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The Single-at-Heart: Beacons of Innovation in a Blandly Married World?

singles and innovationAs gays and lesbians score more and more victories in their quest for marriage equality, the arc of the moral universe is indeed bending more toward their vision of justice, but our culture is just getting more and more bland. When gays and lesbians want the same thing that many straight people seek, instead of pursuing a more imaginative and creative way of living and thinking, we are all stuck with a much more boring culture than we had before.

That’s the theme of Pamela Haag’s post at Big Think, “The Unqueered World: Take a Walk on the Mild Side.” Haag is sympathetic to the observation of filmmaker John Waters: “I thought the whole point of being gay was that you don’t have to get married, have kids, or join the army.”

I wrote something similar in “what you miss by doing what everyone else does.” There, I underscored something Rachel Maddow had said in an interview:

“I feel that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships,” she explains. “And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture.”

To a large extent, it was gay culture that showed everyone else the significance of friendship. It was gay culture that recognized “families of choice.” That was once a cutting-edge concept. Now it is a familiar one.

Haag noted that it was not only the gays and lesbians of times past who flaunted the marriage imperative:

“…these marriage-agnostic and marriage-resistant figures used to cut a broader, more festive swath in heterosexual culture, too. We had the “confirmed bachelors” and the gay divorcees, who embraced their freewheeling single status gleefully rather than enduring it with the panicked dread that you read about in advice books, or with that dreary, morose, even excruciating treatment that you encounter on HBO series such as “Girls.” Being a bachelor had some panache.  Being the single girl had some pizzazz.

“It was nice to have that idea out there—a community, somewhere, that wove into the larger cultural tapestry a tangible alternative to the equation of romance, intimacy, marriage, monogamy and procreation. Its value wasn’t only for those who preferred that life, but for those whose imaginations were expanded simply by its visibility and existence.”

Toward the end of her post, Pamela Haag poses this question:

What subculture is going to take up the mantle of being the proud queer place that resists the idea that all intimacies are about true love, romance, marriage, lifelong commitment, and monogamy?”

I propose that there is a new and proud subculture that is all about resisting the boring conventions of married life and instead reveling in a true alternative that is meaningful, engaging, and authentic. That subculture is comprised of the single-at-heart.

Not too long ago, at this blog, I wrote, “To the single-at-heart.” You can take a look to get a bigger picture of who we are. The short version is that to the single-at-heart, living single is their first choice. It is how they live their most authentic and most meaningful lives. Whereas conventional people endlessly obsess about The One – their partner or soulmate or sweetie – the single-at-heart love “the ones” – their friends, family, and all of the other important people in their lives. Much as the single-at-heart value all of those other people and their opinions, they are also proud of their self-sufficiency and sense of personal mastery.

The single-at-heart savor their solitude. They value meaningful work more than conventional people do. If they do pursue a romantic relationship and it ends, they are more inclined than conventional people are to experience relief rather than sadness or pain.

Pamela Haag is looking for people whose “idea of intimacy didn’t end up with mediocre bands and Jordan almonds at wedding receptions and a registry for housewares and wedding gifts at Crate and Barrel.” I think I can speak for the single-at-heart in saying: Here we are. (Still, some of us might like a stash of free housewares.)

[Notes: (1) Thanks to Jason McMahan for the heads-up about Pamela Haag’s post. (2) Haag is the author of Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules. I wrote about it here and here.]

Here are some previous posts about the “Single at Heart” (other than the survey results):

Here are results from the first 1200 participants in the Single at Heart survey:

Proud woman photo available from Shutterstock

The Single-at-Heart: Beacons of Innovation in a Blandly Married World?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2013). The Single-at-Heart: Beacons of Innovation in a Blandly Married World?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Feb 2013
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