Just when you thought that there could never be another big new idea about sex, there is one, and it is way different from just about everything else out there. For years, it has been possible to find all sorts of advice and information about how to have more sex or better sex or different kinds of sex or better positions during sex. The new idea is this: It is okay not to be interested in sex, for a while, or even for the long haul. Once you realize that, you can enjoy a new sort of freedom and understanding. You can still have all the sex you want if that’s what interests you, but you can also feel a whole lot better about those times when you are just not into it.
The show debuted in 1966 and it was an inspiration. The lead actress received “bags and bags of fan mail that came in from women around the country.” I’m talking about That Girl, with Marlo Thomas starring as the single woman who moves to New York City to try to make it as an actress.
It is nearly a half-century later, and people are still marveling at what it achieved. Marlo Thomas recently discussed the show with Gloria Steinem. Here are some highlights.
There is probably no better representation of the diversity of people where you live than the people who get called for jury duty. In the past (at least in my experience), it was easier to wrangle your way out of this obligation, because someone from the courts called you, and all you had to do was come up with some great excuse for why you couldn’t show up. Now the process of getting out of it is more challenging, and you don’t even get out of it if you succeed – you just get deferred.
Single women are not evenhanded when it comes to their political preferences. They vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Republicans have noticed, and in an attempt to attract more of them to the GOP, they created a series of ads. I wonder if they thought long and hard about what kind of message would appeal to single women voters. What they came up with was pure, unadulterated matrimania.
Brittany, a single woman trying on wedding dresses, is the star of the ad. The different dresses are described with the names of different candidates. Brittany loves “The Rick Scott” (Republican candidate) but her mom, the goat of the ad, urges her daughter to go for “The Charlie Crist” (the Democratic candidate) because she knows best. In the end, Brittany and her friends are popping champagne corks in celebration. It all worked out, we learn, because Brittany said yes to Rick Scott. (Different variations of the exact same ads are used in other races, simply substituting the names of the relevant candidates.)
When Abigail Butcher was in her twenties, the mere thought of traveling on her own made her “recoil with dread.” She had the usual fears that people harbor about traveling alone or even dining alone – that other people will think you are a loser with no friends, or you might find the experience boring, or you might miss out on all the fun you would have if you were doing those things with other people.
Some of the prevailing beliefs about single people seem so intuitive that it is hard to take seriously the possibility that they are just stereotypes. One of those is that single people are lonely, and that getting married takes care of that. After all, isn’t it obvious that married people “have someone” whereas single people do not?
Over the past decade, studies have been piling up suggesting something quite different. Representative national surveys have shown that single people are more likely to visit, support, contact, and advise their parents and siblings than are married people. Singles are also more likely to encourage, socialize with, and help their friends and neighbors.
The results of studies comparing people of different marital statuses at one point in time are just suggestive. We can’t know from such “cross-sectional” research whether any differences in social ties are really about marital status or about something else connected to marital status (such as age or education or personality or, really, just about anything). Better studies follow the same people over time as, for example, they get married or get unmarried. Do their social connections change?
Recently, Bloomberg News declared that for the first time, more than half of American adults are single – they are either divorced or widowed or they have always been single. In numbers, that amounts to 124.6 million people; in percentages, it is 50.2 percent. The report inspired an outpouring of “what does it all mean” opinion pieces.
Around the same time, the Census Bureau was releasing its annual “Facts for Features” report to mark Unmarried and Single Americans Week, September 21-27. That report claimed that 105 million people, or 44 percent of all American adults, are single.
So which is it? And does it matter?
In the lead-up to the Climate Change Summit, a famous actor (I don’t remember who; I’m not good with celebrities) was asked why he was so committed to the cause. He said it was because he had children and he cared about their future.
I’ve heard those kinds of comments repeatedly, and not just around the topic of climate change. With regard to just about any issue that unfolds over time, parents step forward to say that they care about it because of their kids.
The most recent report from the Pew Research Center offered a remarkably important, data-based prediction:
“…when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (25%) is likely to have never been married.”
Think about that. There will be a time, in the not-too-distant future, when one out of every four American adults, at age 50, will have been single all their lives! That is a huge number.
The third full week in September is Unmarried and Single Americans Week. The Census Bureau has been marking the occasion every year with a special press release rounding up the latest facts and figures. Sadly, most news organizations just ignore the occasion. Those who do give it a nod, such as the Washington Post, mostly just reiterate the key points from the Census Bureau – for example, that 105 million Americans, 18 and older, are single (either divorced or widowed or always-single).
Over at Health.com, though, Amanda MacMillan did something more ambitious: She rounded up 7 empirically-documented ways in which being single affects your health. Here, according to the article, are 4 ways in which singles have more to celebrate, health-wise, than married people do: