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Amidst All the Matrimania, the Power of Friendship Endures

We've heard a lot of flowery prose about marriage lately, both within the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide and in the ensuing commentaries. I don't think marriage is the key relationship of the 21st century, though – I believe it is friendship.

Somewhere around half of all American adults are single. Many who do marry cycle in and out of coupled life (as, for example, when they get married and then divorced). This is the big picture of our lives today: Americans now spend more years of their adult life unmarried than married – and that's been true for years.

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General

SCOTUS Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage: Wiser Views Than Those of the Justices

"We need to have a conversation." How often have we heard these words when some controversial issue is broached? The Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal across the nation has launched countless conversations.

Many of the conversations are celebratory. To activists, the ruling is a huge step forward on a long path to social justice. I'm all for social justice and civil rights. But the ruling lets more people into marriage while all single people are still unjustly left out of all of the benefits and protections awarded only to those who are legally married. It is a broader conceptualization than we had before the ruling, but it is still a very narrow view of the people and relationships and life pursuits that matter.

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General

Kate, Kay, and the Single Ladies, Part 2: Experiments in Living Outside of a Nuclear Family Household

[From Bella: This is Part 2 of E. Kay Trimberger's two-part guest essay. Part 1 is here.]

Kate, Kay and the Single Ladies, Part 2: Experiments in Living Outside of a Nuclear Family Household

Guest post by E. Kay Trimberger

In our late 20s, Kate and I both lived in New York City, worked hard, and had few women friends. In my early 30s, however, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that had beckoned me since I was a teenager, when I’d learned about the Beats and seen San Francisco for the first time. Attracted by the proximity of urban culture and natural beauty, and by its reputation for unconventional life styles, I had always wanted to live there. The communal living experiments I found in the Bay Area in the 1970s differentiated my life from Kate’s.

Three years after completing my PhD, I gave up a tenure-track job in the City University of New York for a temporary lectureship at a state university an hour’s drive from San Francisco and then found a permanent position in another state institution the same distance away. Colleagues in the East criticized me for not searching for a more prestigious academic appointment, but I wanted to find a personal life that would anchor me. As a feminist, I now believed I could have satisfying work and a family life, but both the impact of the 1970s counterculture and my continuing fear of being swallowed by the nuclear family, led me to look for alternatives to living as a couple. I was lucky that academic jobs were still plentiful in the 1970s and housing was inexpensive. Thirty years later, Kate and other young women would not be so fortunate. I soon moved to Berkeley to join a group of academics some of whom taught at the famous university there, but more of whom commuted to teach in less prestigious colleges. Berkeley too attracted all kinds of left, feminist and counter cultural activists. I was soon ensconced in a community of leftist and feminist intellectuals, a community that I never had in New York.

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General

Kate, Kay, and the Single Ladies, Part 1: Different Experiences of Single Life Across the Generations

Guest post by E. Kay Trimberger

[Bella's intro: Many writings about single life have been inspired by Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own. In this two-part guest post, E. Kay Trimberger offers an important perspective I have not seen anywhere else – a cultural and historical analysis, told through the lens of personal experiences, of someone born more than three decades before Bolick, and even a few years before Bolick's mother. Cultural sensibilities around marriage and single life were strikingly different during Trimberger's early and middle adult years, and perhaps not in the ways you might presume. I'm so grateful to Kay for sharing her observations with us. Here is Part 1.]

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General

Elder Orphans, Part 2: What People Are Already Doing to Live Well in Later Life

In Part 1 on the topic of elder orphans, I talked through the actual risks of finding yourself, in your old age, ill and in need of help, but with no one to care for you. I used logic and data rather than hand-picking scare stories to frighten people into marrying and having kids, even if they know that life is not right for them.

For my forthcoming book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I traveled around the country asking people to show me their homes and tell me about their lives. I wanted to know if they had found their place, their space, and their people – their "lifespaces." One of the chapters, "Lifespaces for the New Old Age," is about the ways that people are living in their senior years. The subtitle of that chapter is, "Institutions Begone!" Resoundingly, my interviewees proclaimed that they did not want to end up in an institution.

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General

Are You Going to Be an Elder Orphan? Part 1: The Odds

Single people are accustomed to the scare story that they are going to die alone. Most have heard it so often that they have long ago realized its ridiculousness – marriage can't protect both spouses from dying alone unless they both die at the same time. So I guess it is time for a new threat to supplant the old one. It has arrived: We single people – especially those of us with no kids – are doomed to become "elder orphans" with no one to care for us when we grow old. According to this new variation, we are not just going to die alone, we are also going to age alone.

There are some serious issues here, so I don't just want to engage in mockery. But I do want to put the concerns in perspective, so that single people and people with no children are not needlessly put on the defensive once again, while those who are married with children feel reassured that they are just fine. And I also want to push back on those judgmental headlines, such as the one from Consumer Affairs declaring, "Free-living Baby Boomers at risk of becoming 'elderly orphans'".

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General

Choosing Not to Have Kids: 16 Writers Bare Their Souls

In Meghan Daum's book, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, 13 women and 3 men give voice to the life experiences of people who choose not to have kids. I have reviewed the book for Psych Central, and that review will appear on this site in the coming weeks.

Here, I want to share some telling quotes from the collection, to give a sense of what the contributors have to say about the reasons for their decisions not to have kids, the stereotyping and stigmatizing they face, their responses to the criticisms and clichés that diminish their lives, their accounts of the experiences that enhance their lives, and more.

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General

Beyond Happiness: What Single People Really Need

We are in the midst of one of those cultural moments when people who are happily single are getting some attention, and it is not all skeptical or mocking or grudging. In Spinster, Kate Bolick urged women to embrace "that in you which is independent and self-sufficient," even if you are not technically single. (I'd add that positive messages about single life should apply to men, too.)

Many an essay has leapt from the keyboards of readers of Spinster. I appreciate all those reverberating voices telling single people to embrace their singlehood. I've long been making the case that a single life can be a very happy and deeply meaningful life. I've also addressed, over and over again, the claims that getting married makes people happier. They are based on embarrassingly flawed studies and assumptions.

Yet I also value the notes of caution, such as Samhita Mukhopadhyay's article in the Nation warning that "celebrating your inner spinster" is not nearly sufficient if single people are to have the same opportunities for a good life as married people already do. Here, with some of my own embellishments, are some of the impediments she describes and some of the ways she thinks they can be transcended:

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Love & Affection

What If You Don’t Like Being Single? Guest Post by Kim Calvert

[Note from Bella: Sometimes I find that a topic I have been thinking about has already been addressed by someone else, in a particularly compelling way. That just happened with the ever-brilliant and insightful Kim Calvert. I've featured Kim's writing here previously, and I think readers will enjoy this contribution – which originally appeared at Singular City – just as much. Thanks, Kim!]
Taking Pleasure in the Pain of Being Single
Guest Post by Kim Calvert

Ever have the feeling that sometimes single people, particularly single women, get a little too much pleasure from the pain of being single?

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