In the U.S., one of the myths used to try to scare single people into marrying is the threat that they will die alone. In Japan, too, the dramatic increase in the number of single people, and people living alone, has caused a panic. There, anxieties gather not just around the theme of aging alone but also what happens after death – who mourns you? Who tends to your grave? And even more fundamentally, what place will there be for your remains?
Because I have been researching and writing about single life and solo living for so long, I am sometimes interviewed by trend-spotters and marketing firms about what single people want or how best to appeal to them. I respond not because I want to help them sell their products, but because I want to persuade them not to use singlism in their ads but to present positive images of single people instead, and also because I want to encourage practices that are fair to single people.
Writing for the Atlantic, Lisa Johnson asked, “Am I not my brother’s keeper?” She didn’t just mean that metaphorically. Her brother has health problems and an intellectual disability. Again and again, she has left work early or otherwise rearranged her life to help him.
One of the supposed advantages of living with a spouse – or really, living with any other person or persons who want to live cooperatively and not just share the roof – is that you get to split up the many tasks of everyday life rather than doing them all yourself. I recently got an email from someone who asked, “How do you manage” when you are single and live alone? How do you deal with repairs, with computer problems, lifting heavy things, taking care of the car, and all the rest?
I admit it – I’m a lapsed Catholic. When I was a child, I was very serious about my Catholicism for a while. I tried to get an aunt who hadn’t been to Mass for a very long time to return to the fold and I used to have a May altar every year, with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and fresh flowers. I can hardly believe I’m admitting this.
My adulthood has been very different. I’ve had very little interest in religion, and I mostly pay attention only when single people get in touch to tell me their stories of feeling excluded or stigmatized by their own religions and places of worship. (Here’s an example.)
So I was surprised when the current Pope, Pope Francis, seemed so different from many of his predecessors. I like his humility, his greater openness toward gays and lesbians, and his relatively enlightened views on evolution. (The “relatively” qualifier is important; Francis is progressive and enlightened only in comparison to his predecessors and many other leaders in the Catholic church.)
The show debuted in 1966 and it was an inspiration. The lead actress received “bags and bags of fan mail that came in from women around the country.” I’m talking about That Girl, with Marlo Thomas starring as the single woman who moves to New York City to try to make it as an actress.
It is nearly a half-century later, and people are still marveling at what it achieved. Marlo Thomas recently discussed the show with Gloria Steinem. Here are some highlights.
There is probably no better representation of the diversity of people where you live than the people who get called for jury duty. In the past (at least in my experience), it was easier to wrangle your way out of this obligation, because someone from the courts called you, and all you had to do was come up with some great excuse for why you couldn’t show up. Now the process of getting out of it is more challenging, and you don’t even get out of it if you succeed – you just get deferred.
Happiness and related experiences such as optimism and positive thinking get tons of good press. Americans, especially, seem to find it hard to imagine that anything but good feelings should rule the day. I’m guilty myself. I jump right into that fray whenever someone claims that getting married makes people happier – I critique their claim by examining the original research (and not just the press releases) and showing that there is no solid evidence that getting married makes people lastingly happier. (Links to my many articles and discussions of the topic are here.)
Single women are not evenhanded when it comes to their political preferences. They vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Republicans have noticed, and in an attempt to attract more of them to the GOP, they created a series of ads. I wonder if they thought long and hard about what kind of message would appeal to single women voters. What they came up with was pure, unadulterated matrimania.
Brittany, a single woman trying on wedding dresses, is the star of the ad. The different dresses are described with the names of different candidates. Brittany loves “The Rick Scott” (Republican candidate) but her mom, the goat of the ad, urges her daughter to go for “The Charlie Crist” (the Democratic candidate) because she knows best. In the end, Brittany and her friends are popping champagne corks in celebration. It all worked out, we learn, because Brittany said yes to Rick Scott. (Different variations of the exact same ads are used in other races, simply substituting the names of the relevant candidates.)
If you were a school teacher or principal or a college president, what do you think you could say to your students that might really matter?
There are probably lots of good answers to that question. I found one that struck me as particularly impressive in a New Yorker profile of the person who has been president of Bard College for 40 years, Leon Botstein.
Botstein visited the members of the Bard conservatory orchestra just as they were about to depart for a European tour. Here’s how writer Alice Gregory described what Botstein had to say: