As a single, thirty-something woman with no children, living in downtown Chicago as I do, I am careful about the stories I tell about myself and the stories I tell to myself.
There’s a tired narrative about my demographic that really makes the rounds. This socially-constructed, media-fabricated archetype of women “like me” shows up a lot in TV shows, movies, advertisements, and general popular culture. The narrative tells us that the typical single, thirty-something, childless (some prefer “child-free”) city gal is sad about her (obviously sad) situation. Sure, she’s got a nice handbag, but she’s lonely. She’s got a cute haircut, but she’s hapless. She’s a woman in a perpetual state of longing and dissatisfaction. This is the trope of the single woman. She gets gum in her hair; her boss is a jerk; she and her girlfriends talk about men, pinot grigio, and the Bahamas; she and her friends go to the Bahamas to drink pinot grigio and meet men; she makes terrible choices with every man she meets, in the Bahamas or otherwise; her life is one long string of bad dates and pizza delivery, etc., etc., etc.
The problem with this character sketch is that parts of it are true. And when they are — bad dates, gum in hair, etc. — a person can start to believe that all of the narrative is true. This is dangerous. Stereotypes are pretty much always unhelpful stories people tell about other people because we’re all trying to understand and navigate the complicated world and stereotype are simple and fast. But 2-d stories flatten our experience and cheat everyone out of connection. People are always more complicated than a stereotype. People are more fascinating and more worthy of consideration than stereotypes, even if there are truths somewhere in there.
But that’s not even the worst thing about these prevailing narratives. The really dangerous thing is when stereotypes become stories we tell ourselves, e.g., “I’m single, so I’m lonely and sad.” Or, “I’m from the bad part of town, so I’m a bad kid.” Or, “I’ve been divorced twice and my business went bankrupt, so I’m a total disaster of a human being.”
Once you start internalizing such things, it feels terrible and you start to act not like yourself but like the stereotype! And the shift can be really sneaky. You can start to “be” something you really aren’t, simply because that’s the story other people keep telling about you, as if they know.
So with me and being single, I have to be careful to not do this. Yes, I have gone on bad dates — but so what? It’s not because the world is hopeless and all men are scum. Because of the stereotype that I can fall into, it would be acceptable were I to have that attitude, but it’s not true for me. The exasperated-single-gal narrative is not the narrative I want to own. I just went on a bad date. And as for making bad choices with men, I reject that, too. I’m proud of my fearlessness in love and life and just because I’m single after having a number of great relationships isn’t because I’m crazy, my past loves were idiots, I’m unlovable, or because dating is a nightmare. Dating is really hard. But it’s also fun.
Do you see what I’m saying? Is this making sense? That whoever you are — mom, teenager, writer, lawyer, senior citizen, ex-convict, prodigal son, etc. — you have to fight against absorbing those brutal narratives?
And now are you ready for the kicker?
This whole misty-eyed cri de coeur is a set up. Something so totally, stereotypically single-gal-in-the-city, so stereotypically rom-com-sitcom-thirty-something-lonely-chick pathetic happened, I became depressed enough to open a bottle of pinot grigio and watch “When Harry Met Sally” three times in a row. Basically.
I signed up a food box delivery thing. Not a Blue Apron meal-making kit, though. (Like I have time to sauteé pre-chopped broccoli florets?) No, I did a thing that delivers fresh food on a weekly basis, ready to eat. Why, for a busy gal like me, that sounded great: organic, interesting food, delivered right to my door! I did the subscription form online, selected things like the Southwestern Veggie Bowl and the Garden Penne.
I got my meals. And I knew they were frozen dinners? But I didn’t understand that they would be frozen dinners? I mean, I ordered frozen dinners. But I didn’t process how the “frozen dinner” part of all this would make me feel. Think Schwann Man. Think Cold War. Think poke the plastic in two places, pop it in the microwave, and take it out three minutes later and have a plastic dish of (unevenly-heated) food. Organic or not, nutrient-rich or no, this is some frozen food, honey. And I’m eatin’ alone.
What’s worse is that I signed up for this thing a couple weeks ago and swear I was on the every-other-week plan, but nope. I got another delivery today and I haven’t gotten through last week’s meals, yet, because it feels kinda sad to make and eat these things. So my freezer is jammed up with frozen meals and I am trying very hard to not succumb to feeling like a block of frozen peas.
With freezer burn. In a plastic tray.