21 February 2016

Live and let live solo

Today is another day resigned to going about your business as an ordinary human being, with no intentions to ruffle feathers, let alone draw unwanted attention. Then it happens: you arouse suspicion when asked to divulge your relationship status and declared, “Single.”

You’ve been in this situation many times before. In the restaurant, where, booking a table, the receptionist says, “For one?” not only to clarify the request but also to pry: Why are you eating alone? In the movie theater, where the coldness of the empty seats around you have nothing on the icy stares directed at you. And in the various social gatherings, where, upon discovery of your singleness, new acquaintances dissect you like a frog.

Somehow it’s hard to conceive the possibility of living with neither romantic attachments nor desire for matrimony. That one can nd joy and meaning sans spouse, so-called signi cant other, and children.

The suspicion then turns into pity, especially since having a life partner has always been the idealized status, and the search for The One deemed a basic human hunger. Love between two people and the reality of a soul mate are standard themes in pop songs. Leading characters in a TV series are bound to develop sexual chemistry and eventually end up together if the show ever extends its run. The losers in teen icks automatically become the cool kids after scoring a girlfriend (in fact they were losers to begin with because they were alone).

All these send the message that if you’re single, something is wrong — mostly with you. Stereotypes thrown the single’s way are: too picky, self-centered, career-obsessed, emotionally unstable, sad and unattractive. These descriptions not only come from the outside but also from within the solo yer, because again, we are told that “single = not normal.”

Beyond the tags, however, single men and women experience unfair treatment in the workplace and in the market because of their status. Studies in the US show that all things beings equal (age, income, background), majority of renters prefer couples or a group of friends over a single renter. Married men are also more likely to get the job and earn more than his unmarried counterpart. And married couples get better insurance rates and employee benefits.

One striking issue raised by University of Denver Sturm College of Law professor Nancy Leong is people’s openness when it comes to their bias against single people. “When asked why they preferred to rent to married people…a majority of participants in the rental study stated simply: ‘because they’re married,’” she said in a 2014 article. “It is very dif cult to imagine that such a large number would have proclaimed that they preferred not to rent to black people ‘because they’re black,’ or to Jewish people ‘because they’re Jewish.’”

While the studies may have been done abroad, the same attitude and practices apply here. Perhaps a relatable example is at the of ce where single employees are expected to take the extra hours and work load without question. Solo diners may be asked to transfer tables to make way for a larger group. Hotels charge extra for single occupants. The list goes on.

Magna Carta of Singletons — that sounds funny. But are we convinced that singledom is viewed in a negative light and coupledom is the right and only option? Leong pointed out that “the dedication with which same-sex couples and their allies have fought for the right to marry demonstrates how important marriage is to many people. Yet others feel just as strongly about remaining single.” In the end she suggested that “the move toward equality for everyone who wishes to marry is cause for celebration. It also provides an opportunity to re ect on marital status more generally, and to look for ways to equalize those who wish to marry and those who don’t.”

Things can be complicated in the Philippines, which values the traditional family setup. The good news is that the LGBT community (long regarded as “others”) have been courageous and persistent in making their voices heard. The single ladies and gentlemen can take their cue from them — not exactly to stage rallies and lobby for laws, no, but to feel no shame in whatever state are in, whoever they choose to be, and not be pressured into taking others’ beliefs and principles as their own.

The fantasy is that someday party conversations will be kinder, with people asking each other personal questions out of genuine curiosity and not out of a need to form a character judgment. That we let each other take our time in guring out matters of the heart. That you can walk into a restaurant where you’ll be seated at a good spot, even if you ask for a table for one.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

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