“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.
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.
Earlier this week, a top political leader in Finland declared that people who live alone are targets of unfair taxes, fees, and housing costs. The laws, she noted, are unjust.
To all of the millions and millions of solo-dwellers living somewhere other than Finland, take a moment and allow yourself some vicarious savoring. Imagine that in other countries, too, political leaders might begin to take seriously the financial challenges of people who are single, especially those singles who are living alone.
“Make Room for Singles in Teaching and Research” (also available here) was the title of an article I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, together with sociologist Kay Trimberger and law professor (and now Dean of UCLA Law School) Rachel Moran. When the Chronicle published the article, it was in a special issue on diversity.
I think that was apt. We need a singles perspective in academia in the same way we need the perspectives of other groups such as women and people of color. Without these different points of view, we end up asking a limited set of questions and coming up with a narrow set of predictable answers. We miss some things entirely and see too much of other things.
When writers of movies and TV shows want to reach for an easy plot line, they all come up with the same sort of answer – a marriage proposal, a wedding, or some other tired old form of matrimania. It doesn’t matter what the genre is – comedies, dramas, crime procedurals, even sporting events and newscasts, not to even mention the reality shows that at least have the decency to announce that they are about marriage proposals; somehow matrimania will rear its boring, predictable head.
Now something else is happening.
From all of the stereotyping, stigmatizing and discrimination against single people that I call singlism, you probably already realize that many people have a problem with people who are single. What really surprised me at first is that some people seem even more upset at single people who are happily single and choose to stay single than at sad singles. Now there is research documenting what was at first just a feeling. Other people really do feel angrier at single people who choose to be single. Happy single people ruin their views of how the world works.
Maybe that’s why there seem to be so many ways to undermine single people’s contentment with their lives – or at least try to. Rebecca Adams wrote about this in, “If you feel bad about being single, it’s not because you’re single.” Among the pressures that can cause single people to doubt their own happiness with their single lives are: