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Soltera and soledad

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

“Dónde están las mujeres solteras?” At each of the three town show/events I’ve attended, a musician or MC asks the crowd, “Where are the single women?”  Men whistle, women laugh and wave their hands.  Now remember, teaching aside, I am here as more of an observer than an actor.  In general, it is more appropriate for me to ask and to think rather than to judge or to challenge.  But here’s the thing: I am a feminist, a liberal, and a bit of an academic [I am fishing for the right words here].  I am a Smithie- do you really think I can hear a phrase like “Where are the single women?” without analyzing it?  Before sifting out the differences in gender dynamics between Chile and the US, I am merely considering my own reaction: I am torn between disgust and pride.  Disgust because the question is meant to identify the product on the market: men are the buyers, women the prize, or at best, the sellers, but not the agent.  For women, to be single is a state of waiting, of not quite being a full adult; single men, on the other hand, are in their prime, with full permission to be serious about themselves and their careers and also to enjoy casual relationships.  So I am disgusted by the double standard behind this question.  And yet, I am downright proud of being single because I am not waiting and I am not sad: I am an agent.  I know that I will love being in a relationship again at some point, but for now, I am happy, and my life is not on hold.

In fact, I love the independence and mobility I have right now.  Which brings me to soledad.  In the dictionary, soledad is the Spanish translation of both “solitude” and “loneliness”, but in English, these are very different words, with important implications for me, the feminist mujer soltera. Loneliness is negative –“She suffered from extreme loneliness, so far from home” — but solitude isn’t necessarily– “She enjoyed an afternoon of sweet solitude with the newspaper and a cup of tea.”  She isn’t lonely, she is enjoying being (momentarily) alone.  There is a difference.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this weekend I was alone for the first time in awhile, and it was delicious.  I saw people, I went out, and then I came back to my nest: my meals and my runs, my nail polish and my sweatpants, my computer and my book (Daniel Horowitz: Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique).  But the funny thing is that every time someone discovers that I live alone, they tend to react in pity and sympathy.  Now it may well be that Chileans value socializing and shared meals more than Americans, and my love of time alone is partly a reflection of my culture.  I am fascinated by this word soledad, so I am discussing and defining it with many people here.  But my inkling is that in addition to culture and language, there is a gender dynamic going on here, at least in the pity and concern that my aloneness elicits.  I wonder that a self-sufficient and autonomous young woman goes against the grain, especially here.  It feels a bit radical to take such good care of myself, by myself.

Over the next ten months, I want to keep investigating these questions of gender in Chile, trying hard to be more curious than critical, but also being honest about my own preferences and my own truth, at least with myself and with my closest people, if not in the moment here.  And I, for one, am confident that my solitude — mi soledad dulce — will be a crucial resource for me this year.  I’ll just have to keep figuring out how to explain it in Spanish.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. David Russell permalink
    Tuesday, March 1, 2011 8:15 pm

    Keep the posts coming! May we all learn vicariously from your experience and reflection. So in the title of the famous novel 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, which is the connotation of soledad? I haven’t read the book or otherwise I could answer for myself.

  2. Tuesday, March 1, 2011 8:19 pm

    I’d say in the novel it’s loneliness but in a melancholy, pensive way– about sadness and tragedy, but in a way that is breathtakingly beautiful. Definitely not peaceful, sweet solitude. I should ask people here that question, too.

  3. Tuesday, March 1, 2011 8:33 pm

    Ok Margaret, you’re going to have to accept the fact that now that I subscribe to your posts I’m going to leave comments inappropriately early after you post, thereby giving away the fact that I obsessively check my email and read the blogs that I love. Anyway. Point being, I loved this post because I was just thinking the other day about how apart from living in a single room in college, I will never live alone in my life. It’s a weird thought, isn’t it? I know many people would say that living alone is a necessary part of becoming an adult and while I’d have to disagree, I admire your courage and tenacity when it comes to living alone in a foreign country. You distinguish solitude from loneliness beautifully. I wonder if a balance between the two is necessary for a full and enriching life?

    • Wednesday, March 2, 2011 6:35 am

      Thanks, Caitlin! Funny to think you will never live alone again- but for you, this is just right, and I happy for you two. I think you’re right about a balance between loneliness and solitude… and of course, you can be lonely even when surrounded by people! I’m glad you’re following me– I love reading each of your posts, and I’m so happy you’ve been posting more often recently. Keep it up you, too!

  4. jane woodman permalink
    Tuesday, March 1, 2011 9:37 pm

    Meg, I love this whole realm of discerning loneliness from solitude. It’s interesting to me how one can turn into the other… solitude can sometimes become too austere and veer into loneliness and loneliness can bring us to the relief of surrender – to solitude, to reflection, to ourselves. I experience these fluctuations on meditation retreats – ah alone! Beautiful! Ah alone – desolate. You are on your own sort of retreat, paying close attention to the states of mind and heart that come and go and to all around you. xoxo!

  5. Wednesday, March 2, 2011 12:24 am

    Miss Meg, I love this post on loneliness and solitude. It probably won’t surprise you at all that both loneliness and solitude are things I dislike, not because I need the company of a man, but because I like having another person to hear my thoughts. Caitlin’s comment is interesting– I assume she’s living with other people, married, or something like that. I agree with her that I don’t think it’s a necessary part of growing up, but it’s certainly an interesting one that allows you to grow. I live alone here in Korea…I’ve done it for 6 months and I’m done…currently trying to move in with my boyfriend. Anyway, to Caitlin I say that loneliness and solitude can occur no matter how many you are surrounded by! Sometimes going on a run or sitting at a computer scuplting poetry does it for me. A bus or train ride. A walk.

    Keep writing. I’m loving it. I hope you’re still following me!

    • Wednesday, March 2, 2011 6:25 am

      Thank you, Emma! I agree, I don’t think living alone has to be a part of growing up, but I think for me, it is. Exciting to hear about moving in with your bf! And yes, I read your every entry with close interest. Though our blogs are different, I always hope that people enjoy mine as much as I enjoy yours.

      • Thursday, March 3, 2011 1:05 am

        I feel the same. I’ve really been enjoying yours– Keep writing. It’s great!

  6. sally chapdelaine permalink
    Wednesday, March 2, 2011 9:31 am

    Just fascinating! I have been in the midst of many and felt such loneliness and have been completely alone and felt such connection to others and the world.Thank you for the conversation.

    • Wednesday, March 2, 2011 9:39 am

      Amazing, isn’t it? Partly it’s technology that helps me feel connected with people at home, but it’s also just the feeling of support and foundation. Glad you are enjoying the conversation!

  7. joan permalink
    Thursday, March 3, 2011 1:20 pm

    Meg,
    I am savoring every post. This experience of peering into the window of your life as it unfolds is captivating. No matter what is swirling in and around me, each time a post from L23 arrives I am suddenly transported to a world of mystery and magic.

    The rich narrative, exquisite eye for detail (people, places and things), spontaneous musings, your keen insights and observations… all of your preparation, training and hard work are serving you well. It’s like “Distance Learning” with Meg! Thanks for the education.

    I find your open and transparent style of expressing yourself so refreshing, and brave. You reveal your own raw process in moments of questioning/struggling with various issues that arise. It feels so intimate.

    Thank you for sharing and exploring this amazing odyssey with all of us.
    xo
    joan

    • Thursday, March 3, 2011 6:25 pm

      Joan, thank you for your sweet words. I didn’t know I was offering a distance learning course? I feel like I’m the one learning, here. But the blog is really helpful for me, too. I’m glad you are enjoying it.

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