As a late twenty-something single woman (on a side note, am I the only one who has trouble referring to herself as a woman when I mostly feel like a 5 year old?) I am automatically considered a living blank canvas on which society feels free to unsolicitedly illustrate, spit, or to flip down any opinion they hold about me on or to share a piece of wisdom with, which I patiently hear out over and over again. In general, most of them are merely a reflection of their own ideas, thoughts, and feelings, a phenomenon also known as projection. I too am guilty of this fairly nasty tendency to project many thoughts, assumptions, and many more on people coming in and out of my life. Only recently I started to pay closer attention to it and became intrigued yet frustrated by it. Especially since the projection starts off with a praise for your independency, autonomy, and authenticity, followed by judgments disguised as questions, watering the seeds of self-doubt and feeding the monsters of despair.
Projection is applied to many themes, amongst them the most classic one: love. An inexhaustible source of inspiration for many artists, a thankful topic of conversation, omnipresent in all of our lives whether by an abundance or a lack of it. Generally speaking, the force that keeps us going, covering a broad spectrum from invisible tiny elements in our everyday existence to grand gestures in front of gigantic audiences. Hence, an easy target to project on.
Colliding and merging
While abiding in one of my home countries for a period of time, it provides me a wonderful opportunity to meticulously explore the differences caused by geographical, societal, generational, relational, and religious factors.
Back in Amsterdam, I was surrounded by many other people like me: single(ish), highly educated, independent, ecologically conscious, progressive, open-minded lost souls. Hustling our way through life, simultaneously enjoying the freedom of living in the big city. Our choices in lifestyle as a whole influence the occurring shift in traditional norms and expectations regarding gender, sexuality, and family life. It is no longer heavily frowned upon, at least in my circles, if you do not get hitched before the age of thirty or even start a monogamous heterosexual relationship. Neither will anyone be judged if they hook up on a young age and live happily ever after. To each their own.
Enter society at large beyond the city limits, starting with my scattered diverse family. Remarkably enough it is not the more traditional part who finds my status worrying. Rather, the more progressive part is turning me into a project lead by my bachelor gay uncle. Apparently, in his vivid imagination, he sees me meeting an observant man and bringing six children into the world. Obviously I should not be consulted in his master plan. I would only obstruct the whole process and frankly, I have no clue of what I want anyway. Leave it to the adults to ‘fix’ me. After I did provide some assistance, my sincere help could not dissatisfy them more: asked what I am attracted to, I honestly answered that I am much more charmed by personality than external characteristics. (To my own surprise, I also fall head over heels for blonde guys) Immediately my response was casted aside and considered the ultimate proof of my uselessness. So much for acknowledging my independency and being lead astray by their own assumptions.
At first I perceived it as funny and laughed along with it. But with the passing of time and the repetition of bringing up my not-problematic-yet-something-that-needs-to-be-fixed relationship status, it increasingly starts to gnaw at the edges of my patience and ignite pangs of frustration in my stomach. Even though people verbally claim there is nothing wrong with my status, in their demonstrated way of thinking, unsolicited help and advice, and assumptions and expectations both explicit and implicit, I continuously receive the message that there actually is something wrong with it, or better said, with me. And what is wrong should be changed for the better.
Even here, in a liberal city dominated by a culture where east meets west, surrounded by and interacting with many progressive citizens, it does not take long in a conversation for the ‘Question’ to be posed:”Are you single?”. Obviously everyone is entitled to pose the ‘Question’ without batting an eye, regardless how close you are to each other. From (extremely) distant relatives to shopkeepers who just pointed out in which aisle the canned goods are stalled. There are no boundaries that cannot be crossed nor are there sacred cows left to spare, thus everything should be out in the great wide open to be freely discussed with whomever is willing to take part in that discourse, which, regrettably, can include an abundance of interlocutors.
Here the expectation of mating and procreating , especially for women before a certain age, is still stronger present than in most Western societies. This specific form of social pressure can be felt in many daily interactions, whereas for men a so called successful career usually suffices. (which is also mostly a form of social pressure for many men, but let’s save that topic for another time) Do not dare to deprive your uterus of its sole task! If you refuse to fill that organ up with a bundle of joy, feel the echoing emptiness and the cold draught in your poor womb every time a stroller passes by. Honestly, I never realised a city could house so many strollers in so many variations, making it next to impossible to not run into them.
Threats on legs
Perhaps we, the single women above a certain age, pose some kind of a threat. By not reproducing fast enough. (the infamous ticking biological clock, which speeds up exponentially when mentioned by others) By not needing a man to provide for us. (we are in the midst of the fourth feminist wave, wake up sheeple!) By living a life that goes against the societal norms and expectations. In sum: that we are going against the stream of outdated standards digging a new trench where more modern-day currents will flow through.
If we, however, downscale to the level of the individual, it seems like there is another component shaping people’s’ responses: the need to be in control. This need unconsciously rises to the surface when interfering quite obsessively with my barely existing love life. Controlling this element in someone else’s life that they in turn hardly seem to control in their own existence creates an ideal situation for them. It will not directly impact them and if, heaven forbid, it will not go as planned, there is always someone else to blame. A quite odd yet common way to show how much you care about the other, deriving from nothing but good intentions. All they seem to want is preventing you being unhappy. Even in this modern era, a relationship is still seen as the ultimate antidote against heart wrenching misery.
Like many other times in my life, when I try to speak up, I am being silenced. And in all fairness, I might sabotage myself or not really know what I want to a certain extent. Nevertheless, whether I am single, married, or anything in between should be no one’s business, let alone turned into a problem. No one needs to be completed by a significant other as if a piece of our puzzle is missing. Rather, we as human beings are already complete ourselves and ideally a partner complements us to some degree. It takes two to tango, but I also enjoy myself perfectly well when hitting the dance floor on my own or with like-minded souls.
Secretly, I still carry a silent hope in my romantic heart to be swept off my feet by the love of my life whom I suddenly crash into and live happily ever after with. Yet here I am: single for life, meeting men who are a) already taken, b) living across borders, c) at the right place but wrong time, d) under the influence one way or another, e) closer to my parents’ age than mine, f) hesitant to commit for a gazillion reasons. A mix of the aforementioned is very common too. So far, not so good. At all.
Maybe this is not exclusively a plea against societal standards and traditional moulds and simultaneously an appeal for modernisation. Maybe this is also solace and reassurance for myself, and others, who secretly desire a relationship. Who wish to create a life together with a significant other. Who basically just want to love and to be loved reciprocally. Perhaps, as cheesy as it may sound, love should not solely be sought in the hearts of others. Perhaps we have to give our own hearts the opportunity to show how capable they are of loving ourselves just as much as they are capable of loving others.
Until then, I will laugh and play along with all the Yentl’s in my life. After all, all their help derives from, you guessed it, sincere love.