Googling oneself is always a dangerous enterprise. No matter how you may see yourself—hilarious, haughty, a bit hopeful—others will undoubtedly see you a different way—delusional, detrimental to society.
And despite that ego-deflating fact, the periodic urge to type your name in an empty search box can seem so … productive. It is not. Unless playing a fly on the wall of the wireless world is something you’re into, which I’m sure it is not. Sadly, I am just self-centered and sadomasochistic enough to find this exercise promising, especially when it comes to the ongoing debate about society's latest “it girl”—the single black woman.
Recently I eavesdropped on a Twitter tête-à-tête that mentioned me: "Def just saw Helena Andrews…in Georgetown…with a man. #bitchisthenewblack #fraud." Intriguing. In Tweet-speak the "hashtag" (#) is a way to mentally file your virtual conversation in real time, letting folks know the significance of a specific thought. Basically hashtags connect dots and save time—sort of like stereotypes. In this particular case, someone wanted to make it clear in 140 words or less that by being "with a man" I was a "#fraud"—a fugazi, as Donnie Brasco would put it.
From what I can gather, according to the aforementioned disgruntled Tweeter, because I claim to be "single" (as the title of this column suggests) being with a man is therefore totally verboten for a woman of my station. The transitive property for a chick like me: If "single" equals "unmarried" and "unmarried" equals "lonely male-deprived social pariah," then "single women never know men biblically or go see Avatar at the AMC in Georgetown." Single women and men don't belong in the same equation. They cancel each other out apparently. Pfft!
Barack and friends claim "a taxpayer is considered single if, on the last day of the tax year, the taxpayer was: never married, legally separated or divorced, or widowed before the first day of the tax year and not remarried during the year." There's nothing in there about not having any physical or emotional contact with the opposite sex for fear of catching a mean case of the babies, the marrieds or some combination thereof. I don't remember any questions on my TurboTax calculator about "being with a man" because that temporary fact doesn't change my filing status. (Also, you can't claim dogs as dependents.)
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the adjective "single" as deriving from the Latin "singulus" meaning "one only" with the primary English definition being "not married" and "of or relating to celibacy." Damn it, Merriam, you may have got me with that last one. The secondary definition can be even more problematic: "unaccompanied by others." So now the English language is against me?
Recently, the ululating, single superstar Rihanna stopped by The Ellen Show for a post-Grammy chat. DeGeneres, who along with Rih Rih is a spokeswoman for CoverGirl cosmetics, wanted to know if the singer was seeing anyone socially. "Are you dating anyone now?" DeGeneres asked. "No, I’m single," answered Rihanna, who most everyone can agree, had a rough 2009 when it came to romantic love. "Really," countered Ellen, feigning shock, "What about that guy we keep seeing you with…?"
YBF.com—required reading for anyone who pencils in time to Google stalk Zoe Saldana—was also skeptical of Rihanna's supposedly sneaky definition of single-dom. (She had the nerve to hit the red carpet all by her lonesome.) Wrote Natasha, the site’s resident gossipmonger. “After Rihanna and [L.A. Dodger] Matt Kemp got frisky and lovey-dovey in Cabo and around L.A. these past few weeks, Rih still insists that she’s a single lady … While she may not be on 'official' couple status with Mr. Kemp, we wouldn’t call her the typical single lady who doesn’t even have any male 'company.'" So a "typical single lady" lacks male company absolutely? Since when did “single” and “spinster” become synonymous?
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.