The copilot sent:
Can you please write a post about “ending up alone?” That is all.
Well, I can try.
In my culture, the only context in which I’ve ever heard someone worry about someone “ending up alone” is when the phrase is used to convey “ending up” (presumably entering old age, however that’s defined) without a romantic partner (and sometimes offspring). The idea, I presume, is that these are the kinds of relationships that are supposed to remain lasting and that these are the kinds of people who will be with you until your dying days. “Alone” in this context doesn’t even mean total isolation (i.e. the proverbial deserted island) — it means going through life without stable, committed sources of emotional intimacy.
And doesn’t associating that with romantic and parent-child relationships seem kind of… arbitrary?
The other day, when I noticed my vehicle registration had expired, I realized something about the kinds of household arrangements my society is built for. Now that I have a job like a Real Adult(TM) and am working during normal business hours, I don’t really have time to take my car to the shop. Trying to take care of the issue on the weekend didn’t work out either. My mother is busy with her job and all manner of other messes she’s gotten herself into; my younger sister is off at college. As terrible as it is, I’m lucky that my father is in another unemployed phase at the moment, because he was the only one who was able to help me out by getting my car inspected while I was at work — an arrangement that required him dropping me off at my workplace like I was a little kid going to school all over again.
The point of that anecdote being: when you work normal business hours, and you need something done that’s restricted to normal business hours, having a domestic member of the household with no conflicting obligations is essentially a necessity.
I suppose you could ask a friend to drive the car in the same circumstances, but I was always taught that it was a risk to let someone drive your car if they’re not on your auto insurance.
Ending up alone is a relevant fear for a lot of people in the ace community and beyond, both because of the habitual prioritization of romance over friendship and the small dating puddles for those who are up for romance but face limited options due to “undesirable” traits (such as sex aversion, for instance). I wouldn’t have noticed it from the way people talk, but my culture and my country have a built-in expectation of marriage. As you’ll know if you’ve been paying much attention to same-gender marriage debates, marriage brings with it a lot of material benefits: tax breaks, social security benefits, better insurance and legal options, next-of-kin status granting the right to make medical decisions, and so on…
When I was filling out the forms for my new job and the basic health insurance plan they’re forced to offer, I remember being struck by the “marital status” question — because if I was married, the same health insurance coverage for me would also apply to my spouse. There was no option for “I’m not married, but if we can have a +1, I want it to be my best friend.”
It doesn’t work that way.
I and many others have written before about the meaning of “consent” in circumstances where a “no” comes with consequences. And it seems to me that financially and legally incentivizing getting/staying married amounts to practical negative consequences to divorce, singledom, and breakups, applying pressure for people to pair up and stay paired, even when it’s not what’s best for them as people.
But I also think that when someone expresses concern that someone might “end up alone,” they more the social and emotional impact in mind than the logistics of so-called “elder orphans.” Some of that’s benevolent. But some of it’s also about measuring up and proving worth.
One of the implications of the love-interest-as-reward trope is that involvement in a romantic relationship serves as an indicator that someone is fundamentally deserving. It’s the romantic equivalent of “you have no friends” used as an insult — applying social proof to human worth.
Get married, have babies, rely on those for commitment and stability. That’s the formula. That’s the safety net. That’s what you’re supposed to do to ensure you don’t “end up alone” (and all that entails).
But for one thing, that formula isn’t guaranteed to work. Not all families do stay together. Not all families are made up of healthy, supportive relationships. Legal married status or blood kin status aren’t the sole prerequisites for an eternal bond. Human beings are, and have always been, more complicated than that. “Married, with kids” will not always save you.
And if there really is such reason to worry about the future and what isolation and practical obstacles it might bring — why the heck are we taking for granted that such needs have to be privatized into each individual’s responsibility to land a spouse? If being single in old age and not forming The Right Relationships can get you in such serious trouble, then, I don’t know, doesn’t that indicate some kind of societal problem? Shouldn’t everyone be guaranteed the same sense of material and emotional security human beings require as a baseline? Why should that be something we have to earn on an individual basis? Why shouldn’t there be more options than that?
In addition to accurate and responsible ace vis/ed, one thing I’d like to see more of, from the ace community, would be creating/collecting resources and hosting ongoing discussion on the topic of nonstandard households and unmarried adults and seniors. I remember some aces acknowledging our points of common interest with childless, divorced adults a few years back, but I haven’t seen that pursued since. I’m interested in expanding our critiques of amatonormativity to a critical eye toward the “nuclear family” as a whole, and challenging not just the necessity of sex within marriage, but also the privileging of romantic marriage over other relationship formulations in general — in a legal, financial sense as much as a cultural one.
And I may or may not harbor an interest in starting a commune.