Yesterday at lunch a newly single friend relayed an interaction she had with a friend of her mother. At some point in the conversation, the woman made a probably well-intentioned comment that is is far too familiar to single people that went something like this:
"I don't understand why you are single! You are beautiful and smart and funny and talented . . . "
If you are married, you are probably nodding your head in agreement and wondering what is wrong with this statement. It is a compliment, right?
The underlying assumption behind statements such as these is: only stupid, boring, ugly girls stay single, what is wrong with you?
Now, before you get all defensive and start telling me I am reading far too much into this and that I am hyper-sensitive I will add that I am quite sure the woman who said this to my friend (and the majority of people who repeat it), was not consciously thinking "what is wrong with this girl" but I believe the overall sentiment illustrates a societal assumption that single women of a certain age (ahem) must have something wrong with them, a certain defect or fatal flaw if you will, if they aren't married or at least dating someone or going on dates.
Perhaps the single woman in question snorts when she laughs or has anti-phermones that turns men off instead of on or maybe she has focused too much on her career instead of hunting down a husband. But probably she is just bitter that life has passed her by. . . .
Sometimes a girl is still single because she hasn't met the right person. Or doesn't meet any people. It is hard once you leave school far behind you. Or maybe, like my friend, she just broke up with her boyfriend of 11 years.
And I realize, if there are any single males out there reading this somewhere, that this assumption is not reserved entirely for the ladies. I once had a bishop (Mormon congregational leader akin to a priest/pastor/rabbi) who, after discovering we shared a mutual single male friend, approached me in all sincerity to essentially ask what was wrong with this friend of his that he couldn't find a wife. He had genuine concern for our friend and explained that he knew this friend tried really hard and asked women out a lot but couldn't understand why he was unsuccessful in his hunt for a bride (my words, not his). Mostly I was relieved that this bishop wasn't trying to push me into this friend's dating cross-hairs and I tried to respond with a joke and asked if he was wondering what this guy's "fatal flaw" was because most of us just don't have that and if I had the power to figure that out I would use it on myself. The answer is rarely as simple as dressing nicer, losing a few pounds or even tempering one's personality.
Perhaps those of us who remain single into our 30s focused on the wrong things in our 20s or took some untraditional relationship detours (like an ill-advised marriage or a decade long but ultimately dead-end boyfriend). Or maybe we just plain weren't as lucky as those who met their match in junior high English class or in the student union building in college or sitting in their front yard watching a guy ride his bike down the street or in a singles ward before we got kicked out for being over the hill at 31 . . . .
My aunt was single until she was 38 and we lived together when I was a first year law student and we had many, many long conversations about the trials and tribulations of being single (and the fun things but those aren't relevant here). One conversation has always stuck with me and it struck me this morning as my trainer told me about her dating ups and downs this morning. This may sound pretentious or snobby or whatever but I don't care, I am just going to say it. Some people are pretty generic and adaptable and can easily be matched with a whole variety of personality types. Others of us are not. There is a narrower portion of the population who appeals to us and we appeal to a narrower portion of the population as well. Some may call this picky, I call it selective and knowing what I want. I've settled before but I do not need to do it again.
Several years ago I was discussing this theory with a male friend of mine (who, incidentally, was one of the most beautiful boys I have ever known in real life and yet, after I got over the initial crush at first sight, I was fine with just being a good friend and dating counselor because he was far too much of a flirt for me to ever have serious interest in him) who agreed when I explained this theory to him. I confided that I felt like when men make a list in their head of what type of wife they want they will almost never describe me: loud, ambitious lawyer who laughs a lot but is extremely opinionated - or something to that effect. No, most of the guys I know (the Mormon ones at least) would describe a sweet and supportive elementary school teacher, a blond one. Not that there is anything wrong with any of that. It is just not me and never will be. So, in order to ask me (or a girl like me) out, the guy has to get over the hurdle of casting aside his preconceived notions of what he wants. This was confirmed by an ex-boyfriend of mine (times two, we tried a couple of rounds of dating) who, several years after we realized we made better friends than er, lovers, explained to me that when we were testing out dating round number two, he had a difficult time getting past the whole lawyer thing because it just did not fit into the picture of how his domestic life would flow. Ultimately, I wasn't anything like his mother. Shortly after we broke up, he met his now wife. He explained that he realized when he first met her that he was attracted to her intellect and needed someone he could make an intellectual connection with - not a mother to iron his shirts. I vividly recall him exclaiming "I can iron my own shirts!" He said a guy will have to get over that hurdle of assuming I need to be like his mother as well. See, I am just not what guys expect in a wife.
And that is the complicated answer to why I believe I am still single despite - like my friend - being attractive, smart, funny, successful, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and that whole I haven't met anyone with whom I am interested in spending the rest of my life (not to mention eternity).