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?
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.
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.)
Just when you thought that there could never be another big new idea about sex, there is one, and it is way different from just about everything else out there. For years, it has been possible to find all sorts of advice and information about how to have more sex or better sex or different kinds of sex or better positions during sex. The new idea is this: It is okay not to be interested in sex, for a while, or even for the long haul. Once you realize that, you can enjoy a new sort of freedom and understanding. You can still have all the sex you want if that’s what interests you, but you can also feel a whole lot better about those times when you are just not into it.
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.
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.)
Some of the prevailing beliefs about single people seem so intuitive that it is hard to take seriously the possibility that they are just stereotypes. One of those is that single people are lonely, and that getting married takes care of that. After all, isn’t it obvious that married people “have someone” whereas single people do not?
Over the past decade, studies have been piling up suggesting something quite different. Representative national surveys have shown that single people are more likely to visit, support, contact, and advise their parents and siblings than are married people. Singles are also more likely to encourage, socialize with, and help their friends and neighbors.
The results of studies comparing people of different marital statuses at one point in time are just suggestive. We can’t know from such “cross-sectional” research whether any differences in social ties are really about marital status or about something else connected to marital status (such as age or education or personality or, really, just about anything). Better studies follow the same people over time as, for example, they get married or get unmarried. Do their social connections change?
In the lead-up to the Climate Change Summit, a famous actor (I don’t remember who; I’m not good with celebrities) was asked why he was so committed to the cause. He said it was because he had children and he cared about their future.
I’ve heard those kinds of comments repeatedly, and not just around the topic of climate change. With regard to just about any issue that unfolds over time, parents step forward to say that they care about it because of their kids.
The most recent report from the Pew Research Center offered a remarkably important, data-based prediction:
“…when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (25%) is likely to have never been married.”
Think about that. There will be a time, in the not-too-distant future, when one out of every four American adults, at age 50, will have been single all their lives! That is a huge number.
The third full week in September is Unmarried and Single Americans Week. The Census Bureau has been marking the occasion every year with a special press release rounding up the latest facts and figures. Sadly, most news organizations just ignore the occasion. Those who do give it a nod, such as the Washington Post, mostly just reiterate the key points from the Census Bureau – for example, that 105 million Americans, 18 and older, are single (either divorced or widowed or always-single).
Over at Health.com, though, Amanda MacMillan did something more ambitious: She rounded up 7 empirically-documented ways in which being single affects your health. Here, according to the article, are 4 ways in which singles have more to celebrate, health-wise, than married people do: