I want to name as trauma the experience of not being chosen in a coupled world. The living alone, the having no one witness your life or help you make life decisions, the having no one to hold or feed you when you get sick, the practical ways that two actually are better than one – because there is certainly nothing in our culture that says we have any reason to expect such care from our friends – are hard, traumatic, enough (though there are differences, this is true for both people who have never married and people facing the “after” of a marriage). But the meaning conferred by our society onto singleness as, essentially, unwantedness is unbearable, not just because the shame of such judgment often provokes tendencies to isolate and further remove oneself from community, but because it may confirm deep suspicions about one’s self.
The “advice” given to uncoupled people is equally traumatic. It runs against everything beautiful about being human. “Live your own life!” “Love yourself!” “Enjoy your freedom!” I can’t bear to go on. We were made for love and love implies an other. Scripturally speaking, receiving love does not even have as its prerequisite love of the self; that’s a barb living in a rabidly individualistic culture shoves into the side of every human being who’s paying attention to their soul. I’m not saying every human should want romance and that you’re somehow less human if you don’t, but we all were made for community. And since we’ve stripped away the ability to hold friendship in high regard and to high standards, couplehood is where we look.
Not getting married may make more economic sense for women overall, but that probably wouldn’t be the case if we actually dismantled the heteropatriarchical structures designed to suppress women. The social marginalization, though, is ruthless. The eternal wondering what’s wrong with you and having nothing in the world or public life together reassuring you that nothing is. The damaging lie of individualism leaks through every mouthpiece that “self love” should be enough, the one that shames you for wanting people in your life even when the single most important thing you can do for your friends is to show up.
When mental health professionals keep a clinical distance and detach for the sake of their own liability rather than offer their clients (suffering, vulnerable people) the basic human needs of empathy, compassion and love, when expecting a lot from your friendships is considered high-maintenance and old-fashioned, when wanting to be around people you like is scoffed at as clingy and needy, and when we are shaming each other for things like loneliness (instead of becoming friends with each other), where single shaming is so part of the air and water it sounds like “just another oppressed group wanting attention,” we live in an emotionally abusive culture and we are being traumatized.
And when reaching out has gotten me fewer and fewer friends, when saying things like “I’m so lonely it physically hurts” gets me either shunned or ignored, when the hardest thing about having the hardest year of my life is that I’m having to do it mostly alone day after day, death after death, loss after loss, medical test after medical test, it’s hard to keep going. And when statements like that are cause for blushing and second thoughts, it’s hard to want to.