The Panic Shoved on Single Women is All a Capitalist Lie
I’ve pulled back the curtain upon making to the Emerald City of Back Pain that is your mid-thirties. That’s no wizard; it’s someone trying to sell you a whole bunch of shit and get you to settle for a trash relationship.
Women are sold so many myths. Like, a BIZARRE amount of myths that are easily disproven.
Millennials are the disseminating and unpacking generation. We have this unique duality of having lived in The Before Time when the Internet was just a DARPA proposal, then watching this technology evolve and be used to simultaneously expose truths yet spread disinformation. Nevertheless, we’re able to yank back the curtain on the numerous lies Boomers told us and the lowered expectations Gen X told us to keep in check.
The one I’m pulling back? The whole idea that single women don’t have options. For love and sex, comfort in our own skin, career satisfaction, damn near anything!
For scope’s sake, I’m going to focus on that first one: this idea that women need be eviscerated by panic if we’re “still” single by a certain age.
And oh yes, it’s a capitalist lie. You must buy all this shit to “fix” yourself and your situation: self-help books, dating site subscriptions, the right makeup and skincare products, ring lights for the optimal selfies, you freaking name it, someone’s trying to hawk it.
Let me be clear, I’m not begrudging you your joy if you like working with a ring light or genuinely find self-help books helpful. I personally enjoyed Jen Sincero’s “You Are a Badass” when I picked it up at the airport on impulse while waiting for my connection to Tokyo (*sigh* I miss travel, fucking pandemic) But I’m talking about things like this dreadful book Shani Silver covered that exist solely to make a buck off of shaming women.
We are told to settle. We are told we don’t have options. This is a Country Crock O’ Shit.
Men are encouraged to be as picky as they want to be, to have laundry lists of what they do and don’t want in a partner, and perpetually have options. Why can’t women have that, particularly Millennial women who’ve grown up with an unprecedented number of options and no road map? That map keeps leading back to the same path: that it’s better to shack up with a guy you’re dispassionate about at best, outright hates you at worst, just so you’re not “alone”.
Being single is not a social disease. Single life is pretty fucking awesome. It’s an option! You also have more options than signing up for dating app hell and asking every person around you to set you up with their single friends, for the love of God. If you want quality over quantity, look to your passions and interests. People meet through work all the time, and the rise of freelancing and entrepreneurship makes this better than an office romance at a traditional job (I’d know, I once boned a guy off of LinkedIn and it was the last goddamn thing I ever expected to happen!)
Better yet, for all the panic I endured about how I better settle down by 30 or else no man would want me? The reason I’m writing this is because I HAVE MORE OPTIONS THAN EVER NOW. You do too. Yes, you reading this. Even if you’ve never been skinny. Even if you’re closer to 40 than 20. Even if you see things about yourself in the mirror you wish you could change, or other things in your life aren’t fucking perfect.
Despite belonging to several groups men simultaneously hate and fetishize, I no longer put up with that “you must settle” bullshit. Sis, it’s a big world out there. There’s countless types of people. You may not even know what your type is, or have one at all. It could be different at 35 than when you were 25. I know it is for me.
There is major panic instilled in women. Women, not men. It is systemic and intentional.
And a lot of us buy into it. You know, just like the countless other things we were told to buy into like that we had to just go to college and “pay our dues” for a payoff that never came.
When social conditioning is that persistent, it’s tough not to buy into it even if you’re in some degree of counterculture.
For Millennial women in particular, we saw this odd snarl of contradictory sexism as the century and millennium turned. We were given messages of girl power and that women could do anything, we had images of professional women on TV and in movies when we were children, yet this urge to hold onto the old order of things — an order where marriage was basically necessary for women to have any semblance of economic stability. The old guard still clings to this and won’t get the hell out of the way, telling us we don’t have options.
You know how childfree women are spurned and snubbed, yet women are also socially, financially, and professionally punished for having children?
The same goes for your desire to have a romantic partner.
You are considered pathetic for being single, especially long-term single. A hopeless lady who lives with twenty cats and hasn’t touched dick since the Clinton administration! But if you’re a woman like me who hit a lot of the traditional success markers while single, is making enormous moves on her own — you are ALSO told “But you’re such a badass queen, you don’t need a man! Just be happy being single!” As if it’s some kind of binary: that you can only be happy being single if you patently don’t want a romantic relationship, when this is not true.
And look, I get it. This social pressure shit’s for the birds. It’s so intense and can be fortified within your community or family, I definitely internalized this message that not having a boyfriend and tons of guys asking you out meant you were trash, a lesser woman. Additional traumas at school and home can compound this feeling of worthlessness, and I had both in spades.
But at 35, I’m at ease: I’m okay with my sex life being like Infrastructure Week then Burning Man in intervals. There’s men who would crawl to the ends of the earth on their hands and knees in broken glass while listening to Michael Bolton in order to fuck me. Others would rather become eunuchs at the prospect. But like hell if I’m going to say yes every time a man asks me out or to go to bed with him, just because they think they’re entitled to my time or worse yet think I should be “grateful for the attention”. Just because I’m sexual doesn’t mean I want to do that with him; let’s leave transitive property in our middle school algebra classes that were made more bearable with Yikes! erasers.
But I believe that when women internalize this message that we’re utter shit if we don’t have a boyfriend, it doesn’t just foment settling. It can also foster abuse. We tell women they’re lesser-than if they’re single and don’t have men tearing the door down to be with them, but if they wind up in a relationship that’s abusive, it instantly becomes “Well, why didn’t she just leave?” Binch, stop making romantic relationships such a fucking be-all end-all then. Two people who live together in a non-platonic manner is celebrated more than any damn thing in this country, and until the mid-20th century was often the only way most women could get resources needed to live. We don’t have to do this anymore.
Lacking the resources to leave such a situation is half the battle. Even if the abuser isn’t threatening your life immediately, there can be this deeply internalized shame of living in this situation. We don’t talk enough about how abusers can make you feel good, most media only fast-forwards to the red flags and nasty parts like putdowns, financial control, and isolating you from family and friends. It never addresses that mindset of “You poor sad single woman nearing 40, you really should take whatever you can get!”
Self-worth issues can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, and life experience. But I bet we’d have this specifically gendered one a lot less if we stopped talking about single women past a certain age like there’s something wrong with them, opposed to dating culture and society as a whole.
I beg of you, talk to older women who are divorced or never married.
The thing that ultimately diffused my panic about being single and over 30 was by doing this. You need to find older women on the same wavelength as you.
The Samantha Joneses of the world. Because they’re out there, and not as rare as you’d think.
Read their content. There’s so many brilliant older women on this site who write about their experiences dating and hooking up well in their seventies. I’d highly recommend Julia Hubbel, this piece of hers really spoke to me.
Stay in Your Own Place, Please. I Like My Life as it is.
A treatise about living alone and the lie of the “elder orphan”
Now, you may be thinking what I first thought when I was 32 and listening to my adoptive auntie (68 at the time) tell me about the various noncommital fuckboys she’d met off Tinder and friends setting her up.
Auntie described her latest disappointing date. “This guy really thinks he’s going to get some 40-something single mom to go be his nurse or something so he’s just stringing me along — ”
“You…you mean THIS DOESN’T STOP?!” I interjected. “They’re going to be commitmentphobic stashers the rest of our lives?”
That holy shit, we’re going to deal with these awful dating norms the rest of our lives instead of locking it down with a guy who can somewhat adult.
It was a little sobering. But after I took it in, I honestly found it liberating. Because it meant that all the panic forced on me, and women in general, had largely been complete bullshit and I could absolutely do the Sam Jones thing all my life if I just never found a guy I could have a Real Adult Relationship with!
Women have no trouble finding company at any age, as this incredible piece by Carol Lennox showed me.
It made me take stock of the situation: what would be the absolute worst case scenario if I never found a partner?
I celebrate my success by myself and with my friends and what remains of my family. Since I don’t want kids and am financially independent, those are also two major release valves opened. But as the pandemic divorce threads on Twitter have shown me, a partner isn’t necessarily a guarantee you’ll have additional financial support or even someone who gives a damn that you graduated college, got a promotion, had a successful year in your own business.
It dawned on me I’d rather have my girlfriends send me congratulatory messages than be with a man who doesn’t even acknowledge what I’ve done.
So who benefits from this panic?
Not us! Fuck settling.
As Shani Silver has covered several times, dating app developers and their investors absolutely stand to benefit. So do numerous industries that predicate their business model mostly on married couples, even when they find ways to place “single taxes” on us. LIKE GROCERIES. Why am I forced to buy bags of frozen broccoli that could get me through World War III? I don’t want THAT much when it’s just me! It’s a trap to make us feel sad for eating leftover broccoli that gets gross the next day, then tossing it and having to order takeout or buy a new bag. Another way to fucking punish single people.
The Wedding Industrial Complex also persists to profit off your desires and heartbreak alike.
Oh, and the IRS benefits in some cases. Speaking as a former tax accountant on an area of expertise here, married filing jointly (MFJ) status is often the most beneficial. But higher-income and/or entrepreneurial couples often face a “marriage penalty” and married filing separately (MFS) status is the absolute jobber status that nullifies a ton of tax benefits, such as the earned income tax credit. This ultimately depends on your individual tax situation, but as some couples vastly benefit and others get burned? There’s a reason why the government wants to incent you to do this. Married couples can wind up paying more taxes, and also spend more as a dual-income unit.
Those for-profit health insurance industry vultures can also charge me three or four times as much for the same exact shitty coverage I get as a single woman by changing it to “family coverage” to include a spouse, even though any guy who marries me must do so with the awareness that I am not birthing or adopting any human children.
There’s also the self-help book industry, the anti-aging products, and numerous other things women are told to buy so we feel less shitty about ourselves and can hopefully land a man!
So yeah, there’s a lot of capitalistic interest in wanting women to settle for a slice of pizza laying on the sidewalk with roach crawling on it instead of a real meal.
Girl, you got options. You just might not have discovered them yet, or are even aware you have them.