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Positively Singular Part 2
Quirkyalones, loners, leather spinsters and urban tribes light the way
By Amy Moon, Features Editor, SF Gate
Friday, July 18, 2003
©2003 SF Gate
Freedom is a quality Regena English cares a lot about, especially for women. English, 37, lives in Houston, far, far away from the San Francisco Bay Area's flag-waving mosh pit of alternative lifestyles, where she produces Leather Spinsters, a Web site and newsletter for happily unmarried women.
English first heard the term "leather spinster" from some women she interviewed while doing a story on single women who were happy. "It's a shock term," says English. "That's what it was meant to be, because calling themselves spinsters, it didn't stop certain folks from irritating them about getting married, finding Mr. Right and having children and all of that. So, basically, it was just a term that they coined to shock other people."
Leather spinsters are not only happily unmarried but also straight. "A lot of people have a problem with that because, usually, when a woman is happy and single, people assume the reason that she hasn't been pursuing a man and a marriage is because she's gay," says English. "And these women are not gay."
English has been getting e-mail feedback from women all over the world since launching her Web site in 1997 and her print newsletter a year later, and she has been surprised by the response, particularly from women over 50. "When they were young women in the 1940s and '50s, their parents were on them about finding husbands and so forth," she says, "even when they knew that their daughters were not wife material or motherly material." Women from that era who were raised to not talk about these things are now signing up and being very active and vocal, English adds.
She feels times haven't changed much, and, even now, women are still under a lot of pressure to pursue a traditional lifestyle. "Keep in mind what we're subjected to daily," she says. "If you turn on the radio, what are they singing about? Finding somebody or keeping somebody. Or, if you turn on the television and look at some of the shows, the single women are just jumping the guy. So, if you're seeing all of this and hearing this day in and day out, it's kind of hard to avoid that kind of programming."
The Leather Spinsters Web site and newsletter are responses to that propaganda. "When they coined this term, they coined it out of a need to be left alone, a need for them to have their own expression of what a complete life is," says English, who wants to give women an alternative, to let them know there is a bigger picture to life than what is traditionally portrayed. "Happiness does not rely on being with somebody or being in some kind of relationship with someone," she adds.
The Gender Issue
As a loner growing up, Anneli Rufus says, it was particularly difficult being a woman because there is a built-in expectation for women to build relationships. "If you're an unsocial woman, that's really freaky," she says. "It's like, 'What? Were you raised in a barn?' -- whereas unsocial guys can get away better with not having friends and not having those social graces."
There is also the difference of perception. Simply put, unattached men are not viewed as being so off the mark. "It's easier for people to say that an unsocial guy is a genius or an artist or just an independent guy," Rufus adds. "People fear the guy, the loner guy, but they pity the loner woman."
For Cagen, the state of being quirkyalone is an incitement for women to eschew the conformity that media and other pop-cultural forces espouse. "It's all the ideas you confront about how you're supposed to be in order to get a man and what your life is supposed to be about, and what's a successful life and what's not successful," she says. Cagen believes quirkyalone will become big as an alternative archetype for both women and men, but for women in particular, it will, she thinks, evolve into a tool to fight against the subtle and not-so-subtle messages she finds particularly prevalent in women's magazines.
"There are definitely more women who identify with quirkyalone, and they have more need to identify with quirkyalone," says Cagen. "Being a man alone, there's just more room for it in our culture. It's more romantic; it's more desirable. A woman alone, it's like, 'What's wrong with her? Why doesn't she have a boyfriend?'"
Male quirkyalones do seem to feel differently. Mitch Goldman certainly does. His definition of a quirkyalone is someone who is single and romanticizes relationships. "I think the best concrete example of it that I've heard -- I think Sasha probably came up with this -- is that you're totally happy to go to a movie by yourself," he says. " But you also, in the back of your head, think there's going to be someone else there at that movie by themselves and you'll somehow meet and have this great relationship."
Goldman doesn't worry about being in a relationship. "You know, I have these very occasional moments of betraying my quirkyaloneness and being like, 'God, I'm 27, and anyone who's available is going to be taken in a couple years,' but those pass," he says. "That's, like, five minutes that I think that, and it goes away."
To him, being quirkyalone is a positive thing: "I understand that maybe it could be weird in the context of the pressures of coupledom that is the primary model that we work with, but I don't really think it's that weird." He feels good about being quirkyalone, perhaps partially because of his gender, but it also may be due to his age. After all, 27-year-olds have plenty more years to find "the one," and single status at that age is not at all out of the ordinary.
Women who identify as quirkyalone on their blogs tend to be in their 20s and even younger. I contacted several via e-mail to find out how they feel about their status. In general, they tended to be very cavalier and happy about themselves as singles. Twenty-six-year-old Jamie, the lipgloss.org blogger, for example, answers a series of questions I posed in an e-mail:
What does it mean to be quirkyalone?
[It means] I just don't want to settle for something that doesn't make me happy. I have no commitments, no attachments. I feel very free as a young woman. I think this time in my life is very important.
Are you happy when you're alone?
Yes. I get cranky when I don't get enough alone time.
Do you have a boyfriend/partner?
If you are single, do you want to hook up with someone?
If I'm in the mood, if the moment is right, if I think he's worthy, sure.
Do you think being quirkyalone affects your ability to be in a couple?
Actually, I think it's better. I think part of being quirkyalone is being my own best friend, loving myself and knowing myself better than anyone. In a relationship, it's important to know who you are and what you want, and to be able to verbalize that. I think that may even help in a relationship.
Do you feel being quirkyalone is a temporary state, or a permanent one?
For me, it's permanent.
In 19-year old Kimberly's blog, she cajoles readers to take the quirkyalone quiz. "I got 101," she says, "so I am very quirkyalone -- not that I care."
In an e-mail response to the question "What does it mean to be quirkyalone?" Kimberly replied, "Even though I am single, I don't give a damn. I am happy single -- I'm not a spinster by any means. I'd be happy in a loving relationship. Also, it's just that I know that I can be content if I am single for the rest of my life."
Older women feel differently. A 51-year-old female friend of mine said it's not a big deal to be single when you're young: "The world doesn't start looking at you funny until you're in your 40s and single. Then I think there's an assumption that there's something wrong with you."
To many older people -- especially women, because of the spinster stigma -- being single is difficult and unexpected. A woman in her mid-50s whom I requested an interview with returned my call, leaving a voice-mail message that said, "I'm not a good candidate. I'm not happy to be single. I'm very depressed about it. And it gets worse every year."
And, yet, not all older women feel this way. Vee Mahoney, 44, is a single artist living in San Francisco who thinks the quirkyalone movement is very positive. She is excited by the empowerment it will give to the younger generation, and she says she's noticed a difference in young women she's met. Mahoney applauds "their sense of containment, more of a relaxed sense of being themselves, not so much of the sort of suffering over things that I think I've done a lot of -- you know, trying to figure things out: 'Why is it like this?' 'Oh, is there something wrong?' It's not always questioning their feelings, but having a sense of, 'Hey, I'm like this.'"
Mahoney says she's happy being single herself, although she'd like a partnership. And, to her, it's not about conditioning or expectations. "I really want to interact with other human beings," she says. "To interact with a person on that level of intimacy is just fundamentally human. I think it's something that helps you to know yourself."
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