Being single can be disheartening, but probably not for the reasons coupled people think. It’s less about doing every little task by yourself or living in fear of dying alone and unloved. It’s more about absorbing society’s sneaky, sometimes blatant reminders that, as a single person, you don’t fully exist. You are a faded black and white photo while married people, or people on the marriage track, live in full glossy color.
Last week, this reminder came courtesy of an article on New York Magazine’s The Cut blog about the newest trend in bragging: “the stand-alone engagement ring photo op.”
Reading this piece made me even happier that I don’t have a Facebook page, especially now that Facebook’s launched “relationship pages,” where you (and everyone else) can “see your whole Facebook history with your betrothed.” Eew.
The writer of the story, Chloe Angyal, is “almost four years out of college,” and all of her friends are getting engaged. I’m so many years out of college that I feel silly when I mention college, and the first slew of engagements among my peers took place in that blissful and now-forgotten heyday when Facebook did not exist. I remember reading the New York Times Weddings and Celebrations section and being irked at the frequency with which people I knew appeared there. I also remember noticing that after some time it never happened anymore, because no one was left. Everyone I knew was married.
These days I rarely read the Weddings and Celebrations section, and my social media contacts are too busy (or perhaps too classy) to Instagram their new rocks at me via Twitter. But to encounter the giddiness of marriage and coupledom, I need go no further than another section of the Forward.
Simi Lichtman’s blog chronicling the first year of her young married life is cute and readable because she is cute and readable. The kicker is that no one would read a weekly journal of single-ness regardless of how charming it might be (unless perhaps it contained frequent stories of wacky internet dates gone bad). A piece about sharing your busted car with your new husband is sweet. A piece about you, yourself and your busted car is … not.
It’s not just in the girlier corners of our culture that single women are excised from the narrative. Watch a politician making a speech. He or she will refer to families — frequently to children, but mostly just to families — as if not having a spouse must make a person too sad to vote. In America, supposedly a land of individualism, real individuals are forgotten or hidden away.
There’s also the fact that being single is more expensive. You don’t need a carefully researched article in the Atlantic to tell you that if you’ve ever slept alone in (and paid for) a massive hotel room with two giant beds. But the numbers are alarming. (The writers of the article, Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell, have a whole website about being single; discovering it was the one bright spot in all of the reading I did to write this article.)
In light of all that, those Facebook bling pics suddenly struck me as not offensive at all. I’ve always been one of those girls who hears of an engagement and wants to see the ring, but that’s not about marriage, that’s about accessories. I also like to look at non-engagement rings — and bracelets and boots and you get the picture. In my first real office job, I killed the dull hours in between filing by scrolling through hundreds of pages of watches. So I’m not opposed to so-called “context-free diamonds.” It’s the missing, and implied, context that bugs me. In her piece for the Cut, Angyal suggests that “wedding preparation is the time an adult woman is allowed to indulge,” when it’s acceptable - and, I’d add, encouraged - for a woman to focus on herself. Maybe this self-indulgence, not the rings or even the marriages, is what we react to when we see wedding-related boasting all around us. Even if I find someone’s fiancé completely dull and think her diamond ring is hideous, I still envy the free pass getting engaged gives her to behave in a manner that is, honestly, childish. It’s tempting to want the world to tell you how special you are absent any real accomplishments. How often does that happen to normal people past the age of ten?
But being married, or near-married, doesn’t simply permit you a few months of self-centered frivolity. It lets you into what many people and institutions regard as the real, adult world. If being recognized as a whole, valuable, actual person for the first time also comes with a shiny ring, who could resist showing it off?