Now that so many Americans are living alone and the topic is all over the media, you just had to know that trend stories on the quirks of those solo dwellers were about to appear. The New York Times published one of them today, “One is the quirkiest number.”
Reporter Steven Kurutz interviewed several people who live alone and describes examples of what he considers their quirkiness. Check out this list and see what you think:
- “running in place during TV commercials;
- speaking conversational French to herself while making breakfast (she listens to a language CD);
- singing Journey songs in the shower; and
- removing only the clothes she needs from her dryer, thus turning it into a makeshift dresser.”
- not washing the dishes for a while;
- wearing comfortable, unfashionable clothes
- staying up into the wee hours
- not closing the bathroom door
- eating small meals consisting of cereal, or seeds and nuts, or a sweet potato, instead of more traditional meals at standard meal times
- getting halfway to work wearing a sweater, boots and tights before realizing she needed to go home to put on her skirt
Really? Kurutz goes after the quirkiest quirks of the nation’s solo dwellers and this is the best he can do? With the possible exception of the last one, none of these examples seem worth much more than a yawn.
One person Kurutz interviewed has, by his own admission, never lived alone a day in his life. He looks forward to when his girlfriend is out of town so he can “drink Champagne in the shower at 8 a. m., …play Madden NFL Football for 10 hours straight, eat a French bread pizza for every meal…” Those examples are a tad quirkier than the rest, but they come from someone who has saved up his favorite things for those rare days when he has a place to himself. That sudden release of inhibition is a whole different thing than living on your own all the time.
There were a few other examples that truly were quirky, such as turning one’s place into a bunker for spying – but they were all make-believe. They came from the TV shows “Seinfeld” and “Homeland.” They are someone else’s vision of what people do when they live alone, written to draw laughs and viewers.
Although a story about the quirks of people who live alone may sound cute and frivolous, it is tapping into a concern long pondered by sociologists and everyday defenders of “the way things should be.” When I first started reading the academic journal articles about single people, I was surprised to come across a 1977 report called “Working without a net: The bachelor as a social problem.” The authors articulated the fear that without a net to hold them in place, bachelors could spin out of control. If only a wife were around, they would not be at risk for becoming a “social problem.”
The same apprehensiveness was expressed in the Times article by the man who said, “I literally have zero self-control. If I lived alone and didn’t have somebody to monitor me, I’d be a fat, out-of-control alcoholic.”
Actually, he probably wouldn’t. Men and women who have always been single get more exercise than married people do, and the difference is especially striking for the men. Married people are fatter, too, and there is even some evidence suggesting that getting married results in getting fatter (as opposed to other explanations).
It is interesting that the person convinced that he could not control himself if he lived alone is the one person from the story who never did live alone – except for those rare days when his girlfriend was away.
I think a reporter should go out and do a trend story on the quirky habits of people who live with other people. Better still, a social scientist should do a systematic study comparing the quirkiness of solo dwellers to together-dwellers. I bet the differences will be unimpressive. Then, look at the people who have lived with another person for a long time and then have a day or two on their own – now that’s when some quirks will emerge. It is not because people living alone act weird, but because people living with others are keeping in check the things they want to do that aren’t even all that odd.
The belief that singles living on their own are engaging in strange and worrisome behaviors is, I think, an expression of the anxiety stirred up by anyone who lives outside of the real or imagined conventions of society. Solo life, though, has become utterly ordinary. Even a reporter for the country’s most prestigious paper, out to find evidence of the quirkiness of singletons, is stuck with the “discoveries” that solo dwellers sing in the shower and don’t always eat regular meals.
That’s all you got?
Singing in the shower photo available from Shutterstock.