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Opinion: Normalise singlehood for women

www.telanganatoday.com | December 20, 2023

The institution of marriage is often presented as TINA (there is no alternative) due to which women are often forced to question whether there is something wrong with them if they choose not to marry

There will be nobody left to get married”, “Will you die single”, “Your biological clock is ticking like a time bomb”. How many single women in their 20s, 30s and 40s have heard these from their ‘well-wishers’, a show of hand, please! Okay, we see you ladies. Despite numerous studies documenting the benefits of being in romantic relationships (there is no denying that), there is a steady rise in singlehood globally, surprising, isn’t it? Despite the many disadvantages of singlehood, the number of single young people is growing exponentially compared to that of coupled individuals (Gui, 2022).

According to Apostolou (2019), the rising population of singles in Western countries has attracted attention to the issue of people staying single by choice or due to difficulties in courtship. While being in a relationship has its advantages, it may not promise health and happiness for everyone (DePaulo, 2015). Women who are career-oriented and financially independent are perceived as less feminine and fail to meet the criteria for ‘good women’ or prospective wives. Those career women who remain single until their late 20s have been referred to within Chinese popular culture as ‘leftover women’ (Gui, 2020).

Gendered Nature

Postponed marriages are highly prevalent in urban India as is the case in many other countries. Marriage has a gendered nature and it very often pans out like a work contract. Both parties involved in it have well-defined and clear-cut roles as they enter into this social contract. The issue of singlehood is gaining attention because women are choosing to be single longer than society allows them to. Due to this, the idea of leftover women has gained currency much more than the idea of leftover men. In the popular imagination, while men ‘choose’ to be single and their decision is voluntary, the same does not hold true for women. The narrative that usually follows is that they are unsuitable and unlikable and hence nobody ‘chose’ them. Mostly, it reduces the discourse around women’s singlehood to their looks and hence unsuitability. There is scant regard given to factors like their ambition, focus on career, family situation, and personal preference.

Even though different forms of cohabitation are becoming conspicuous in Indian society, the accepted one is only a heteronormative marriage between a male and female adult. This can be seen from the services provided at banks, healthcare, rental housing and property purchases to employment opportunities. Our society very much believes in being on time especially when it comes to marriage and childbearing. The longer the women delay either act, the harsher the sanction from society.

The concept of egg freezing refers to preserving the fertility of a woman so that she can have children at a later date (Human Fertilization & Embryology Authority). It goes without saying that this is mostly availed by the privileged sections who can undergo this expensive procedure. However, it is interesting to note that egg freezing has not picked up in India in a big way even among the affluent sections. This is because this practice indicates that women are not getting pregnant ‘on time’ and that can cause a huge rupture in societal norms.

Marriage and Fertility

The close relationship between marriage and fertility clearly signifies the pressure and societal importance of this bond on women as compared to men (Gui, 2022). Interestingly, the portrayals of single working women in Chinese television shows and movies are usually assumed to be involuntarily single and eager to sell themselves off in the marriage market. These biased perspectives solely focus on women’s relationships and external pressures for marriage while ignoring other important aspects of their lives. The exaggeration of the importance of marriage seems to be at an all-time high (MK Jiang, 2013). Although negative discourses regarding single women are being countered by critiques — from scholars and feminist activists, media and popular culture continue to spread the stereotypical image of ‘leftover women’.

The more women become educated and join the workforce, the better they realise the importance of self-sufficiency and independence, hence choosing to delay marriage and childbirth. It still remains deeply unfathomable to society at large that single people can have a profoundly enriching and promising life. Singlehood is often associated with depression and dependency, whereas marriage is seen to lead to satisfaction and fulfilment. On the contrary, studies show that people who aren’t looking for a partner are more likely to flourish and be happier (Kislev, 2021). Singlehood is correlated with increasing life satisfaction, and less loneliness and dissatisfaction as compared to the lives of couples (Park et al, 2020).

When single, people find more opportunities to make deeper connections with friends and follow lifelong passions and hobbies. Being single is also viewed as an opportunity to address personal challenges, manage emotions, and tap into one’s personal development, creative endeavours, and overall well-being. It would perhaps be fair to say that single women live a psychologically rich life if not richer than coupled individuals. A study of 7,000 adults from the US in their midlife found that singles were more “curious, imaginative, and open to new experiences” (Spielmann et al.,2021).

Going Solo

It's high time people understood that singlehood is a sustainable and sought-after way of life. Waking up in the morning to nobody isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world. It isn't deplorable to want to be able to provide comfort and security to oneself, as opposed to wanting a partner to do so. That's not to say that marriage is inherently better than singlehood, or the other way around. However, it's disconcerting to see that the former is awaited, encouraged and celebrated, while the latter is met with disgust, shock, and raised eyebrows. The institution of marriage is often presented as TINA (there is no alternative) due to which women are often forced to question whether there is something wrong with them if they choose not to marry or have children.

At a time when ‘solo dates', solo travelling, and self-discovery are becoming global catchphrases, it's pertinent that singlehood becomes more accepted in everyday life as well. Unfortunately, the popular media only favours and promotes the idea of couples, and this becomes particularly glaring during festivals and wedding seasons. For a change, it would be refreshing to see an advertisement with a woman dressing up for herself or eating chocolate by herself as opposed to with a romantic partner. It would be exhilarating to see films and television shows that don't revolve around love between partners but trace the emotional journey and challenges of single people.

It must be understood that women aren't putting up an act or trying to be rebellious when voicing their desires to remain single. It's time the state, media and society at large started viewing singlehood as something amiable. Believe it or not, it is in fact possible to be blissfully and wholeheartedly single.

This article has been co-authored by Swara Shah, Undergraduate Student, FLAME University, Prof. Anup Tripathi, Faculty of Sociology, FLAME University, and Prof. Moitrayee Das, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://telanganatoday.com/opinion-normalise-singlehood-for-women )