I’m having a kind of big problem with this classification of “single.” I’ve been putting it on and taking it off like a bodysuit with one sleeve, no leg holes, and no neck hole, and I think it might be time to say that this thing doesn’t fit. Not that I’d prefer a straitjacket, mind you—I yearn for more nuanced language, or more understanding, or less default assumptions. Yes, I know, my bar is always set too high.
Single. To be truthful, I want to claim pieces of this, the parts that actually make sense. I want people to understand how much of my time is spent alone or only with my daughter. I want people to know that I am not “taken.” I want people to recognize that there is no romantic partner living in my home or offering contact on a daily basis. Also, it’s important to me to be seen as my singular self, an individual, not an appendage to a predefined relationship.
And yet, this label is also driving me a bit mad, like all the other tidy, commonly understood labels—it feels cruel in its erasure of all the other pieces that are also true. It feels unfair that I can’t be like wide swaths of other people, who can claim words like “single” or “married” or “divorced” or whatever, and have one’s relational identity all neatly encapsulated without any need for further explication.
Why do I always seem to require further explication?! That’s if I want to be understood at all, I suppose. I hold back daily, it seems, to spare myself, to spare those I love, and to spare the uninitiated the confusion of having to wrap their heads around something unfamiliar and potentially upsetting. The problem is, it’s not really sparing myself the angst of feeling misunderstood, lacking adequate support, and being rendered invisible.
Maybe it would help if I go ahead with the explication: I am single. I am married. I am separated. All of these things are true. I love my husband. We are quite certain that living separately is what’s best for us as individuals and as a family, and yet we are strongly committed to one another, probably more committed than ever. We are together. We are not together. We don’t own each other. Our lives are entwined.
Also, I have a long-distance love, although what is “have” in such a context? We don’t “have” each other. We love each other. We are together. We are not together. Even in the midst of uncertainty and unassailable obstacles, our lives are entwined.
Also, there are my platonic loves, who are not loved any less than the others. I won’t refer to them as “just friends.” They are my heart, on the same level as my aforementioned loves. To rank any of them is anathema to me.
And my sidekick, my most frequent companion, my inspiration, my beloved child! How could I ever consider myself “single,” i.e., alone, when so much of my life is filled with her?
And what of my conviction, despite all of my lifelong mental habits, that the idea of a separate self is an illusion? What sense does “single” make in that? Even if I had no loves, no family, no friends, am I not still part of this astonishing web of existence? How could a human, a type of animal so defined by social behavior, be single? Where did we get hung up on this terminology?
In the marketplace, I believe. The necessary opposite to “single” is “taken,” right? Why do we want to know such things? We want to know who’s on the market, who’s “available.” This, to me, seems part of the tyranny of compulsory monogamy and its insidious effects on how we view ourselves and relationships.
This terminology erases all the nuances of relationship, ignoring the importance of community and networks of non-sexual relationships. It reinforces the hierarchical belief in a romantic, sexual, exclusive dyad as the ultimate goal of human relationship. It promotes the language of ownership, of commodities, of economies. If one is “taken,” one is “off the market,” unavailable. We are a culture of people mostly seeking to be unavailable.
I think this way of thinking does as much, if not more, damage to self-identified monogamous people as it does to those who are ethically non-monogamous. It’s not just the realm of relational minorities/radicals to question this; I think it’s perfectly possible for those who identify as entirely monogamous to also dismantle such false and oppressive hierarchies. I think we are capable of discerning the difference between how we prioritize time and energy (which necessarily limits the scope of how many people we can interact with) and how love itself is not subject to any artificial economy or restraint.
I don’t want to be marked as a participant in a relationship marketplace; I want to opt out of that system. At the same time, I want people to know that my heart is open, that I am essentially available to the extent that my boundaries and interests allow. In that sense, “single” could be a useful label to wear: “I am available.” And not just to potential lovers, but to friends. It troubles me that I even need to make that distinction.
And while I’m available, I want people to know the depth of feeling, commitment, and connection I have to my current loves. I won’t disavow them for the sake of protecting anyone’s preconceived notions of “true love.”
I’m home alone, but true love is all around and will soon be springing up like violets.