I often find myself observing others and realizing that their lived experiences are likely very different from mine. There are so many ways in which our culture tells us who to be and how to live that when we fall outside of those preferred ways of being, it can feel alienating. This is why the term marginalization has gained prominence as more people who don’t see themselves reflected in culturally prescribed ways of being relate their experiences of living outside of those expectations. The harm is real. Living on the margins often results in physical, mental and emotional harm and it can feel exhausting, as if you’re carrying an extra load that no one else can see. Your reward for living outside of cultural expectation in any way is, in fact, more load to carry. Our systems are built to punish those that live outside of culturally prescribed ways of being.
I’ve been examining the ways I don’t live within cultural expectations for years. I’ve been trying to dig myself out of the alienation I feel for what I once thought were my choices, but now realize are just my authentic ways of being in the world. I am what I call a singularly single person. I’ve never been in a partnered relationship for any extended period of time. I long believed this was a flawed way of being since everything in our culture, from media to our laws, tells us that coupledom and marriage are the ideal, that being single is a life sentence of loneliness and is to be pitied and avoided at all costs. I long believed those toxic messages as I went through the motions of trying to couple in an effort to gain acceptance and belonging. I thought if I could just find the one person I was meant to be with for the rest of my life, I would feel more complete and fulfilled. It’s taken me years to realize that I was buying into a myth. We’ve created a cultural story that coupledom and marriage are the pinnacles of love and all relationships. This is not true for me, just as it’s not true for countless other people.
Once I released myself from the grips of this myth, I began to see that I was following a path that didn’t feel true for me. I was pursuing relationships out of a belief that I should want them rather than any real desire to be part of a couple. I kept seeing signs everywhere that I should want something that I didn’t feel right to me. Romantic comedies, love songs, and even something as seemingly benign as selecting my benefits at work told me that I was an outsider not living my life in a way that I would be rewarded for. In these moments, and there are many of them, I am reminded that what seems natural for me isn’t desired for me by others. I am literally being penalized for loving being single.
There are currently over 1,138 laws in place in which marriage is a determining factor for receiving benefits, privileges and rights, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. These privileges are woven into a number of our systems including banking, healthcare, housing, and taxes, yet according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 29% of adults have never been married and the number of people who are choosing to be single for their entire life is rising. Even though I often feel alone in my desire to be single, clearly I’m not. In fact, I may actually be a trendsetter!
My hope is that as a culture we can stop feeding into the myth that married and coupled life is better and more desirable for everyone and build a society in which all ways of living life are valued equally. Maybe then we can stem the tide of damage wrought from the single stories we create about how to move through life. There’s no one path to a fulfilling life. Let’s stop pretending there is.