The thirtieth year of my life was claimed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The solitude that it imposed gave me ample opportunity to contemplate my singlehood, as well as my sexuality. For, this was the year when I stopped seeing myself as being in a state of transition; the year I made peace with my singlehood and truly began appreciating the value in it. As families got locked-in together, oscillating between comforting each other and struggling to tolerate each other, those of us living alone and working from home began struggling with feelings of disorientation, anxiety, and loneliness caused by lack of human contact. In the initial months of the lockdown, as work-life balance was disrupted for everyone, I witnessed the heightened stress levels of my female colleagues living with spouses and children. As the burden of housekeeping fell on them disproportionately, their work and health suffered. As a single woman living alone, my work – life boundaries completely disappeared, for I had no one else to coordinate with, take care of, and check up on regarding everyday necessities like eating and sleeping enough. Gradually, however, I started taking better care of myself. I also found emotional relief in being able to connect with and support many of my undergraduate students who reached out in desperation, struggling to make sense of the pandemic, stuck at home with parents, arrested in their journey of growing up and becoming ideologically independent, frustrated with the generation gap between them and their parents. I found some other single friends who needed support and companionship, and while the pandemic-induced loneliness and anxiety caused many of them to seriously contemplate partnership/marriage, I became more and more comfortable in my single status as months passed and I survived the pandemic, with moments of genuine contentment and peace.
I had thought for some time that my aversion to romantic partnership (which built up so gradually, it almost sneaked up on me) came from witnessing, and myself experiencing, overwhelmingly gendered domestic dynamics between heterosexual romantic partners. Some of my own romantic relationships have collapsed because of my unwillingness to compromise on certain feminist values, mostly in the sphere of domestic life and family-related interactions. Of late, however, I have come to realise that my reluctance to enter a monogamous romantic partnership is more linked to my sexuality than I had previously thought.
As someone who finds immense meaning and perspective in deep and intimate conversations with people, I find that I’m often hindered from sharing such intimacy with other people when I’m in a romantic relationship with someone. Monogamous romantic relationships often require not only sexual fidelity, but also a complete shedding of the sexual element of one’s personality in interactions with anyone other than one’s own partner. One is supposed to behave like, and accept being treated like, an asexual being by everyone other than one’s own romantic partner. With everyone other than one’s partner, propriety demands that boundaries are drawn to the extent that mere conversation around certain themes is off the table. Discussing sexual experiences, preferences, desires, and curiosities may be considered inappropriate, even in the absence of any sexual intent. Even the act of seeking support and comfort by sharing one’s deepest insecurities, fears, or pain, may be interpreted as ‘emotional infidelity’ by some. Perhaps this comes from the romantic expectation of one’s needs being wholly and exclusively met by one’s partner. In the past, I have found myself miserably suffocated in monogamous relationships because of such expectations. I have also, admittedly, struggled with feelings of jealousy arising out of my own expectations of this kind from my partner at the time.
Growing up, for me, has been about accepting that the loneliness and sadness woven into the fabric of my being do not go away with entering conventional arrangements like monogamous relationships or marriage. It has also been about learning to tune out the noise of judgment about my sexuality from various corners of society. Apart from loneliness and sexual frustration, people also infer, from my singlehood, character flaws like stubbornness and arrogance. Men that I have dated in my search for intimacy have misinterpreted my scepticism as promiscuity and an aversion to commitment. And while I have no moral objections to ‘promiscuity’, their diagnosis of “emotional damage” that is apparently reflected in my “unwillingness to accept love” is borderline offensive. Since I have had the good fortune of being on the receiving end of love that comes with deep and committed friendship, I now brush aside these judgments with relative ease.
In exploring my sexuality and singlehood, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognise my privilege. I’m a straight cisgender woman, born in an upper-caste, middle-income family in north India. My parents could afford for me quality school education that enabled me to then pursue my higher education in Delhi; and ten years of higher education kept me in fairly progressive academic environments. I grew up surrounded by mentors in academia who led lives that were unconventional by mainstream standards. Living away from family, I’ve been financially independent for a long time because of scholarships, which are accessible to only a small minority of university students in the country. And so, I cannot claim that the path of singlehood has been a particularly difficult one for me. Yes, I have struggled to find rental accommodation as a single woman who refuses to be subjected to curfew timings and restrictions on male visitors. I have struggled with feeling left out as more and more of my women friends get married and the process of pairing up leads to an othering of those who are not paired up. Somehow, my singlehood seems to have alienated me from my married friends, which has been painful. Nevertheless, I have continued to enjoy a relatively easy and robust dating life whenever I’ve wanted to have one. I recognise that this has been, by and large, a product of my privilege. And so, I have started paying attention to the voices and stories of people less privileged than me, who are struggling to assert their sexuality and their choices. I’m learning to listen with curiosity and without judgment. I’m educating myself to expand my understanding of feminism so it becomes more inclusive, opening my heart and mind to the struggles of others, looking for avenues to offer support. I’m learning the importance of investing time and energy in friendships, for it is in friendships that so many of us find support in our struggles. Through this process of learning and engagement, I hope to contribute towards building communities and a society where more and more people can comfortably assert their sexuality and their choices around relationships.
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