[Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on why it matters when misleading reports about marriage and single life are perpetrated in the media. Part 1 is here.]
All of the media reports claiming that getting married will make you lastingly happier or healthier or better in some other psychological, emotional, or physical way – they are all wrong. Every single one of them. (There is one way that getting married does help – it makes you wealthier. That’s because of discriminatory practices of singlism built right into our laws and practices. But you can lose a lot in a flash if you get divorced.)
In 1986, Newsweek published a cover story with the sensational claim that a 40-year old woman who had never married was “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than to ever get married. Even thought the viral powers of social media were decades in the future, the story took off. It was discussed everywhere, mostly unquestioningly. Finally, Susan Faludi took it apart in her brilliant Backlash book, but by then, the damage was done. Decades later, even Newsweek copped to getting it wrong, though they did so in a story that itself was matrimanical.
When I moved to California in 2000, thinking I would be here for just a one-year sabbatical, I rented a beautiful home. When I loved my whole Southern California experience so much that I decided never to return to Virginia, I sold the home I owned in Virginia and stayed in the rental place in California. One thing I don’t like out here is the real estate market – buying is beyond my means.
After nearly 14 years, my rent has gone up but my income has not, so I have been looking for a new place. One of the homes I inquired about had three bedrooms. I asked if I could make an appointment to see it. The owner wanted me to answer a question before she would show me the place: Why, as a single person, did I need three bedrooms?
Over the course of blogging for many years, particular people who participate in the discussions in the Comments section start to seem familiar to me, even if I’ve never met them. Once, when I got a personal email from one such person, I recognized the name and responded right away. She later told me that she was happy to hear from me so quickly, and mentioned that to someone else. That person’s interpretation? “She got back to you so quickly because she’s single.”
One of the most frustrating things about singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single – is that it is not just practiced by select portions of the population, say, those who practice racism or sexism or ageism or heterosexism or any of the other more familiar isms. Sadly, the sin of singlism knows no bounds. Smart, progressive people, cutting-edge publications, successful businesses – all of them, and more, practice singlism, usually without apology or even any awareness that there is anything to apologize for.
When I was living on the East Coast and looking to buy a home, one of the places I visited needed some work. “Oh, that should be no problem,” the person showing the home insisted – I could just stay home while the contractors and repair people came in and out during the day.
Well actually, no, I could not stay home. I had a job, including sometimes teaching an entire lecture hall full of students. I ran studies in my lab, attended faculty meetings, and did all of the other routine tasks that are part of the life of a college professor and that take place at the university, not in my personal living room.
As a single person living alone, I did not have a spouse or a roommate who could stay home and wait for repair people to show up, or to trade off with me in taking time away from the job.
So what are we supposed to do?
I love chocolate, but do you know what I love even more? Smart, enlightening writings about single people and single life! Yesterday, to my surprise and delight, one story after another set aside the tired old Valentine’s Day stories about gooey-eyed couples and myths about the transformative powers of marriage and coupling, and instead told some truths – or, in some cases, they at least got close to some truths.
Considering that this is not the first time that the matrimaniacal holiday was inflected with a bit of singles savvy (here, for example), maybe we can start expecting something like this to continue into the future.
Here are some of the sweetest things I found online, or in my email inbox, over the past day or so:
To be single-at-heart is to feel that single life is, for you, the most meaningful way to live. People who embrace their single-at-heart status pursue the life that fits them best as individuals. That might mean spending lots of time alone or lots of time with friends or family. It might mean pursuing some passion, such as art or science or sports or social justice. Or it may mean feeling totally comfortable in a routine of your own making.
Being single-at-heart can mean lots of things, but what it does not mean is becoming a sappy, matrimaniac when many in the rest of the nation lose their collective minds over the 14th of February. I am so used to dealing with – or ignoring – hype about coupling every other day of the year that I would be happy to just continue rolling my eyes on Valentine’s Day. The problem is, February is peak season for people who just cannot believe that other people do not share their obsession with coupling.
The English language is filled with an ever-growing collection of nasty and insulting words to refer to maligned groups. Just think of all the slurs used over the years to refer to African-Americans, or to gays and lesbians, or to just about any group that has ever been stigmatized or marginalized. I don’t even want to list any of them.
Those labels can be horribly hurtful. They can also set off shouting matches over what should happen when people use those words. Sometimes, though, people who are the targets of those slurs adopt a bold and imaginative strategy for sapping them of their power: They embrace the words and make them their own.
[Bella’s intro: This is the second and last part of my Q & A with Karen Reed, who in a very short time created a very successful first-ever Singles Day celebration. Part 1 is here. You can find more pictures from the event here.]
Bella: How did the Singles Day kickoff celebration go?
Karen Reed: Come January 11th, we had built what would turn out to be a day to remember. According to managers at the kickoff event venue, we brought in over 100 people to their typically low-key afternoon time slot. According to our informal “sticker count” of Singles Day stickers before and after the event, over 160 were given out to enthusiastic event-goers looking to display them at local businesses for specials and discounts.