Sex and the Single Girl

Posted: April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I’ve always been intrigued by the complexities of romantic love and relationships, so much so that my graduate thesis comprised an analysis of the representations of marriage in 19th century novels written by women. Research is one thing, dating is quite another.

Popular culture provides a bit more clarity. A favorite line of women worldwide is from “Sex and the City,” of course. The disenchanted and exhausted Charlotte York laments, “I’ve been dating since I was 15! Where is he?”

I hear ya, sister. If my current dating life were a t-shirt slogan, it would read So. Many. Frogs.

Being single in the 21st century involves many challenges; nevertheless, I am a lucky lady. Certainly, I am grateful that I was not born in any previous era, as I would have been forced to live the life of a hopeless spinster (my graduate study included close inspection of the compulsion women felt to marry if only for survival). Remarkably, I was also born into a culture that offers me the opportunity to work and provide for myself, without being dependent on a man. And, I am fortunately in charge of my own reproductive choices. Halleluiah and amen. Thank you, thank you, National Organization of Women!

Nevertheless, sexual liberation problematizes the contemporary world of “coupling.” Ultimately, for most single people, sex is readily available. This is a delightful development, as it enables people to enjoy the sexual life of their own choosing. However, as individuals become more independent in every other way, the only thing people seem to absolutely want, need, or crave from a potential partner is sex, not a relationship. Hooray for the honest, open sex advice the Internet provides, especially the brilliant Dan Savage


Sexual freedom reveals yet another difficulty: sex is frequently perceived and prescribed as something individuals want, rather than an experience couples share. D. H. Lawrence’s essay “Pornography and Obscenity” differentiates sex from pornography in two ways. Lawrence identifies a healthy sexual relationship as one that is mutual (while pornography involves coercion or force); furthermore, healthy sexual activity always elevates and celebrates, rather than degrades, the other. Lawrence made these distinctions as a response to his books being labeled pornographic and banned, but the distinctions remains useful, nearly a century later.

Still, singlehood is a good. Indeed, I attended a Chicago Humanities Festival lecture a few years ago about the growing global trend of living alone given by Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology, Public Policy, and Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University, and author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Essentially, his research concludes that living alone builds popularity the moment it becomes feasible, meaning that the more financial independence an individual has, the more likely he or she is to live alone, for a long time, possibly throughout his or her entire life.

Contemporary life adds yet another wrinkle to the dating tapestry through the paradox of choice. Barry Schwartz
TED talk addresses the ways in which having too many choices results in no choice, at all.


Living in a large metropolitan area provides me with untold number of potential partners. There are so many men! If one doesn’t suit me exactly, why, on to the next! This is not necessarily an intentional strategy, but it does encourage me to move on quickly. My two most recent dates clocked in at 25 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively. This type of thinking does two troubling things: it evokes that horrible MTV dating show (cringe worthy), and, of more concern, feeds the “don’t settle” monster.

Ultimately, in relationships, we all settle. In order for a committed relationship to come into being, both people must agree to accept (perhaps even embrace and adore) one another’s flaws and foibles.

As one of the few truly happily married men I know explains, “it doesn’t work, until it does.”

Perhaps I ought to put that on a t-shirt.


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