If you are single, you know that feeling when you’re working until 9pm and your colleagues left hours ago to help with homework, make it to the in-laws’ dinner, or attend their spouse’s office party. Of course, the struggle to manage familial obligations with work is real. But at present, women are almost as likely to be single as they are to be married. Around 21% of India’s female population is single, and there has been a 68% growth in single-lady-statistics in the last decade alone! Yet, most socially approved pauses in life still accrue to those with families. And all the single people? Well, they get left to pick up the slack while their colleagues honeymoon or head to their kid’s school play. The assumption that a single woman’s life is somehow less crowded and stressful or her schedule is more flexible stems from old assumptions about what, exactly, gives a woman’s life meaning. For generations, women were defined by and their worth measured based on their roles as wives and mothers.
Now, although we’re beginning to get used to the idea that women can live independent professional, sexual, and social lives, we still fall back on the impulse to revere wifeliness and motherhood. This is something I learned firsthand as a person who worked singly into my 30s. I pitched in to work longer hours around my peers’ honeymoons and maternity leaves, even when I was paying my own bills, maintaining an apartment, and was responsible to friends and family without the benefit of a partner’s emotional support. I was stretched as thin as at any other point of my life, yet I felt the assumption that, as a single woman, I had nothing better to do with my nights or weekends than work. But that wasn’t true. I had obligations to myself and also to the friends who filled my life with needs as authentic as any spouse’s.
When I fell in love, married, and had children, it’s true that my stresses changed, but people were more likely to acknowledge them as such. They urged me to relax, to take time for my husband and baby. As challenging as balancing life and work is, at least when you’re married, people recognise that you have a life. But single women have lives too. A girlfriend’s birthday can be as pressing as dinner with a husband. In a country that still does not guarantee new parents ideal compensation for time taken after birth, it’s crazy to suggest that we talk about paid time off for those without children. But if we want to account for the growing numbers of unmarried people in the professional world, we must also account for the fact that it’s not just couples and new parents who need to catch their breath.And, if we can’t quite imagine guaranteed personal leave for single people, perhaps we can at least afford them a little more consideration. Stop weighing women’s lives on a scale that measures mostly marital status. We’re all more complicated than that.
Rebecca Traister is an author of the book, All the Single Ladies.
This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan India.