Single women are having a moment.
In the last month, two books giving a strong voice to single women have been published: Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney and It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single by Sara Eckel. Plus there's Cameron Diaz's interview in Self in which she calls out the media for negative portrayals of single women. Even the cover of February's Marie Claire proclaims "Single Ladies Are Killing It Right Now," though I wondered what exactly the "it" is that I'm supposedly killing.
Despite this rallying, there still persists an undercurrent of pity, confusion, and, sometimes, scorn toward unattached ladies. I'd never fully realized the latter until recently.
I was out for dinner at a local pub-type place with two married female friends. Wanting a quiet evening after work, we opted for a small corner table rather than squeezing around the white-collars crowding the bar.
Toward the end of our meal, we spied three suited men looking at our table. We pinned them as trolling corporate types, the types who, frankly, make me feel uncomfortable and are a primary reason why I don't hang out in bars. We were glad we were ensconced at a table.
Suddenly, though, two of them -- I'll call them Suit 1 and Suit 2 -- descended upon our table. Suit 1 made a swift beeline for one of my friends, proclaiming loudly, "I know you from the gym! You're always eating animal crackers!" Suit 2 plunked down next to me.
My friend, for better or worse, assumes if she's polite, uncomfortable situations such as this one will easily pass. So she didn't simply tell Suit 1 to bug off. Instead, while acknowledging she did go the same gym, she shifted her left hand to the top of the table, wedding band and engagement ring gleaming, hoping he'd get the idea without her having to explicitly call him out.
My other friend pursed her lips tightly while staring into her empty glass. And I took the middle ground, masking my discomfort, as I often do, by turning my sarcasm onto overdrive.
Suit 2 explained that they were assistant DAs, out celebrating a day's work protecting "the people." I replied with some dry quips, mustering a Law & Order reference while scanning the room for our server.
Eventually Suit 1 noticed my friend's hand. "Oh, so you're engaged."
"Actually," she replied, "I'm married."
He talked a bit more, undeterred, but eventually said goodnight and walked away. Suit 2, however, stayed plunked next to me, explaining how much he wished he could leave.
When I responded "Well, you do have legs," he said, "You're a challenge." I bristled and looked away, as he continued, "You're kind of strange."
I looked him in the eye. "That's offensive."
"Nope, still offensive."
"That's slightly less offensive than weird and strange."
My for better or worse trait is that I become excessively uncomfortable about confrontations and avoid them as much as possible. Seeing our server walking toward us, I assumed we could make it through the next several minutes to settle the bill. But as she handed us the check, Suit 1 reappeared, fresh drink in hand, once again beelining to my friend. She tried to ignore him as she calculated her portion of the bill. In an attempt to hold her attention, he held out his phone to show her photos. Of his wife and children. (He wasn't wearing a ring.)
Still, I held my tongue. These guys were tipsy and oozing a sense of entitlement. But they weren't worth my anger. I turned to Suit 2 and said dryly, "So, do you guys want to pick up the bill for us?"
It was as far from coquettish as could be. I was kidding. I've never once assumed nor expected that a man should pick up the bill for me. As I placed my credit card on the table, Suit 2 acknowledged my sarcasm, but then looked at my quiet friend and asked her, "So, where's the sleepover?"
She shook her head as I felt something hitting my arm, turning to discover it was Suit 1 obliviously knocking me as he gestured broadly with his arm, leaning over to my friend to say, "Do you want me to help you figure out the tip?"
Hoping to draw attention off her, I blurted, once again dryly, "Well, you could help by picking this up."
Though still kidding, I'll admit, in my annoyance a small part of me figured if Suit 1 was sloshed enough to actually take me seriously, then, why not.
He spun around. "You want me to pay?"
I shrugged, and replied sarcastically as a statement rather than a question, "Well, you're a married man spending your evening hitting on a married woman, so why not."
His eyes narrowed. "Are you single?"
"Well, I'm not wearing a ring."
"But are you single? Are you a single woman?" He punched these last two words.
"Yeah," I said.
"Well that's why," he barked, wagging his finger close to my face. "Your attitude, that's why you're single, and you're going to stay single for a long time."
I wish I could say I had an eloquent response, one that, like Diaz in Self, employed impactful words like "misogyny" and "chauvinism."
Instead all I could think to say was, "Get your finger out of my face, you idiot."
Suit 2 coaxed Suit 1 away. But he kept wagging his finger, walking away backwards so that he could continue giving me a piece of his mind. I said dismissively, "Have a great night."
"Oh, I will! I will have a great night!" he shouted while backing up. "But I'm not sure about you. Because you're a colossal bitch!" And then, to my friend, "You should get new friends!"
Outwardly, I rolled my eyes while my friend, her politeness now gone, yelled at him to put his ring on. Inside, I was shaking, not just because Jersey Shore-lite moments like this don't happen to me, but because of the sudden anger this man unleashed and the words he'd chosen.
Later, I found I could shrug off "colossal bitch" because I know it doesn't come close to accurately describing me. But while I may not be a colossal bitch, I am single. And, like Eckel, Heaney, and I'm sure a good number of the 17.3 million single women in this country, I sometimes contemplate my status and wonder if it will change.
"You're going to stay single for a long time," reverberated in my mind and during that hollow silence between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., a tiny voice asked, "What if he's right?"
Come morning, I knew logically it was nothing more than the inappropriate knee-jerk reaction of a drunk man to the fact that he was called out on his shady behavior, who felt his game had been spoiled. (Wouldn't his wife be thrilled to know he spends his time after work showing women her picture?)
I somehow can't imagine a single man's status being used as an attack against him. It's troubling that there's still an assumption that female singlehood is an inherently problematic state. And troubling that my status was viewed as something to be attacked, turned angrily against me.
When it comes to pointing out behavior laced with chauvinism and misogyny, whether or not a woman is single is irrelevant. We -- single women, coupled women, all women -- should keep raising a collective voice to counter the mindset that the woman who doesn't want to play along with inappropriate behavior is a "colossal bitch."
And maybe that mindset is the "it" we're supposed to be killing.