The New Minority
Sixty years ago, if a woman in her late thirties and forties was unmarried, she was labeled a spinster, a maiden aunt or an old maid. Stereotypically, she was perpetually high-strung and cranky. She was doughty, sad looking and prematurely gray. Her white patent leather handbag was always tightly clutched, with both hands, against her chest. She wore sensible shoes on her feet and her hair in a bun or a hairnet. She owned ten cats that she referred to as her children. She spent her Saturday afternoons rolling ace bandages at the Red Cross or had tea with the widows in the neighborhood. If she did in fact have a job, she was a schoolteacher or librarian. She was an old age companion to her aging parents and the reliable babysitter for her nieces and nephews. Besides, what else could she possibly have to do with her weekends?
Twenty years ago an unmarried woman was labeled as selfish, buried in her career or on the fast track. She wore dark, severe, androgynous looking business suits with pressed cotton blouses and creatively tied scarves. She attended power lunches. Saturdays and Sundays were spent doing the work she had brought home from the office. Weekend evenings were spent with either a dull, equally ambitious man or at the discotheque where she would meet up with various one-night stands, who she would cast aside because any personal involvement would hinder her career path and goals. The popular belief was that she was just confused. Her priorities were screwed up. But there was hope for her. She would eventually “snap out of it” and settle down into marriage as soon as the right man appeared in her life.
For the first time in history, there is a considerable population of unmarried women who have, in one way or another, managed to remain single throughout their twenties and thirties and beyond. Consciously or subconsciously, they have broken “the pattern.”
“The pattern” is the official, unwritten, and outdated, rule of female progression in society. The elements of this pattern include attending school, perhaps starting a career, landing a husband, bearing children and moving into a ranch style house that is located within twenty miles of her parents.
Similar to many other minorities, the people outside of it, do not understand the rituals or life style. Face it, the unknown makes people feel uncomfortable. The minority is considered questionable and often criticized. So, based of what the pattern-ers have come to believe, along with their lack of personal experience, members of the minority are labeled unconventional and irreverent and thus: unhappy or social failures.
With our shoulders squared, we, the minority, attempt to defend our choices and lifestyles. The pattern-ers may appear to be listening and trying to understand us, but our efforts are dismissed. They have already labeled us in an effort to justify to themselves, the minorities situation.
“She has buried herself in her career. Her priorities are screwed-up”
“She must be a difficult person. She’s hard to get along with.”
“She’s selfish. All she thinks about is having fun.”
“She’s too picky. Who does she think she is? She needs to lower her standards.”
“She bitter from past relationships.”
“She must be gay.”
We, the members of the minority, are not different from anyone else. We work and support ourselves, pay our bills and attend social events. We require air, water, respect and love. We dread holiday season family get-togethers where, without subtlety, we are interrogated about why we don’t just settle down and get married like normal people.
“Why do you choose to live this way?”
“What is wrong with you?”
“What am I supposed to tell people?”
I am in my late thirties, unmarried and yes, a functional member of society. I am a proud member of this new minority. There is not any great mystery about why I’m single. No federal or anti-social crimes have been committed. Call it timing. Call it circumstance. I simply have not met anyone who I want to marry or who wants to marry me. I just haven’t run across anyone who deserves the punishment. Besides, I’ve been busy.
Years from now, the members of this minority will no longer be unique. Those of us who endured the sarcastic comments, prejudices, and criticisms will be considered trailblazers. During future holiday celebrations, sitting by the fire, we will gather our nieces, nephews and our own late-in-life children who will sit mesmerized as we tell our stories of single life in the late twentieth century and recount our early struggles as the pioneers of the new minority.