Emotional Health · Lifestyle · Relationships & Dating

‘Table for One’: Battle Cry of the Single Woman

UntitledPhoto by Andy Rennie via Flickr. (Creative Commons License)

The Lobster, a film currently receiving rave reviews, is based on the premise that remaining single is dangerous. Under the guise of “black comedy,” the film grimly portrays a world in which unattached adults have a Kafkaesque choice – marry within 45 days or be turned into the animal of their choice. Twenty minutes into the movie, I ran out of the theater. I couldn’t watch the film’s gratuitous violence. (I am told I missed a scene of a gentle dog being sadistically kicked to death.)

As much as I was repelled by the filmmaker’s penchant for brutality— a man’s hand is forced into a burning hot toaster, another smashes his head against a wall – I recognized the terrain. Yorgos Lanthinmos, the film’s 42-year-old director/writer, is single and childless. At 65, I check off the same box. Single. No children.

What felt like youthful rebellion in my twenties, living with partners but not marrying them, now makes for awkward conversation when reuniting with childhood friends or meeting “eligible” men. There is always the underlying question: What is wrong with you? Surely there must be a reason why a bright, attractive, articulate man or woman never married or had children. They must be too picky. Sexually ambivalent. Or have psychological problems so messy and complicated that the only person they see regularly is their therapist. I don’t fit into any of the above.  I have a hunch that Lanthinmos doesn’t either.

When friends ask why I am single, I give them the only answer that seems to satisfy them. I said “yes” when I should’ve said “no,” and vice versa. Between the ages of 18 and 22, I cavalierly rejected no less than three suitors on the grounds that they were too conventional. They were Ivy League grads headed for careers in academia or the sciences. I didn’t want Dustin Hoffman with a PhD. I wanted Jim Morrison with a Harley Davidson. And that’s who I got! Lots of excitement. No matching towels or silver service. (SeeMy Not-so-Funny Valentine.”)


RELATED: “The Wednesday Five: The Power of Single Women

As for remaining childless, that was poor planning more than a clear-headed choice. I simply waited too long. When I tried to get pregnant in my early forties and it didn’t happen, I did not seek out medical help. I cried for one week and moved on. But not really. As friends divorced in their late forties and early fifties, I realized that children, not spouses, are the fabric of life. Without them, a single woman over fifty is a luxury cruise ship without a port of call. Don’t believe me? Just ask one what she is doing next Thanksgiving. (Please, no lectures on the rewards of being a “favorite aunt” or volunteering in soup kitchens.)

While I do not share The Lobster’s premise that unmarried adults are under tremendous pressure to conform (i.e., marry) or face horrific consequences, I get his message. In my lifetime, I’ve observed many segments of society fight for their right to an equal slice of the American pie. LGBTQ, Veterans, Americans with Disabilities, Atheists,  Immigrants, Native Americans, etc. But no one has ever dared to champion the group that must not speak its name. Why should they? Because according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of single Americans has increased from 37.4 percent of the population in 1976 to over 50 percent as of 2014. Singles are now the majority.

If you think there is no discrimination against single adults, try dining alone at an upscale restaurant between 8 and 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. You’ll be lucky if they seat you in the kitchen. I know what you are thinking. Who would want to do that? At one time, I did. I quickly learned that a woman dining alone at a pricey eatery is either ignored or served so quickly that dessert arrives with the entrée. Which is why single adults tend to dine at the bar of better restaurants. Less humiliation. Better service. Now imagine that this same treatment was applied to members of any other group –a gay couple or a black couple. The ACLU would be at the restaurant’s door before they received their check.

Where else are single adults persona non grata? I dare you to walk into any synagogue. Without a spouse, children (and a checkbook) you do not exist. Synagogues are organized around family life. If you are in your twenties, they are thrilled to welcome you to their Singles Events. But a childless woman over forty? Don’t hold your breath. If there is no bas or bar mitzvah in your future, you serve no purpose. Personally, I’ve been more warmly welcomed in black churches than the many synagogues in Manhattan which I attempted to join.

While I do not identify with the horrific image of single life displayed in The Lobster, I am well aware of the film’s point of view. Being a single parent or a married lesbian are both more acceptable than remaining single and childless. People are forever asking if I am on JDate or Match. Would I like to meet their cousin Bob? Been there, done that. I have told people I am divorced rather than open myself to their scrutiny. Ultimately, I find myself asking the question that The Lobster asks in its own dark, depressing way: Is it okay in 2016 to be who I am? You better believe it!

RELATED: “That Old Gang of Mine: A Spinster’s Lament

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.