Psychotherapist Wendy Wasson and I wrap up our discussion of single life at different ages
[This is the last of a four-part series exploring the question of whether the early adult years are the hardest for people who are single.]
Bella: Let’s talk about women who are single-again. What are the main issues for them?
[This is Part 3 of a four-part series on how the experience of living single changes over the course of the adult years. In Part 1, I introduced the series. Part 2 was the beginning of my conversation with therapist Wendy Wasson; we focused on singles approaching the age of 30. In this Part, we discuss the fears and misperceptions facing single people.]
Bella: One thing that really bothers me is the conflation of being single with being alone. Sometimes single people are assumed, by definition, to be alone. It is not just in everyday informal conversation that you hear insinuations like this; it is in the media and even in some scientific writings. Is this something that comes up in the clinical setting?
In the first post in this series, I described the widespread belief that living single only gets harder as you proceed through midlife and then through later life. I also said that my guess, in most cases, is that just the opposite is true. I think that single people are likely to find their lives full of more joy and less angst as they proceed through their adult years. I found a few snippets of research that supported that possibility. Still, I admitted that the most convincing study of this question has yet to be done.
In this post, I’ll begin my discussion of this topic with Wendy Wasson. Dr. Wasson is a psychotherapist who, in her practice, has worked with many single women of different ages. She is also one of the creators of the website MySingleSpace, and for nearly a decade had conducted SingleSpace workshops. She has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University, where she has been on the faculty of the Feinberg School of Medicine.
Recently, a reporter asked me how the experience of living single is different at different ages. Is there a time when it is especially difficult? A time when it is not that difficult at all? I remembered that a few years ago (before I started blogging for Psych Central), I published a conversation I had with a very insightful psychotherapist, Wendy Wasson. I just reread that conversation and found Dr. Wasson’s perspectives just as fresh and penetrating as I did the first time, so I wanted to share them here.
This is the first of the four-part conversation. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll publish the next three parts:
“More babies are being born to unmarried, cohabitating parents in America than ever before. This has some sociologists are worried. Will children lose out on the benefits of living in a financially solid home? They might, but there is a way to address that: stop biases against single people.”
You don’t need to be an American to know that Americans just love marriage. Matrimania – the over-the-top hyping of marriage, coupling, and weddings – is pervasive. But the evidence for our special relationship with marriage is not just in the popularity of shows like The Bachelor or the tedious regularity with which TV shows, movies, and novels end at the altar. It is also in the hard numbers – Census Bureau data on the frequency with which Americans get married, and then get married again, and then get married still again.
It is a pattern with Americans. Andrew Cherlin told us all about it, by putting together the data that were available to anyone who wanted to take a look, in his aptly-titled book, The Marriage-Go-Round. Americans, he demonstrated, are more into marriage and coupling than people in any other countries in the Western world. Americans marry more, divorce more, and engage in more short-term cohabiting relationships.
In different renditions of fairy tales, there is a hierarchy of realness. The Disney versions are chirpier than the dark versions published by the Grimms. But even the Grimms’ editions have been cleaned up relative to more authentic renderings.
Unknown to contemporaries until a few years ago is the cache of fairy tales collected by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth in the 19th century. I just learned about them in Laura Miller’s interview of the esteemed Harvard folklorist, Maria Tatar, published at Salon.
Miller explains that “Schonwerth considered scholars his natural audience, and as a result the tales he recorded are bawdier, racier and significantly more scatological than the collection the Grimms published under the title ‘Children’s and Household Tales’.” What I found even more intriguing were the many ways in which the Schonwerth tales were less sex-stereotyped and sexist.
I wish I could say that there are many reporters at prestigious publications who routinely write about single people, and do so in enlightened ways. At the moment, there seems to be just one – Stephanie Rosenbloom, a travel writer at the New York Times.
I’ve mentioned her work here before, in this post and this one. Her most recent article about single people and solo travelers is “A solo traveler’s guide to meeting people.” It is worth reading the whole thing. Here I’ll just give you the listicle version of how to meet the locals and make friends, and skip over the safety tips that are also included in the article.
“Can staying single really help you live forever?” That was the headline of a story at Fusion, picking up on an article at the New York Times that zipped around the internet soon after it was published – fittingly, on Valentine’s Day.
Our heroine is Emma Morano of Italy, born in 1899 and now one of the five oldest people in the world. She has been single since 1938 (so, for 77 years). Times reporter Elisabeth Povoledo said of Morano that she is “convinced that being single for most of her life…has kept her kicking.” In Morano’s own words, “I didn’t want to be dominated by anyone.”
To be single or an adult with no kids is to be in a group that is often stereotyped, stigmatized, or ignored. Those derogated and marginalized categories are different from other stigmatized categories, such as certain racial groups, because there is far less awareness of the prejudice and discrimination. That means that there is also less effort put into the avoidance of boorish behavior toward people in those groups. And it means that sometimes even people who consider themselves open-minded and anything but bigoted in fact behave badly – without even realizing it.
In just the past few days, there have been two high-profile examples. The first has already gotten so much attention that there is a backlash to the backlash. I’m talking about Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech at the 2015 Oscars when she won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Boyhood. Here’s the key part: