censure if we hit a certain age and aren’t hitched.

As attractive as a nice relationship is, a lot of us single girls don’t feel empty without it

 

But while guys are romanticised as ‘eligible bachelors’ – enigmatic loners who just don’t know how to love, dammit – women are relegated to the role of Old Maid or Spinster, and all they get for their troubles are pity and cats. Lots and lots of cats.

The older and somewhat wiser you become, the more you begin to see the flaws in that story. Because – and this is very important – it’s no one’s job to complete you or make you feel good. It’s kind of a solo deal for the most part, and anything extra is just sumptuous icing on the cake. You might want said icing. It makes the cake that whole much nicer. But strip it away and you’ll find you still always need a solid, delicious base. No one likes an under-baked cake.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. As attractive as a nice relationship is, a lot of us single girls don’t feel empty without it. Sure, we may desire it, but not in order to be or feel complete.

It seems incomprehensible to many that, while many ‘singles’ would absolutely seek and value companionship, its absence isn’t being replaced with other things, nor is it limited to a romantic partnership. While priorities will undoubtedly shift, most of us are not going to stop enjoying hobbies, pursuing professional success or having friends just because we’ve got married. We’re not going to stop being ourselves, and if we have to, that’s a problem in itself.

Despite moments of loneliness or yearning for meaningful connection – and there would certainly be some – the most difficult thing about being single are the lectures. The sympathetic head-tilt from someone who’s met the Best Guy in the World who can make brownies and remembers to put the toilet seat down. It’s the lip-biting, sad-eyed nod, because that was once me too! Just be patient for another 500 years.

It’s the frustrating moment in a conversation when someone who hasn’t seen you in ages asks you, with an awkward laugh, whether there are any ‘developments’ – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Never mind that we could have completed degrees, started new jobs, recovered from illness or trekked mountains. Never mind that the sheer multitude of human experiences stands for nothing but a meandering sub-plot in the life of a girl if she is single.

Then comes what one friend calls ‘advice ambushing’. It gets thrown at you from all corners, sometimes at once. But I can tell you that being asked what we’re doing to ‘put ourselves out there’ is about as appealing as sitting in wet jeans all day. Being told what the problem is, as though we’re all meant to meet a partner at a certain point and if we haven’t, we’ve misstepped somehow, is a massive fail on the advice scale. Just don’t do it.

We’re told that we’re too confident and guys are intimidated by it. People beseech us to water down our personalities, particularly if we’re studying or excel professionally. One friend was told to modify her degree title in some long-winded manner so as not to scare the poor chap who might have difficulty with words ending in ‘-ology’.

We get the jokey ‘tick-tock, biological clock’ reminder, and my personal favourite – ‘you’re just too picky’. Maybe this is the best you can manage, so just… you know… marry him and stuff. He has a pulse and a job (win).

We’re advised to dim our personalities and let our goals and desires take a backseat

 

And, of course, Muslim girls are advised to make du’a while being patient until our naseeb (destiny) arrives. Conversely, we get lectured for not meeting our religious duty to complete half our religion – we’re offered a mishmash of misappropriated religious quotes to ingrain a sense of duty, designed to leave you feeling hollow but for the stream of guilt flowing through you for not getting hitched.

In the same way that we subscribe to idiotic proverbs like ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too’, we’re advised to dim our personalities and let our goals and desires take a backseat in case ‘he’, whom you’re yet to meet, won’t like it. Never mind what you might not like – girls outnumber guys and there are slim pickings.

The funny thing is, I don’t know any girl who has determinedly chosen career over marriage. It’s rarely an either/or situation. You just live your life, and whatever takes priority at the time is what you do.

While I am privileged and pleased to see friends in fulfilling relationships, it’s not a guaranteed outcome. Boy and girl meet. They like each other. Then what? No one gets a ‘happy ending’. When you meet someone, really, you’re just beginning.

Finding someone isn’t an achievement. If it’s a prosperous relationship, it’s a blessing. But if you need that person to make you ‘happy’, it’s a risky endeavour. So here’s my advice to those who are basking in the halcyon glow of a relationship – enjoy it, but know yourself. Because I’m pretty sure that your relationship with yourself is the most significant human relationship you’ll ever have. You’re kind of stuck with you, but you can always escape an unhealthy relationship.

As for the advisers, often well-meaning, you needn’t worry so much about us singletons. We’re aware of our ages and marital status, so the constant reminders about both are really not necessary. While we might have our tragic moments, we value ourselves enough to have some of that patience everyone keeps talking about.

And as my meditation teacher reminds the class so often, everywhere you go, you take yourself with you. So if you’re going to have someone along for the ride, make him a good friend, not the final piece of the puzzle.

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