Never mind the prams clogging the streets of the inner west. Why does no one ever get irate about the couples holding hands, taking up the whole bloody width of the footpath?? I get stuck behind them all the time. No room to overtake, and because they’re in love they’re also usually moving slowly. And yet it’s the prams that get bad press, and not the couples. Why? Because couples are the dominant paradigm in the trendy queer inner city, and therefore couple privilege is invisible. But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real.
In my twenties I never used to understand the argument for polyamory being about friendships as well as lovers. I used to roll my eyes whenever anyone said–
“I want to give my friends as much love and time as my lover”.
“That’s not hard to do”, I’d retort, “unless you’re codependent”. And I’d dig them in the ribs and we’d laugh about anyone sad enough to not have time for their friends. But now I am in my thirties and I have officially become the Australian pregnant version of Bridget Jones, I see the point. I am no one’s top priority. I come after all of my friends’ partners, and I usually also come after all of their jobs. And it’s lonely. How did this happen?, I ask myself on yet another Friday night, while singing ‘All By Myself’ into a microphone fashioned from an old tin of lentils. I used to be the woman who had a different shag every weekend, the woman accused of being a cunning spider in the lesbian web of death. But it’s like we were all playing musical chairs, and when I turned thirty and the music stopped playing everyone else had already bagged themselves a woman and there were none left over, and so I was left standing.
To be honest, most of the time I genuinely don’t want a partner. But now that everyone else is paired up, it’s harder to be single. It’s hard when the weekend swings by and everyone is reluctant to make plans because they just wanna chill out at home. Which isn’t quite as it sounds. For my partnered friends this means chilling out, but it also means maybe having sex, maybe cooking a meal with their partner, or maybe even making a last minute spontaneous journey to the outside world together for breakfast or a movie or a stroll round the markets. For me it means sitting at home on my own, like I do most nights of the week. I really love time on my own, being a classic outgoing introvert, but there’s no maybes when it’s just you in the house. There’s no possibility that you might end up having sex (for the purposes of this blog I am not counting masturbating with one hand while scrolling through porn on your phone with the other hand ‘sex’), there’s no point cooking anything elaborate, and sure you could spontaneously go out to the markets but it’s kinda boring to do on your own. The wildest thing that might happen if I have a ‘chilled’ weekend at home is that I might get bored and masturbate twice instead of once, just to shake things up a bit. The rest is completely predictable. The things you enjoy in a relationship, such as quiet weekends and lazy sick days in bed, are the very things you dread when you’re single.
People in relationships suffer from singledom amnesia. They forget that not everyone has what they have—someone invested in their health, happiness and wellbeing. They forget how a partner helps you out when you’re sad, when you’re sick, when you’re broke. They forget how much you need to rely on friends when you don’t have a partner for these things. So when people tell me I’m not alone, that I’ve got a whole village behind me to help raise this baby, that they’re there for me and that if there’s anything I need to just ask, they also forget that they need to follow through with these words. A fellow lesbian single mum blogger recently wrote that when she first had her baby she had an avalanche of offers of babysitting from her nearest and dearest friends, but that a grand total of two had come through with the goods in the last two and a half years.
I know I have many many people in this city who love me and who are excited about the baby, but realistically, I also know that I live in a western capitalist society that is geared around a nuclear family structure. When it comes to the crunch and I’ve been awake all night with a colicky baby and there’s no food left in the fridge and all I need is five minutes to myself to go to the toilet, only a partner would actually be there to take that screaming baby for a walk so I can do my morning poo in peace. Friends might be able to drop round that afternoon after work, or on the weekend if they’re having a particularly busy week, but it’s never going to come close to the support you get from a partner who is as equally invested in both you and the baby as you are, yourself.
I talked to my counsellor about this a fair bit last year, when going through IVF on my own was starting to get me down. She called it ‘couple privilege’, which really rang true. When I was in bed with morning sickness for four months, people in couples would say: “enjoy the rest, have a nice weekend at home with some movies”. That sort of thing. What they were forgetting was that I didn’t have anyone to clean the cat litter for me, or go to the supermarket for more water crackers, or wash out my vomit bowl, or rent me some movies from the dvd shop, or even just to keep me company. Couple privilege also becomes starkly apparent when you start to notice the erasure of solo parents from both fertility and parenting dialogues. Every single flyer or form I encountered at the fertility clinic assumed that I was one half of a couple. The pregnancy app I use regularly mentions ways my partner can start preparing themselves for the baby, or suggests that I ask my partner to do the shopping now I’m in my third trimester, or get them to give me a foot massage or make me a cup of tea. In children’s books there’s always a mum and a dad, or a mum and a mum at best. Even the calmbirth class I’m enrolled in had a space on the form for my partner to fill in. I ‘corrected’ it to ‘birthing partner’, but the damage was already done. Sure, on one hand none of this matters. I can brush it off, I can tune it out, I can get on with being a proud solo mum. But when we don’t see our own stories being reflected positively around us, it affects us whether or not we’re aware of it. Our stories aren’t validated, we feel alone or outcast, and we are reminded that we are the ‘other’. Despite the fact that solo parents are as common as one way streets in Sydney, we’re still made to feel that we are not, or at least that we should NOT be, the norm. Another example of couple privilege.
And I haven’t even started on financial privilege. Buying a house in today’s economy is pretty much impossible unless there are two of you. Quitting your job because you have horrific morning sickness is so much easier to do when there are two of you. Getting out of the scabby sharehouse scene is so much easier when there are two of you. However in the spirit of embracing the cheerful single Bridget Jones archetype I also want to mention some positives to the single solo parent life, illustrated through a brief diary of the last five weeks:
Five weeks ago: some ‘couple’ friends cancelled their plans to spend the weekend with me, because they’d had a fight. I’d woken up that morning, played some French hip hop, walked around naked rubbing my baby-belly, read a book in the morning sun, made a smoothie, and then gone for a swim at the beach. They’d woken up, had a fight, and then one of them had sulked while the other did the vacuuming.
Four weeks ago: I hung out with a friend who is a (recently) single mum whose current life consists of custody battles and maintenance disputes. Two things I will never have to deal with.
Three weeks ago: I visited a friend who’d moved to the outer outer suburbs to buy a house her and her partner could actually afford. They never go out, because a taxi home from the city costs too much, and also because all their money goes into paying off a mortgage.
Two weeks ago: I had two hot shags with two different interstate women (thanks Tinder!) in one weekend. I’m pretty sure that hands-down beats the majority of my coupled friends’ sex lives.
One week ago: I decided to take off with the baby next year and drive around Australia, visiting all my friends and family who are conveniently located in exotic and tropical locations. I’ve also been interstate three times this month. I didn’t have to consult with anyone, and I don’t have to take anyone’s career or extended family into consideration. All I have to do is hope like hell that I don’t have one of those babies who hates the car.
There’s a lot to be said for going it on your own, and I’m not whinging about wishing I had a partner. I just wish there were more single people like myself who had the time to make plans on a weekend and stick to them. And sure, sometimes I wish I was somebody’s number one. But hey, in two short months I will be. And I bet that then, I’ll be whinging about THAT!
[*NB: taking the above Bridget Jones photo was nearly impossible to do with my phone, because one cannot be a single lady and also take a selfie while holding her knickers up across her face like Renee Zellweger, a pose which clearly requires two hands. Another poignant example of couple privilege that even a selfie-stick can’t fix.]