I recently overheard these words that were part of an animated conversation. A third party was being described as ‘never married’ and the response came back, “Oh!”
It was this small word that signified so much.
“Oh – she’s a loser!”
“Oh – so she’ll be an old maid.”
“Oh – so no one wanted her, right?”
“Oh – what’s wrong with her?”
“Oh – she must be ugly.”
“Oh – if she is still single there must be some good reason or justification, something that is her fault.”
“Oh – she’s never known love.”
The list of assumptions did not need to be vocalised in this particular occasion as the three people in the conversation knew exactly - as was shown by the solemn acceptance of his response - what he was talking about. His meaning was crystal clear.
The stigma of never being married still persists in the 21st century. The person passing society’s judgement was not asking why the woman had stayed single, he presumed because ... he could. His presumption was not questioned either.
As the conversation continued I wondered if this man had even paused to think that the woman in question may have chosen to stay single, may be waiting to get married, may be in a committed partnership that is not public knowledge, may be unable to marry ... for legal or political reasons. Or did he just know – taking on the world view that women of a certain age should be married and those that weren’t were somehow drawing unnecessary attention to themselves and their ‘problems’.
As the conversation progressed it became more apparent that he would have been more comfortable if she had been married and then divorced rather than not married at all. This ‘always single’ status made him severely uncomfortable.
“Oh!” he said again. And immediately displaced the woman from the centre of society. She was highly visible because of her difference in status but there was also a need to make her invisible as well. Most societies signify marriage as a contract between a man and a woman that builds family relationships; these relationships are deemed the bedrock of society (just a casual look at statistics will prove this assumption to be based on sinking sand), however, the majority of people still hold on to the idea that all heterosexual marriages bring stability to society and communities as an unassailable truth (again, look at the facts). This woman was painted as a pariah in society - divorcees were more welcomed.
Although he was not talking about me – he could have been. I guess I am one of those women who will never fit in to this man’s world view but that does not mean that I am unhappy with my single status or that I have never had any wonderful relationships.
Never Married? Oh! ... Just because my personal and social status does not fit into this narrow description does not mean that I am any less a person than a married woman, and it especially does not mean that I have never known love ...
Other ‘never married’ women:
Queen Elizabeth I
Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel