[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.]
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.
How many people must that mass murderer have fooled about who he was and what he was about to do before he went on a rampage and killed six people and injured many more? It happened just outside of the campus of UC Santa Barbara, the university I’ve been associated with for nearly 14 years.
I have to admit that when I heard that law enforcement personnel (four sheriff’s deputies, a police officer, and a dispatcher) had been sent to talk to the killer less than a month before his killing spree, my jaw dropped. The killer’s mother and therapist had both become disturbed by the videos he had been posting, and contacted the police to ask them to check up on him.
“Make Room for Singles in Teaching and Research” (also available here) was the title of an article I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, together with sociologist Kay Trimberger and law professor (and now Dean of UCLA Law School) Rachel Moran. When the Chronicle published the article, it was in a special issue on diversity.
I think that was apt. We need a singles perspective in academia in the same way we need the perspectives of other groups such as women and people of color. Without these different points of view, we end up asking a limited set of questions and coming up with a narrow set of predictable answers. We miss some things entirely and see too much of other things.
The results of 277 studies from around the world showed that after age 30, the number of friends in our social networks shrinks. Other social networks – except for family networks – tend to get smaller, too. That’s what I discussed previously. But what should we make of these findings?
One of the articles here at Single-at-Heart that attracted a lot of interest was called What’s really difficult about turning 30: It’s harder to make friends. In it, I discussed a story by a reporter on why it is harder to make friends after 30. The story was an intriguing one in some ways (though also, as I discussed, marred by singlism), but the reporter did not address an even more fundamental question: Do we really have fewer friends after 30, or was that just true of the particular people who were interviewed for the article?
When an experience seems satisfying to you, what do you think makes it feel that way? Is it fulfilling certain basic needs? What about unsatisfying experiences – are they leaving fundamental needs unfulfilled?
To consider this more concretely, think about the most personally satisfying event you experienced in the past several months. Also think about the most personally unsatisfying event you experienced during that same time. That’s what researchers asked college students from the US and South Korea to do.
In body parts, houses, and research studies, bigger is not always better.
In 1993, the brilliant Nalini Ambady, together with Robert Rosenthal (my advisor at Harvard, most famous for his research showing how teacher’s expectations influence students’ performance), published a startling finding: Students seem to be able to size up a professor in 2 seconds.
Over the course of my research on innovative ways of living, one of the people I set my sights on interviewing was Karen Hester. I knew that she was one of those people called a “burning soul,” who was so passionate about living in a real, caring, committed community that she was one of the motivating forces in creating such a community. Together with several other single friends and some families, she did the years of work involved in making the Temescal Creek cohousing community happen.