One of the most common comments I receive on my articles, especially ones which veer distinctly into feminism or social discourse, is some variation of “You’re just mad that you can’t get a good man.” They presume that I’m single, that I’m bitter, and that the real ointment to all of my various wounds would be a healthy serving of male attention. From time to time, I make it a point to respond to these comments. As many of my readers know, I have been in a relationship with what can only be described as a “good man” for nearly three years now, the whole time I’ve been writing publicly. Not one article I’ve penned has been while single, or in an active search for a relationship. Not a single one.
Other times, another friendly commenter will correct them for me. “Umm, Chelsea has an awesome boyfriend,” they will say, “And besides, what does that have to do with the article?” And it is really that second bit that is the salient point in all of this. After all, it is extremely rare that this kind of judgment will appear on any article having to do with the trials of finding or keeping a partner. Sometimes, they have nothing to do with men at all. The idea that my relationship status would come up at all should be, in a perfect world, pretty surprising.
And I have recently realized that responding to these kind of comments, even to clarify the fact that their assumption is wrong, only feeds further into their original assessment. For me to say, “No, I’m not bitter, I have a boyfriend” reinforces the idea that those who do not have a boyfriend necessarily are bitter, that such a derisive comment would be rightfully placed on their opinions. Though there is a definite frustration in seeing someone erase the relationship that you care so much about, the point is that these people don’t actually care whether or not you are happily paired up (or single), they just want to point out that your mood swings are a simple pendulum that happens to be in the shape of a dick.
The truth is, almost every sentiment I’ve written about while in a relationship are things about which I felt similarly as a single girl. Of course, we all age and mature and develop our perspective on things, but we don’t magically become new people when we acquire a man in our lives. There is no point at which the frustrations of being catcalled, or the lack of thoughtful representation in media, become somehow less of a nuisance if you are getting cuddled regularly. A woman’s life does not begin and, in many ways, end at the very moment when a man decides that she is his chosen one. Are there things about which I am “bitter”? As dismissive and condescending as that word is, sure. I’m bitter about the way I’ve been spoken to in the workplace. I’m bitter about the vapid products aimed at me as a woman. I’m bitter about knowing how much of an influence my appearance holds over how people will perceive me. But I am not bitter about those things because I am not loved. My boyfriend is an incredible person, but he is not the antidote to all of the ills which are much bigger than he ever could be.
And it is impossible not to notice how, when a man discusses his frustrations with the world at large, his personal life, or social injustices, he is not often met with blind accusations about how he’s simply upset because he is not in a relationship. We don’t expect that a woman is going to come into his life and magically erase all of his other worries and resentments — we understand that he is a complex human being for whom the source of everyday headaches could range anywhere from childhood to his subway ride to work this morning.
It’s also worth noting that, when I write about some great joy or a part of society which I fully support, there are no mirrored comments about how I am obviously in some wonderful relationship and they are so incredibly happy for me. When things are positive, the assumption doesn’t need to be made, because then it isn’t a cudgel to be used against me. There is nothing about me that it would be calling into question, or belittling. My happiness can be about a lot of things, but my sadness must be about a man.
All of this communicates one thing very clearly: At least part of your value is going to be directly tied into whether or not you have a man to vouch for you. Because I had a boyfriend, some of these people felt more receptive to my arguments, because they couldn’t have been coming from a place of amorous frustration. In many ways, my boyfriend’s existence spoke for me: “It’s okay, she’s cool, she’s not one of those crazy harpies. She’s just pissed about something.” But when I criticize things — even systems like the pressure to marry and have children as women, which I very well may take a part in one day — it has nothing to do with whether or not I am single. My being in a relationship doesn’t lessen the sting of not having certain choices, it only reinforces how much more seriously I am taken now than when I was single.
People assume that I can only be angry about things because I don’t have a man in my life, but it is just the opposite. I “have” a man, and have for some time, and it has simply underscored the fact that these fundamental problems don’t change. It has made it clear that my choice will always be a) tell people that I do have a partner, and therefore be listened to more forgivingly, or b) not give credence to their argument, and let them live in misplaced righteousness. And sometimes, it’s hard to figure out which one is ultimately more degrading.