When Beyoncé so wisely instructed “All the single ladies” (ALL the single ladies) to “put your hands up,” it was a different time. It was 2008. A year of innocence. We had elected Obama. Beach House had released Devotion. And single ladies everywhere felt empowered by Queen B’s anthem for autonomy. I’d just moved to New York, 18 and wet behind the ears. I couldn’t wait to have my own fashion line, a loft in Soho, and to party with The Strokes – all of which happened in rapid succession. (#AlternativeFacts.)
Back then, 99% of my friends were single, and we relished in seasons of not giving a fuck about it. Our lives were spun of work, college, fun…and the impending recession. But still! Life was good. Lovers came and went like party guests. Some stayed longer than invited. Others left before even taking their coats off.
Nearly ten years on, paradigms have shifted, and rightly so. People met cute and moved in. People got married. Some got babied up. Hell, even Beyoncé, Ms. Single Lady herself, got married to Jay-Z – and I hear it’s going really well!
Naturally, my single friend percentage declined. It is in the single digits these days…like, in the 1-3% range. Which begs me to entreat: “All my single ladies (All my single ladies!) Now put your hands up!” All six of them. All six of your combined hands. Put them up, for the love of god. I guess with my hands we have eight. Strength in numbers.
Did anyone ever stop to ask: why are we putting our hands up?? Maybe Beyoncé wanted all the single ladies to put their hands up – because they were about to be shot by a firing squad? Maybe that’s what that song is about…elimination of the single ladies. She did marry Jay-Z that year after all. Perhaps it was meant as a kindness…to put us single ladies out of our perceived misery.
Ok, that’s a bit extreme, but I can’t help being wry. As we approach Valentine’s Day – the preferred holiday of single people everywhere – the commodity of coupling up can be oppressive. The polyester teddy bears lining shelves at Duane Reade. The lingerie ads. 50 Shades Darker.
Valentine’s Day is perhaps the most polarizing commercial holiday; the holiday that cruelly bisects the population into those with, and those without. Those who will dance together in the kitchen to Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” – and those who will sob to it over a box of self-gifted Russel Stover’s. Those who shall feast upon prix-fixe dinners of lamb chops and heart-shape chocolate cakes – and those who SHAN’T!
Parks and Recreation may have given us stags “Galentine’s Day,” and I’m sure Pinterest is rife with “fun alternatives” to drinking an entire bottle of wine in front of the mirror while cry-singing Cat Power, but I say fuck that shit. We don’t need alternatives. The single ladies don’t need saving. I don’t wanna go to the club with “gloss on my lips/a man on my hips,” as per Bey’s example.
Instead, all my single ladies: let’s dwell. Let’s lament. Let’s feel the pain. Love does hurt after all, and so does its absence. But that’s all right. This shit makes the world go ‘round. This Valentine’s Day, I want you to imagine all of the songs that have ever been written. Yup, all of ‘em. How many of those do you reckon are love songs? A pretty big portion I’d say. Finally, think about how many of those love songs are happy love songs, versus the ones that spring from raw, unbridled agony.
You see my point.
Would Roy Orbison ever have written “Only the Lonely” if he were just peachy and happily married? Would Stephin Merritt have written any songs, ever? Would I have any sad bastard music to listen to at all?
Some of the best music comes from good old-fashioned anguish. So when you’re feeling unbearably lonely, remember that you’re in good company – albeit the miserable kind.
I admit: there is a time to “put your hands up” and feel emboldened by solitude. I do it every day, when I eat my lame yet efficient dinner of sandwich meats, mayo, and hot sauce wrapped in a plume of romaine lettuce. Standing up. By the sink. I celebrate the fact that I can make the decision to do so without the democratic process. Without having the “What are we doing for dinner?” conversation. I can eat my sad lettuce wrap in peace. Blaring Pulp and singing along, still chewing. There is always a time to champion sad salad wrap singing, and 2am laundry doing, and in-bed pizza eating. And there is also a time to pour yourself a carafe of merlot, put on a depressing record, and be alone with everyone who’s ever written a song.
This Valentine’s Day, let’s get dismal. Just for one night. No one will even notice! (Because they will be on a date!)
Let’s start with Morrissey’s “Please Help The Cause Against The Loneliness.” A bubblegum number to the uncaring ear; but listen closer: sweet, sweet isolation! Leave it to Moz to wax desolate – this bouncing tune scrutinizes the pity cast upon the unwed…and who better to scrutinize than the infamous asexual himself? “Please help the cause against the loneliness,” Moz croons, as if there is a charity handout for our kind (if only!).
Next turn up some Liz Phair, who knew that you could still be completely alone while lying right next to someone. Phair’s snarky “Fuck and Run” is the quintessential opus for bad decisions. A sloppy, pitchy, honest, pathetic, undeniably brave song. This is diary caliber realism – all about that forbidden bed you keep crawling back into. Phair really hits it home when she asks the simple questions, like:
“Whatever happened to a boyfriend/The kind of guy who tries to win you over?/And whatever happened to a boyfriend/The kind of guy who makes love ’cause he’s in it?/ And I want a boyfriend /I want a boyfriend/I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas.”
While we’re reveling in emotional immaturity, let’s listen to “I Don’t Want To Get Over You” by the barons of broken hearts – Magnetic Fields, the band that truly did “make a career of being blue.”
As we’re discovering, a bit of wallowing can be cathartic. Despite all of the song’s clever imagery, one line says it all for me:
“I could leave this agony behind/Which is just what I’d do/If I wanted to/But I don’t want to get over you.”
And haven’t we all been down that dark hallway?
If love’s impact on the history of music, film, art, literature, and war (I’m talking to you, Helen of Troy) isn’t making you feel at one with your solitude – may I throw but one last metaphor at you?
A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Paris: the city of lights and love and innumerable sauces. She regaled me with tales of part-time lovers and fine meals. At the end of one such fine meal, she chose a dessert to cap off the perfect dinner. She chose framboise surprise. Raspberry surprise. Ooh la la! To append an American dish with “surprise” usually suggests catastrophe (tuna surprise), but the French weren’t gonna fuck this up! It would be exquisite; mountains of frothy pink mousse encasing shortbread and sorbet, the whole thing crowned with gold-dipped sugar lattices. Quelle surprise!
When the dessert was gently placed on the table, raspberries there were. The surprise however, was missing. It was 12 raspberries, up-ended on a plate. 12. Fucking. Raspberries. That’s it. C’est tout.
My point is: sometimes love is all that frothy pink mousse and more. Sometimes a relationship is a rich and mysterious and delicious dessert, worthy of all the pain, paintings, opuses and arias. And sometimes – it’s 12 fucking raspberries on a plate. That you just paid 10 Euros for.
Either way…there’s bound to be a song about it.