I asked my best friend recently how she defined single, and she answered “unmarried” without missing beat. “That’s it?” I asked, “Just one word?” She thought for a minute and stuck with the same answer, no sentimental synonyms, just facts. Single does not mean “lonely”—though sometimes it can be—and it certainly doesn’t mean always alone—though being alone is part of it. I was just as single at 21 as I am today at 29—well, sort of. Sure, my perception of myself has changed somewhat, but not nearly as much as those who surround me. Now, it’s socially acceptable for people to wonder aloud what’s wrong with me. Being single and 29 means that people feel free to make inquiries about one’s alleged failure in life. On a semi-constant basis.
In Zadie Smith’s new book, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, she writes about author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston: “She grew up a fully human being, unaware that she was meant to consider herself a minority, an other, an exotic or something depleted in rights, talents, desires and expectations.” Hurston would often say, “I am not tragically colored.” Although anyone who looked at the woman, who was unapologetically black, would call her “colored” in 1937, but never tragically so. So it goes, I would argue, for the single lady. Yes, I am single. I am not married. But I am not manic—or manless—either.
In the essay, Smith explores Hurston’s most popular novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, “‘Blackness’ as [Hurston] understood it and wrote about it, is as natural and inevitable and complete to her as, say, ‘Frenchness’ is to Flaubert. It is also as complicated, as full of blessings and curses. One can be no more removed from it than from one’s arm, but it is no more the total measure of one’s being than an arm is.”
This isn’t to say that my single-ness is as “inevitable” or permanent as my blackness. I claim it, sure. The lack of a ring on my left hand makes my marital status pretty obvious for anybody who’s looking, but it doesn’t define my status in life. It isn’t the synecdoche of my existence, a part of me (like my arm) meant to define the whole of me.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root. Her book, Bitch Is The New Black, will be released this summer. Follow her on Twitter.