The other day, looking at earrings online, I came across a line of cute little studs — a heart, a key, a star, a skull; that sort of thing. They were quirky, but also sort of fancy, and they were priced as “individual earrings.” When I saw those words, something clicked, and I thought, that’s what I am. I’m an individual earring. I’m cute and quirky and there’s one of me and I’m enough.
Earrings sold separately are usually described as “single.” From a marketing perspective, it’s genius. An individual earring sounds like something unique, to be slipped into a little velvet pouch and cherished for its specialness. It’s a little edgy – meant to be worn in a second or third piercing; to go well with other earrings. A “single” earring sounds like it’s missing something — the other half of its pair. You start looking at the price like, hmm, all that for a single earring?
The words we use to describe reality matter, because they create reality, too.
Not long ago we realized the word “Miss” gave away unnecessary information on a job application, or a plane ticket, so we changed it to “Ms.” because no one’s relationship status is really anyone’s business. For society to evolve and allow women greater agency over their lives, new words can and must enter the lexicon to change the conversation about who we are, and how we relate to one another and the world.
To say that I am “single” is not a remotely accurate description of the status of my relationships.
I am not married, which is what “single” denotes, but I do have deep relationships and strong attachments, and people in my life with whom I’m emotionally, socially, and financially interconnected.
In addition to my mom and dad, to whom I am a daughter; I have a half-sister and a brother-in-law. I am close with my sister’s mother — my dad’s first wife; try and keep up — who is a member of our family, and like a third parent to me. I am an aunt to two dynamic girls, and they inspire me to model strong independent woman behavior.
I live with one of my best friends in an apartment we both love and call home.
We’ve lived together for 8 years now, in three different houses, in a city across the country from our families and the places we grew up. We run a household together, and all that that entails. We grocery shop and water the plants and share the weight of daily life. Sometimes we have tough conversations, but it’s usually necessary and we always hug it out. We aren’t really sure what to call each other. “Roommate” doesn’t do it justice.
It’s like you guys are married! We get that a lot. And other people ask sooo, do you guys hook up? Not that it’s anyone’s business but no, we do not fuck each other. It’s a loving relationship, and a healthy domestic partnership, but it isn’t the least bit sexual. Kinda like your marriage! jk
“Like it or not, today we are all pioneers, picking our way through uncharted and unstable territory. The old rules are no longer reliable guides to work out modern gender roles and build a secure foundation for marriage. Wherever it is that people want to end up in their family relations today, even if they are totally committed to creating a so-called traditional marriage, they have to get there by a different route from the past.”
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage: A History
The word “single” doesn’t reflect how important love is in my life.
There is nothing I value more than my relationships: the people I hold it down for, and whom I trust to hold it down for me. In short, I feel connected, supported, and grateful for the people in my life. I have fears, like everyone else — but I try not to lead from those in my practical decision-making.
Of course, I am scared of ending up old and childless and alone, with nowhere to go on Christmas Eve. And, at the same time, I know that ending up old at all is a gift. And there are a lot of ways to be a mother in this world and not all of them are related to fertility or constrained by age. If I don’t have children, it won’t be because I couldn’t. And if I end up alone on Christmas, who am I kidding? I’ll probably get drunk and order food and watch Bridget Jones’ Diary and get a good night’s sleep. That’s literally what I did last New Years.
For me, being an unmarried individual contributes to my day-to-day happiness and satisfaction.
I am no man’s child, and no man’s wife, and that’s the way I like it. We need to shift the conversation away from “single vs. married,” because both married and not-married people can be happy in healthy and secure relationships. And both coupled and individual people can be lonely and miserable in codependent relationships.
We all know people who married their best friends, and people who got divorced and lived happily ever after. Everyone is trying their best with mixed results. “The secret to a happy marriage,” a drunk married man once told me with a wink, “is marry your second wife first.”
At the end of the day, whatever traditional or non-traditional relationships you’re in, if their configuration contributes to your happiness, security, and prosperity — I’m here for it. But let’s start recognizing that humanity is all one family of interconnected individuals. None of us are “single.”
Since I’m aware the word “single” is unlikely to die, here’s some practical advice for relating to the individual people in your life.
Instead of asking if we’re seeing anyone — which puts the focus on theoretical relationships your friend may or may not be in, and is also kind of a nosy inquiry into our sex lives — pay attention to the names that do come up in conversation. Your single friends have significant others. Ask us about them.