Challenging Compulsory Coupledom
Occasionally, a specific policy proposal will get people thinking, and their critiques will slip the bounds of the particular issue in question to get to something much bigger and more sweeping. That’s what’s happening now in the UK.
The policy, called “the bedroom tax,” was proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron and “involves nothing more than cutting some welfare benefits for people in under-occupied homes – those with spare bedrooms.” The focused critiques underscore the ways in which the proposed tax would hit the most vulnerable the hardest, including, for example, “the disabled, foster parents and divorced couples who share the care of their kids.”
At the Guardian, Priyamvada Gopal took the boarder, more encompassing view, and asked, “Is compulsory coupling really the best way to live?” In her article, she reminded us of some of the most important challenges to the common mythology about the supposed superiority of the coupled.
One of the best-known polemics is Laura Kipnis’s, Against Love. As Gopal reminds us:
“Laura Kipnis observes that refusing to participate in the required regimen of modern love and its elevation of the couple form is seen as both tragic and abnormal…
“Labour-intensive mantras now permeate the language of relationships. To refuse to “work” on achieving or preserving couple status is to be an irresponsible skiver, an emotional benefits cheat who undermines the social good.”
Recalling poet Adrienne Rich’s influential writings on “compulsory heterosexuality,” Gopal sees an analogy in what is happening now. The UK is practicing “compulsory coupledom,” encouraged by “the amped-up rhetoric of romance, sexual attraction, and individual choice.”
Gopal also cautions that:
“The scare stories about single people dying earlier or loneliness becoming a pandemic must be seen in the larger context of a social order that is hostile to non-couples…”
The worthy conclusion to the article is:
“…it’s time that coupledom stopped being touted as the best option, an idea reinforced not just by state approval and resource allocation, but also by religion, the market, popular culture, assorted therapists and our own anxieties.”
So, hats off to Priyamvada Gopal and to the Guardian. Just one thing, though. She missed someone who has been writing and talking about and researching these themes for well over a decade. Yes, yours truly. Singled Out, my other books, and this blog and my others are all relevant. As a social scientist, I have made arguments that go beyond opinion or polemics. For example, the “scare stories” about singles and their supposedly nasty, brutish, and short lives need more than just context. They can – and have – been tested empirically, and found wanting. Most of the myths about single people are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. As for the ways in which single people are targets of stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination, 28 contributors and I had a lot to say about that in Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stop It. (Paperback is here; ebook is here.) Happy reading!
[Notes: Thanks to KT for the heads-up about the Guardian article. Also, if you are interested in the splashy studies that do not replicate, and the trouble that spells for social scientists and journalists, check out this piece.]
Back to back couple photo available from Shutterstock
DePaulo, B. (2013). Challenging Compulsory Coupledom. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2013/02/challenging-compulsory-coupledom/