Women's Health: Flying Solo

Women's Health October 2009 001Women’s Health Philippines gives the single ladies some love in their October 2009 issue. 

 In the article entitled “Flying Solo”, three women [myself included] in their mid-30s to 40s talk about being single -– the men, the freedom and most importantly, the confidence to soar on your own.

Text By Micah Vanessa Sulit

Whoever said the unhitched are lonely and pitiable? Many women today are living the single life—and relishing it to the last bit.

To get a general idea of what society expects of our romantic lives, perhaps it’s best to start at the bookstore, where shelves in the relationships section teem with titles like How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dating, as though we’re total ninnies who want to attract serial killers. And then there are books like Why You’re Still Single and If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?: Ten Strategies That Will Change Your Love Life Forever, as though there’s something seriously wrong with not having a partner. No, we’re not bitter—we’re being blunt.

 

So are our friends and relatives, who don’t care whether we’re at a family reunion or a funeral. They’ll ask that most (in)famous question: “Do you have a boyfriend?” (Or one of its many variations.) Entrepreneur Tina Vitas, 40, hears this question one time too many. “Then they ask you why, then they say, ‘Maybe you’re too picky.’ Eh talagang picky ka! You’re entitled to be picky!” she laughs. (When asked during the interview how long she’s been single, she replies in jest, “Who’s counting?”)

            People find it odd if you’re a certain age and you’re single, she observes, and they think there must be something wrong with you. Indeed, society’s expectations of a woman’s life is a tale as old as time: girl meets boy, falls head over heels in love (forget the hundreds of thousands of pesos spent on a costly college education), dons a white princess-cut gown, spawns a brood of four, and lives happily ever after in a house with a white picket fence. Has any Disney Princess ever ended up alone?

            “Traditional society defines women in terms of their reproductive role,” says Ma. Cecilia G. Conaco, Ph.D., a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman and a social psychologist who does research on social identity and women’s issues. “They are expected to get married and have children, and to play a nurturing role in their families.” If a woman defies those expectations, she’ll find herself the subject of negative stereotypes and labels. “We call them “old maids” (“matandang dalaga” in the vernacular) or “naiwanan ng tren,” and attribute negative causes for their single status, like undesirability or personality flaws,” she says.

 

 

Women's Health October 2009 pg 3Women's Health October 2009 pg 4

 

 

Table for one, please

 Simply put, a single person is one who is unmarried or, as some scholars and experts include, who is not in a serious relationship. There are many types of singles, including the never-married, the solo parents, and the “re-singled,” meaning those who are divorced, separated, or widowed.

The unattached are rising in numbers all over the world, including the Philippines. “Demographic trends indicate later age of marriage in this country, for both sexes,” Conaco observes. Such patterns are due to various causes. Societal factors affecting marriage delay among women include higher educational attainment, urbanization and exposure to modern values, and in some countries, a decline in arranged marriages, report Barbara Mensch, Susheela Singh and John Casterline of the Population Council, who studied the timing of first marriage of men and women in developing countries.

Individual reasons vary, too. In a study of 221 never-married Filipino women aged 40 and up, the highest percentile or 21 percent of respondents said they remained single because it was their destiny or God’s will, while 20 percent stated family responsibilities as their reason. Only two percent cited not having any suitors. The authors, UP Manila psychology professor Laurie Ramiro and behavioral science graduate Cyrie Cruz, report that 71 percent of the women said their singlehood was a personal choice, while the rest attributed it to circumstance.

            Bank employee Winkie Argamaso, 33, whose last relationship ended five years ago, declares herself single by choice, having opted to prioritize her career. It’s also personal preference that keeps a ring off Vitas’s finger. She says, “Truthfully, I have not yet—that I know of—met the man who completely digs my brand of crazy.” Although she goes on dates and has always had admirers, she opts not to get into a steady relationship unless it’s with a man she can truly picture as a partner.

            Writer, makeup artist and solo parent Ana Santos, 34, considers herself re-singled at age 28. “I left the father of my child,” she says. “I couldn’t stay with him for a lifetime—sorry!”

 You complete me… Not!

Finding joy in singlehood isn’t always a smooth journey, especially when there’s a prevalent notion that a woman needs a man to make her whole. “Single people are defined negatively, in terms of what they do not have—a serious partner,” writes American social scientist Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., in Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyed, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

            Argamaso, for example, didn’t expect that she’d still be single at her age. “Just like any other little girl, I wanted to get married in my mid-twenties. I dreamt of a princess wedding. But real life took me on a different road. As I grew older, and when I started working, I realized that life is not like a fairy tale.”

Similarly, Vitas admits she used to have a romanticized view of dating and marriage. “When I was younger, I didn’t feel that I could be complete without a partner. As I got older, I discovered that nothing was missing.” She realized that relationships were only add-ons and bonuses, and while she would welcome romance if a good man came along, it was no longer necessary. “You did not come into this world with another person attached to you. You came as an individual.”

            While Vitas had to get over her relatives’ curiosity on her lack of a boyfriend, Santos struggled with other people’s pity after her separation. From her friends she heard choruses of “Kawawa ka naman,” while men, after finding out she was a single mother, seemed to see her as “an easy lay.”

“I felt that everybody was expecting me to hook up with someone right after [the separation],” she says, adding that it was very deliberate on her part to remain on her own for a while. Still, that didn’t make things easy for Santos, who had been with the father of her child for seven years.

“It was the little things,” she recalls, like wanting to see a movie, then remembering she had no one to watch with. “You realize that in the last seven years, you had a default gimmick every Friday and Saturday.” She found herself with a lot of time on her plate, wondering, “What am I going to do?” She also carried the burden of having to support herself and her daughter.

Santos came to terms with her re-singled status two years after she left her partner. “When I was 30, I looked at myself and I thought, ‘Oh, we’re doing okay.’” After punishing herself for so long, she says she stopped feeling like a failure. “You need to look at what you’ve already done. People were expecting me to fall on my face, and I didn’t.”

Missing out? Try blissed out

Single women are no longer putting their lives on hold while searching for a partner, says DePaulo in an interview with Women’s Health Philippines. “Instead, they are working, traveling, pursuing their passions, tending to their friends and the other important people in their lives, and in every other way, living their lives fully.” Unattached ladies are now focusing on doing things that are important to them instead of trying to live up to the expectations of other people.

“There’s so much to do when you’re single,” says Santos, who regrets getting married too early and not getting to do enough for her self, especially since she has had to work so hard for her child. “You can take yourself to any height you want.”

But in order to realize that they have a value apart from being someone’s other half, women need to develop a strong sense of self, says Conaco. Chances are, a woman who is able to enjoy her singlehood is one who has found satisfaction and confidence in various aspects of her life. Vitas, for example, shares that time alone has given her opportunities to reflect on her purpose and her personhood, and to learn to take care of herself. “I feel like a rock star at 40 because I’ve become so at home in my own skin and [I’ve] learned to appreciate who I am at the core. Besides, I’m getting attention from men ages 24 to 34. How can I possibly complain?”

            Santos recalls how she wrestled for a long time with being a mother versus being her own person. Despite her maternal bliss, she realized that there was a gap—she had to have a life of her own, too. So she continued writing, went out with friends, and worked out at the gym, and discovered that there was a way to put herself first “without feeling selfish and without neglecting other people.”

            The loneliness often associated with singlehood is easily debunked by Vitas’s weekly schedule. She admits having “a very active social life,” having lunch and dinner out with friends often, going out for drinks once or twice a week, operating her home-based business and training her staff, and exercising regularly.

“Many women are great at friendship, and that’s important in the lives of single women,” says DePaulo. “Some people think, incorrectly, that people who are single are “alone” and “don’t have anyone.” Instead, they often have a whole network of people who are important to them. That actually makes them less vulnerable than married people who are so totally focused on their spouse that they neglect everyone else.”

            Both Vitas and Santos agree that finding the right equilibrium is key. “I found a way to balance my life and to feel fulfilled, in spite of the fact that I am unmarried,” Vitas says. Her favorite thing about being single? “The lack of accountability for what you do, when you do it, where you do it and with whom you do it.” Ah, the freedom of the unhitched.

“It’s a little hypocritical for me to say being single is okay because I have [my child],” acknowledges Santos, who doesn’t plan on wearing a wedding band again. But even when her daughter is grown and leaves her with an empty nest, she still wants to live her life to the fullest, planning to devote her time to personal advocacies. “You have to have a purpose. Right now my purpose is my daughter.”

While women’s experiences of being unattached comprise a broad spectrum, on the whole, the face of singlehood is a smiling one. “There are millions of single people, so of course some of them are not doing great. Typically, though, most single people are doing just fine,” says DePaulo.

This is reflected by Ramiro and Cruz’s study, in which 44 percent of respondents said they were “happy” being single, while 37 percent reported being “very happy.” This satisfied lot comprised 83 percent of those who opted to remain unattached, and 75 percent of those whose single status wasn’t their personal choice.

 Welcoming the unwedWomen's Health October 2009 pg 5

            Concurrent with the rise in the unattached populace is society’s increasing openness towards them, a point on which both single ladies and the scholars who study them agree. “Women have started to assert themselves in their personal and professional lives,” says Vitas. “They’re listening to their own inner voice and finding their own power. They don’t feel the need to live up to expectations put upon them by family, friends and society.”

          The status of women in society has improved, notes Conaco, and there has been a de-emphasis on their reproductive role as the basis for how they are valued. Consequently, there’s less stigma on females who opt to remain single, or who postpone marriage in order first to satisfy their needs in other areas of their life, such as their career.    Even Santos has seen an improvement in the way society looks at single mothers. “Angelina Jolie made it hip,” she jokes.

          But there’s still room for progress. For example, Conaco reckons that society is harder on unattached ladies than on spouseless gents. “Single older men are still perceived as desirable.  The older single woman is viewed as ‘laos na at napag-iwanan ng panahon.’” In part, this has to do with the fixed biological clock of females. While older women can no longer give birth, older men can still sire a child.

“There is still a double standard that women lose value as they age—and men the opposite,” concurs Vitas. “I beg to disagree passionately with this myth. If you are in a continuous process of evolving into the best person you were meant to become, you will only get better over time, period.”

 No single blueprint

According to Conaco, women who are searching or longing for a mate are conditioned by the social and cultural values they are exposed to, especially since there’s still an understated pressure on them to marry and start a family. “Finding a mate can be very satisfying,” she says, adding that it’s great if a woman meets a suitable match—but it’s also okay if she doesn’t. “To obsess about finding a partner, and get depressed by the lack of one, might not be such a healthy attitude. Finding a partner is not the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence, after all.”

This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with wanting someone to wake up next to every morning. Embracing singlehood doesn’t automatically mean letting go of the picket fence dream. Vitas, for one, reveals that she’s always known that she will get married someday. “I would love it,” she says of marriage and motherhood in the future. “But if you ask me how I feel today, I am happy.”

 She recalls an occasion when her father asked her, “Umaasa ka pa ba na mag-aasawa ka at magkaka-anak ka?” Vitas replied without batting an eyelash, “Of course.”

 Argamaso says that when she enters into a relationship, she wants it to be at a time when she has already accomplished things she wants for herself and when she is “ready to leave [her] independence behind in order to build a new life with someone else.”

 One important thing to bear in mind is that not all single women are grumpy, cat-loving knitters—nor are they all, we concede, confident social butterflies. That goes for the coupled cohort, too. Being on your own doesn’t necessarily translate to a personal hell, and being hitched doesn’t guarantee marital heaven.

In the end, every woman is responsible for her own happiness. Says Santos, “I’m never going to be at a point where I’m happy unless I choose to be.”

To Vitas, it doesn’t matter whether one is young or old, single or married. She reflects, “People always wish to be somewhere they’re not—it’s not a good recipe for life. It’s not about the singlehood. You should be happy with your life, wherever you are.”

While there may be shelves upon shelves of step-by-step dating guides at the bookstores, how-to books about living a woman’s best life while she’s still single are fewer and farther between. Not that the ladies flying solo even need a flight manual. We’d like to think they’re strapped comfortably in the pilot’s seat, very much in control of their awesome lives, soaring higher and higher—and enjoying every minute of the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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