I was on the way to work when I heard Monday morning’s segment from the Perspectives Series of KQED. Clyde Wadsworth applauds Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in the historic Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality (Obergefell v. Hodges). However, he has taken issue with the elderly justice’s portrayal of single people as “condemned to live in loneliness.” Is it time to rally for the rights of those single by choice? It is, after all, a personal freedom, regardless of religious or political affiliation.
When our daughter was a bubbly kindergarten student at St. George’s in Toronto, she received a gift of several different playing cards. They were all colorful, partly educational (think bright colors and illustrations for a game called Concentration), and mostly, for fun, to pass the time on say, a road trip or while staying indoors on a rainy day. One deck of cards was for a game called “Old Maid.” Our daughter had always expressed puzzlement over why there was only one card with a cartoon of a gray-haired bespectacled woman. She also used to jump with such glee when she ended up with the lone card. After all, the object of the game was NOT to end up with the “Old Maid” card. But to her, it was a winning card.
We tried to explain to her the societal construct behind the game. She refused to accept the explanation. Why would being old be a disadvantage? Why would you be a loser if you were a single woman? What if people did not want to be married? Or have children? They can still be happy, she reasoned. Her nanny, Rizza, who she was very fond of, was single, she pointed out. Rizza’s husband was with someone else. So Rizza was raising her children by herself. And, she’s doing just fine. So, there’s nothing wrong there, she would tell us, with much conviction. We thought at the time that the complexities of life as one gets older may be too difficult to explain.
She also recalled some much admired aunts who have remained single (never married) and she wondered if they just never found the right person they wanted to spend their lives with or if they were happy coming and going as they pleased, unrestricted, untethered. All this from a thoughtful precocious four-year old!
She was right all along, of course. It was not long before the game fell out of favor and the set of cards somehow got misplaced and was forgotten. Over the years, we stopped seeing them in the neighborhood toy store. Someone out there must have come to the same conclusion as our daughter. It is after all, a cruel label that should be tossed into the world of the obsolete.
In some parts of the world, the attitudes have not really changed. There are still the well-meaning barrio elders or doting grandmothers who would bluntly ask, in public, “Why are you not married yet?” To them, the default ideal state was perpetual marital bliss with children in tow. Sometimes, this is followed by a diatribe of consequences such as graphic descriptions of biological deteriorations or a pathetic fate into obscurity unless a suitable life partner is found.
Perhaps, one more generation has to cycle for attitudes to really change.