I found out about the existence of Singles’ Day in the most apt way possible: a shopping alert. “It’s Singles’ Day!”, announced my phone on 11 November, with a notification alert that sounded like a small bird’s hiccup. Here, have a treat on us! And by “on us”, I mean a 10% discount to give you the excuse to buy the Alexander McQueen heels you’ve had on your wishlist for eight months and that haunt your Google ads.
“Excuse me! Excuse me,” I yelled at my phone, which had since moved on to giving me alerts about environmental collapse and that someone I don’t know and have never heard of is now on Instagram. I am no longer single! I found someone to love me and treasure me and give me access to health insurance, so I am afraid I cannot partake in your shopping holiday, please save your discounts for the singles of the world who need them.
But what is Singles’ Day? I wondered. We have already carved the unfortunate-in-every-way Galentine’s Day on to our schedules on 13 February. That “ladies celebrating ladies” holiday crawled horrifyingly through the television screen thanks to a 2010 episode of the hit NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. What was once just the product of the imagination of a bored and mediocre writers’ room came to life in the real world once companies like Sprinkles Cupcakes and Target started offering discounts and freebies on that day every year. Now it’s not enough to hit the town with your significant other to partake in an overpriced and mediocre prix fixe meal that will inevitably end with a molten lava chocolate cake despite it clearly no longer being 2002. Now you have to go out to Chili’s for pre-mixed frozen cocktails the night before, too.
Singles’ Day was similarly legitimized through commerce. It’s not just a holiday in China, where the idea originated and was originally known as Bachelors’ Day; it is a “shopping season”. It was meant to give occasion for people who were single to get together and socialize, held every year on 11/11. Get it: all of those ones, hanging out together? But it really took off once super Chinese online retailer Alibaba started hyping it as a day of deep discounts and treating yourself, growing the day into their biggest shopping day of the year.
So of course the true meaning of Singles’ Day is shopping online. Isn’t that what being single primarily is about? Trying to fill the vast expanse of emptiness and loneliness while also evading your parents’ persistent and vocal judgment about your inability to find lasting love in a dying world by sifting through the material goods available to be shipped to your doorstep in one to three business days while wondering which will ultimately keep your dread at bay, a V-neck midi dress or a cowl-necked mini? Oh look, the external manifestation of your fear of dying alone comes in polka dots, how cute!
But no, of course not, this is not a cowl-necked mini of sadness, this is a cowl-necked mini of empowerment! We’re not supposed to really admit that we long for companionship and understanding, we are strong and independent now. This contradiction will ultimately find the firm establishment of Singles’ Day on American shores, since right in the middle between “I am the most perfect embodiment of goodness and beauty” and “I am fundamentally unlovable” is the sweet spot where our most mindless consumerism happens.
And the gap between how many people want to get married and how many people are actually getting married (and how many people want to have children and how many people are having children) keeps getting wider as marriage and procreation rates drop. A TikTok video recently went viral after a woman confessed how alone she felt, having not received romantic attention for most of her life. The responses of commiseration poured in, but for every yes I am alone, I am very lonely, I don’t believe this will ever happen for me there was another respondent proudly declaring I am enough for myself, I am going to work on me, who needs the tender touch of another person anyway. There is a huge market for these feelings of romantic ambivalence to be exploited and converted into credit card debt.
As I read more about this holiday, I started to think about the group of Japanese men calling themselves the Revolutionary Alliance of Men whom Women Find Unattractive who a couple years back staged a protest against the “blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine’s Day”. How are they doing?, I wondered. Well, their Wikipedia page describes them as “misanthropic, Marxist, and opposed to romance”, so I’m guessing middling at best. But their fight against the commercialization of love and romance, the way marriage is a class issue because a man’s perceived attractiveness increases as his salary goes up, and the pressure to achieve on the corporate marketplace before entering the romantic marketplace seems prescient.