Thursday, December 11, 2003

Growing Up and Pairing Off

I'm at that stage in life where many of my friends are settling down with a partner for the forseeable future. Whether they're still just dating but had have 'The Big Talk' and planning a future together; moved in together; gotten engaged; gotten married.

Yes. I'm in the mid-to-late twenties age group--post-college or finishing up with grad school, going up or beginning to go up the career ladder.

Every single one of my close friends except one--not necessarily from the same circle--are in those various stages now. In some ways, this trend seems to be saying that this is a perfectly normal and natural life stage to go through. And for many people, it is. Granted, the question of having kids as a given for couples is changing radically as more and more people choose to delay having kids or indeed, NOT have kids, settling down with a partner is still very much de riguer.

However, as I get older but remain single and grappling with a love life that alternates between the bizarre and the non-existent as I work to set the practicalities of my post-grad-school life in order (i.e. getting a good stepping stone job, getting my finances settled, getting my green card etc), it is hitting home everyday that popular culture seems to divide people in my age group (even extending into those in their mid-30s) between the Haves and Have-Nots.

The Haves--what Helen Fielding calls 'The Smug Marrieds'. Not necessarily married but settled into a steady, functional and heading-towards-permanent relationship. Smugness optional.

The Have-Nots--the Singletons who are still 'out there' in the dating pool. Some of whom have become jaded and cynical. Others having their hands (and in some cases, heart) burnt badly. Still more dealing with frustration, social expectations, self-doubt at their own attractiveness etc.

When I get angry and frustrated at this unspoken Have/Have-Nots binary, I am not angry at still being single. I'm irritated because I have to ask the following questions:

1. 'Why artificially construct such a polarity? Can't we go on a case-by-case basis?'

2. 'Is being single make a person any less a person than someone who has settled down?'

Coming from Chinese culture where custom dictates that marriage is still seen as a duty everyone must fulfil at some point to perpetuate the family line, I do feel the weight of it keenly because in some ways, I'm still a traditional girl at heart who believes that she has certain familial duties to fulfil. And I feel that I get a double whammy of Single-phobia because over here in the West, there's the same pressure to find that Mr Right and settle down because of some (unnecessary) assumptions that being paired off is a natural thing to do and validates you as a normal person. Just look at the number of dating blogs out there by both men and women and the number of personal blogs that occasionally but regular discuss relationship issues, dating etc.

However, having been through every conceivable stereotype of The Bad Boyfriend including the Commitment Phobe, the Needy Wimp, the Mama's Boy, the Emotional Abuser, the Mentally Deranged, the Blackmailer, the Playboy, the Love Rat etc etc (i.e. more dysfunctional relationships than you can shake a stick at), I have to ask why, as a young woman, being in an unhappy relationship is preferable to being happily single and getting on with a full and happy life?

One of my friends reasoned that it is because of this:

"If you remain single, your friends who have gone on to this next natural stage of life will move on and you will gradually feel left out with no one who commiserates or understands you because they don't know what it's like to be single anymore. And when they have kids--bye bye being friends."

It's scary. What she says makes sense... but I have started to ask myself: is that her talking or her that has been conditioned by society and culture talking?

Even scarier--it does and will happen. People change.

But then, so do I and all the single people out there. It's inevitable--people grow apart, people reach different life stages at different paces.

And I have reached the stage where I am happy being single and concentrating on getting my career off the ground and tending to my friendships.

I just wonder why my marital status can't be accepted by society as a valid one for ME as an individual because the pitying looks and unsolicited advice that come from tarring me with the stereotype brush really is getting on my nerves.

I refuse to become Bridget Jones.

Self-Sufficient and Gorgeous Bachelor Girls' Club anyone?

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