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Being Single Is the Default

Thinking that love can be found externally is a sign of a broken culture

Kelly Tatham
Dec 5, 2018 · 5 min read
Photos: Kelly Tatham

Amatonormativity: the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.

I am many things, and perennially single is one of them. In my 15 or so “eligible” dating years, I have never once been in a long-term relationship. That’s right. Six weeks. Six weeks. Six weeks is usually about how long it lasts.

New Year’s rings in with kisses on the cheek. Valentine’s Day is spent drinking straight from the bottle with whatever sad excuse for a romantic film is playing that year. Dinner parties are exercises in quelling my jealousy over cuddling couples contributing one dish between the two of them—because, wait, I’m going to bed alone and I have to pay double on party expenses? Cool. Cool cool cool.

I show up to holidays and parties solo, feeling more or less fine about my status until it is brought to my attention that something is wrong. “Are you becoming a nun?” family members ask. “Don’t you get lonely?” friends inquire. I understand they’re not trying to make me feel bad, but what they don’t realize is that they force me to lie because social gatherings aren’t the place to fall to my knees crying, “I’m trying. I’m trying. I’m trying.”

I would just like us all to come to terms with the fact that we’re born alone and we die alone.

Have you noticed that our culture is so married to marriage that we have a body part named after it? An entire body part dictates that monogamous partnership is the default—that all humans possessing a neighbor to their left pinkie finger must be in want of a wedding ring.

Yet, marriage historically has been a tool of oppression. Gay? Marriage isn’t for you. Mixed-race couple? Dream on. Female? Ha. Welcome and good fucking luck.

Look, I get it: Modern marriage is different. Husbands are taking their wives’ names. Emotional labor is being discussed and (allegedly) split. The concept of the stay-at-home dad almost isn’t novel anymore. Who cares if marriage evolved out of business partners and best practices for agriculture? It’s adapted. It’s changed.

And I know that marriage can be beautiful and wonderful, and partnership is the. most. amazing. thing! I would just like us all to come to terms with the fact that we’re born alone and we die alone—and our life’s first priority should be falling in loving with the person we come in and go out with (ourselves). Can we please stop acting like marriage is the default setting for all adult humans?

I dated a man last year who I came to believe was my soulmate. It was a heady time. I was in the process of finishing post-production on a short film I’d made about my dating life, and I felt confident that I’d finally closed the chapter on unsuccessful relationships. I thought I’d learned everything there was to learn and broken through all my socialized programming.

Ah, the naïveté.

After a few weeks of dating while dancing around the truth of my relationship history (six weeks, six weeks, six weeks), I decided it was time to be clear and honest. We were at the beach with our toes buried in sand as we watched the sunset. I turned to him and with a deep breath, confessed that I’ve never been in a long-term relationship.

The story of love in our culture sets us up to fail.

Thus far, this man had been very lovely. We talked on the phone until 3 a.m. several nights a week. We loved so many of the same things and had bizarre, obscure similarities. Gestures and commonalities and a deep, occasionally psychic connection that I spun into “meant to be.” I told him the truth in the hopes of being received with love and understanding and that he wouldn’t care about my unique past.

Yeah. Ha-ha. No.

His brow furrowed, and his eyes darted back and forth across my face. “You’ve never been in a long-term relationship? What’s wrong with you?”

What’s wrong with you?

Nothing,” I stuttered. There’s nothing wrong with me.

But this story of mine, he couldn’t quite grasp it. It wasn’t the story he knew or had been surrounded by his entire life, the one where we test-drive partners until we find the right person to marry, and that’s it. So a human who’s spent her life alone? Well, there must be something deeply wrong with her.

If there’s no ring on this finger, then what is it good for?

There is something I have to tell you, and I need you to pay attention: Your story is valid. Your. Story. Is. Valid. You are valid. You are valid whether or not your path, your journey, and your truth have been reflected back to you by the culture and the people around you.

Your story is valid because you have lived it. Whatever your path has been, it is valid, and you never need to justify that to anyone.

I spent years believing my lack of success in relationships meant there was something wrong with me because I’d never seen my experiences reflected back to me. Everywhere I looked, it was partnership and marriage and men on screen who loved quirky, lively women who they didn’t ditch once their dream girls turned into complex, needy, neurotic humans—because, oh, wait, they never turned into complex humans. The story ended there.

The story of love in our culture does not serve us. I know this because I believed in it. I believed in it so hard. Believing in it is the exact reason I was never able to find love because the story of love in our culture sets us up to fail.

Let’s not just uplift the single experience but idolize it. Let’s accept ourselves exactly as we are.

We are taught to seek love externally. We are taught that external love validates us as humans. We are taught that marriage makes us whole. These myths are false. We are not unfinished because we are alone. We are not unworthy because we are alone. We are not broken or empty or becoming a nun. Single is how we are born and single is how we will be reincarnated after we die married.

This is not about not finding or wanting partnership. This is about dismantling a cultural ideology that tells us that we are not complete unless we are married. Marriage is a choice, not the default. Single is our default setting, and it’s time we honor, respect, and uplift that.

The ideology of marriage is deeply tied to capitalism, consumerism, and the patriarchy: Systems that teach us that we are not good enough as we are. They teach us that love comes from a partner or a purchase. A culture that teaches that love must be found externally is a broken culture.

It’s time we dismantle it: Let’s rename the “ring” finger. Let’s not just uplift the single experience but idolize it. Let’s accept ourselves exactly as we are. It is time we shift the cultural ideology to a world where love is sought internally and let go of beliefs and stories that teach us otherwise. It is time we make new stories.

We need to remember that the journey of true love in any lifetime is to fall in love with ourselves. You are the love you are looking for.

Storyteller. Witch. Philosopher. Futurist.

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