Long before the Internet became the social hangout it is today we had personals. Do you remember them? They were little windows on society. The acronym-loaded text boxes all but required the equivalent of a decoder ring.
I never placed one but I did scan them as a source of amusement — the best ones were in the local alternative newspaper. My fingers would get all inky as I flipped through the cheap news print. There was something for everyone. Some read like poetry, others made me laugh or blush.
But what all personals shared in common were distinct labels, categories that people would organize around.
NDSWF – Non-drinking single white female … um, not someone I can relate to as I likes my infusion cocktail or red wine too, too much to hang with that tribe.
DM seeking LDR – Divorced male seeking long distance relationship … sorry, buddy, not interested.
Acronyms are the way to go when purchasing by the character, but regardless of how they’re depicted the various groups have transferred into the online world. All kinds of communities are self-organizing. But what happens when people don’t fit neatly into a category or community and why are groups and their related identities so damned important to us anyway?
I continue to read with curiosity the heated debates about group or tribal loyalties. For instance for a brief period of time blogger Ken Wagner was looking to organize an online community under the label Childfree Marriages. (Update 6/29/2010: the blog has ceased since I first wrote about it here.) While I appreciate his efforts to enable people with common interests to locate each other more easily, the label childfree continues to make me uncomfortable. As I wrote in a blog comment my issue with the term is that it seems to celebrate the lack of children in a way that doesn’t fit those who are, well, without children because the fertility treatments didn’t work. Does that make me childless by default then? Hmmm.
Another blogger, Tiffany, has the following subhead: “happily childfree by choice, or miserably childless? I’ve experienced both extremes and everything in between.” That certainly covers a wider gamut but it’s a tricky acrynom: hcbcomciebeaeib. In a post she responded to a more divisive look at “breeders vs. childfree” that carried a larger insight. What I heard her say is that the more we highlight our differences the more we perpetuate stereotypes and overlook the continuum of characteristics we possess — and some don’t sort neatly.
We are multi-dimensional (well, most of us anyway) and we move from group to group and affinity to affinity as our lives evolve and change, and that’s cool. It’s when there are judgments applied to labels, tribes, groups (or what have you) that I get all that’s so not cool!
Maybe the reason I dislike childless or childfree as descriptors is because they are loaded terms. Loaded with prejudices about the circumstances or choices that led to that state of being.
ISO answers as to why this quest for belonging seems so hard to navigate. Any ideas? Welcome your thoughts.