In his article “Mapping the Family Possible” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hugh Ryan had this to say about my new book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century:
Her book is an exuberant exploration of what is possible, divided into chapters based around different kinds of non–nuclear-family lifespaces: intergenerational families, friend-based groups, intentional communities, married couples who live apart, etc.
DePaulo comes from a social science and journalism background, and her book is like a series of short profiles on lifespace pioneers, studded with fascinating facts and statistics like “[a] twenty-year-old in 2000 was more likely to have a living grandmother than a twenty-year-old in 1900 was to have a living mother.”… Her engaging, positive tone makes you root for her subjects… her book is infused with a warmth that colors each lifespace she examines like an Instagram filter, bringing out its best look.
My guess is that everyone who reads How We Live Now will have their own list of innovative living arrangements that they wish I had discussed at greater length. Ryan wanted to hear more about polygamy and polyamory and third-parent adoption. Books such as Joshua Gamson’s Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journey to Kinship, are better sources than mine for the latter. (I discussed that book here.)
How We Live Now included just one profile of a consensually non-monogamous relationship. I’ve written a bit more in an article in a scholarly journal, “The proliferation of life choices and the resistance that follows,” but I can’t claim any true expertise.
Ryan would also like to see more discussion of a cause I have been advocating for a long time (though did not cover in How We Live Now): all of our different family forms and ways of living and loving need to have the same kinds of legal protections and benefits that marriage and nuclear families already have. How about the “radical idea of separating government benefits from romantic relationships entirely,” he asks?
Indeed. In one of my very first publications about single life, Singled Out, that’s what I advocated, too. Afterwards, I started a running list of similar stances, and in 2010, Rachel Buddeberg and I published “Should marriage be a ticket to privilege? Several dozen skeptics weigh in.” I’ve continued to make the case with articles such as “Without unmarried equality, gender equality is not enough” and “Do you, married person, take these unearned privileges for better or for better?” (also with Rachel). When other people weigh in with great arguments for fairness for all, I spread the word. For example, “SCOTUS legalizes same-sex marriage: Wiser views than those of the justices,” included Hugh Ryan’s terrific opinion piece in the Guardian.
With a Congress that can barely keep the government up and running, it is hard to be optimistic about the prospects for the kinds of radical changes that Ryan and I would like to see. But same-sex marriage seemed fanciful for a long time, too.
[Note: If you are interested, check out my essay in the Washington Post, “I’m better off single. You might be, too.” It is about people who are single-at-heart, though, at the editor’s request, I didn’t use the phrase “single at heart.”]
Man with two girlfriends photo available from Shutterstock