Single in a Postmodern World*
In a few short weeks I will marry Mr Right. This heralds the end of my official status as a ‘single woman’. Given that my 30th birthday was celebrated a number of years ago (no sniggering, it wasn’t that many years), and that I am not one to have had a string of relationships in the interim, the transition has yielded some philosophical thought. And need for some impressive, Olympic-calibre eye-rolls. It has shown me, clearly, that our self-satisfaction at our modern outlook, and our belief that we have “moved on” from conservative ideals and thoughts is up for debate.
Firstly, let’s set the scene. In this new post-modern world of ours where everything goes and even if it doesn’t, it’s fashionable to accept it (and in many instances I would agree with this freedom of expression) I am a pretty straight-down-the-line kind of law-abiding citizen. Probably too ordinary sometimes for my liking, as I’ve never experimented with drugs (does caffeine count?), never done anything remotely daring (bar some exciting mountain bike rides that certainly needed parental supervision) and I haven’t dyed my hair purple or gone the route of dreadlocks –though I can claim to have been tempted on more than one occasion (I have however lived in a tent and not showered for four days). I am heterosexual, and (surprisingly?) I have never had any inclination to be anything but. I understand the need to earn a good living by putting in hard work, and I have close-cropped red hair (going too grey too quickly, but there you have it). Oh, did I mention that I am female?
Not so long ago, my single status, short hair and penchant for an active lifestyle led a close (I reviewed this status) friend of mine to attempt, over dinner, to encourage me to “leap from the closet”. Had I not been so amused I might have had time to be offended. Repeat attempts to make me realise I could be comfortable with my “true sexuality” were met by a bemused shake of my head: I’ve been confused about many things in my life, but my heterosexuality isn’t one of them. Sorry about that. “But!” she exclaimed, “you have short hair and ride a bicycle!”. I’m not sure but I took that to mean that all women who are unattached, have short hair and partake in sporting pursuits must, therefore, be homosexual. It is after all, a post-modern world.
Recently, I became engaged. I am not embarrassed to say that this follows possibly more than half a decade of the single life. Really, the single life. It may astonish the reader that during this time I devoted very little time to moping around feeling sorry for my single self, no indeed! - I travelled, I did just as I pleased, I set my own time-schedule, and quite honestly, I’ll be a pain to live with now, so independent am I and so selfish of my time. I recently popped down to our local coffee shop for a cappuccino, and bumped into an acquaintance I had not seen in many months. On hearing that I was to tie the knot she said with visible astonishment, “where did you find him?”. It revealed succinctly what quizzical expressions have been subtly revealing for the better part of 2010. Goodness! We thought she was headed for a lonely life with 12 cats. Wow! She found someone? But she’s old already! A single man? In this town? Again, a bemused smile on my face as I explained with pride that Mr Right is not local, and that his work keeps him out of town. He occasionally pops round for a visit, when geological exploration further up in Africa permits. Seeing as I’m the only one who sees much of him, perhaps he is a ‘phantom’ presence (I do assure the reader he does exist!). In a small community most assume that if a relationship is on the go, the couple will be spotted together in the supermarket, the pub, and walking hand in hand along the High street. Not us, you see, and so all chaos reigns among the socially-connected, the purveyors of the latest broadsheet-calibre gossip. So, as I learn daily, not so post-modern perhaps?!
Explanation complete about why the gentleman in question is not known, a second issue is invariably raised. “Where will you live once you are married?”. Again, this is a most reasonable question and the answer that I shall remain where I am and Mr Right will continue his commutes, evokes a range of responses. There is the slightly raised eyebrow that hints of disapproval; the knowing nod (it’s a marriage of convenience?); the poorly disguised shock revealing the needier side in all of us; and my favourite: “Oh that is such a good plan, it’s the recipe for a good marriage!” – usually exclaimed by women who have recently celebrated 25th wedding anniversaries, and have picket-fence lives. I treasure all these responses, as they have all become a memory I have of this time – that I shall only have once – as I prepare to change my surname.
Heaven forbid – change my surname? This has feminists raising more eyebrows, traditionalists nodding appreciatively, younger women shaking their heads unable to imagine the moment, and me feeling somewhat ambivalent. It’s taken 30 years or so, but I’ve kind of got to liking my name. I even answer to it now. It raises the tricky issues of who will be credited with my next academic degree (yes, I am the perpetual student, let’s put that right out there)? Does Mr Right’s family, by virtue of the name obtain the credit, or do my long-suffering parents whose financial, emotional, physical, psychological, gastronomic, and every other kind of support over the years has facilitated my being who and what I am today? They who have lived through the trials and tribulations of the daughter who seems “never to get a proper job”? Yes, a dicey debate if ever there was one. I shall compromise, I think (cue: raised eyebrows) and fence-sit (thus getting shot at from both sides? I rather hope not!). I shall take a double-barrelled surname for professional purposes. I’ve always wanted to ensure that there are sufficient little blocks on official application forms for “write in black ink only, block capitals, one letter per block”. Very post-modern, with a flashy signature to boot (that will take me the remainder of this doctorate to get the hang of).
I smile as I recount these experiences, thoughts, memories, and interactions. I love that I have them. I love that there are so many levels of our “today”, so many different feelings and reactions out there. I love explaining my unique situation – not for the self-absorption that this implies, but for the response I know I’ll receive. I am fascinated that it is the octogenarians who “get it” and the twenty-somethings who don’t; that it is the “self-proclaimed liberal” who raises an eyebrow, mouth saying what the eyes can’t, and the “apparently conservative” friend who is completely understanding. And that it shows in her face, and in her words. Perhaps this is where our post-modernism truly lies. And I embrace it!
*Credit to Karen Zoid’s song “Postmodern World” off the similarly named CD for the inspiration for this title. Go on, give it a listen, you’ll love it.
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