• Thu, May 20 2010

Single vs. Unmarried

Maureen Dowd, are you ever wrong?

OK, sometimes. But not this time! In her most recent column, Dowd talks about the difference between being single and being unmarried, and at what point that changeover  happens for women. She’s talking, of course, about Elena Kagan, the single lady who is vying for a Supreme Court seat.

See? Note the difference. I’ll admit that at first I wrote that sentence, I used the word “unmarried” — the unmarried woman who is vying for a Supreme Court seat. Single lady pretty clearly connotes someone who is OK with her status, someone who’s ready to go out and have fun, and oh yeah, who also happens to be nominated for the Supreme Court, bitch.

And that’s exactly the point that Dowd makes: “Single carries a connotation of eligibility and possibility, while unmarried has that dreaded over-the-hill, out-of-luck, you-are-finished, no-chance implication. An aroma of mothballs and perpetual aunt.”

It seems that a woman having experienced that much success and that much accomplishment is someone that we are hell-bent on seeing having also sacrificed of the entire rest of her life, so that while she might be highly accomplished, at least she goes home and is miserable. Are we just used to thinking that way, since that’s the image we’ve been slapped with for so many years? Or does a successful woman touch on so many insecurities for both men and other women that we need to see her as miserable in order to not have to question our own choices?

Listen — I’ll own up to it if you will. I have a fairly strong sense of competition when it comes to other women in my field. I feel the sting of jealousy when people have accomplished more at a younger age, when I see that they’re doing the same things as I’m doing but better, or when they’ve already done what’s on my 5-year-plan. Would I get a healthy(-ish) kick of schadenfreude if I thought that these women went home and sadly knitted all evening? Maybe I would.

Of course, that’s suggesting that this whole “unmarried” thing is perpetuated by women. And I’m saying that maybe it’s perpetuated by everybody. What would happen for straight men if it turned out that women could be really fucking successful and also really happy, if they were single in their 40′s? Their 50′s? What if all that “you’ll be miserable without a man, get thee to the alter, if you like it then you better hope to God you get a ring on it” was — wait for it — hooey? Well. That would throw a wrench in things, wouldn’t it?

I’m not saying that the majority of straight men are out there banking on the fact that women will be depressed without them. But I am saying that it would certainly change their world if suddenly women really — like, for reals — didn’t need them. Not for money, not for success, not even for happiness.

So you see, it’s possible that everyone’s boat would be a little rocked if Kagan represented the kind of woman that is, as Dowd puts it, “eager to come to Washington to check out the Obama-era geek-chic bachelors, maybe get set up on a date by Michelle Obama, maybe host some single ladies fiestas with Sonia Sotomayor.” And maybe it’s time we all learned how to deal with it.

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