Starting in the early 1800s, some of the young women in the Guangdong section of China made a most unusual decision – they committed to staying single for the rest of their lives. They are called zishunu — self-combed women. When they left their parents’ home, it was to work, not marry.
Writings about single life – both popular and academic – focus overwhelmingly on women. Because marriage, traditionally, is supposed to be more important to women than to men, in theory more central to their identities and their happiness, single life should be especially problematic for women. Research begs to disagree about the happiness presumption, but no matter. Angst-filled writings about women living single continue to proliferate.
Alongside the tired old tales of those “poor” single women is a counter-narrative. It is one of strength, fulfillment, and independence. That story is often told of single women who live alone.
In a world awash with matrimania and the easy story lines it suggests, it is startling to find something, even in the most prestigious of publications, that dispenses with the romantic clichés and tells a whole different story. So it was with the short story in the July 7 &14, 2014 issue of the New Yorker.
The author is Allegra Goodman, perhaps my favorite short story writer. A previous story, “La Vita Nuova,” is a masterpiece. It is about a wedding dress, but it is not the story anyone else would write about that.
[Bella's intro: Probably about once a year, someone asks me what I think of the idea of marrying yourself. I've never written about the topic. Happily, the very insightful Terri Trespicio has some smart ideas on the matter, and I was delighted that she was willing to share them with "Single at Heart" readers. Thanks, Terri! By the way, Terri was featured on the cover of a Boston Magazine story, "Single by choice: Why more of us than ever before are happy to never get married."]
How many times have you read a story in the media claiming that the children of married parents do better than the children of single parents, and therefore people should get married before they have kids, or they should refrain from divorcing? The claim about the children of married parents doing better is often exaggerated, a misrepresentation of the actual findings, or just plain wrong, as I have shown repeatedly. Nonetheless, the myths continue to get perpetuated, along with the self-righteous advice.
In a culture obsessed with marriage and coupling, solitude gets short shrift. There is, though, one esteemed book on the topic that has maintained its lofty status more than a quarter-century after its initial publication in 1988. I’m talking about the psychiatrist Anthony Storr’s “Solitude: A Return to Self.”
The back cover of the most recent printing of the book poses this question: “In the supreme importance that we place on intimate relationships, have we overlooked the deep, sustaining power of solitude in human life?” Of course, Anthony Storr’s answer is yes.
“Single-at-Heart” readers may remember a clever guest post by Paula Coston on the pros and cons of singlehood. Coston has just published a novel, “On the far side, there’s a boy,” and I asked her to tell us about it.
I first wrote about asexuality in 2009 after getting repeated requests to address the topic. At the time, there was very little scholarly research on the topic. Now, just five years later, a collection of scholarly essays on asexualities has been published – the first of its kind. Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives is edited by Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks.
I just found out about the book and I’ll have more to say about it after I’ve read it. For now, I want to let you know that the book is out there, and share some of what the authors had to say in an interview and how the publisher describes the book.
As a scholar and practitioner of single life, I should probably be collecting great quips and quotes about singlehood and solitude. There are some classics, such as Mae West’s “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.”
Starting later this year, if you want to get a divorce in Oklahoma and you have kids younger than 18, you are going to have to take a course first, and pay for it yourself. Among the topics to be included in the course is “the effects divorce has on a child’s well-being.”
My guess is that Oklahomans are being forced to pay for propaganda. For many years, I have been scrutinizing claims about the supposed effects of divorce on children, and the implications for children of single parenting. Wildly exaggerated claims and misrepresentations of the actual data are rampant.