NOTE: A spoiler for the show’s ending is in the first paragraph. Do not read if you plan to watch or are watching.
I have to credit my friend Nicole with introducing me to this show. When she edited How to be a Happy Bachelor, she mentioned the show as an example of a popular culture item that ultimately celebrates singlehood because, at the end, a not-so-single-at-heart character embraces singlehood. At first glance, it seems like brain candy, but it’s got some depth – and a good message.
To sum up the show arc, Rebecca Bunch, a wealthy New York City lawyer, moves to a town called West Covina, California in order to “be with” Josh, her old summer camp flame. Needless to say, things get complex (or, as Rebecca would say, “it’s a lot more nuanced than that”).
Her presence serves as a catalyst for just about every character in the show, including the three guys she dates: Josh, Greg, and Nathaniel. She spends much of the series hopping back-and-forth between these three dudes; finally, in the series finale, a ghost, appearing in the form of a therapist, shows her what her future would look if she ended up with either of them, and she’s not happy in any of them because as her future self tells her, “You don’t know who you are.”
After an episode in which she goes on one date each with the three guys, she decides to pursue a new love: music, which culminates in her singing and performing an original song at a Valentine’s Day open mic event. She has a speech in which she realizes that love does not have to be the end of the story, but rather a part of your story. It’s a healthy realization for her to come to, but I would also add it doesn’t even have to be that. But, at least, TV writers are attempting to make progress in this area: I guess they have to go through Calculus I to get through Calculus III.
I also loved the arcs of the supporting characters; some end up coupled and happy, others end up single and happy. Greg, who struggled with an alcohol problem in the first season, is now happily sober, happily single, and the owner of an Italian restaurant. Nathaniel, a miserable workaholic, got the strength to quit his father’s law firm and become the legal counsel for a zoo. And, when he had the monkey on his shoulder, I certainly did not say, “Hellwoooo, Chester.”
I could have done without White Josh’s (WiJo) comment to Greg during the open mic, “I will not be secure until you or Rebecca are married.” Fortunately, Greg has found enough strength to shut him down.
Did I mention that WiJo is “still single?” What’s up with that!?
Single People Have The Ones
“Married people have the one, single people have the ones.” This is one of my favorite lines from Bella DePaulo, and it’s true. When a person gets married (and I’m generalizing), the spouse becomes the person’s “everything,” and most cultures revere it. But when you’re single, you have multiple people in your life, and for me, it’s a lot richer.
Take my weekend, for instance. I just finished my first week at my new job in my new city and was looking forward to unwinding. Friday afternoon, I did just that on the tennis court. After driving to Rose Park in Georgetown, I met up with Enrique, who posted on a tennis group in Meetup that he was looking for a volleying partner. I hadn’t even picked up a racket in a year and a half (I had gotten complacent with it in Hampton Roads), but in the city of Washington, DC, there are tennis players galore, so I had browsed some Meetups for it. There was quite the line of people waiting to play, so Enrique and I got to know each other. A lighting technician in the theater, he was out of work due to this damdemic (I’m calling the pandemic the “damdemic;” it just seems fitting). I feel for you, dude. We had a good volley, even though I’m super rusty and have trouble letting the ball bounce before charging into it.
Saturday morning, I went for a brief hike with Guy, who I met on a runner’s meetup group. We met at Bread Furst, that aromatic bakery on Connecticut Avenue, and went on a trail. We shared tales of our travels. That afternoon, it was a trip to the National Gallery of Art with Joel, who I met through a writer’s Meetup group. He brought his buds Jacob and Rob. I was able to talk movie soundtracks and music with Jacob, Jewish lingo with Joel, and philosophies of creativity with Rob; after the museum, we went to the café where we talked about sweets. I never thought a topic as mundane as cookies would create such an enthralling dialogue, but there you go.
Yesterday was the CoSP meetup with Misti, where we walked around the National Mall and saw two people flip off the White House. Right on! We talked politics, travel, singlehood, and I love Misti’s insertion of popular culture references into conversation (Steve Martin’s The Jerk, Aerosmith’s “Jaded,” and I’m referring to the desolate DC landscape at DC: Zombie Apocalypse Version). We have plans to play tennis, grill, and see some socially distanced outdoor live music.
All in all, a hell of a weekend. Way more interesting than some backyard conversation about which lawn mower or juice box is better.
Community of Single People (CoSP) is a great resource on all things singlehood-related, but the Netflix series, Indian Matchmaking is the first experience I’ve had with watching a show based on the group’s recommendation. I also heard Peter McGraw do an insightful podcast and when he and his friend, Roopali Malhorta (who used a matchmaker), discussed it.
In McGraw’s words, the show barely touches on the idea that being single is a valid lifestyle choice, but I guess it has to appeal to their viewership, the majority of whom will want to see these hopefuls couple up. He and Malhorta also discuss the idea that many of the characters might actually be better off single.
This is where I want to discuss. I watched the series over eight days (one episode per day), and I took notes as I watched. The show revolves around Sima Taparia, whose profession is that of a matchmaker. An Indian woman, she helps people find partners, and she has a booming business because marriage is highly prized in Indian culture. The series tells several stories of Indians trying to find their partners. I’ll be giving a brief evaluation of each client/character.
I felt some empathy and sympathy for Nadya, not a single-at-heart person. An event planner from New Jersey, she truly wants to find a partner. I don’t know if that pressure comes from her family, if she’s internalized that pressure, a combination of those things, or if she may actually be better off with a partner. In Roopali’s words, “dating can be fun,” which I agree with if you don’t have expectations. Sadly, in most cultures, dating is supposed to “lead somewhere.” And her in words, Indian culture isn’t like that; you’re looking for a “potential life partner,” which is a part of all cultures, I think. I’d love to teach her about internalized singlism. Vanay, her dating partner, flaked on her twice, and yet, she’s still willing to date him. The last shot of her arc has them walking off together (spoiler alert: they’re not together anymore, surprise surprise).
Aparna’s a strong woman, an attorney from Houston. She appears to be very picky (a characteristic Sima uses to describe her), one of those people that, on a dating site, might write a laundry list of demands from her partner (those scared me off back when I did those sites). But she might actually be a single-at-heart. She’s successful and self-assured; if she ever got exposed to CoSP, a light bulb might go off in her head, and she might make a good singles activist.
I wanted to yell at Pradhyuman, “Dude, get some new friends!” At first glance, he might come across as your stereotypical “bachelor.” He dresses well, he likes fancy cocktails, and he has very high standards for physical appearance. I’m drawing on McGraw and Roopali’s analysis, but he’s the type of person that would do well in an urban environment, where a lot of people date just to “date” and don’t necessarily want to settle down. Yet, he keeps getting pressure from his friends and family to get married. The wife of one of his friends says, “I wish he’d get married because he’s always pulling my husband away on some kind of boys trip.” She can’t spend a minute without him? That sounds like some co-dependent, needy behavior right there!
The dynamic of Akshay’s family can be summed up in the following line from his mother: “He has all these gifts. Now we just have to find him a girl because marriage is important.” For the most part, it seems like Mom makes all of the decisions for him. In fact, her blood pressure is off the charts because of her concern for Akshay’s well-being and love life. I say, let that bird fly and enjoy your life! Of course, I am coming at that from a Western perspective because marriage is valued quite differently in Indian culture than it is in American culture, so I’m going to try to stay humble.
Anyway, I had some issues with him. He said something to the effect of, “If she’s busy with work, who’s gonna take care of the kids?” Ummm, you? So much for staying humble, I suppose. He’s the type that, if he does marry, will probably need someone’s who willing to play the role of a surrogate mother. He also doesn’t like cats, which is just not cool.
Vayasar’s the kind of guy I would’ve loved to have had as my college counselor. Funny, charismatic, and yet, he feels incomplete without a partner. When the creators interviewed his students, someone mentioned Vayasar had seen Endgame solo, to which some students went, “Awwww.” One young man spoke up and said, “Don’t awwww! That’s some self-empowerment!” That’s a smart kid right there. He has some dark family history, and dating encouraged him to open up to another person about it, which I can actually get on board with. Sometimes, when we meet the right people, they can inspire us out of more comfort zone. And they don’t necessarily have to be romantic partners. Sadly, the show wasn’t very clear on where that exchange went, but we found out later on that it didn’t “go anywhere.”
Ankita was my favorite. She’s a true single-at-heart. She got angry with a matchmaker who said, “Women take a backseat in marriage.” But, in her words, she wanted to try anyway. Her character arc did end with her realizing she doesn’t need a man, and she talked to a friend about living in a house with friends like the show Friends. Her friend was very supportive. Despite what appears to be a matrimaniacal stance on the part of the show’s creators, I’m glad they included one storyline that ended in happy singlehood. On the one hand, this seems like tokenism; on the other, I’m glad they somewhat recognize singlehood as a valid lifestyle choice.
Overall, the show gave me a good insight into marriage and Indian culture (for example, the differentiation between “arranged marriage” and “love marriage”). It has been criticized heavily for encouraging outdated views on marriage, which I get.
I was happy to see that, despite the creators’ need to end with the “happily ever after” trope, none of the couples stayed together after the show (this includes Akshay’s broken engagement). Despite this, I won’t be tuning in for Season 2.
My Conversation with Steph Penny
In March, right before this pandemic began, I took a workshop with the Muse Writers Center on how to build a platform as an author. About to launch How to be a Happy Bachelor, I thought this would be a great course. And it was. The instructor, Sylvia Liu, recommended using Twitter because your ability to view (and be viewed) is unlimited. So I stepped up my Twitter game, and in doing so, I found Steph Penny, an Australian author who has many of the same views on marriage and childfreeness (yes, I made that word up) that I do.
It was hard to find a common time, but we finally did so, and we had quite the conversation! I shared some of my views with her on bachelorhood and childfreeness. I also learned quite a bit about how some churches view singledom. I was overjoyed to see that as a married woman who supports her church, one of her missions is to help make churches more inclusive of singletons.
I was happy to hear Steph’s story about a conversation she had with a female pastor in which she brought some of her ideas about inclusivity of singles, which the pastor was very happy to hear. This brought to mind a conversation I had with Tyler Sit, a minister at New City Church, a very progressive church in Minneapolis, MN, in which he talked about singlehood as a valid lifestyle choice. He even had a sermon about it, which I can’t seem to find on the Internet anymore.
And it makes sense! I’m no Biblical scholar, but I do know that Jeremiah was single, Paul even endorsed singlehood, and let’s not forget Jesus Christ (I wish I was quick enough to come up with that argument when a religious former colleague of mine responded to the title of my book with “You need us!” I could have said, “Aren’t you supposed to be a Biblical scholar?”) I’m all about family-friendly programs, for those who have kids. And if churches are going to have Singles groups, they shouldn’t solely be focused on matchmaking. In Steph’s words, many singles just want to meet other singletons to hang out with, without the conversation devolving into “my kids” or “my husband/wife/partner.”
Bottom line: it’s not just about us singletons. If religious institutions want to ensure their long-term survival and thriving, they need to become more inclusive. It is predicted that by 2030, one in four adults will have never married by the age of fifty. Many will probably go to religious services. As our population of singletons increases, such institutions will need to meet their audience where they are. And if more married folks have the mindset of Steph, they’ll support inclusivity of singles.
So let’s move forward!
Over the past few years, I've been researching, blogging, and writing about singlehood and the stigma surrounding it. During my interview process at my new job, I gave a series of elevator pitches around it, which seemed to impress the people interviewing me. As part of my tenure packet, I'll need to provide a narrative on how that study benefits the institution. During our New Faculty Orientation yesterday, a faculty member who had been through the process invited us to think about our professional and personal identities and how they can tie into our new jobs. We could meditate, write, draw, whatever. As a writer, I find writing is the best way (for me) to process thoughts. Here's the freewrite I devised in four minutes (no proofreading):
As a happy singleton, I also like to research and write about issues related to singlehood. As pertains to my professional identity as a rhetorician, I particularly like to examine the rhetoric of marriage and singlehood and how that shapes the hegemony of marriage, because as a singleton, I feel I am a part of a marginalized group. I bring that into my teaching through my themed composition courses on singlehood, and I invite students to think about those particular students, because some of them MAY NOT MARRY in their personal lives (some of them have already indicated they don’t want to). As far as UDC is concerned, if we’re trying to build scholars and critical thinkers, I want to help students also understand implicit bias exists in the language we use in a lot of contexts (not just marriage) and I also want them to think critically about why people get married so they can also make the right decisions for themselves as far as whether they choose to marry or not. I’m not saying don’t do it, but I do feel that if students can learn to be critical about how society promotes marriage, they can be happier if they choose to be single. They can also be critical of language functions in the workplace and how it can shape policy, and I’d like to get them looking at it on a local level.
The Move According to Chester
So my cat/son Chester stayed with his Aunt Maggie during the move because his human/Daddy knew it would be too chaotic for him. I went back to Hampton Roads to tie some loose ends up, most notably, picking Chester up and transporting him to DC. Maggie sedated him with some Gabapentin the night before (and the morning of) so he’d be mellow during the ride.
And that he was. He played with Maggie and even head butted Daddy when he was trying to pull out of the gas station. “Sorry, Chester, gotta get you there alive,” I said.
Chester really loves looking outside on the balcony, and he’s been out there twice (under Daddy’s supervision).
During Maggie’s visit, Chester mostly slept in the living room. But she left for Newport News on Sunday night, so it’s just the two of us now. Challenges include keeping him from exiting the front door, and for about a day or so, he was lying in bed next to be and not on my leg. That changed yesterday evening when I placed him on my lap, and then he didn’t get off. In fact, I’ve been lying in bed for an hour and a half and Chester still hasn’t gotten off my leg. He also continues to head butt me in the mornings.
He’s adjusting well, and it’ll be even better when my couch gets in.
On Friday, Maggie and I brought Chester up to my apartment (there will be a separate blog post told from his point of view to come). After a power nap, we walked around the National Mall before heading over to Café Berlin for our 7:00 reservation. We started out with a pair of German pretzels with bier cheese (freaking awesome).
We both ordered a sausage platter; they were juicy as well. Neither of us were overly impressed with the German potato salad; the pickle and dill they added just didn’t work for me. The mac and cheese was okay, though Maggie didn’t care for the egg noodles she got (she is to German food what I am to pizza).
We then retreated to our separate spaces (her space in the living room, me in the bedroom) to crash early because we’d get up early the next morning to hit the National Zoo.
I’m only about a mile from the zoo, so we took the 20-minute walk there, where I was enthralled by all the shops in Cleveland Park, as well as the number of apparent singletons. There were a few coupley-looking folks there, but it seemed evenly distributed. And not a ton of PDA there, which I like. We met up with some friends of ours at the zoo (also singletons) to explore. This was my first time there, and my major takeaway was that tigers are introverts and lions are extroverts. I’m a tiger.
We walked back up to the Italian Pizza Kitchen, where Maggie had the best-looking Stromboli I’ve ever seen. I had two cheese slices; nowhere near as good as New Yawk, but not bad either.
After a powernap, we headed over to the White House and surrounding area. We came across a beautiful memorial devoted to the Black Lives Matter movement, with posters hanging from fences. I bought a purple Black Lives Matter hat; I would have gotten the black one, but it read “Black Lives MatterS.”
We then encountered a truck playing reggae music and some kids dancing to it. Maggie and I joined in for a bit before we headed over to Fat Pete’s in Cleveland Park for some Carolina-style BBQ. Of course, we got a picture of Maggie in front of a Jerry Garcia portrait that adorned the window of an art store.
I ended up taking my babyback ribs home, and Maggie and I retreated to our separate rooms for the night.
The next morning, we walked over to American University’s meditation labyrinth, which was about a mile and a half. Those houses on Van Ness Street are beautiful. And many of them had Black Lives Matter placards on their lawns, a nice contrast to the Trump ones I used to see in the South. I’d love to settle there.
The area around that labyrinth is quite verdant; I can see myself going there on a regular basis to meditate. It was a good place for me to reflect on all the activity that’s been going on the last couple of weeks. I’ve had some big things happening, and as I write, it’s nice to be able to spend some time reflecting.
We went to Bread Furst, where I was hoping to get a toasted bagel with cream cheese, but I learned they stop serving breakfast at 11, so I settled for a huge ham and cheese, of which I could only eat half. But that’ll make for a good lunch for today. After a powernap, we went for a walk and I escorted Maggie to Union Station. After we parted ways, I teared up a little bit. Maggie’s a close friend, but she’s symbolic of my old life in Hampton Roads, which is now officially gone.
I did enjoy the Metro ride home solo; it’s a reaffirmation that this is my city – at least, for now. I hope to stay here for a long time, but we’ll see what the forces of nature have planned. One thing I kept saying all weekend was, “I can’t believe I live here” as I admired the urban landscape and the constant stream of activity.
I still can’t believe it. In time, I’ll adjust.
After a few days unpacking, shopping, and doing a culinary tour of DC, I had to go back to Hampton Roads to tie up loose ends, including the moveout cleaning of my old apartment, a walk-through with the lovely front office folks who decide whether I get my deposit back, dropping some unneeded items at the Salvation Army, and picking up my cat/son Chester from his aunt Maggie’s (I couldn’t allow his little funny face to be around all the chaos associated with moving). Of course, since I’d be coming back as a non-resident, I had to do some touristy things. I rolled into Williamsburg at around 2 and dropped $40 on peanuts from The Peanut Store. From now on, I have to get those Virginia peanuts whenever I tour Virginia. I then met with my buddy Drew/Brometheus at Craft 31, where I had one of the juiciest burgers I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. There were also some uniquely spiced wings in the mix. We caught up on our inside jokes (Fugayzi/Fugazi) and talked music, movies, future plans, and all the COVIDidiots/Karens who feel they’re making a political statement by not wearing a mask (my sincere empathy to all my mask-wearing friends named Karen; I love and salte you).
After dropping by my apartment to pick up old dishes for donation to the Salvation Army, I headed over to Sherrie’s Airbnb. A powernap did me good, as did a jog along Buckroe Beach. I chilled out the rest of the night by starting Season 5 of Shameless, that delicious dark comedy starring a disheveled William H. Macy.
The following morning, I woke up and had a nice greasy breakfast over at Laura’s Rise and Shine on Buckroe Avenue. That’s when the weirdness of being a tourist in Hampton Roads hit me; I was craving a biscuit with gravy being in the South, yet I had lived in the South for six years, and I’m pretty sure I never had biscuits with gravy as a Hampton Roads resident (I always ate healthy for breakfast as a resident, and will continue to do as a Washingtonian). But as a tourist in the South, I can indulge in greasy Southern delicacies guilt-free!
I drove around to the Salvation Army, and I pledged to support Aroma’s, the coffee shop near by old apartment, once it opened back up. So I sit here now, writing.
This is just a few minutes later. After four years of living just a few hundred feet from it, I decided to support the Juice Life Bar by getting a Tropical Mango smoothie; it was heavenly. No fruit chunks, which is how I like my smoothie. I walked around the City Center Fountains (perhaps, for the first time, sans headphones). And then I sat and stared at the water. In six years, I hadn’t just sat there. It felt serene.
After a powernap and viewing of a Shameless episode, I met up with Sherrie and Maggie at Surf Rider, the first restaurant I ever ate at in Hampton Roads. This was during my interview with my former job, during which I nibbled on the largest crab cake I had ever seen to that point. I couldn’t quite eat due to the rapid-fire questions I was getting from my soon-to-be department chair (I must have answered well due to the fact that I got the job and was there for six years).
I was pretty satiated from the tuna bites and crab dip we shared, but I still devoured that shrimp Po Boy and fries combo just the same. We worked it off with a walk along Buckroe Beach, but I still couldn’t eat breakfast the following morning.
I ran a few errands, including buying new drip pans in the goal of getting my security deposit back. After waiting thirty minutes for the rep to arrive, she went through the checklist, and they may have to remove the carpet (long story). After this, I got some takeout from a hole-in-the-wall in Hampton called The Barking Dog, where I devoured two chili dogs and some potato salad. It’s interesting how I passed by so many restaurants during my time in Hampton Roads but never ate there. That’ll change when I continue to come back as a tourist.
This was written on August 1, 2020. I'm behind due to this moving stuff.
Part 5 Unpacking: The Final Frontier
During my first night sleeping in my new pad, I snoozed like a baby. I rolled out of bed at 9, and the big project was hanging up pictures. Since I’m thrifty (cheap), I put all of my picture hangers in a bag and reused them. Trying to angle pictures and make them look uniform is a pain, but I had podcasts (The Simpsons Show Podcast and the Creative Writer’s Toolbox) and Phish’s July 23, 2017 show from Madison Square Garden to get me through it. I hung up my last picture at around 2, at which point I took a much-needed nap. After I woke up, I ordered some knick-knacks (a smaller silverware drawer organizer, toilet plunger/brush combo, new drinking glasses, among many other things), and then treated myself to some chicken vermicelli from the Pho place next door. Tomorrow, it’s back to proteins and green veggies for a few days before I take my trip to Newport News.
I slept like a baby at the hotel (I had paid for two nights, so I figured I’d get my money’s worth). I headed back to my place at around 9 a.m., and I plowed through the boxes (the most fun part was unloading my books and DVDs). I have so many books and, due to COVID, no office to place any of them, so I’ll be shelling out $30 a month for a storage unit. The fun of urban living. Oh well, it’s worth it to have DC as my oyster. I can’t wait till I can explore it without a facemask!
My name is Craig. I'm an educator, writer, and unapologetic singleton. When not reading, writing, or teaching, I enjoy hiking, running, watching movies, going to concerts, spending time with friends, and playing with my cat/son, Chester.