Friday, February 13, 2009

The following is a public service announcement.

This Saturday, February 14th, is Valentines’ Day, a holiday whose existence is crucial to the profit margins of the makers of mediocre chocolate products, the manufacturers of red, heart-shaped things, and the vendors of banal greeting cards. It is also a celebration of traditional romantic love. Those of us who are without partners, for whatever reason, often feel jealous of the legions of allegedly happy couples who are presumably smooching and cuddling the day away and will most likely head for the bedroom for an evening of conjugal bliss.

Allow me to perform a reality check. First of all, it just so happens that not all couples are happy. The divorce rate is around 50% and like the unemployment rate, the statistic does not tell the whole story. It doesn’t count nominally-intact marriages in which the love (and sex) dried up years ago, ones where one or both partners is a victim of abuse, and so on. Things aren't that much better for non-married couples who stay in loveless relationships simply because they cannot bring themselves to do otherwise.

Secondly, being single isn’t a disorder requiring costly or desperate measures to correct. We all begin our lives as single people. Some of us who are now happily coupled may be forced apart by circumstance. Those of us who are single by choice deserve to have our decision respected. Those of us who are single through no fault of our own deserve support, not pity or scorn.

Traditional stereotypes of single people range from the man who couldn’t attract a woman if he walked into a brothel with a fistful of hundred-dollar bills, the insouciant playboy who spends all his time going from party to orgy to swinger’s club, the nymphomaniac who lures dozens of (mostly married) suitors up to her penthouse apartment each day, to the old maid with no companions apart from her 27 cats. How many people like these actually exist in the real world?

No lover, however devoted, is a substitute for a social support network. Friends are not luxuries.

No one will deny that living by oneself can get lonely and frustrating at times. But anyone with a firm grip on reality will also recognize that the all-too-common practice of “settling”, coupling up with someone who just happens to be available whether or not he or she is actually a good match, can make things much worse in the long run, as illustrated by the above satirical Youtube clip, and the obscenely-high incomes of divorce attorneys.

As many single people the world over will tell you, being single does not mean taking a virtual vow of chastity! True, solo-sex is the primary mode of sexual expression for a lot of single people, and it has an undeservedly bad reputation. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the U.S. Surgeon General got fired from her job for suggesting that solo sex might be good for one’s general well-being, a point which a recent BBC report reiterated. Too often it has been regarded as the last resort of losers. This attitude needs to change, and fast.

While I’m at it, I’d like to strongly recommend that the adjective-turned-noun “single” never again be used to refer to people without partners. When used in this manner, the word has all the characteristics of a derogatory epithet. It suggests someone who is too unattractive, irresponsible or dumb to attract and hold a partner.

Lastly, but definitely not least, I must emphasize this final point: Valentines Day is a commercial holiday. It has far, far less to do with romance than with moving loads of dodgy theme products. Love, after all, isn’t about stuff. Love is about intimacy, about pleasure. Put another way, love isn’t when you buy your partner a heart-shaped fuzzy pillow. Love is when you do her laundry or sweep the floor because it needs to be done. Love isn’t sending her a bouquet of flowers. Love is when you spend a rainy Saturday afternoon in a junkyard looking for parts for her car.

Having said all that, happy Valentines’ Day to everyone, coupled or not!

Random recommended reading: - Being single as a conscious choice.
Blogher - Pleasing yourself, aka going solo. (NSFW)
Solo Sex guru Betty Dodson (NSFW)
Interview with Laura Kipnis, author of Against Love and The Female Thing.
An American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers article about collaborative divorce.

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