Monthly Archives: March 2016

On Social Signaling, Stigma, and Surround-and-Protect

I am now something I never intended to be and never thought I would be – a single mom.

It’s been a little weird for me, walking around the neighborhood with no ring on my left hand and a small child by my side. I feel like it’s a scarlet letter on my chest: “Irresponsible. Makes Poor Choices. SHAME.” I am a little uncomfortable wearing a low-cut sundress out with the boy, like it implies I’m a floozy and, well, that must be why I’m in the boat I’m in.

All of this is ridiculous, of course. If anyone even notices, in this day and age does anyone really care? And if anyone does think those things, the joke is on them, because it is so far from the truth of my journey that it’s laughable.

But that’s the whole problem. I can’t wear my journey on my chest so that any passerby can see, “oh, she did everything ‘right’ and got left anyway”; not sure I would really want to even if I could. In the first place – it sounds almost worse, phrased like that, than having had an accident or one wild night that reaped consequences which I was willing to undertake for a lifetime. My circumstances without the context of ME might make me a figure to be pitied rather than judged, and I am not someone who needs pity.

Within my actually community, though (essentially my work family, who know what I’ve been through), I do not feel judged or pitied. I feel protected. Almost every man I work with (2/3 of my colleagues) has at some point in the past six months come up to me and asked if there is anything he can do to help me. Do I need help moving? Did I notice my tire was low? Do I need someone beat up? Do I need someone killed (from one of the Italians…still not sure if it was a joke). It has made me feel like all of the men around me, who were offended at seeing a woman they like and respect disrespected, at seeing the social contract I upheld broken and thrown in my face, have sort of made a circle around me to protect a now-vulnerable member of their community. Whether I need the protection isn’t the point; it’s the sense of support and respect that I appreciate.

In the end I don’t really care what strangers think, but it has been interesting to feel my sudden…deviation from protocols. I have long made a habit of blending in on the surface, because it’s easier when the only people asking questions are the people you have invited in. Suddenly being something which creates questions is an odd feeling.

Maybe I’ll just go throw on my hot pink shirt and let that provoke different questions instead. As a dear friend recently reminded me, being unafraid to be looked at is part of self-ownership. Maybe it’s time to go back to the jungle philosophy of bright colors. Is it poison, or the sweetest delicacy of all? Only the brave will find out….

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