“Why are you single?”
I’ve been asked that too many times to ascribe the quote to just one name. It comes from well meaning folk, I think, who mean it as a reverse compliment. It’s as if to say, “You’re great. I don’t get it.” (They could have just stopped at ‘you’re great!’) But then again, it could also be an underhanded way of asking, “What’s wrong with you?”
I can’t be the only one who’s wondered if the question is supposed to be rhetorical or if the asker expects me to launch into an explanation. “Well, you see, what had happened was…” Whatever’s expected, I don’t answer. I figure if you actually knew me well enough to ask that, then you would also know me well enough to know the answer.
But back to my point: Over the weekend, I was reading the Modern Love column in the New York Times and found a thoughtful essay by Sara Eckel, “Sometimes It’s Not You.”
Eckel found herself on a first date with a well-meaning man (now her husband) who skipped the faux politeness of “Why are you single?” and just bluntly asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
“I was, of course, outraged,” Eckel wrote. “But honestly, his question was no worse than the one I asked myself nearly every day. It wasn’t full-blown self-loathing, more a hollowness that hit me in the chest at certain times… were our married friends really so much more desirable than we were?”
If you are single — by choice, or not — you likely have had a moment where you doubt your marital status (or lack thereof) that sneaks through the armor of usually healthy self-esteem. You’ve questioned, even if you didn’t mean to, “Is there something wrong? Is my choice really a choice, or am I making the most out of my circumstances?” Maybe it’s paranoia, perhaps it’s just a passing moment of angst, but in a culture heavily geared toward marriage (for women, at least), it can be hard flying solo and always staying confident. “Is it me?” we sometimes wonder.
No. Well, at least not necessarily.
Surely all of us singles have some hurdles that need surmounting, some hard edges that could be buffed smoother. But so do The Married. Marriage, relationships, whatever attachment you may be seeking isn’t about finding perfection or being perfect. “I do” doesn’t wash away sins or character flaws, annoying habits or personality defects like the blood of Jesus. It means that two flawed people found each other, saw one another’s shortcomings and said, “I’m on board for the long haul; I’ll take you as you are.”
Five years later, Eckel is married to the man who asked the disastrous question that sent her spinning, and you’ll be happy to know, she’s confirmed her (and her married friends’) continued imperfections.
“Did we find love because we grew up, got real and worked through our issues?” Eckel asks. “No. We just found the right guys… what’s wrong with me? Plenty. But that was never the point.”
Demetria L. Lucas is the Relationships Editor at ESSENCE and the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: Your Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Ask her your dating and relationship questions on Formspring.me/abelleinbk