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.
During difficult economic times, many people are stressed about money, but single people are likely to be especially so. For well over a decade, I’ve been trying to promote consciousness-raising about single people and their lives. It is a challenge, trying to nudge a matrimaniacal society into recognizing that not everyone is part of a couple or even wants to be. But as the number of single people continues to grow, closing in on half of all of the adult population, that will change.
One way it changes is when writers and pundits and opinion-leaders have single people in their lives who are so important to them and so close to them that they just can’t ignore their issues anymore. So it was over at Forbes, when Nancy Anderson, in the second paragraph of her article, acknowledged that all of her adult sons were single.
For years, I have been railing about the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people that I call singlism. What bothers me is not just that it happens, but that the people who practice singlism do so without apology and often without any awareness that what they are doing is offensive.
Occasionally, though, those who try to stigmatize, stereotype, or shame single people actually get called on it. Here are two recent examples from the world of politics, one from Japan and the other from the U.S.
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.”
When I get phone calls from strangers, especially those particularly annoying ones from marketers who never should have called my number in the first place, I am often addressed as “Mrs. DePaulo.” I never let it slide. I always correct the caller, telling the person that I am not a “Mrs.” Sometimes I don’t stop there. I add that I’m single and I always have been and always will be and I like it that way.