I Never Feared Being Single. I Feared Terrible Romantic Relationships.
You know how many people fear being single? My fear was being in a terrible relationship; I have never feared being single. Today I came across a meme that read "I just want somebody I can brag about and not look stupid." I get the basic sense of the meme; being in a (presumably romantic or romantic sexual) relationship with someone where when you speak highly of them, you don’t end up embarrassed because they don’t live up to those declarations, especially in a world where most relationships are highly visible (hi Facebook), even among the non-famous. Certainly it could’ve been worded better, using “embarrassed” instead of “stupid” in this case so it doesn’t function as ableist. Also, of course the basic notion of why is a romantic relationship something to brag about (usually to the detriment of belittling single people) anyway, versus something to enjoy, could be questioned too, though I won’t get into that here.
What got to me about this seemingly innocuous meme is I completely understand this feeling; too well. Like…too well. Though I don’t date now and have not in a long time (which I’ve mentioned before in terms of asexuality and agency), I remember when I was in my 20s one of my biggest fears regarding dating (beyond general safety, time, interest etc.) was ending up the person bragging over someone that everyone else but me could see is a loser of some sort (as in a cheater who did so in a way to insult me [I don’t mean consensual polyamory], someone cruel, or someone truly abusive; not speaking of something ignorant like them not having enough possessions or degrees etc. since I don’t classify that as a “loser”). This used to worry me in the worst way. Often I would observe (though not invade privacy; consent still matters to me) the behavior, beliefs, politics etc. of the person of interest. Get a feel for something beyond the facade that people are sadly encouraged to portray in the early stages of dating. But I always had this fear that I would end up with someone horrible and basically everyone would laugh at me.
My sense of pride made me feel like the worst thing (other than the seriousness of being abused—whether emotional, physical, sexual and/or financial—as I had already been through hell because of an ex who assaulted me) that could happen would be to get “swindled” by some liar. And then everyone would turn their backs on me and say "well you should’ve known; aren’t you smart?" I was afraid of this particular abuse even before it happened and not even always for the most important reason of safety, but for the reason of expected social abandonment. I’m used to a certain level of abandonment, having dealt with some emotional abandonment from men in my life, amidst declarations of “love” of course. But if I felt like I would be at risk of losing the Black women in my life (friends/family) and them laughing at/abandoning me, that made me really scared in my 20s. I felt like I would break losing those relationships. (Ironically, some of the ones I feared loss of, were lost over other issues; conversely, some of the ones I feared loss of, are stronger than ever now.)
In my late 20s (35 now) I started thinking about why this fear was so intense for me back when I did bother to date. I realized that so much of this shame I expected to feel if I ended up with someone horrible was due to how everyone is socialized to victim blame, and actively unlearning this on a base level, as well as critical deconstruction of how it shapes a plethora of intersecting oppressions is required to even realize this. I mean, why would I have to fear potential shame if victims of abusive partners were not automatically shamed and harmed further? If not blamed for any type of mistreatment, abuse or violence experienced? I would have no reason to fear this otherwise.
Realizing this made me understand how dangerous victim blaming is, since the punishment ascribed to victims, beyond blaming them for the abuse, is blaming them for “allowing” it to happen. And if I feared I would “allow” it somehow, that means I engaged in victim blaming, but on myself. I never blamed any friends when their partners harmed them, but seem to be unable fully show myself the same level of care and justice back then. I knew it was time to unlearn victim blaming particular to myself, particular to the experiences of dating/romantic relationships. Some of this is highly specific to being a Black woman and the “Strong Black Woman" archetype, presuming that I should be "wise" enough to "already" know which men (in the case of dating men; obviously not all Black women are hetero/bi/pan and ever date men; some Black women ID as queer or ace and may/may not date men; some ID as ace but are aromantic etc.) are going to harm me or not (again, victim blaming). Then if they do harm me, I magically get over it since I supposedly don’t experience pain. Or, if I express any of that pain, then clearly I am permanently “bitter" for showing emotion and/or deemed an “Angry Black Woman.”
Thus, the anxiety (and it was anxiety, not just fear and stress, as I do deal with Anxiety as a mental health issue) involved in not wanting to be harmed, not wanting to be blamed for being harmed, and not wanting to be expected to be silent about the harm? It was heavy. Now, I didn’t date infrequently back then only because of this particular anxiety, to be clear. Some of it was chalked up to a much busier life in my 20s (for part of it I worked full-time, had a side photography business, was working on my Master’s degree full time, exercised a lot, often socially salsa danced and was getting into writing), being an introvert (I swear we date less often and have fewer partners over time; just saying so anecdotally, not empirically here), being a Black woman (which means a lot of people aren’t going to deem me a viable partner anyway; misogynoir and such…) and identifying as asexual (though at the time I still labeled as “heterosexual” because that seemed like what I was supposed to identify as [cultural norms/issues; theist upbringing though not a theist now], and then later, I knew for several years, but didn’t state it publicly until last year as I fleshed out what labels I did want/reject). Uncertainty about being able to acutely articulate my sexual politics with the knowledge, confidence, self-assurance and agency as I do now, was also a factor back then, not solely the fear of a terrible romantic relationship, though that fear was very present then.
Unlearning the ways in which I don’t have to feel accountable for someone else harming me (though this does not mean that people are going to stop victim blaming just because I think this way), knowing that my character is not shaped by someone choosing—as it is their choice—to harm me, but by who I am? I was finally able to let go of this fear controlling my thoughts about dating/romantic relationships. So now, not choosing to date often, or at all? It’s literally one of the most empowering choices I’ve made in years. It’s not running away from possible harm anymore. Conversely, it’s not forcing myself into a romantic relationship to “prove” that I don’t have that fear or to “fit in” this society. It’s actually thinking about what I do and don’t want out of that aspect of life and feeling confident about that choice. How I execute my own agency over my body, my feelings, my choices, my life. Not particularly desiring dating/romantic relationships? This is one area that is not on my list of unfilled desires or things that cross my mind when I am deeply hurting. It is not a source of pain for me.
Whenever I do speak of dating, it’s never a lament for a future partner, but more about varying oppressions and social norms that impact dating itself, creating situations of abuse that impact me, partner or not. (As in, being single isn’t going to protect me from experiencing misogynoir, as it doesn’t only occur in private space/relationships.) Sometimes it’s just old dating stories for jokes among friends. I completely understand that for some people, desiring romantic love, a relationship or even a date is their preoccupation and I don’t judge their desires. Who am I to tell anyone what to desire? But, even if I did judge them though, what would happen? Literally nothing. The status quo supports their choice, not mine. No one pressures them to be single. People pressure me and are even abusive towards me because I am single. I am okay with their desires. Are they able to accept mine?
Related Post: Men Cannot “Threaten” This Introvert With Solitude. It Only Makes Me Happy.