If you’ve ever sat through a rom-com or a chick-flick, you’ve probably come across representations of ‘the single girl.’
Maybe it’s ignorance, maybe it’s laziness, or perhaps it’s a combination of the two; but the media likes to present us with one dimensional, over-simplified images of what it means to be a single woman in society. In the dominant mainstream media discourse, two discrete archetypes of ‘the single girl’ emerge.
The first is the sad single girl; she is lonely, desperate, aching for a man to come along and fill the gaping hole in her life. She often compromises herself in her painstaking, all-consuming search for the elusive ‘Mr Right.’ Examples that pop into mind include Bridget Jones, moping at home, drinking wine in her pyjamas and tearfully singing along to All By Myself.
Or consider Ginnifer Goodwin’s character, Gigi, who was all-consumed by her quest for finding the right man in He’s Just Not That Into You. Another example can be found in the ubiquitous magazine covers of Jennifer Aniston. Highlights include ‘Jen’s Baby Dream Shattered’ and ‘Dumped after 21 days.’ Such titles suggest that being alone, unwed and childless are the worst possible things to happen a woman. They also serve as a cautionary tale; you don’t want to be that girl. You don’t want to be alone and childless.
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But, on the other hand, you also don’t want to be desperate (as suggested by other ‘Poor Jen’ headlines such as ‘I can’t stop loving Brad’ and ‘Obsessed with Ange!’) As much as we might hate to admit it, we buy into such warnings: I mean, come on, isn’t that why we caution our friends not to send that second message, or warn them not to seek an explanation as to why they never heard a peep from that guy who bought them a drink at the bar last weekend?
This representation seems to be very much driven by the narrative that women are, at least according to traditional views, needy, dependent and emotional, desperately awaiting the presence of a man to ‘complete’ them and/or validate their existence.
In stark contrast to the sad single girl, we have the sassy single girl; she is independent, carefree and certainly don’t need no man to make her happy (snaps fingers and flicks hair). This image conjures up characters such as Kim Cattrall’s infamous Samantha Jones in Sex and the City. Confident, promiscuous and almost devoutly single, Samantha Jones embodies the quintessential sassy single girl. She finds fulfilment in her female relationships, her high power career and her no-strings-attached flings and hook ups with various men. She refuses to depend on men and never expects anything more from them than sex.
This narrative is somewhat progressive, challenging the traditional story of women being needy, dependent creatures. For so long, women were dependent on men. But times have changed; women now have the power to create their own identities. They can earn their own money, buy their own house and stake a place for themselves in the public arena. These are all fantastic markers of progress, and indeed should be celebrated. But it seems that this narrative ignores a very human (and certainly not exclusively female) desire: companionship.
The other problematic feature of the ‘sassy single girl’ is her apparent inclination to hook up with men and nothing more. To be clear, I am not condemning that. Your body, your choice, etc. But I am also not condemning those who don’t find this particular pattern of behaviour particularly fulfilling. Wanting to connect on a deeper level than merely the physical does not make you the needy girl. It makes you human.
Comparing these types, it seems single women have two choices; sad or sassy.
Can’t single women exist somewhere in the multitudes between these two extremes? And why are these the only two advertised categories? Are being independent and being vulnerable mutually exclusive? Why should we berate ourselves for craving something as human as companionship?
In the past, I have denied, to others and, less convincingly, to myself, that I feel lonely sometimes. I’d adopted the idea that to be single meant you should be strong, sassy and independent. Admitting to loneliness would only cast you as ‘the sad single girl’, and people would pity you for being so desperate and needy. When inevitably questioned by people about my relationship status, I was careful to project an air of nonchalance or polite indifference, as if relationships were the last thing on my mind. I was forcing myself to hide my vulnerability beneath a screen of confidence, afraid that any revelation of the truth, that I was (sometimes) lonely and would like to meet someone, would be met with pitying eyes and a charitable pat on the shoulder, neither of which I desired.
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I just wanted to be able to be honest, open and vulnerable (without judgement).
So, to the single ladies out there, I propose a challenge. The next time someone (ideally someone that you trust) asks if you’re happy being single, tell the truth. Maybe it’s yes; maybe it’s no. Either way, be vulnerable but also firm. Expect pity, but don’t accept it. We should be allowed to embrace and express our feelings without being typecast as a stereotypical ‘needy girl.’ Companionship is a human desire; allow yourself to feel it, express and talk about it, without shame or guilt.
After all, we should be allowed to exist in the multitudes.
Sarah is a sociology student living and studying Melbourne. She is fascinated by issues of gender, sexuality and identity. Her current aspirations include graduating sometime in the near future and owning a cat.