Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

It Just Hasn’t Happened Yet?

Would you give up control if you could avoid blame?

Newly published last month is the latest suggestion about how to respond when other people offer explanations as to why you are still single. Karin Anderson's book is called It just hasn't happened yet: bogus, ridiculous, absurd explanations as to why you're still single and how to deal with them plus a few silly things we do to ourselves.

Stylistically, the book is a quick, easy read that is never boring. But it is too often spoiled by taking as truth what I call a myth -- the assumption that what every single person wants more than anything else is to become unsingle. For example, on p. 134, Anderson says, "despite the fact we don't need a man, we want one - bad. And when we don't have one, we feel it - bad." There's also this, from p. 109: "All the single women I know make regular and concerted overtures to meet men."

The book was interesting to me, then, not at face value as self-help, but as an example of how people write for and about singles in this, the 21st century. First, like so many other books about singles, the focus is on single women. They are the ones with the problem. (Or maybe they are just more likely to buy self-help books.) Second, the author assumes that other people are too quick to offer "explanations" as to why single people are single, and that single people sometimes do a number on themselves. She's right, of course, that single status is often regarded as a deficit that needs a remedy, and it is sad that this is still true. (When I first started looking for academic research on singles, I was dismayed to find a 1977 article in a sociology journal subtitled, "the bachelor as a social problem.")

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In each chapter, Anderson takes on a bogus explanation, or something singles do to themselves, and shoots it down. For example, Chapter 2 is called, "Your mother is wrong! You don't need to lose 10 pounds or wear a little more make-up;" Chapter 3 has the title, "You're not too picky! You're choosing a life partner - aren't you supposed to be selective;" and Chapter 9 suggests that you "Take a break from online dating! It's just a singles bar in cyberspace."

Each of the chapters ends the same way - with the assurance that there is nothing you need to do or stop doing, there is nothing you need to change, and there is nothing wrong with you. Rather, "It just hasn't happened yet."

I appreciate some of the implications that Anderson draws from her analyses. For example, she notes that a "problem with thinking too much about guys and rehashing our relationships (or lack thereof) is that it prevents us from appreciating all the fantastic things going on in our lives now. We ignore our good health, our fabulous friends, our stimulating jobs, and our rapidly improving tennis game. We dismiss all this and exist in limbo, acting as if our lives won't actually begin until we secure a serious relationship. What a waste of a fab life!"

Jill Reynolds, whose book I discussed in the last two posts (here and here) likes to ask what it means to think about our single status in different kinds of ways. Some of the single women she interviewed echoed Anderson in saying that it just hadn't happened yet. Reynolds identifies this quandary in the "hasn't happened yet" approach: "In general, if things just don't happen, there should be no blame to deal with. Things not happening cannot be your fault. Yet things not happening can also leave the speaker a victim of circumstance, carried along by fate." As Anderson herself notes, we like to think we have more control than that.

I guess my bottom line frustration is that there is still a need (or at least a perceived need) for books like Anderson's. If it is not clear what a different state of affairs would be like, use my reversal heuristic. (And thanks to the people who do just that in the comments they post - I always love it!) For example, would you expect to find an offering with this title in your local bookstore: "It just happened: bogus, ridiculous, absurd explanations as to why you got married and how to deal with them plus a few silly things we do to ourselves"? When Karin Anderson's title sounds as ludicrous and unlikely as this hypothetical one does, that's when we will know we've come a long way.

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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