I first noticed it at my 10-year high school reunion in 2005. When asked if I was married or have children, I said no. I'm single. And then it happened: The Pity Face. It's a look of genuine concern. Like something is horribly wrong with you. Like you've just admitted you have a terminal disease and have roughly one month to live. I had no idea how to respond.
After that, I noticed it more often. At first, I couldn't find the right words to describe it, but then "Pity Face" joined my vocabulary. I recognized it instantly as pity when I actually got a light touch on my forearm and an "I'm so sorry" from someone. Sorry? Really?
It didn't take long to recognize that these people -- men and women both -- were feeling sorrow about my singleness. It's one thing for a good girlfriend to give me a hug and express her love and sorrow for me when I'm crying over a cocktail about being single. It's an entirely different thing when I'm just going through my day and someone points out My Dreaded Singleness in such an awkward way. Hey man, I was just going to the post office. No need to start crying because I don't have A HUSBAND AND FOUR CHILDREN LIKE YOU.
Here's the thing: I'm single because I currently choose to be. I have chosen to not date men that aren't good for me. Yes, this makes me sad sometimes. Yes, in my private moments, I long for a life partner to share my world with. But most of the time? I'm just doing my thing. Working, going out with friends, visiting with my folks, gardening, reading, blah blah blah. And because I don't have a partner or children, I'm able to do whatever I want whenever I want.
In fact, my 7-year-old niece has now started telling my sister (BlogHer's own Rita Arens) that she wants to be like Auntie Blondie when she grows up -- not married with no kids so she can have her freedom. It's adorable. She's learned from her own family life that family means compromise -- something Auntie Blondie doesn't really have to do. (If only she knew the truth. Compromise is a part of life. I'll tell her when she's older.)
Anyway, what is the best response for a childfree single (or a single mom) when she gets The Pity Face? I wrestle with this one. You can respond in a number of ways. You can get defensive and angry with the person and over-defend your singleness. You can agree and start complaining about how lonely you are. You can be aloof and pretend you don't notice. Or you can be blunt and point out how rude the person is. I've done every single one of these responses over the years, and I'm still confused. What is the best response? Which one seems to get the message across that singleness is NOT a terminal disease?
I will admit that as I've gotten older, I get less Pity Face than I did before. It signals a change in the wind -- my girlfriends' marriages aren't quite as sunny as they were back in their early 20s. Life and kiddos have happened, and now they are reflecting back on their single days and getting -- yes, they've said this to my face, too -- jealous of my freedom.
In a strange twist of fate, it used to actually p*ss me off when people said something like that. I got all angry that they didn't understand that it made me sad to be single. (Yes, I'm a Gemini. I realize I'm contradicting myself.) But now I've grown up right along with these women, and I know how hard relationships and offspring can be. I agree -- my freedom rules.
But sometimes? Sometimes some otherwise friendly person will go for the jugular. I actually had a woman (we're the same age) say to me (after I told her I'm 34, single, childless, and work from home) that she would "hang herself" if she had my life. She wasn't joking. I was so shocked that I said nothing in response. I'm still upset with myself for not responding right away, and I still wonder what would have been the right thing to say at that moment to keep my dignity.
Have you ever gotten the Pity Face for being single? How did you respond? What ideas do you have if it happens in the future? And what would you have said to the woman who basically told me my single life is not worth living?
Blondie writes at Tales From Clark Street.
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