I like to talk about how the United States is increasingly becoming a nation of single people, with 103 million of us, or more than 44%, currently not married (i.e., we are divorced or widowed or have always been single). Americans spend more years of their adult lives not married than married – something that has been true for years.
Yet it doesn’t always seem like we are a nation of singles. One of the reasons for that is that we are such a matrimanical society, always celebrating marriage and coupling and throwing over-the-top weddings, that single people can seem invisible and single life inconsequential.
[Bella’s intro: The previous article here at “Single at Heart” was a guest post by scholar Laura Dales, “Single Women in Japan, Part I: Getting Called Loser Dogs and Parasites.” This is Part 2.]
Guest Post by Laura Dales
[Bella’s intro: There has been so much in the media lately about single people in Japan, much of it sensational. Have they given up on sex? Do they hide out in their rooms and never come out? When I read stories about single people in Japan, I always wonder what people who actually study single people in Japan have to say. So I was delighted when the very smart and thoughtful scholar Professor Laura Dales agreed to tell us what she has learned about single women in Japan. This is Part 1. Thanks, Laura!]
[Bella’s intro: I write primarily for and about people who love their single lives and are not looking to become unsingle, but I also understand that plenty of single people enjoy living single but are open to coupling under the right conditions. Among the problems that activists have been pointing out for years is that sometimes single people feel compelled to marry, even when they don’t want to or haven’t found the right person, because they need the access to health insurance that they can’t get on their own. That's one of the most insidious forms of singlism. Today I welcome as a guest blogger Nika Beamon, who tells us her personal story of dealing with a chronic illness. I first got to know Nika when she was working on the book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married: Successful Single Black Women Speak Out, and I have been delighted to stay in touch with her ever since.]
Singlism, the ways in which single people are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, is evident in many different domains, as well as in the ordinary interactions of everyday life. It can be especially hurtful when singlism occurs in places that are supposed to be all about love and caring and healing and wide open arms. I’m talking about churches and other places of worship.
I don’t know when we first started referring to a spouse or a serious romantic partner as a “significant other,” but I do know that the once-narrow criterion for who counts as a significant other has expanded. In contemporary American society (and beyond), we get to decide for ourselves who counts as significant to us. It no longer has to be just one person, and it does not need to be someone we are having sex with.
I love the single-at-heart life so much that I named this blog after it. (Click here and then scroll down to learn more about what it means to be single-at-heart and what we know about it.) I devote many posts to the continuing challenges of living single, whether or not you embrace that status the way people who are single-at-heart do. It is frustrating and disappointing to find that the stereotyping and stigmatizing of single people, the exclusion of them from social events organized by the couple, and the discrimination against them (all of which I call singlism) has continued into the 21st century.
Yet in this season of thanks, it is also fitting to recognize the ways in which it is more possible to live a full, joyful, complete, and meaningful life as a single person than it ever has been before. Attitudes are changing for the better, different ways of living have proliferated, and laws are evolving in ways that suggest greater inclusiveness.
It is almost unfathomable that such a thing could happen here in the matrimaniacal United States, but in Japan, it is the new normal: Young and youngish single people just are not all that interested in sex, romance, or marriage.
The headline at Slate was intriguing: “The Dutch don’t care about marriage.” So was the subheading: “Americans can learn a lot from their indifference.” A big picture of happy, relaxing single people was captioned, “Being single in the Netherlands is pretty great.”
I’m always interested in places where being single is great and marriage is met with a shrug so of course I was all over this article. Based on her brief visit to Amsterdam, Katie Roiphe (author of In Praise of Messy Lives) had this to say:
“The Dutch attitude, which I like, is that marriage is not for everyone; it is a personal choice, an option, a pleasant possibility, but not marrying is not a failure, a great blot on your achievements in life, a critical rite of passage you have missed. Sometimes people get around to getting married, and sometimes they don’t.”
I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy from the very first season. With regard to its treatment of issues around single life and marriage, it has been a mixed bag. I thought the early shows were the strongest in that regard. Two themes were central – the characters’ friendships with one another, and their total, utter devotion to and love of their work.