the trouble with labels

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label. [ley-buhl] a brief description given for purposes of identification. (see also: characterization, classification or brand).

labels. like it or not, we all use them: male or female. rich or poor. blonde or brunette (or redhead?). democrat or republican. herbivore or carnivore (i think these actually apply to dinosaurs, but go with me on this one). we like to categorize. put things in neat little boxes. deduce things [and people] down to succinct adjectives so we know where we stand. for once we have figured out which compartment you belong in, we can begin to either draw similarities or conclude our differences deem us incompatible. we are all simply a collection of checked boxes in the doctor’s office registration form of life.

or are we?

i tend to think that while labels are quite useful for identifying things (i’m pretty sure i can tell by looking at your if you’re male or female, but that black coffee isn’t going to scream “decaf” unless it’s otherwise marked as so) they also have the tendency to unrealistically project things on us, too. and by “things” i mean emotions, stigmas, and other false “truths.” take for instance my favorite label to date (please tell me you can sense my sarcasm right now) “single.” even as i type it i can feel imaginary eyes of both judgement and pity staring me down. i’m single. yes. as in not married, not engaged, and not in a relationship (say it a little louder for those who can’t hear you in the back). and you know what? despite my habitual harping that might have you conclude otherwise, i’m actually okay with it. no, but really. i’m fine. last time i checked, i still don’t know how to knit and i think i’m allergic to cats so that whole purchasing 27 of them as a means of finding comfort and companionship to spite my single state isn’t even really feasible. i suppose i could be a “deranged dog damsel” (as opposed to a “crazy cat lady”) but somehow it just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

but i digress.

last week my sweet friend E forwarded me an article written by an unlikely source. our beloved bachelor/bachelorette episode recapper extraordinaire lincee of ihategreenbeans.com fame had written a piece for “single roots,” a christian-based blog dedicated to assuring christian singles that life does indeed go on outside the confines of marriage -that we “are more than our dating lives;” more than our facebook relationship status, more than our spot at the single’s table at our best friend’s wedding, and certainly more than our naked left-handed ring fingers. in her article, lincee lamented that she was continually “singled out for being single.”

here, i’ll let her explain.

…Then I hear the familiar hand-clapping opening cadence of the next song. A strange and primal survival skill kicks into overdrive and I realize I need to be as far away from this place as possible. I exit to the left, convinced that something or someone in this general direction will be enthralling enough for me to pretend that he, she, or it is of critical importance.

“OMG! I love this song! COME ON, LINCEE!”

With any other classic dance anthem, I would have commented on her effervescent spirit and high-fashion shoe selection as we sashayed out onto the floor, but how could I when this endearing girl with zero gifts for recognizing blatant mortification on someone’s face is dragging me to the middle of the one place in the immediate vicinity that I simply do not want to be? A gaggle of 20-somethings sings each and every word with gusto. Many encourage me to join them by executing the now famous dance moves that traditionally accompany this masterpiece. I oblige, pump my arms, wave my left hand in the air to the beat and pretend to be empowered by Beyonce’s salute to all the single ladies.

Worst…reception…ever.

That experience coupled with the age-old tradition of the bride hurling her bouquet into a sea of friends who are no longer in her season of life and you’ve just stumbled upon the recipe for my worst nightmare.

My name is Lincee and I have unnecessary anxiety when I am singled out for my singleness. The question is: why?

I immediately put on my “Christian” thinking cap and proudly answer that I am okay with being single. I would just rather not remind everyone that I’m unmarried through the method of booty-dancing melodies, hurling nosegays, or checking the “Ms.” box at the doctor’s office for that matter…

i can’t say i haven’t felt the exact same way a time or two. especially since i have, on more than one occasion, been that girl in the middle of the dance floor eagerly awaiting the bouquet toss as lady b’s infamous ode to the unwed gals blares in the background. and like lincee, i am okay with being single. but where the problem lies, and where the insecurity sets in, is when i am labeled as such, and only as such. my vying for the elegantly arranged bundle of calla lilies immediately places me in one of those neat little boxes. “the single box.” and suddenly, despite logically knowing otherwise, i can’t help but feel extremely ostracized as a result.

i thought about lincee’s words all weekend. and on sunday, armed with my copy of captivating (totally seeing what the buzz was about all these years), i went to meet my mentor for our weekly coffee date. and in true “obviously God is teaching me a lesson here” fashion, the chapter of which we were scheduled to discuss included the following passage:

Most women define themselves in terms of their relationships, and the quality they deem those relationships to have. I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Or I am alone, not seeing anyone right now, or my children aren’t calling, or my friends seem distant…(page 27-28, Captivating).

labels. well played, God, well played. and i thought about how i go about my business every day; engaging in conversations with friends, members at the club, newly formed acquaintances, and i began to realize something. more often than not, when i describe the recent happenings of my life, i am quick to include whether or not there is currently a gent monopolizing my free time. as if somehow, i have to justify my single-hood.because despite being confident in the fact that the life i am blessed enough to currently lead is nothing short of fabulous, i can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pity on the part of my conversation’s counterpart when the subject of my relationship status comes to light.

it’s almost as if they can’t seem to comprehend how, at my age (i know, i hate this phrase, too, i mean, i don’t look old, i still get carded for rated-r movies!), with my resume (i’m no cindy crawford, but i think i’m doing pretty well for myself) and with the status of 90% of my closest friends (status = see “engaged,” “married,” “married and pregnant,” “married with child(ren)”), i could possibly do anything less than regularly binge on pints of ben & jerry’s before crying myself to sleep each night. how i could possibly be okay, at the ripe old age of 26, with being single?

and yet, here i am, folks, still plugging along.

and i’ll admit, there are times when their projections become too much to bear. and i, on occasion, do pause for a moment of self-analyzation. maybe there is something wrong with me? i’ve never even been in a long-term relationship. i know eharmony didn’t work that one time i tried it, but maybe i should give it another shot? and just like that, i start to tailspin until i’m simply a big ole’ pile of “woe is me” (a very chic-ly dressed “woe is me” pile, but a pile of pity nonetheless). and i start to doubt. doubt that i will ever move from this box marked “single.” doubt that i, too will ever have my moment in the sun. and well, you know how snowballs form -what began as a simple comment from a friend of a friend (side note: it’s never the comments of dear friends that cause these feelings to form, rather, usually a statement said in passing from a mere acquaintance -a friend of my mother’s, a member on my club’s board of directors, etc. -someone whose opinion i should know full well makes no matter) has now become my reality. they say perception is reality. i tend to think projection is reality, too. or at least it can be in situations such as this.

and as i explained all of this to my mentor in between stealing sips of my starbuck’s americano, i began to really take to heart the words i was saying. somehow, over the course of probably the last year or so, i had truly been able to grasp the difference between my own thoughts on my singleness and those others’ projected on me. what a revelation, i thought! in almost every other aspect of my life, i have sought the approval of others -their affections, their admiration, their respect. yet, when it comes to my relationship status, i can say with confidence, that i don’t really care what you think (please know i am saying this in the most sincerest of ways, i hope you don’t think i’m being witchy (and by “witchy” i mean, that word that begins with a “b”).

i know, it’s a shame that some special guy has yet to come along and sweep me off my size 9.5 (in case you ever want to buy me shoes, hint hint) feet. but i know the plans the Lord has for me are going to be PRETTY FREAKING AWESOME (and i have to believe that includes granting me the desires of my heart -to become a wife and a mother someday). so if i have to wait a little longer than originally planned to find the guy that will take my ms. to a mrs., then so be it, i know he’ll be worth the wait.

therefore, when i tell you that i’m single and happy, believe me. i mean, i won’t turn down the opportunity to meet a viable gent should one cross your mind (feel free to distribute my digits as needed), but in all honesty, you can save your pity party for someone else. i’m okay with the wearing the “single label” a little while longer. and y’all should be okay with me wearing it, too. 

1 Comment
  • Natalie Lynn Borton
    February 16, 2012

    Hey girl! I might be able to help you with your italics issue. Just email me if you’re interested :]

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