February 5th, 2013

Dumb Things People Say to Single Women

I’ve been married nearly 6 months now, and apparently starting to lose my single-girl cred. When I try to empathize with or add to stories of single life, I’ve been getting some as-if-you-know eye-rolls. This sucks, because I lived alone for 10 years, so I know a little about that lifestyle. Plus, when I actually was single, I tried to avoid too much complaining about weird comments people made to me. I didn’t want it to come off as  sour grapes. It wasn’t–by and large I enjoyed my life then, but not some of the commentary folks offered thereof. Now I wish I’d spouted off more when it was appropriate. Our society seems to give some sort of craziness license when it comes to talking to single women–you can say whatever you want to them, apparently, without worrying about coming across as mean, stupid, or a lunatic. Here is a small sampling of things said to me *in a friendly manner* when I was uncoupled:

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
What do you eat?
How are you going to get home?
Don’t you want to get married?
You miss out on so much when you don’t have a partner–movies, parties, dinners…
It’s so hard to fall asleep alone, isn’t it?
You must hate weddings.

Oh, my gosh–I’m annoyed just typing. But I do understand that no one (almost) meant to me feel like a loser/zoo animal with these questions, so in case you are someone who wondered these things, I’ll try to answer below. And in case you are someone who gets these sorts of queries/comments, I’ll offer the best answers I came up with in my many single years–though honestly, I’m still at a loss for some of these.

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
If I knew, don’t you think I would’ve worked on that issue? Hahaha! I know mainly folks meant the question rhetorically, as in, “You are so great, so what’s going on here?” But they did leave an awkward awkward non-rhetorical pause after the question mark, leaving me to suspect that beneath their so-called praise they suspected I was secretly spitting on my dates or poking them sticks or swearing celibacy or something else deliberate to drive them away. There is NO good answer to this question most of the time, and even when there is, it’s usually too personal to answer at a dinner party (eg., you’re not supposed to date in the first months of sobriety). But…
Best answer for someone you like: “Well, some people win the lottery a little earlier than others.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I guess there’s something really wrong with me.” or “I prefer sleeping around, actually.”

What do you eat?
This question and its variants is surprisingly popular, which lead me, in harsh moments, to believe that many people equate being uncoupled in adulthood with being brain-damaged. Seriously, I know lots of people live in the ideal recipe-size of 4-person households, but surely people don’t ask this questions of childless couples, families of 3 or 5, etc? Do they really think lack of romance makes one unable to do fractions? Or order in? Or make a salad? Or eat leftovers?
Best answer for someone you like: “Whatever I want!”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I usually just have a fistful of cereal and cry myself to sleep in the bathtub.”

How are you going to get home?
Most of the questions here are just silly and don’t bug me, but this one, I’m still holding a grudge about in a couple cases. As a single female dependent on public transit, I considered myself responsible for myself, and I never made plans I knew I couldn’t get home from safely. I knew TTC routes, and whether I could afford a cab. If I understood the situation to be unavoidably dangerous (very very rare in Toronto) I simply didn’t attend. People casually asking if I knew how I was getting home–fine, that’s just thoughtful. Asking more than once, looking doubtful, implying that I don’t know how to transport myself safely around town–problematic.

I get more het up about this question when the asker implies I’m unsafe AND s/he is not going to do anything about it. For some, single women deserve to be unsafe, apparently. My brother always walks me to my streetcar stop and waits with me if it’s late, behaviour I find unnecessary but very sweet. It’s less sweet to make a fuss about me walking alone and then shut the door behind me! “Too bad you’re going to get mugged” seems to be the message there. Sob story: once I was walking home with a guy I thought was a friend and as we approached Carre St-Louis, he told me how unsafe he thought it was and how he always arranged his schedule to walk his girlfriend home through it if she was working late. I thought this was a long preamble to offering to walk to the far side of the park with me, but he simply bade me good night on the near side and walked off. After all these years, I’ve forgiven him, but barely.
Best answer for someone you like: “I know my way around; I’m pretty smart, you know.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I have no idea. Could you walk/drive me?”

Don’t you hate weddings/talking about weddings/happy couples?
Seriously, the single woman=psycho shrew construction could not be more offensive. Even if said in a sympathetic tone of voice, this question still implies that to be single is to be so unhappy as to despise the happiness of others: nice. Yes, it’s classy to not talk *constantly* about one’s wedding planning to those who aren’t super-interested (how’d I do on that front, friends? I really tried!) But still, not being able to muster up a little proxy joy for dear friends’ celebrations seems awfully cold.
Best answer for someone you like: “Of course not. If I care about you, I want to hear about what makes you happy.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “Absolutely. Let’s just sit in silence for a while.”

Wow, this post is over 1000 words–guess I have some pent-up rage there… I didn’t even get through all my questions. I should try to put this stuff behind me, but not entirely–I think forgetting how it feels is where a lot of these dunderheaded comments come from. Empathy, people–it’s the only way!

Anyone got any single-girl (or guy) crazy comments you’d care to share?

March 1st, 2010

(More) On Advice

Advice–I love it! Anything anyone I respect wants to (gently) suggest I do or try, I’m open to hearing. I might not do it–I suppose statistically speaking, I do very little of what people suggest I do–but hell, it’s education just to know that this person thinks something is a good idea. Tells me something about his or her worldview, and that there might be others like it, if nothing else. But I do owe a lot–everything from my ability to use a hair-dryer properly to lots of brilliant edits on my stories–to someone else telling me what I was doing wrong and how to do it better.

I think one reason I’m so open to advice is that I know my own abilities pretty well–I know how to listen for ideas I could actually use, people who actually know what they are talking about, and plans I’m capable of executing. I can recognize a blowhard when I see one (though I’ll probably hear them out anyway, just in case I am wrong and they can tell me something useful). I also know when, despite any and all useful reasonable advice to the contrary, I just have to persist in the quixotic thing I’m doing and hope it works out (though I’ll probably hear everybody out anyway, just in case there is some easier option I haven’t thought of).
In short, though I am eager for life to be easy, it rarely is and advice helps only a tiny bit, and only rarely. But I’ll take what I can get.
Thus, I am loving all the writerly advice that’s suddenly all over the internet. Of course, the irony of the situation is that the only reason I’ve discovered these lovely lists of advice is that they are driving AJ crazy. And with good reason–there’s lots of nonsense on those lists, everything from don’t read contemporary fiction to don’t have children to how to sharpen a pencil.

But even though I know this sort of advice–directed at a general-interest audience, with no specific text or even genre in mind–is usually obvious at best and offensive at worst, I still eat it up like candy. I can glean bits from it, take an interest in the worldview of all these notable writers, and feel centre-of-the-world-ish in that here is a whole article telling people how to do something I already sort of sometimes know how to do. I could certainly get better at writing, and several comments on the lists suggested something new to me, but mainly I enjoy those rare occasions when someone famous totally agrees with me about something. Like this, from Ms. Atwood:

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

That said, I’ll get back to work in a minute, but first, two genuine pieces advice that come to me via much smarter folks than myself, which I hope will help you:

1) If you never remembers what sorts of fire you are supposed to put water on and what you aren’t, baking soda puts out both grease and electrical fires, and water does not. Nor does staring at the flames in terror, hoping they will somehow go out by themselves. (Thanks, Stef, for saving us and allowing me to live long enough to write this post.)

2) Did you know what contact voltage is? It’s complicated, and the link sorta explains it, but basically it’s electricity hiding in everyday metal objects on the street, just waiting for bare skin to brush against it so it can give a nasty shock. Yeah, sounds like sci-fi, apparently real, and much more dangerous for the traditionally barefoot dogs than for people. Toronto Hydro advises humans and canines both to avoid walking on metal grates or personhole covers, and just never to touch any metal on the street. Easier said than done, and highly terrifying overall, but probably good advice if you can take it.

Be careful out there!

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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