A few months ago, Bill Maher lamented that there was no holiday for single people. (This link goes to the video.) Now, his wish has come true. The third week of September is Unmarried and Single Americans Week. That’s not new, though. Single people have been celebrated with a special week since the 1980s, and sometimes with a special day, too. But as Bill Maher’s obliviousness to that fact suggests, the holiday is not widely known.

Bill Maher has said some offensive things that go beyond mere political incorrectness. I’m not endorsing any of that by writing about him. As a person with a high profile, though, he has put some issues about single people on the table, and that’s what I want to discuss. What is he getting right and what is he getting wrong?

Maher gave a name to the holiday he proposes to celebrate single people: “I did not reproduce day.” That, right there, is the first problem. He is conflating marital status with parental status, when the two are very different. Many single people have children, and many married people do not.

He does better, though, in lining up some reasons for celebrating of single people. I’m going to focus on the ones that really are about single people and not about people who do not have kids.

#1

“…we spent a lifetime being the cool aunts and uncles but while we celebrate everybody else, nobody ever celebrates us.”

As I discussed recently, people will often go to a lot of trouble and expense to attend a wedding, even when they are not all that close to the newlyweds. But when single people decide to celebrate an occasion that is important to them, sometimes other people do not take those events seriously:

“What close friends and family seem to be saying when they will go to the ends of the earth to attend the wedding of someone who is not that important to them, but beg off the single person’s meaningful milestones, is that single people’s lives just don’t matter as much as married people’s. That, for some, is perhaps the deeper meaning and motivation behind marrying themselves. Maybe single people should be borrowing the wedding template after all, because it so powerfully proclaims: ‘This is an event that matters; you don’t get to skip it. This is a person who matters.’

#2

“…everyone is so used to married with children being the norm that nobody noticed that single people are actually the majority now.”

Whether unmarried Americans are in the majority depends on how you count. If you count everyone who is 15 and older, or 16 and older, then yes, single people are in the majority and have been for a few years. But if instead, you count only people who are 18 and older, then single people are not quite the majority but they are getting closer. Perhaps even more importantly, the number of single people has been growing for decades, reaching record highs every time a new Census report is released.

#3

Despite the huge number of single people (110.6 million Americans, 18 and older, are unmarried), “we still remain a somewhat suspect group, somehow incomplete. Whenever we’re at a party, people always feel free to tell us how good it would be to get married and have a kid, but somehow it’s rude if I say, ‘and you know what, you guys should totally get divorced.’”

Maher is right about the stereotyping of single people, as lots of research on singlism has shown. I think he is right about the double standards, too.

#4

“Remaining single isn’t for everyone but it’s a perfectly rational decision.”

True, and it can be a meaningful, empowering, and fulfilling one, too.

#5

“The science is in. Singles exercise more than married people do. Single women have better overall health and men less heart disease. Singles actually have stronger social ties, less debt, and are more likely to volunteer for civic organizations.”

It is so good to see the strengths of single people emphasized for once. Maher doesn’t point to sources for these claims but I’ve discussed all of them (except for debt – I still need to get to that) in many places, including this article (that includes links to references), my TEDx talk, and this “Single at Heart” blog.

#6

“Stop asking a woman why she isn’t married…she doesn’t owe you an explanation.”

This is true but does not go far enough. We should all stop asking women and men why they are not married. In fact, we should also stop asking people if they are married, as Joan DelFattore and I just argued in “Stop asking people whether they’re married—even as an icebreaker.”

#7

“Stop describing not being married as shocking or surprising.”

Amen to that.

Happy Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Here’s hoping that by the time the 3rd week of September rolls around in 2018, Bill Maher and lots of other people will know that the holiday exists, and maybe even why we need it.

Photo by david_shankbone