In many cultures being single is frowned upon so much that women and men are simply not given the opportunity to remain so.  They are found partners and told to either find love as they go along, or just fulfil their obligations to society by procreating and raising the next generation of unhappy couples.  In my culture, single women are also frowned upon, but – fortunately for me – not forced to marry.  We are destined to become pitied, and eventually caricatures, but at least we didn’t have to do it tied to some prick (pun intended) who didn’t realise why fidelity is such a big deal to you.  So although Greeks did (and I am sure in some cases still do) adhere to arranged marriages; nowadays, it isn’t so popular.  My parents’ first meeting was arranged, and all of my Dad’s brothers and sister’s marriages were arranged.  Of the five of them, only two of them remained married, the others went through always painful and sometimes acrimonious divorces.  I think it was this that made my Dad decide that he was never going to arrange a match for me.  Mere words cannot express how grateful I am for this.

Of course, the fact that he decided not to arrange a match for me does not mean that he also decided not to interfere.  He is completely obsessed with my single status, to the exclusion of almost everything else about my life.  If I have any success at work, he is always cautiously pleased, the implication being that if I had married and had children like I was supposed to, I wouldn’t need to seek and find validation through work.  For him, every success I have is just a little bit less sweet because I don’t have anyone to share it with.  Before I go any further, I am not here to rant about how unfair he is, or how awful.  I am aware that all of these feelings Dad has about my unmarried status come from a place of love, and a generational belief that being married and having children is the only way to be happy and fulfilled.

Initially, when I was a teenager, no one was good enough to even talk to me.  Dad used to monitor phone calls and ask who everyone was. 

“What does he want?” was always the comment when anyone ever rang for me.  The truth was, what they wanted was to ask me about one of my friends.  I have always been one of the lads, and this started when I was in my teens.  Dad was always suspicious of anyone who called, visited, or hung out with me.  He questioned their motives, their suitability, everything.  I’d like to say that I was unaffected by this but the truth is, it made me suspicious too.  If, every time someone called or wanted to spend time with you, you were asked what the reasons were, you would start to wonder too.  The correct answer I should have given my Dad at the time was something along the lines of he wants to hang out with me because of my sunny personality and great sense of humour, but I was young, and well – stupid I guess.  This continued well into my twenties.  Everyone was met with suspicion and so I dated away from his eyes.  In college I dated guys secretly, all of whom Dad would have wholeheartedly disapproved of, but I just felt like it was the only way to do it.  Even now, the thought of introducing my parents to a boyfriend terrifies me on a level that I don’t fully understand.

After university, and having worked away from home for a few years, I returned home and was still living with my parents.  The pressure to get married increased.  It wasn’t that they were introducing me to anyone, but now it was the constant pushing to ‘get out there’ and ‘meet people’.  Of course, I was unemployed for a while, so meeting people through work wasn’t an option.  Also, when I did get a job, I worked with children as a nanny.  Definitely didn’t meet anyone there.  Dad’s suggestions were geared towards me finding a life partner that he felt was appropriate.  His ideal man so to speak.  So he suggested lectures and events at the Hellenic Cultural Centre.  The Hellenic Centre is a great place that puts on lots of events, some of which I have attended and enjoyed but many of which involve sitting or standing around contemplating sawing my own leg off with a plastic knife or rusty spoon.  Also, I have never really noticed any single men at these events.  Everyone seems to be either married and miserable or married and flirtatious which is disturbing on many levels.    So what we established was that Dad likes Greek men, about 5-15 years older than myself,  gainfully employed and with parents that he knows, or – even better – are from the same island as us.  This limits me to about 5 guys (3 of which I am pretty sure bat for the other team).  To this my dad would say that had I gotten married when he first suggested it (aged 18 ok, maybe 21), the pool to choose from was bigger but I watched all these guys date and marry my friends so it’s all my fault.

To be honest, if it was only Dad who had an opinion about these things, I could probably live with it.  I mean, he is my Dad, and parents do have fixed ideas about what they want for their kids, this doesn’t make him a monster, just a normal (by Greek standards) parent.  The truth is – everyone has an opinion.  Here are some of the questions/suggestions I have fielded over the years:

At my brother’s wedding (2002):

“Why aren’t you married?  Isn’t your brother younger than you?  What are you waiting for?”

By a friend of my granny’s:

“You shouldn’t leave it too long… You aren’t getting any younger. You’ll be past your sell-by date soon.”

From the lady who helps out at my Uncle’s house:

“You should get a treadmill and try running to lose some weight.  It’s a shame to be fat when you have such a nice personality.  Maybe that will help.”

At my sister’s wedding (2007):

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be next”

From strangers

“Are you married?  No?  How old are you?  What?  Looks like you’ve left it a little late.”

Or my personal favourite: 

“Don’t you want to get married, have children, be happy?” (Yup, you guessed it.  My objection is to happiness.  I am against it.)

The above are just the highlights.  It seems that in Greece no comment is too personal and no boundaries apply.  To make things worse, my mother brought me up to be polite and respectful to elders and strangers (curses) and so I am always smiling and trying to answer these questions without saying:

“WTAF?  Can you hear yourself?  What kind of response are you expecting from me, you insensitive asshole?”

Instead, I smile and say things like:

“I guess I haven’t met the right person yet.”

“I am not opposed to the idea, but it just hasn’t happened yet.”

“I know that 40+ is old to start a family, but since I don’t have a life partner at the moment…”

And then you get either one of two responses.  The first one is the blame response:

“You must be too difficult/picky.”

“You have to get your head out of the clouds, and just pick someone.  It’s not like there’s a Prince Charming for everyone.  That stuff in the movies is pretend.” (Patronising much?  How clever of me to notice)

“What’s the matter, no one good enough for you?”

The other one (my least favourite) is the pity response.  People start to feel sorry for you because you obviously don’t get out much and when you do, you’re too pathetic to get your claws into a man, which frankly how hard can it be?  It’s the

“Oh, you haven’t met anyone?  Poor you, sad and lonely woman sitting at home all day grooming your cats and staring at pictures of other people’s kids.”

This makes me uncomfortable and mad.  It’s as if no one will even entertain the possibility that being single could be a) your choice or b) an acceptable state of affairs, or c) a happy situation.  Single people are always represented as miserable about it, or desperate to couple up with someone, or just not attractive/nice/funny/loveable enough to be with someone.  At the risk of sounding like a bra-burning, all-men-should-be-neutered-and-destroyed feminist, there are plenty of people who enjoy being single.  As one of these people, I feel I should speak up. 

I have looked at the options.  For every friend or aquaintance I have who is happily married, I have two who aren’t.  I know, 1:2 isn’t a terrible ratio (oh wait, yes it is), but when you consider the freedoms I have, I think that singledom is severely underrated.  Let’s make a list shall we?

1)      If I want to do something – anything – I can do it.  I don’t have to check with my social secretary/other half/hubby etc. etc.

2)      If I have had a bad day at work, I can come home and sulk about it.  I don’t have to pretend everything is alright.

3)      If I want to spend all day slobbing around in PJs or reading the papers, or doing the crossword and watching all my favourite shows on TV, I can.

4)      Let me just repeat that last bit.  I can.  Not we can, not thank you so much for being so understanding; not I really appreciate that you gave up your Sunday because I felt like vegetating, I will make it up to you next weekend.  I can.

5)       If I want to sleep in a star formation, I can.

6)      If I’m cold I can turn on the heating without a 20 minute negotiation and invoking the Geneva Convention.

The above are the ones that came to me immediately, I am sure I could come up with more if I applied myself.  The truth is, there are fewer negatives than positives, and I have always found it to be that way.

That isn’t to say that if someone came along who made me tingle in all the right places, I wouldn’t be up for a relationship. It simply means that while there isn’t, I will be enjoying life on my terms and loving every minute of it.  If I could do it without the well-meaning suggestions and sympathetic glances, that would be nice, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Let me just say here that  I am not anti-marriage or relationship.  In fact, I am in favour of everyone doing what feels right for them.  What I object to is the belief that your way is the only way.  I never sit around trying to convince my friends to trade their married life for a single one.  Whatever life you have chosen is fine with me, so do me the same courtesy.

Presumably there will come a time when people will accept that marriage and procreation are options/choices sure, but as such you should have the option to choose whether or not they are for you.  Just because the majority of people choose to live their lives in a certain way, it does not mean that it is for everybody.  Just as I would never discourage anyone from coupling up, I would appreciate it if I was not made to feel like I am letting the side down because I haven’t.  I appreciate that for some of you, inviting a single woman to your homes not only messes with carefully arranged boy-girl-boy-girl seating arrangements, but also makes you feel threatened.  Just for those of you who feel that way, I will spell it out:

NEWSFLASH – Not every single woman is after your husband or even a husband for that matter. 

In fact, most single women will go home tonight and think how lucky they are not to be married. 

If I had a penny for all the times I have listened to friends talking about their boyfriends/husbands driving them crazy, I would be a rich woman.  In the next breath they always say, it will be you soon!  When are you going to settle down huh?  Er never?  Not after your impassioned speech about how he never lets you do anything, or never picks up his towel, or never uses the loo brush or helps around the house. Really at this stage – what is in it for me?  Marriage has always been presented to me as a unique way of becoming an unpaid housekeeper with initially one, and then possibly an increasing number of dependents to look after.

As the years have passed, and my single status has remained unchanged, my Dad has gone from being extremely over-protective in a no-one-is-good-enough-for-my-daughter kind of way, to an almost aggressive please-marry-her-I-will-throw-in-a-house-in-the-suburbs-and-a-college-fund-for-your-kids kind of way. Whereas when I was 18, any guy who wanted to even approach me for a chat had to have references from the Queen and/or a cabinet minister, 3 different forms of ID, and possibly a title; now he has lowered his standards a little.  Currently the job requirement is a heartbeat and strong swimming sperm.  He will even throw in a set of steak knives if you stick with it, although those are collect as you go, so you have to take me out on 6 dates if you want the full set.  It’s a bit like being a petrol station in the seventies.

I try to no longer get embarrassed when Dad gets going.  As soon as he meets anyone single (and believe me, unlike me who is completely oblivious, Dad clocks a wedding ring or lack thereof at 50 paces) he starts talking about how he has two unmarried daughters.  Anyone talking to him would assume that I was at the very least capable of curing cancer, and at most actually able to control the weather with my mind.  He brags so obviously and with such hyperbole that any guy he’s talking to develops a natural dislike for me before we have even met.  Then he’ll say something like M is dying to meet you which immediately makes them think I‘m already  wearing a wedding dress under my street clothes and am a quivering mass of unfulfilled and broody hormones waiting for their little swimmers to make my day.  I turn up, and shatter their illusions by being neither a neuro-scientist nor particularly interested.  It never goes well, although truth be told, I have made a few friends that way.

This Christmas my Dad was taken into hospital.  We rushed to Accident and Emergency to see him.  As I am standing by his bedside with Mum and my brother, Dad starts telling me that the doctor who has been seeing him is single.  He isn’t wearing a ring. This is my life:  He is in hospital attached to monitors, bleeding and tired, and all he can think about is the fact that I am single.  I didn’t tell him that all A & E doctors don’t wear rings as a matter of course.  I couldn’t believe it.  Then he started telling me how he knew of someone whose daughter had told him on his deathbed that she was engaged to a friend of hers so as to make him feel better.  I assumed that he was hinting or something.  I grabbed the doctor’s arm and told Dad:

“We’re engaged.  Now go towards the light…”  

We still laugh about it and now whenever he mentions marriage, I mention ‘the light’.  At least we can joke about it.

In conclusion therefore I blame Beyoncé.  She keeps going on about women running the world, and doing their own thing and being independent laydeez and survivors etc. etc. and then in her song about single ladies, she says “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it”, thus implying that women only feel loved and validated if they are engaged or married. Putting a ring on it?  Is that the equivalent of tagging sheep?  Also, she refers to herself/women as ‘it’.  Unless I have missed the point and the song is really about her ring finger and not the woman attached to it.  Talk about mixed messages (and I realise I may have strayed a little into feminist territory here, after all the song is quite catchy and who doesn’t know the dance moves?).

Here’s a song that Beyoncé should have written.

If you liked me then you should have left the thermostat.

If you liked me then you shouldn’t have been such a prat.

If you liked me then you should have just told me that.

If I’d liked you then I wouldn’t have replaced you with a cat.

Oh oh oh….