Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Unfathomable Even to Brilliant, Kind, and Open Minds: The Securely Single

Secure in our single status, on Valentine’s Day and every other day.
Jen Kim
This post is a response to To be or not to be (in love): That is the question by Jen Kim

Today, Psychology Today highlighted a quote from Jen Kim's recent post, "To be or not to be (in love): That is the question." The quote, referring to Valentine's Day and all the "survival guides" published to mark the day, was this: "Do we really get that close to death if we spend this day alone?" That made me think that the post would be an enlightened one, free of singlism and good for consciousness-raising about the full and meaningful lives of so many people who are living single.

My sense is that Jen Kim thinks she is trying to be fair to single people. For example, she says, "if you want to embrace your singleness, I just happened to jot down a few perks right here." But then look at those perks. They start with the fact that you are less likely to get a sexually transmitted disease and end with the supposedly reassuring message that you really can have someone after all because there are 904 dating services. Those are tips for embracing my singleness?

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Worse, though, are some of the other condescending, caricaturing, insulting claims she makes about people who are single. Here are some examples, all word-for-word from her post:

Jen Kim's 1, 2, 3

1. "Despite the plethora of books out there that declare people to own their single status, let's face it, most people aren't completely satisfied with their vibrators or Youporn."

2. "This scarlet lettering has inspired restaurants to hold anti-Valentine's Day themed dinners for bitter women."

3. Here's her #2 "perk" of single life: "None of your friends will resent you. For those of you in loving, committed relationships that resemble picture frame stock photos, single people hate you, sorry."

These are the words of someone who believes herself to be open-minded but simply cannot fathom the possibility that single people can be secure in their single status. I'll try to offer some beginnings of an explanation here, but I hope Jen Kim will read some truly enlightened books about single life, such as Jaclyn Geller's Here Comes the Bride, Kay Trimberger's The New Single Woman, and my Singled Out and Single with Attitude. (Readers, please add your own favorites in the comments section.)

Bella's corresponding 1, 2, 3

1. I love my single life. I pursue my passions and create the life that is most meaningful to me. I have the balance of sociability and solitude that is right for me. I have "The Ones" rather than "The One" - people in my life who care for me and I for them. Nasty quips about vibrators and Youporn do not speak to what I love about my single life.

2. The "bitter" stereotype is based in the presumption that all singles wish they were coupled. Not so. In a Pew survey (Pew is a research organization, not an advocacy group), the biggest proportion of single people, 55%, said they were not in a committed relationship AND that they were not looking for a partner. (Described more fully on p. 84 of Singled Out.) When you are happily and securely single, you can have dinner on Valentine's Day or any other day without even a wisp of bitterness.

3. I have friends and family who are in loving, committed relationships, including some who are married. I love them. I'm happy for them. The thing is, they are also happy for me. If you are secure in your own status, whether it is single or coupled, then you don't feel hatred toward people who do not share your status or your life choices. What is unfortunate is not the person whose life preferences and choices are different from your own, but the person who has prejudged you as a fragile, bitter, resentful, vibrator-clutching, porn-watching victim because of the life that you lead.

Jen Kim, you had what I presume was a great internship at Psychology Today. Now you are in a terrific journalism program. You will probably have the opportunity to publish lots of pieces about singles and single life in the future. Please use your talent and your humor to write pieces that are smart and insightful.

I appreciated your inclination to question the advice doled out to singles about Valentine's Day. In that spirit, here's an excerpt from my book, Singled Out (pages 104-106), about the silly advice that is offered to singles, and my own version of similar advice for couples:

EXCERPT FROM SINGLED OUT:

If you want to see fools rush in to provide well-meaning advice to hapless single people, buy a ticket for Valentine's Day. One of my favorite examples appeared in USA Weekend in 2003, under the title "How to survive Valentine's Day without a sweetie." Here's what it said.

"Valentine's Day alone need not be depressing or embarrassing; you can survive and even thrive without a lover if you plan accordingly. These tips come from [a] dating guru:

1. Don't just sit at home and mope. Keep your spirits high by getting together with other single friends. Make dinner, watch empowering movies (The War of the Roses is a good one) and talk trash about love.

2. If you have no single friends, take the day for yourself. Do something fun: Take yourself shopping, go for a nice lunch, go to a museum. No errands today!

3. Avoid romantic restaurants and bars. The scene will just remind you of your loneliness.

4. For a little end-of-the-day affection, kiss your pets, if you have any."

The guru is so smart that she knows without asking that if you have arrived at Valentine's Day without a sweetie then you are miserable. Moreover, you are also stupid, and cannot figure out how to survive this tragedy without professional help.

Your first option, if you have some friends who are also losers, is to hide at home with them and cook your own dinner. I would not make fun of the suggestion to watch an empowering movie if the example of a "good one" involved strong, successful, happy singles. Instead, the guru expects singles to be empowered by a story in which a husband runs over his wife's cat, and his wife cooks his dog for dinner, just to spite each other.

If you don't have a sweetie and you don't have any single friends, either, then you will have to play more than one role so you can pretend you are not alone. You get to be the grown up who "takes" the kid out for a really special day, and you also get to be the pathetic single person patted on the head by the indulgent adult.

Even without a sweetie or a single friend, you may still be salvageable. Perhaps you have some pets. If so, then you can kiss them.

If you have no sweetie, no single friends, and no pets, the guru is apparently stumped. She's out of advice.

In fairness, I will admit that USA Weekend did also offer Valentine's Day instructions for people who do have sweeties. Even coupled people need advice if their sweeties turn out to be imperfect. Take, for example, the problem of the "good guy who's a lousy kisser." To "handle" him, you can "stop the kiss as soon as it turns bad" and "without being obvious, use thumbs to clean up after a wet kisser."

Frankly, I think the advice given to the person drowning in their sweetie's kisses should parallel the advice given to singles. Here are some suggestions:

• Keep your spirits high by fantasizing about getting back to your own home where no grown adults will be slobbering all over you.

• Avoid romantic restaurants and bars. They will only remind you of all of the other drooling kissers.

• For a really good kiss, look to your dogs. They are neater."

END OF EXCERPT

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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