I’ve discovered a new guilty pleasure: news sites. Or, more specifically, news sites commenters. It’s horrible, I know, but, yeah, trainwreck. Just can’t look away. If you wonder what Youtube morons will be like 30 years from now, check out commenters on news site.
Anyway, when getting my daily dose of news sites comments last week, I came across a flurry of articles around New York University sociology professor Eric Klinenberg’s recent book “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone“. (Flurry, I suspect, that was enhanced by a certain Valentines Day occurring around the same time.)
Being a single person who enjoys talking about being single, I read the articles attentively. I didn’t learn a whole lot (though some of the numbers quoted were interesting) but the topic made think of some things I’d like to share, and the comments brought up some myths that I wanted to clear up.
Why I’m Single
I doubt I will ever really understand, but my longstanding singleness is a subject of fascination to those around me. It’s like I lead a mysterious, exciting life full of intrigue and steamy hookups. Or something. Fortunately, for both me and them, I don’t mind answering really personal questions about my single life.
So why am I single?
In short, I’m single because I can’t be arsed to make myself otherwise.
Yep. No sobstory of heartbreak, no dark childhood trauma, no Mother Teresa tendencies.
If Mr Right magically showed up on the doorstep of my life, with, like, a red bow on his head, I’d invite him in. But I don’t feel any urge to go out looking for him, bopping him over the head and dragging him back by his hair to my bedroom. (I don’t feel the urge to hunt him down using less extreme measures either.)
I’m not the kind of person who gets lonely. I think I experienced loneliness once. I was about twelve years old and full of horrid teenager hormones. The only times I’m sincerely bitter about my single state is when I have to move heavy furniture. Couples have no idea how easy they have it when they move. I’m not attracted to other people very often either. I’ve only had a handful of crushes in my life. Most of them were on fictional characters. …Real people kind of bore me.
I did go through a phase where I had a series of short lived, intense relationships. They were excellent relationships, no “crazy ex” for me (I’m very adamant about my “no assholes” policy when it comes to dating and sex), but due to my nomadic lifestyle, each relationship had a predetermined end date. After about 3 years of this, I was tired of fast cycling between joy and mourning and decided that I wouldn’t invest my emotions into a relationship unless it wasn’t doomed from the start. I’ve yet to meet someone I could see myself with for more than a few months.
I often joke about how all the men in my town are either young and married or old and creepy, and that men are like parking spots – the good ones always taken. Truth is, I have no idea. I haven’t been on dating sites (which is how most of my happily coupled friends met their partners), I’m not overly involved in my community, I don’t frequent the local bars or coffee shop. I don’t feel any urge to actively seek a partner, and thus, I’m single because I can’t be arsed to make myself otherwise.
My Reactions to Klinenberg
I’ve read and watched some interviews with Klinenberg but I haven’t read his book yet. I mean to, but until then, I have to rely on the news articles.
The biggest “OH YESSSSS” moment was this:
In “Going Solo,” Klinenberg found that “Singletons” (his word), while still stigmatized by society, are growing in economic and political power. Yet only online dating sites directly target singles with their advertising.
Note that this snippet comes right after the revelation that more than half of Canadians have never been married, and that in Canada’s major cities, singles represent 53 to 70% of the population.
That quote stood out to me because it is a frustration of mine that my Groupons (I know…) are generally targeted at couples and families. I also notice that most advertising for things I’m interested in show couples having a great time (or making fun of each other). Gettaways and traveling advertisements are the worst. Yet, it’s childless, singles like me who have the spending power necessary for frivolous vacations, who can drop everything and go without having to coordinate timing with a partner, and who actively seek new social situations (since we’re not getting much social at home). I’ve always shrugged it off to single people being rare, but Klinenberg reveals that we actually represent a huge chunk of the market. Advertisers, you are doing it wrong!
He also found that single people are more likely than married people to belong to social groups, give back to their community and spend their disposable income on the fun stuff such as bars, restaurants and the theatre.
“People who live alone are more likely to be social,” Klinenberg said. “This was a big surprise to me.”
I’m surprised that he’s surprised.
To me it’s pretty obvious. When we live alone, we don’t get much social life at home. Which means we have to go elsewhere for it. Plus, all that “quality” time we’d spend with a significant other, we spend with our friends, or with ourselves, doing stuff we enjoy.
I think that many human beings also have a need to love. When that love isn’t centered on an individual, it’s expressed otherwise. Speaking personally, I don’t think I’d volunteer, or look after children, or treat my patients with the same loving zealousness if I were in a relationship. (Not saying that married people can’t love outside their relationship or that all single people are incredibly giving, it’s just that if you have that need to love, and there’s no obvious recipient of that love, you end up forced to spread it around.)
Klinenberg thinks U.S. society should recognize the shift to singlehood. Should we redesign metro areas to be more single-friendly? Provide more affordable housing for young singles, better institutions for the old, infirm, and vulnerable? “Anything we can do to afford security and support to this growing sector of our society, we should,” he says. […]
“It’s ironic that by supporting each other,” Klinenberg says, “we give ourselves the freedom to be independent.”
When speaking of “singles”, Klinenberg also recognizes divorcees, widowers and the elderly. With people living longer and spouses outliving their partners, flying solo isn’t only for the young, upper-middle class featured in Sex and the City. Both he and Bolick (who wrote All the Single Ladies, published in The Atlantic) mention the existence of communal residences for individuals who live alone.
I found that very interesting. American and Canadian society is very much centered around the nuclear family of mommy, daddy and kids. Social model that, we’re discovering through high divorce rates and single parenting and depression being the leading cause of disability, doesn’t work. “It takes a village to raise a child” is the old saying. It’s still being argued that dual parenting is the ideal environment to raise children and I don’t have enough knowledge to pass judgement on that. However, if the ideal environment isn’t available, why can’t children have a village? Why aren’t there more resources allowing single mothers to live in proximity to each other, so they can help one another with child rearing, and household chores, and feeding their families?
And why must we wait until we need to enter a nursing home to live in a community setting? Even speaking as someone who loves her solo space, I would definitely be interested in residing in an apartment building targeted specifically for women living alone. (I think there are some civil right laws that forbid this, but lets forget about it for a moment.) Have my own apartment, but participate in communal dinners, movie nights, gardening and other activities with other women who share my living situation. I’d buy into that.
The “Threat(?!)” to Marriage?
Most of the articles about Klinenberg’s have a sensationalist title along the lines of “IS BEING SINGLE BETTER?”. I guess that’s what it takes to attract readers, but the concept of single life being “better” or “worse” is just silly to me.
There are advantages to being single and there are advantages to being paired up. Since individuals are unique, some may prefer to be single and others may prefer be paired. And! Because us humans aren’t stagnant pools, many of us go through phases in our lives where being single is the more advantageous option, and phases where being coupled is the “better” option.
This “threat” to marriage that I hear my Southern neighbors talk about (as they debate gay marriage… a silly debate, IMO – why does being of the same gender disqualify two partners from basic civil rights?) puzzles me. A lot of the articles (and even more of the comments) touch on that worry: that “traditional” marriage will die.
Being the history nerd that I am, to me, “traditional” marriage is when your parents trade you for goats, in order to boost their economic and (in the case of aristocratic families) political power. That’s already pretty much dead, and I can’t see how it’s a great loss. Today’s marriage model of two people in love and choosing to share their lives is pretty modern, not traditional at all. And if it were the amazing model that fanatic American politicians claim it to be, then most marriages wouldn’t end in divorce.
There are so many different family models in the world and thinking of them in terms of “better” or “worse” is useless. Better to think in terms of “more or less adapted to our population”. In North America, we don’t die very much. We don’t need to produce lot of children to ensure our survival. If anything, we’re a tad overpopulated. As a result, marriage and children are more about emotional and personal fulfillment than biologic necessity. As long as there are a minimum number of individuals still reproducing (and I don’t believe that will ever be a problem), the popularity of non-reproductive lifestyles is hardly going to cause the extinction of humanity.
Replying to Comments
Like all news sites comments, a lot of the responses to the articles made me go “…really? REALLY?” Let’s reply to a few of them.
GregoryJ-wpg -[…] I am very most concerned with the health of those born and raised from such a way. It seems to me they lose their concern for sustained commitments and responsibilites in this ‘ what’s best for me ‘ attitude at the root of these changes. Some, perhaps most, can see america is progressively sickening and morally collapsing by its ‘ me-first ‘ freedom is everything excesses, and I suspect the lose of interest in marriage is simple one more disease in that collapse.
I’m not sure if “from such a way” is a reference to single parenting or to the notion that it’s ok to be single. There’s no doubt that mainstream North American culture is very individualist. It has its upsides and its downsides. Negatively, we often end up with identity crisises, with not knowing how to manage our endless opportunities and our basic need to “belong” isn’t as filled as they would be in a collective society. But positively, the existence of human rights is kind of nice. So is the notion of equality among humans.
And, anthropologists correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that all large scale collectivist cultures are corrupt, with those with the most money/numbers/brute strength taking advantage of the less privileged using birth social status as an excuse.
It also kind of perplexes me that those who are the first to cry out “the me-first mentality is ruining us!” are usually those who are the most adamant about refusing to pay more taxes to ensure the accessibility of health care and education.
The statement of “america is progressively sickening and morally collapsing” isn’t very clear either. There are social issues today that didn’t exist 40, 100, 400 years ago. But there are a ton of social issues from back then that have been improved quite a bit. I kind of like being a whole person, as opposed to a gender or a race.
If anything, I think our modern glorification of the nuclear family is hurting us. Romantic relationships are important, yes, but in treating them as significantly more important than friendships, extended family, community, we lose a huge amount of social support.
rat-ripper – Nobody lives alone by choice . I can’t imagine not having someone to share life with . I feel sorry for them all !
Ah blanket statements! Clearly rat-ripper is hanging out in the minds of all those who live alone and is absolutely positive that EVERY SINGLE one of us is living alone AGAINST OUR WILL and that we are ABSOLUTELY PITIFUL.
Prof. Pye Chartt – Yes, because, according to pointy-headed academics, it’s more socially “evolved” to venture out to a fancy urban bar or lounge, have a California greens salad with some flatbread and humus while texting one of your busy friends who couldn’t make it, and desperately fantasize about actually meeting someone compatible to alleviate the pain of your mentally crushing singlehood and prospects for endless years of unfulfilment and loneliness. Yeah; the “solo” lifestyle rocks. No regret or disappointment in the cards down the road. For sure. Marriage? Oh, forget it. Kids? Oh, such a joyless long-term hassle. A loving intimate relationship with genuine commitment? What a drag. Be a casual, modern-day narcissist; it’s more fun. Live alone. Sharing a home with somebody (or “shacking up”) is so yesteryear. Instead, be with the person you love the absolute most — yourself — until death do you part. The toilet seat will always be left up/down, just the way you want it.
I think this guy misses the point and doesn’t understand singleness at all. Which is all good because I can’t really figure out his point either.
Johnny from Montreal – Single people also get descriminated against at work because – no children – this means they are available for overtime so the parents get to go home early.
Yep. (Note, this is a good comment, I approve of this comment.) This hasn’t happened to me personally (I usually let the parents take time off out of the kindness of my heart, and out of love for my bank account), but it does annoy me when someone tries to get more breaks at work “because they have a family”. One person shouldn’t have more rights than others because they chose to work and have a family at the same time.
great uncle clive – Any tenured professor who writes about the single life-style can count on the sympathetic support of the media. Similarly if he writes about gay marriage. If he writes about traditional ‘middle-class’ marriage, he will be denounced in the media as a woman-hating bigot. Or worse. That’s the mess we have got ourselves into. Any mention of the breadwinner and homemaker marriage is thought crime today. The efficiencies of the single-income household cannot be alluded to. Even in The Economist.
That’s my take on the issue… in response to Oarboar
The corporations want women in the workforce to debase the labour supply and undermine the unions. And the media are in thrall to their corporate masters. Working couples are good for the economy: They put up the price of housing. Whereas single-income couples mean good homes for women and children. Which is more important? The economy? Or peoples’ lives?
That’s the wider issue
Except for that the “the breadwinner and homemaker” marriage of the 50s and 60s isn’t traditional at all.
And is being a homemaker better for women and children’s lives? I was raised by a stay-at-home mom. She was very ostracized (in Québec in the 80s and 90s, a woman who stayed home after her kids started school was very looked down upon), she had very little social life (she had no work to make friends at), she never got any recognition for her efforts. It was a miserable life. As children, my brothers and I didn’t go to day care, which caused us to fall behind socially.
Personally, I’d rather be raised by fulfilled and emotionally healthy parents, than be forced into the model of the 50s and 60s family, which isn’t very adapted to today’s society.
As for a conspiracy to get women to “debase the labour supply and undermine the unions”…What on earth?
Here’s another gem from our modern champion:
great uncle clive – If any man greeted a lady co-worker with a cheery, ‘Good morning, scab’… he would be charged with harrassment, and villified in the media, and his life destroyed
Whether or not ‘women employees are just as loyal union members as men’ is beside the point… The union movement has been crippled since women entered the workforce
For a hundred years, the unions fought for a living wage… which by definition is a wage sufficient to support a wife and family in upmarket style… The men worked and struggled for their women… The unions were empowered… By the 60’s, high wage/ benefit jobs were the norm
The corporations didn’t like that
Along came the Feminists demanding equality for women, when most of them were wives and singles… None of them wanted to support their husbands!… And the entire raison d’etre of unionism was overthrown
(I know many readers of The Economist are anti-union… but with any knowledge of history… strong private sector unions are a vital factor in any kind of social progress… Public sector unions are another matter… They should never have been allowed…)
It now takes two incomes… a husband and wife each working full-time… to realise the same basic standard of living that one could achieve in the 60’s… gratis Feminism… Working couples sent the price of housing sky-high… great for anyone who already owned property… Everyone who mattered!… but future generations are looking at peonage
What is really heartbreaking is that a practical solution… a HOMEMAKER ALLOWANCE… is so readily available… And nobody will look at it… because they’re so afraid of that corporate/ Feminist/ media line-up
I’m not sure what “scab” means, but apparently it’s very bad to use after good morning. Don’t do it fellas! Your lives will be ruined!
I’m not too knowledgeable on unions, but it seems to me that women in the workplace would empower unions because women are more concerned by pay equality and benefits like health care and maternity rights.
Until the line “It now takes two incomes… a husband and wife each working full-time… to realise the same basic standard of living that one could achieve in the 60’s…”, I thought the poster was a product of the 60s. Apparently not. I wasn’t around in the 60s, but from what my parents tell me, and from what I can absorb from vintage TV shows, our basic standards of living are NOTHING like the 60s. Today, the middle class collects a lot of objects, eats at restaurants regularly, wears new clothes, takes vacations down south. We expect way more that our past generations, and that‘s why we need two incomes.
Also, suspensions points are meant to be used sparingly to alter the rhythm of a text, not as a substitute for a period or comma.
David Ryan – It’s true. Given enough money, and the willingness to reach far enough down the ladder of social standing, even a very old man can attract youthful companionship. These sorts of relationships are looked upon with a certain degree of distain, which I presume all that money helps keep these men insulated from as well.
But for the merely very successful man, the sort of man whom might make a proper mate for Ms. Bolick and her successful single sisters in similar straights, there comes a time when even his looks fail, he can no longer attract a woman of youth, beauty and social standing. Not that there aren’t exceptions, but it’s unlikely that Ms. Bolick will bed (let alone marry) a fellow old enough to be her father, and it’s unlikely that the fellow whose story I’ve related above will begin showing up at social functions with a woman young enough to be his daughter and from a social class lower than his.
Even someone who seems to be pro-marriage, is reducing marriage to a social obligation, something you do to impress your peers. Heaven forbid you find yourself in a socially unconventional pairing!
What I find interesting about this commenter is that he’s the opposite of the past commenters. He seems to really understand the “traditional” marriage. I know that a lot of people still go about romantic relationships in the way he’s describing, but it’s difficult on my 21th century sensitivities. I see other humans as my equals. I don’t believe in marrying “up” or marrying “down”. There are just people that I’m compatible with and people that I’m not compatible with.
Conclusion: Being Happy
Klinenberg, a married man himself, says the majority of people would like to get married, but in modern society people are placing a greater emphasis on happiness in marriage and are waiting longer to find the right person.
“They want to make sure they are making the right choice and are investing in themselves and careers, and establishing their own security,” he said. “People who wait a while to get married are more likely to stay married.”
This quote made me feel good.
When you’re single and in your late 20s, you somehow find yourself surrounded by people your age (or a little bit older) who tell you how much they envy you, about how they wish they’d waited until their 30s to get married.
So I had conceived in my mind that the average person was in a huge rush to have a party and get a piece of paper, without really considering the implications of said party and piece of paper. It had always bothered me that an 18 year old American wasn’t allowed to drink, but could get married. The law says that at 18, you’re not mature enough to decide what you’re doing with your evening, but you are mature enough to decide to pledge your next 80 years to someone.
I’m glad to see proof that there are young people who do understand that we live a looooong time and that commitments shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Tom (Kingston) – No point joining a “camp” just for the sake of being “accepted.” If you are happy single, great. If you are happy common-law, great. If you are happy married, then also great. I could care less about the status-quo and consider my life on a day-to-day basis. Life is constantly changing, live life today and stop worrying about what others think.
I loved this comment.
To me, romantic relationships should add to my life. And right now, my life is pretty awesome. It would be pretty difficult to add to it. So I’m not in a hurry. If I come across someone who might enhance my life, I’ll jump on board, until them I’m going to keep enjoying my existence.
CTV News, Better single than married? New book suggests yes
The Globe and Mail, Who needs marriage? The joys of living alone
The Economist, The Q&A: Eric Klinenberg – One is the loveliest number
Philly dot Com, NYU professor says more are living singly, for better or worse
The Atlantic, Kate Bolick, All the Single Ladies
Slate, Katie Roiphe, Singled Out: Why are Americans still so obsessed with single people—and so scared by them?