We used to be exempt. When our straight friends and family were being taken aside at family reunions by their well-meaning aunts and asked, “So when are you going to settle down? Why aren’t you married? Why don’t you have children yet?”, we were left alone. We were already a lost cause and we weren’t allowed some of it legally anyway, so why bother with the questions?
Well, not so anymore.
With the legalization of gay marriage and general mainstreaming of gay people, we are now susceptible to those same awkward questions. The assumption is that now that we are legally allowed to partake in ‘what people do’ we should of course want to do so and choose to do so. After centuries of being ‘the bachelor uncle’ or ‘spinster aunt’ we’re now supposed to provide spouses and perhaps children.
After decades of being societal rebels (queers!), young gay people are now being raised in a world where their lives are just as planned out for them as everyone else.
To be clear, I do not mean to minimize the value of relationships and families for some individuals. For some people it really is an ideal situation that brings them joy. And that’s great! I just take issue with the assumption that that is the only valid life for a person to lead.
When a guy at a bar tells me, “You’re so cool, I can’t believe you’re single,” I take that to mean that he sees no value in singlehood and sees single people as usually having something wrong with them that would prevent them from reaching their ideal state of being partnered. Well I’m here to tell you: It is not an inherently ideal state to be in.
As an illustrative example, I had a ‘spinster aunt’. Though she did have a relationship with a woman for a few years, she spent most of her life single. She was a kind, wonderful person who was my sanity in some of the hardest times of my life. I would call her and talk to her for hours as she would talk me through everything awful about life. When she passed away, dozens of students from the school where she was a librarian came to her memorial. Several stood up and spoke of her role in their lives, very similar to the one she had in my life. I hadn’t realized she had been giving that much to that many people. She found purpose outside of romantic relationships and nuclear families.
Which isn’t to say that that should be expected of all single people. No one is obligated to give that much to other people, but if that makes you feel fulfilled as it did my aunt, wonderful.
Okay, so we’ve established that being single is not inferior. What are the benefits? Most obviously, freedom. I don’t have to run everything I do past someone else. I don’t have to be anchored to one place. I can’t count how many times I’ve moved in my adult life, and I value highly that freedom and flexibility. When I had an opportunity to travel Europe for six months, I was able to jump on it. Would I have been able to do that in a serious relationship? Probably not, and it certainly would have been much harder.
Relationships take a lot of emotional energy that could be focused in other directions. Perhaps your career is especially demanding but also provides you with fulfillment. Forget all those Lifetime movies about the career woman who learns that she’s really empty inside and wanted a man all along. That’s bullshit and, frankly, patriarchal.
And gay relationships can be especially difficult to negotiate. All relationships have to deal with compatibility in personality and expectations for the future, which are hard enough. But for gay men especially, you also have to find someone who is compatible in sexual roles and in general views of the role of sex in your relationship. Monogamy is not assumed, and if you both have different ideas about that, you have to be able to come up with rules for your extracurricular activity that both will find acceptable. We take the algebra of relationships into the territory of calculus. So yes, singlehood is also sexual freedom.
There’s also a philosophical argument against us as gay people falling into the same type of relationship as everyone else. It’s like we’re mirroring the social structures that oppressed us for so long. The argument that marrying and having children was the only acceptable life plan is what led directly to the argument that gay people couldn’t be accepted by society because we weren’t capable of fulfilling that expectation. The radical activists of the gay movement of yore rejected these social constructs entirely, but now we’re embracing them. This isn’t necessarily an argument to frame your life around, but it’s something to think about. (It should also be pointed out that these social constructs similarly exclude alternate forms of relationships like polyamory.)
When it comes right down to it, though, my biggest issue with the assumption of coupling is the loss of emotional energy that some people spend on what they don’t have. They spend so much time pining for their romantic comedy to come along they lose sight of everything else they could be doing. I saw a Reddit recently from a young gay guy who said he had a micro-penis but insisted on being a top, and then when he had a hard time finding a boyfriend, he became suicidal. He seemed to see nothing else he could be doing with his life (or even his sexuality, but that’s a separate issue).
So, to my single guys and gals out there: Coupling is not everything. You have so much to experience that has nothing to do with your relationship status. Life is an adventure, not a checklist. Maybe you will find a partner in your adventure, maybe you won’t. But either way, the adventure continues.