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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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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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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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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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Brilliant Psychologist Chooses the Day of Her Death

I was in graduate school from 1975 through 1979, and during those years, and some years afterwards, the field of psychology was riveted with the concept of androgyny, especially as measured by the Bem Sex Role Inventory, devised by the brilliant Sandra Bem. The scale classified people as feminine, masculine, androgynous, or undifferentiated. Androgyny was the "it" category – the news was that it was psychologically advantageous in many ways for women not to be (just) traditionally feminine and men not to be (just) traditionally masculine. Instead, we all benefit from embracing the best of both.

You could hardly pick up an issue of any relevant journal at the time and not find an article about sex roles. Checking Psych INFO just now, I found 2,114 articles and other publications about the Bem Sex Role Inventory. Back in the day, scholars used to send each other postcards requesting reprints of journal articles, and recipients would mail those articles to the requesters in manila folders. After a while, all we would get back from Sandra Bem was a postcard saying that she received so many thousands of requests for her articles that she could no longer afford to mail her articles in response.

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Is Single Motherhood Bad for Your Health? Why You Should Be Skeptical

In Singled Out, I debunked myths about single people. Many of my chapter titles make fun of specific myths and scare stories, such as this one: "Attention, Single Parents: Your Kids are Doomed." When it comes to single parenting, a lot of the singlist bashing is wrapped in a faux concern for the children. Poor things. They are being raised by single parents. They don't have that magical marriage in their lives.

The latest research is targeting single mothers. We are now told that they are doomed, too – to poorer health than those far superior mothers who are married. The basis of the claim seems, on the face of it, rather impressive – a study of more than 25,000 women from 15 different nations. The researchers documented who among the women had been a single mother before the age of 50 and then looked at their current health and functional abilities later, when they were over the age of 50. The first sentence of their conclusions, on the first page of their article, was used as the basis of headlines in stories that blanketed the media: "Single motherhood during early adulthood or mid-adulthood is associated with poorer health in later life."

The Today Show picked up on it, and if you read to the end of the article they posted on their website, you will find out just what they tell single mothers to do. Can you guess what it is? Oh, yeah – get married!

I'm here to tell you what you did not read in any (well, hardly any) other article or media spot about this study: (1) The sweeping conclusion – single moms have worse health later in life! – is not so sweeping at all. There are entire regions in which it is not true at all. (2) There are many factors, other than single parenting, that could account for the results. (3) The study did not – and could not – demonstrate that single parenting caused poorer health. Even when there does seem to be a statistical relationship between single parenting and worse health later on, single parenting may not actually be the key driving factor in the poorer health.

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Wall Street Journal Tells New PhD that a Wedding Is More Important

By now, you've probably seen the video of the white Georgia principal who forgot to give the valedictorian a chance to speak at the graduation ceremony. As people started to leave the auditorium (by some accounts, a white family was the first to leave), the principal said, in a snide tone, "Look who's leaving – all the Black people!" An uproar followed, in the room and then in the media.

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‘Liberty is a Better Husband’ and Other Perspectives on Single Life

With Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own continuing to inspire conversations across the media, and encouraged by the interest in my review of the book here at Psych Central and in my post, 50 Shades of Single, I thought I'd share some of my favorite quotes and insights from the book. And because Spinster does not include among the five inspirational figures from the past anyone who stayed single for life, I will also add a few words of wisdom from someone who did, Louisa May Alcott.

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Everyday Singlism and That Ton of Feathers

Prejudice and stereotyping and discrimination are most likely to grab our attention when they happen in big, fiery, dramatic ways, as when unarmed Black men are killed by police on city streets. Although those marquee incidents are the most visible and often the most consequential, all of our various isms, such as racism and sexism and heterosexism and ageism and, of course, singlism, manifest on a daily basis.

Singlism (the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people) does not reach the depths of viciousness of the worst forms of racism or homophobia. Yet everyday singlism, like everyday sexism or racism or any other ism, does matter. Those small hurts and injustices, sometimes called micro-aggressions, can add up. As activists and consciousness-raisers like to remind us, we really can get crushed by a ton of feathers.

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50 Shades of Single

In my writings on single life, I have a lot to say about singlism, the ways in which single people are stereotyped and stigmatized and discriminated against. That includes – for single women, especially – the derogatory terms that have been hurled at them.

In her new book, Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own (which I reviewed for Psych Central), Kate Bolick reminds us that single women have not always been portrayed in entirely demeaning ways:

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