If you live in the United States, or any other matrimaniacal country, you have heard all the conventional wisdom about what single life is supposedly like, and why married life is purportedly so much better. For some people, married life really is the better fit.
For all of the other people for whom the most meaningful life is single life, it can be a revelation to lead that life fully and unapologetically and learn what it has to offer.
I have been thinking and writing about the rewards of single life for those who are best suited to that life for many years. I especially appreciate fresh voices and was happy to see that so many people read and “Liked” the guest post by Elliott Lewis, If you are happily single, why fight it?
Thanks to Elliott, I learned that his post was one of a number of responses to an Open Call for posts on the topic of being single over at Open Salon. At least two other essays seemed worth excerpting, so I’ll do that here.
[Bella’s introduction: Before I began blogging here at PsychCentral, I invited Elliott Lewis to share some of his wonderful writings at my other blog. Readers flocked to Why coupling is not on my bucket list and Undateable. Once again, Elliott has written a post I am happy to share, this time with “Single at Heart” readers. I think you will enjoy both Elliott’s personal story and his account of a colleague’s research on three types of bachelors. Thanks again, Elliott!]
If you’re happily single, why fight it?
Guest post by Elliott Lewis
I must have looked pathetic. A grown man crying on a bench outside of a train station late at night. And all because of a date that had ended badly. How lame.
I say “date” because we hadn’t been seeing each other long enough to call it a “relationship.” What just happened couldn’t have been a break-up; she was never my girlfriend in the first place.
So why did I feel so awful?
After all, I was a confirmed bachelor, wasn’t I? Single, no dependents, no long-term dating history to speak of, and no real plans to change any of it. My life was working just fine the way it was.
Every so often, someone asks me whether there are particularly good places to be single in the U.S. Maybe you have seen those feature stories that pop up as predictably as weeds – you know, the ones listing the Top 10 Cities for Singles. Don’t look for answers there. Those articles are about the best places to become un-single.
When the question is addressed to me, the people asking it want to know the best places to live your single life fully and with minimal singlism and matrimania. Sometimes they already have a hunch – for example, that the coasts are more amenable to single life than the heartland, or that cities are better places for singles than rural areas or suburbs.
Oh, to be old and on your own. That used to be one of the media’s favorite scare stories. To some extent, it still is. The reality, though, is a whole lot different. Over the past half-century or so, what it means to be aging on your own has been changing dramatically – in many ways, for the better.
The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) released a report called “Aging alone in America.” It was written by Eric Klinenberg (you know him from his Going Solo book, and from discussions such as this one and this), Stacy Torres, and Elena Portacolone.
Here are some of questions and conclusions from the CCF report.
#1. Why are more older Americans on their own? It is not just about women outliving their husbands.
If the educated layperson knows one thing about the demographics of aging, it is that women live longer than men and so in later life, the women who have outlived their husbands are often living on their own. That’s true. And, of course, some Americans are on their own in later life because they never did marry.
For some, turning thirty marks the first birthday event that seems vaguely unsettling. Thirty just sounds so different than 20 or even 29. Pressures to get married already bear down on those who are single, and the “when’s the baby coming?” questions start popping up in the conversations with people who are married but have no kids.
Thirty can also be a time when your body no longer seems to function as seamlessly as it once did (if it once did). That can be a rude shock, too.
A challenge far less frequently recognized is that after 30 (or thereabouts), it can also become more difficult to make friends. In your teens and twenties, if you are friendship-fortunate, like-minded people open to friendship are all around you. Not so later on.
The rise of any new technology incites a rash of fears, myths, and truisms that are not so true. With regard to the coming of the internet age, the implications for our interpersonal lives are among our greatest concerns.
The most definitive study to date on the use of the internet to find a mate has just been published. As readers of this blog know, dating/mating is my least favorite topic and I usually try to avoid it. I don’t like to feed the stereotype that single people care more about becoming unsingle than anything else.
In this instance, I’m making an exception because the results of the research may have implications for all of the relationships we find on the internet, and not just romantic ones.
Because I have studied singles and write about single life so often, I hear lots of stories from other single people. Everyone’s story is unique, but there are some common themes. For example, singles often feel neglected or slighted by their friends and relatives who become coupled.
Another observation I hear repeatedly is that single people are not treated fairly in the workplace. (Some examples of my previous writings on that topic can be found in Singled Out, in Singlism, and in the section on “Workplace Issues” here.) Often, single workers with no children – and even coupled workers who do not have children – note that their coworkers who are parents are offered more understanding and more leeway in their requests to leave work early or bow out of the assignments involving travel or get their first choice of vacation times.
Singles, in contrast, find that the people and passions important to them are considered less significant.
“Young people who are not married are nude, as marriage is like divine clothes to cover them.” That quote, from a sermon given in Iran, appeared in a story from the New York Times, “Single women gaining limited acceptance in Iran.”
Living single is a big deal in Iran, and to traditionalists, the growing trend is not at all welcome. Women have long been expected to live with their parents if they are not living with a husband. Now, though, more and more single Iranian women are headed to universities, where they want to live on their own.
That line was actually not spoken by the brave star of the movie “Brave,” Princess Merida. But it so beautifully captured how Merida really does feel. Her father (King Fergus), who is as big and oafish as she is tiny and trim, gets it.