All sorts of life transitions are marked by rituals that memorialize a particular day, or a particular event, as significant. Graduations. Birthday parties. Retirement celebrations. The wedding ritual, marking the day of the official transition into married life. More and more often, there are also divorce events, putting a stamp – sometimes a celebratory one – on the end of a marriage.
But what about people who are single and decide to continue on that course? People who perhaps are single at heart – who believe that they lead their best, most authentic, and most meaningful lives by living single. Others, too, whose commitment to single life may not be an unqualified embrace, but who have weighed the options in their life and decided, single it is.
Is there a time when they just know that they want to live single?
I’m single at heart. I never wanted to get married. Never fantasized about bridesmaids or color schemes or compiled lists of desired traits in a mate. But for a long time, during my early adult years, I wondered whether I just hadn’t been bitten yet by the marriage bug. So many people seemed to get infected by it – maybe I was just a bit slow in getting there.
At some point, I realized that I never was going to pine for married life. Single, I realized, was who I really was. It was who I always would be.
The thing is, though, I can’t remember any one particular moment. I don’t think I had a sudden “aha” experience. There was certainly a “before” and an “after.” “Before” was when I wondered whether I would ever change my mind, even though I never longed for marriage or even committed coupledom. (I would have been totally fine, though, with all the benefits, protections, and unearned privileges that people get just because they are married, and sometimes, just for being coupled.) “After” was when I realized I was never going to want to be married, that I was single not by default but by commitment. Single was the life I chose and the life I live fully, joyfully, and unapologetically.
Because of the prevailing societal presumption that just about everyone wants to get married (part of what I call the “ideology of marriage and family” in my scholarly writings), it can be difficult for people to realize they love living single and want to continue to do so for the rest of their lives. In my own research, I’ve been trying to figure out what kinds of preferences and attitudes and characteristics distinguish people who are single at heart from those who are not. Most of the items I’ve considered for the single-at-heart scale refer to current preferences (for example, preferring to make decisions on your own, or savoring your time alone rather than fretting that you may become lonely). Only a few so far have been about looking to the past (for example, if you were in a romantic relationship and it ended, did you feel more sadness or more relief?).
Maybe I should think more about telltale signs from the past. This isn’t a surefire way – you can probably find evidence for just about anything if you search the expanse of your entire life – but I think it can at least be suggestive.
When I said that I had never fantasized about a wedding, I was already doing just that exercise of looking for clues from the past.
In the Community of Single People, Kristin Noreen mentioned another clue:
I loved Anne of Green Gables as a child, but couldn’t bear the subsequent books where she started to like Gilbert Blythe and grow into a heteronormative adult. All series where the girl grew up struck me that way; I barely stuck out the Little House series. The characters simply bored me the minute they started conforming to adult expectations.
In the preface to her memoir, Kate Bolick described going off on her own during family vacations to “play Karana”: “She was the heroine of my favorite children’s novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins, based on the true story of a Native American girl who’d been left behind on an island off the coast of California in the early 1800s and survived on her own for eighteen years.” The title of Bolick’s beautifully written book? Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own.
So to anyone who has ever committed to living single: What was it like for you? Was there a moment when you just knew? Or looking back, were their telltale signs from the past? And, is committing to single life something we should also celebrate?