When people wag their finger at you and warn that you had better get married or else you are going to die alone, they are trying to scare you into coupling. That’s what English Professor Michael Cobb told Salon.com in an interview about his new academic book, Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled. I will write about the book in some future post. First, in this post and the next, I want to talk about some of the themes that have come up in the Salon interview and in other discussions of the book in the media.
There are two key parts (and one missing part) to the strategy of bullying single people into coupling. The first is to paint singles as miserable and lonely (a myth I debunked in Singled Out). As Professor Cobb told Salon, “…the language of singleness is really the language of couples who are pitying single people.”
The second part of singles-bullying strategy is to insist that the way out of misery and loneliness is to get coupled: “…there’s this sense that this anxiety can be alleviated if you just fall in love.”
The problem is, plenty of people who are coupled have not found that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s okay, though, because there is still a way of maintaining the storyline that it is single people who are the losers: “This [relationship] is supposed to alleviate me from all this sadness and loneliness, and yet it’s just intensifying these feelings — but single people must have it much worse.”
Now about that missing part…
I complain a lot about all of the “matrimania” in the media. TV shows and movies seem obsessed with the romantic pursuit. Somehow the protagonists always ends up at the altar, no matter how long it takes to get there.
There is an interesting response I sometimes get to that complaint – what comes before marriage is the fun part. It is single life that is expansive and full of potential. Once two people marry, the rest of their lives become pretty boring. There’s no good narrative potential in that.
I think Michael Cobb agrees with that. Talking to Salon writer Thomas Rogers about Sex and the City and Beyonce’s “All the single ladies,” he said this:
“And the marker of success, the end of the romantic story, is riding off into the sunset with that person. But you don’t get to see the next 30 years of boredom, or anxiety, or terror, or concern.”
[Note: Thanks to Elizabeth for the heads-up about the Salon article.]
Woman wagging finger photo available from Shutterstock