When I was growing up, there was a big telephone stuck to the kitchen wall. I used it occasionally, as did everyone else in the family, but mostly, our contacts with other people took place in person. When I had a question about something relevant to my schoolwork, I looked at my textbooks or the encyclopedias at home; if neither of those had the answer, then I made a trip to the library.
Three revolutions have upended all that and totally transformed our lives. Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, two of the most accomplished and trustworthy scholars on these matters, explain what’s happened in Networked: The New Social Operating System. The “triple revolution” they describe has these three components:
I like to stay in touch with the latest news from groups that work for social justice. Color of Change is one such group. They do good work and I usually look forward to receiving their emails. However, shortly after that horrible incident in which a Black man was choked by police officers until he died, the email I received had this subject line:
“Black husband and father choked to death by NYPD officers”
We don’t need to wonder whether single people are stereotyped. Years ago, my colleagues and I conducted a series of studies to see how people view single people. The results documented widespread singlism – people viewed singles more harshly than married people in many ways (for example, as less mature, more self-centered, more envious, and less well-adjusted). Both men and women perceived single people in more negative ways than they viewed married people. People who were in romantic relationships were critical of single people, but so were people who were not in such relationships.
[Bella's intro: There are some events I would never want to attend, such as ones that pose the question, "Why is everyone still single," as if that's a bad thing. Fortunately, the wonderful Kim Calvert went to one iteration of "The Great Love Debate" so we don't have to. Even more fortunately, Kim brings her much more enlightened attitude to the task of reporting back to us. Thanks, Kim! Readers, you can find out more about Kim in the "About the Author" section at the end. And one more thing: If you want to know the real reasons for living single, check this out.]
Starting in the early 1800s, some of the young women in the Guangdong section of China made a most unusual decision – they committed to staying single for the rest of their lives. They are called zishunu — self-combed women. When they left their parents’ home, it was to work, not marry.
Writings about single life – both popular and academic – focus overwhelmingly on women. Because marriage, traditionally, is supposed to be more important to women than to men, in theory more central to their identities and their happiness, single life should be especially problematic for women. Research begs to disagree about the happiness presumption, but no matter. Angst-filled writings about women living single continue to proliferate.
Alongside the tired old tales of those “poor” single women is a counter-narrative. It is one of strength, fulfillment, and independence. That story is often told of single women who live alone.
In a world awash with matrimania and the easy story lines it suggests, it is startling to find something, even in the most prestigious of publications, that dispenses with the romantic clichés and tells a whole different story. So it was with the short story in the July 7 &14, 2014 issue of the New Yorker.
The author is Allegra Goodman, perhaps my favorite short story writer. A previous story, “La Vita Nuova,” is a masterpiece. It is about a wedding dress, but it is not the story anyone else would write about that.
[Bella's intro: Probably about once a year, someone asks me what I think of the idea of marrying yourself. I've never written about the topic. Happily, the very insightful Terri Trespicio has some smart ideas on the matter, and I was delighted that she was willing to share them with "Single at Heart" readers. Thanks, Terri! By the way, Terri was featured on the cover of a Boston Magazine story, "Single by choice: Why more of us than ever before are happy to never get married."]
How many times have you read a story in the media claiming that the children of married parents do better than the children of single parents, and therefore people should get married before they have kids, or they should refrain from divorcing? The claim about the children of married parents doing better is often exaggerated, a misrepresentation of the actual findings, or just plain wrong, as I have shown repeatedly. Nonetheless, the myths continue to get perpetuated, along with the self-righteous advice.
In a culture obsessed with marriage and coupling, solitude gets short shrift. There is, though, one esteemed book on the topic that has maintained its lofty status more than a quarter-century after its initial publication in 1988. I’m talking about the psychiatrist Anthony Storr’s “Solitude: A Return to Self.”
The back cover of the most recent printing of the book poses this question: “In the supreme importance that we place on intimate relationships, have we overlooked the deep, sustaining power of solitude in human life?” Of course, Anthony Storr’s answer is yes.