I’m not salt free, I’m not especially single. I’m not from the US but marriage equality is all over my social media networks. People are posting the mysterious red box with the two pink boxes inside of them and there are endless internet lists of best posters for marriage equality, funniest pro marriage equality videos, most forward thinking multinational corporations using marriage equality as an advertising theme.
I am not interested in marriage equality. This definitely doesn’t mean I’m interested in straight people getting something the rest of us don’t have access to, or that I don’t want queers to be able to get visas. Here’s my beef: the institution of relationships is bad for everyone, including but not confined to the people in them. I live in the UK with my partner; I’m disabled, so are they (I say my partner because that is what I have said on various forms that I have filled in – to my detriment), and the system is pretty much trying to kill us. Something nobody tells you when you acquire a disability is that if you live with a partner, you are eligible for less personal care assistance hours because the government knows you’re having sex with someone. That’s right. If you had a housemate, you’d get more PA hours. But if you sleep with your housemate? You have to rely on them to cook your meals.
“You’d be cooking for yourself anyway,” the social worker told me, “so you can’t get any hours for food preparation.” It wasn’t even up to her. She was taking the case to be decided by a committee of people who had never met us. I couldn’t exactly ask her to tell them that sometimes people don’t cook for themselves. I have two separate impairments that causes me severe nausea a lot of the time. All the anti emetics prescribed to me contain lactose, and dairy products give me migraines (which also make me nauseous, but a different kind of nausea. Sometimes I toss a coin to decide which kind of nausea I want today). Cooking lunch when you are trying to hold down breakfast is no picnic, and nobody should have to eat the food that you produce. Anti nausea cooking is throwing something in a pan, sticking a citrus fruit in front of your nose to take away the smell and pushing your head out of the window hoping that nothing burns. I didn’t think she’d listen if I tried to explain that not everybody eats the same pattern of meals everyday. Especially if one person is trying to work with hypoglycaemia and the other person is mainly trying to not vomit. I’m supposed to be on a low salt diet. I’m not about to impose that on anybody who doesn’t need to be on one, especially someone who has a limited appetite. Especially someone who has nausea themselves but has to force themselves to eat because they have to regulate their blood sugar. Do they want a tasteless piece of fish and some bland vegetables marinated in endless combinations of spices and acidic liquids and herbs in a futile attempt to get them to taste of something other than water? Probably not.
Nobody warns you, if you start getting romantically entangled with someone that lives on sandwiches, that somewhere down the line you might acquire a disability that means that you can no longer cook and you will be made to eat their salad and proteins forced between two slices of bread that might have butter on them if you’re lucky for your foreseeable future.
And nobody talks about what it means if you’re in a relationship with someone the government forces you to rely on for basic human needs. If you have an argument, you can’t storm out. Where are you going to go, anyway, if you’re too sick to leave the house? And you can’t tell them to get the hell out of your space. Who is going to cook your dinner? What happens if you break up in the middle of the night during a prolonged argument? Social services aren’t going to send round someone to make your breakfast in the morning. They’re going to need to stay, or you’re going to starve.
How does that affect you in a relationship? How does that affect how you can and can’t break up? One of my favourite break up stories is from my friend’s mum who reported waking up one day, seeing her husband across from her in the bed, and thinking, oh god, not you again. By that lunchtime, he had moved out. If she’d had to rely on him for personal care assistance, they might well be still together.
How do you negotiate things like monogamy, space, privacy, taking a break, when you rely on someone for three meals a day and more?
I applied for Employment Support Allowance recently when a mixture of a difficult family situation, mental health issues and physical health issues came to a mini crisis point. I wasn’t eligible for any, because my partner was working. And due to one thing or another, her last PA didn’t work out, and her direct payments had been coming into my account – all sixteen hours a week of them. I was suddenly without a job, with no benefits, now relying on her sixteen hours a week so I could pay rent and bills, meaning that she couldn’t immediately find another PA, so she was forced to rely on me for everything. And I was sick and unreliable and couldn’t provide everything. I felt stupid. Why did I write ‘living with partner’ on the forms, why didn’t I write single?
It was because that first social worker had looked like she was onto something, about the flat with one bed, and she had seemed so refreshingly un homophobic that I felt I owed her the truth, or a version of some kind of truth, not a truth that involves fairly frequent break ups, bouts of pretending that we’re not dating each other to our friends to save us from some of the social pressure that comes with being in a public relationship that other people get invested in, periods of not being with each other, arguments, burnt food and intense clothes sharing. Ultimately that social worker was just filling in boxes on a form that didn’t include such categories as ‘dating each other on and off but for a prolonged period of time and also living together but more for economic and social reasons than for romantic reasons’; it’s not her fault, and there’s nowhere she can go with information more nuanced than ‘living with partner’.
I blame the government, for thinking that partners should take all their meals together, and for thinking that when you’re sick or unable to work, your partner is there to provide economic support. It’s clearly a way to save money. Let’s not give money for personal care assistants; it’s unlikely that their partners are just going to sit by and watch them starve – they’ll cook, they’ll clean, they’ll do personal care. But what if they don’t? Let’s not give money to people who are too sick to work – their partners won’t leave them destitute. They’ll top up their Oyster cards. They’ll pay their bills. They’ll keep a roof over their heads. But what if they don’t? My personal view is that they’re hoping we’ll die. Then they definitely won’t have to pay for anything more for us, apart from possibly a state funeral (which is surely cheaper than a personal care assistant).
And the same government is promoting ‘family values’, whatever those are, it’s never quite explicit, and further marriage benefits. I personally think it’s hard enough to get out of relationships anyway. Even the supposedly ‘good’ relationships. I was with one guy for over four years of my life partly because it hadn’t really occurred to me that I could leave him. He seemed so nice, and everyone told me I was crazy for breaking up with him. They don’t know that he was controlling and that I hated having sex with him and that he once pinched me hard enough to leave a bruise that stayed for weeks because I was talking to some boys from my college on a coach journey to a Stop The War march in a way that he deemed flirtatious. I am grateful that I didn’t acquire a disability that left me unable to cook whilst I was living with him because I hated his cooking; he would sprinkle untoasted cumin into otherwise unflavoured stews and call them curries and he was experimental in the kitchen in a way that has put me off any kind of fusion food for life. Do we really need more reasons for staying with people?
It’s hard to be single. People judge you. And I hate to quote Carrie Bradshaw, but where is the wedding shower for single people, the huge reception for single people, the anniversary for single people? It’s more expensive to cook. It’s dangerous to wander around alone at night. Having a partner can provide you with a certain amount of protection from external sexual abuse, although you often have to juggle that against the way they are treating you sexually and calculate whether it is worth it. When I was single, more than one person offered to set up an Okaycupid account for me, even though I had not expressed any interest in dating anyone. I finally got an Okaycupid account and received totally disgusting sexual propositions everyday in my inbox until I worked out how to use my Googlemail spam filter. You don’t get cheap hotel deals. Delia is the only person who has made a mainstream cookbook for you, and even that is tinged with pity. There is already more than enough incentive to be in relationships. I want campaigns to focus on removing straight people’s marriage benefits rather than giving them to queer people. I’ve heard all the arguments about the things that queers have to go without because their marriages aren’t recognized, and I hate to be basic, but it seems to me that single people are also going without all these benefits. Where is the campaign for single people? Where is the campaign for people who want to sleep around or love around or want to do their dishes in a different house to the people they have sex with?