Being alone is still presented as largely undesirable – this Valentine’s Day, here’s why it pays to bolster a new normal for women
In 2020, there is more than ever an imperative for young women to seriously consider the political and personal benefits of being alone. Since the 1960s, discussions around unpaid emotional, and domestic labour have focused on how these are part of an invisible system of oppression that manifests itself within the privacy of the “kitchen-bedroom quarrel”. Both forms of labour are still seen as the main factors that contribute to the persisting gender pay gap today. Column inches and studies preoccupy themselves with subject tirelessly.
Yet in spite of this, the prevalent culture and way of thinking still holds the only solution to the problem – aloneness – to be an undesirable and unattractive option for all of us and for women in particular. Aloneness has never been less a part of our concept of well-being than it is today and never has there been more need for it to be hailed as a route to self-individuation or – shall we say – ‘happiness’.
A recent study carried out by Gallup showed that although younger generations of men have perhaps made progress in terms of sexual politics, when it comes to the division of domestic labour, they are as bad as their predecessors. Opposite sex couples aged 18-34 were no more likely to divide household chores equally than older couples were. The study acknowledges that men are doing a little more housework and women are doing a little less of it, but nevertheless it suggests that ideas of masculinity and ‘feminine work’, along with an ingrained discomfort around women earning more, has led men to still do less housework. We know that overall people work longer hours and are constantly plugged in. We also know that, as a New York Times article points out, “intensive parenting” – spending as much time as possible with your child – has become the norm and earns you social clout (in certain circles). All of this means that women in their early 20s are doing as much domestic work as older generations of women, whilst working harder, and often in more precarious and worse paid jobs.
“Women in their early 20s are doing as much domestic work as older generations of women, whilst working harder, and often in more precarious and worse paid jobs”
Whilst we’re perhaps desensitised to the point of boredom by discussions of domestic labour (“We are seen as nagging bitches, not workers in struggle,” as Silvia Frederici puts it in her seminal Wages Against Housework) another point that goes ignored is a relatively new form of emotional labour carried out by women – dating. Emotional labour as coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild in the 1980s was used to define any form of emotional management on the job, but became widely understood as unquantifiable and unpaid care and attention mainly undertaken by women in the service of men. Compulsive dating has become the new frontier along which that emotional labour is spent.
Women have never had less time on their hands nor worked as hard. The conversation circled around millennial burnout a few years ago, with studies showing that women were more likely to suffer from it in their early to mid careers after years of being higher achievers than their male counterparts in both school and university. If, at the same time, the predominant culture of the day is one where dating is treated as a social signifier, an activity to be undertaken almost to prove your desirability and sexuality, then women are expending a huge amount of their depleting energies on dating. A study showed that people spent, on average, 10 hours a week on dating apps, the equivalent of a heavy working day.
Being online and dating is part of a culture and conversation that many of us enjoy – the success of the date is almost less important than the story it provides you with. But its pervasiveness and casual all-consuming nature has created a culture where being alone – not even single, just ‘alone’ – is a non-option.
“Compulsive dating has become the new frontier along which that emotional labour is spent”
In accepting dating as a universal pastime we lock women into a system that occupies what little time they have and takes away from their ability to juggle crushing work and domestic pressures. What’s more it makes the aloneness women need to dedicate themselves to their pursuits – particularly creative pursuits – impossible as well as undesirable.
In accepting dating as a universal pastime in the form that we currently do, we lock women into a system that occupies what little time they have and takes away from their ability to juggle crushing work and domestic pressures. What’s more it makes the aloneness women need to dedicate themselves to their pursuits – particularly creative pursuits – impossible as well as undesirable.
We need to start talking about being alone in the same way we talk about exercise or diet or sleep deprivation when it comes to women. Aloneness in a woman’s life is more important and enriching than it is in man’s life because she is naturally inclined not to offer herself the luxury of it – socially and culturally women are conditioned to not engage in the narcissistic and selfish behaviours that are often necessary for work to flourish, develop, and for careers to advance. Despite pop culture’s recent gestures towards the merit of aloneness in the likes of Little Women and Emma Watson’s “self-partnered” misspeak, it continues to be presented as something undesirable and particularly as undesirable among women who are the ones who stand to benefit form it most.
Women need to create a new dialectic of aloneness, one that changes its role in society as well as in our sense of ourselves. Studies have shown that people would rather receive electric shocks than be on their own with their thoughts. Women need to create a new normal where we allow ourselves the aloneness we need in order to be more ourselves and create a fairer, more equitable society.