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Feminism and Urban Loneliness: On Finding Love in the post-Sex and the City Era

By Smriti Bhoker

"Nighthawks" (1942) by Edward Hopper

Like most women in their late twenties, I have spent most of my time on dating apps. Getting unsolicited pictures of men's junk, getting ghosted, getting love-bombed by clingy men often named "Aman" who just don't take no for an answer and think they are owed time just because we matched. When you move past the jokes of how "men will be men" on dating apps, you start to see the unbearable face of an entire generation of young women who are starved for something real. A group of struggling vicenarians who have had their fingers exhausted with the gamification of swiping.

India has the highest number of single women right now and the IndiaSpend report blatantly suggests that over 73 million women are single out of choice in India. I have other apprehensions about this number but I want to dwell on something more daunting.

Post Sex and the City era, where women no longer feel the compulsion to have their existence defined by their relationship status, is a wonderful thing.

I grew up with Carrie staggering in New York City struggling to find love. Then in 2021, we saw her BIG LOVE die, with Big's death also came a new understanding of how and why the beloved show for single women just does not work anymore. This is not just because it keeps failing the Bechdel test but also because in the current times, the show is tone-deaf. Even with the new more inclusive cast and storyline, it feels out of place because some feminists have not forgiven Carrie and the gang for making us feel like we would miss out on life if we had no men in our lives. Finally, we have slowly arrived at an era that embraces the solitude of womanhood and the peace that comes with it.

I've always been an advocate for rest, peace, and the joy of being single for women. But I'm also doing five jobs, paying my rent, going to therapy, taking care of my friends, standing up to my family, fighting sexism in grocery stores, going to the gym, reading more, doing brunch, and actively building a better life for myself and it's a lot, so when I take the last train home, I'm sorry but I just want to be held. This strange and heartbreaking realization is also similar to what Fleabag shared with us a few years ago;

"I want someone to tell me what to wear in the morning. I want someone to tell me what to wear EVERY morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat. What to like, what to hate, what to rage about, what to listen to, what band to like, what to buy tickets for, what to joke about, what not to joke about. I want someone to tell me what to believe in, who to vote for, who to love, and how to tell them. I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong” — Fleabag, 2019.

This is where urban loneliness becomes something we can better look at through a feminist lens.

Interpersonal relationships are the number one identifier of a human being's happiness and well-being, and a big part of this is played by our romantic relationships. At a time when we have a dozen of studies on how urban loneliness in women is worsening mental health to an extent that America calls it the “Silent Epidemic”. At a time when the population of single women in our country has peaked, I want us to look inward and realize the consequences this could potentially have on our mental health. It is also an issue that is unfairly dividing; the marginalized women of our country will have a more significant price to pay for this.

I have spoken to at least 200 working women before attempting to write this and the understanding is that it's not as if women aren't looking for romantic partnerships anymore, it's the blatant resistance to date someone they have to mother or be a slave to. More and more women are leaving toxic spaces and moving towards preserving their peace, away from the traditional patriarchial expectations and boundaries that govern (typically heterosexual, but not always) relationships.

Compare this with the infamous New York Times op-ed by Ross Douthat, "The Redistribution of Sex" published in 2018, which argues that the government at the very least has sex robots for the "incel" community to curb "incel violence". In 2021 Psychology Today published an article that made rounds on TikTok called “The Rise of Lonely Men”. When men are lonely, their violence towards women, as evidenced by many different "incel" attacks show, is often justified or even understood by society. The way the media reports femicide is also quite telling of how a man's poor mental health justifies his actions. the report in Psychology Today confirmed that "Men need to address skills deficits to meet healthier relationship expectations" because women are not willing to do the extra labor for them anymore. Meanwhile, a woman on Tiktok who was expressing perfectly valid emotions that she sometimes feels upset that she hasn’t found companionship - with the caveat that she has a perfectly independent life and satisfactory job, friendships etc - was ridiculed all over the internet.

Advocating For Radical Love

“A shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it.”- Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

As I, amongst other lonely women, wait around for men to do better I implore you as a feminist to not see the urge to want love as anti-feminist. It is always fascinating to me that women just learned how to not apologize for being ambitious but somehow with that, we inherited shame for wanting love just as badly as a corner office. "Men seem happier with just a great career, that’ll be enough for us too," I said this out loud to a friend lately and, without missing a beat, she replied, "They were not happy because of the corner office, they just have more rights." We are no longer in an era where love and life are pitted against each other and as someone who has shamed herself for prioritizing love as much as career goals, I have to tell a soul that it does no good when you shame yourself for wanting to be held, with the act you also refuse to give it language. We all might be lonely but we don't have to be alone in this.

You know one of those Tuesdays when you’re prepping for a meeting with a guy you matched with last week, he’s added you on Instagram and the first brilliant idea from his beautifully tiny brain is to send you a picture of his privates? I have lost count of these Tuesdays. I work in a dating app now, where to my surprise men are not only aware of the problems that women face on dating apps but are actively trying to solve them too. I also feel seen and heard for the value I bring to the table and if the choice was between being held after work or being seen at work, I would pick the latter. But every day I am trying to move towards wanting both. Chelsea Handler in her Netflix special “Revolution” brings us hope, telling us that our person is out there and we don't have to settle, and as the data indicates, we are not settling but we are waiting. It’s important to have a vocabulary for sharing this loneliness and be able to comprehend this reality with empathy without shaming women for wanting companionship.

This brings me to my final thought: radical love and care, which tends to collective loneliness, can be the sanest response to our situation. Often, those in marginalised communities have created space for radical love and collective support as an alternative to patriarchal relationships, out of safety and necessity. Alternatives to the traditional type of romantic love can be found in like-minded women; companionship does not come in just one form. Radical love and care are the foundations on which we overworked and ambitious women can build a community around loneliness that is not a book club but a melting pot of hope, where we take care of each other while we rest.


About the author

Smriti is a Mumbai based published Urdu poet and screenwriter who is currently understanding dating patterns as the content head at Meet7 (an Anti-Swipe dating platform). Smriti holds a master's in sociology that helps her understand love, gender, and politics in theory but in practice she is just as lost as every feminist ever and yet she persists.

Find her on Instagram @smritibhoker


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