One of the recent trending articles over at The Atlantic’s website is one entitled, “Single People Should Get to Have Weddings Too.” It’s not the first time they’ve talked explicitly about the singlehood issue. This time they claim that the “extraordinary rise of living alone” as “the biggest modern social change we’ve yet to identify,” describing its liberating appeal and the trenchant cultural norms standing in its way. Adult lives, Millie Kerr writes, are judged on benchmarks beyond singlehood—marriage, babies, homebuying—which means single people don’t get celebrated. She asks, “When will barometers of celebration reflect the growing number of singletons?”
I guess there’s a lot of things that can be said in response to this: one is the objective affirmation that this societal shift is happening, that more and more people are living alone, that fewer and fewer are getting married in preference for living alone. And, as the article says, there are many developing cultural assistants—cookbooks, television shows, travel perks. One can also safely affirm the corresponding feelings of judgment and, well, isolation that might stem from a “singleton” living in a world assessed by the family unit. Although the article points out that “alone doesn’t automatically mean lonely,” it must surely feel lonesome to be a childless, spouseless adult going to friends’ wedding parties and baby showers. As an unmarried twenty-something living with other unmarried twenty-somethings, this weight of assessment is certainly understood.
But the singleton celebration argument is also ironically indicative of some form of missing accompaniment. It is evident here that being alone is simply not enough: celebrations are by definition gatherings of people, doing things together. Being singletons, we still want to go home at the end of the night to our own orbital safehouse—television, toothbrush, Twitter—but we do want to be loved by the people we love, at least before we turn in. Like some masterful Alone Together illustration, this article makes the modern case for our kind of relationships: Look at me, love me, but leave me alone.
Kerr, perhaps unwittingly, utilizes the wedding celebration as the primary visual for the kind of missing event in the life of a singleton. There is no mass-hysteric, save-the-date, cross-all-seas occasion in which all friends and family come to toast and celebrate the existence of you. And who doesn’t want to be a destination in some form or other? To be the object of affection, toasted, celebrated? Well, despite the fact that several singletons I know wouldn’t want the anxiety of this kind of attention either, it also seems to reverberate the kind of identity crisis we have with love today.
I RedBoxed Stoller’s The Five-Year Engagement last week, which tells the long-suffering love story of Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Pratt). The film pans from the cutesy, albeit imperfect engagement hoopla to the intrusive and difficult circumstances life bears on love. Both living happily in San Francisco, Tom as a successful and promising chef, Violet as a graduate-hopeful academic, Violet’s acceptance to the University of Michigan uproots the engaged couple to Ann Arbor. Delighted to surrender for the one he loves, Tom leaves his touted restaurant scene and takes on a job at a campus deli, all for the sake of love.
Two years engaged turns into four years, and resentment sets in. Tom, feeling isolated in Violet’s dream locale, develops a new affinity for bow hunting and facial hair. Violet begins spending more and more time on her studies. Under the impression that marriage will be right when both are self-fulfilled (or when things “slow down,” or upon “getting there”), they both paradoxically lose themselves and [spoiler alert!], not until both parties have lost it all to the point of infidelity and break-up, do they realize that their self-fulfillment ran against love. Tom and Violet’s five-year engagement ends in a marriage that is now truly self-abnegated—they commit to the hardships and changes that will indefinitely come, in the strength of a married love that will stand before it. It is here, in the giving of their very selves, that both Tom and Violet begin loving the independent, quirky vocational lives they lead, too.
The marriage that finally comes in The Five-Year Engagement is a celebration of two dead singletons. Realizing that the realization of their own ambitions is nothing without love, the self-sufficiency they thought made them who they were lays dead. It is strange to say, but the marriage is a death: the two pick everything haphazardly, the plans thrown out, the slapdash ceremony impromptu in the park, all in a last-ditch desire to be nothing but together and known, rather than being alone.
The ending seems run to against the current of our commitment-averse discrimination, and it seems to say why we singletons can’t have weddings, too. All of a wedding celebration—the ceremony and reception, the gifts and guests, the toasts and dancing shoes—is not so much a celebration of the persons as much as it is the celebration of their decision to let go and be known. Rather than Love me, leave me alone, it is the sacrament of that Love that will not let me be alone.
We have always been commitment-averse singletons, before “singleton” was ever even the thing you say about people. We have always feared surrender, and we always will. What our generation has become quite adept at, though, is believing “love” and “singleton” to be mutually inclusive terms. This would have to be true for a one-man wedding celebration, but it is not true of love—love has the quirkiest capacity to work its way into our orbital safehouses.