We are in the midst of one of those cultural moments when people who are happily single are getting some attention, and it is not all skeptical or mocking or grudging. In Spinster, Kate Bolick urged women to embrace “that in you which is independent and self-sufficient,” even if you are not technically single. (I’d add that positive messages about single life should apply to men, too.)
Many an essay has leapt from the keyboards of readers of Spinster. I appreciate all those reverberating voices telling single people to embrace their singlehood. I’ve long been making the case that a single life can be a very happy and deeply meaningful life. I’ve also addressed, over and over again, the claims that getting married makes people happier. They are based on embarrassingly flawed studies and assumptions.
Yet I also value the notes of caution, such as Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s article in the Nation warning that “celebrating your inner spinster” is not nearly sufficient if single people are to have the same opportunities for a good life as married people already do. Here, with some of my own embellishments, are some of the impediments she describes and some of the ways she thinks they can be transcended:
- To be single and empowered requires financial resources that not everyone has. Historically, the opening of many more jobs to women has meant that more and more single women could afford to support themselves – and maybe some children, too. They no longer needed to marry just to avoid impoverishment. Those are averages, though, and there are still many women (and men) who do not make a living wage, even if they have full-time job.
- Single people need fair policies, including pay equity, paid family leave, and affordable childcare. We also need “leave for single people for reasons outside of maternity leave!”
- Americans love their myth of rugged individualism, but that “runs in opposition to the reality that it ‘takes a village’ not just to raise yourself and be happy but to distribute resources and support one another.”
- We need to make it more possible for single people who are “supporting a sick relative” to do so without compromising their own jobs and financial futures. (I’d add that we also need to make it more possible for single people to get the help that they need when they are sick or disabled.)
- Single people are still judged and demonized for living single; that needs to change.
- We also need to broaden our conceptions of what counts as a good life. At the moment, we are limited by our “inability to imagine something outside of two people, in love, happily ever after.”
When I wrote Singled Out, I gave it the subtitle “How singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored and still live happily ever after.” I think it is a mark of single people’s resilience that they can do so well despite the prejudices and discrimination against them. Still, they shouldn’t have to. They should get to live happily ever after without putting up with all that singlism.
Happy single woman photo available from Shutterstock