Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Single Forever: Stories and Insights from Gay Men

Singlism isn’t just for straights

Just days ago, a comment contributed to one of my posts alerted me to Steven Bereznai's book, Gay and single...forever? I immediately ordered it, and once I got it, I did not want to read anything else until I finished it. It strikes me as fitting that Gay and single was published the same year that Singled Out first appeared in print.

There are some big differences between Bereznai's book and mine. Bereznai's recognition that he might be single forever was initially fraught with trepidation: What sort of fate was this? Would he be able to get his needs met as a single person? When I first realized I would stay single forever, I think I experienced something more akin to peace and joy. Single is who I was, and that wasn't going to change. So that's one difference. Another is that my book includes no gay sex.

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What I loved about Gay and single were the many observations, values, and attitudes Bereznai and I did share. I appreciated the questions the author answered for me, his historical perspective, and even the quotes he used to introduce each chapter.

Single gay men, I learned, are targets of some of the same kinds of stereotypes that other singles are - and they, too, are at risk for taking those charges a bit too seriously. Bereznai tells of wondering whether there really is something wrong with him because he is single (as others imply). He tells people that he had a boyfriend but they broke up - because it is easier to tell a lie about having had a long-term conjugal relationship and lost it than to tell the truth about never having had one at all. His mom is OK with him being gay but worries that as a single person, he may grow old alone. He's also heard the one about how he's "too picky."

The playwright Paul Rudnick captures Bereznai's sense of what it means to be single in contemporary society:

"Being gay and single is the new smoking. It won't be socially acceptable anymore, and you will have to go outside."

Once upon a time, in the gay community, single was good. Singles did not need to apologize for their status. People did not ask them why they were single. "The gay movement of the 70s," the author explains,

"recognized that the stigma of homos and singles were twin oppressions from a single source - heterosexual couplehood - and so took aim at many of the assumptions of marriage and other forms of traditional pair bonds."

But now, Bereznai notes,

"In the shadow of gay marriage...More and more single gay men are buffeted by a variety of internal and external forces to buddy up, oftentimes with consequences not unlike those of the closet: a sense of shame, failure, and a quiet (or not so quiet) desperation."

He understands the importance of the benefits and protections sought by advocates of same-sex marriage, but he cautions that the equality they are seeking

"...is equality in a system that is in and of itself inequitable, as straight singles have long known."

The title of the book ends with a question mark: Gay and single...forever? Bereznai has a question about the question mark, and he ponders it throughout the book:

"...is this question mark a reflection of a true desire for a relationship or the lingering uncertainty from the relationship propaganda that surrounds us?"

For his book, the author interviewed dozens of men. He took seriously the matter of being single forever:

"It can strike at the heart of one's assumptions of one's life course, where one ought to be by a certain age, and fundamentally it forces one to ponder how one intends to spend one's life without the assumption of coupledom."

The book is a thoughtful and engaging account of what Bereznai has learned. Here are just a few of my favorite quotes:

  • "...the idea of couplehood as the road to fulfillment, as a condition of entering into 'maturity,' and as the love of all loves, must be challenged."
  • "Could it be that the promise of coupled happiness is leading to misery as singles wait to be happy?"
  • "...we do need single role models, if only to know that it's possible to be gay and single and happy and dignified."
  • About solitude: "...I wonder if some of us simply get our comforting opiates from the Zen of solitude, free from the bustle of mindless chatter and the demands partners often seem to place on each other, robbing one of the possibility of immersing oneself in the pleasure of one's own company."
  • About friendship: "...there is commitment within this kind of long-term relationship." [Rather than saying just a friend:] "We should say just a boyfriend, because the friendship lasts longer."
  • About different kinds of living arrangements and different meanings of family: Bereznai describes the 66-year old Wayson Choy who "currently co-owns two houses, with two different families, one with his 'city family' and one with his 'country family.' In both cases they are a straight couple with one or more kids, and Choy is their godfather. The houses aren't split up into apartments, they live together."
  • For Bereznai, contemplating a life-long singlehood meant "looking at how, instead of coming out of the closet to be myself, I have spent more than a decade constructing the façade of the person I thought gay guys would want to date."
  • What did he do once he stopped pursuing a boyfriend so insistently? "Instead, I pursued my own interests, put more time into family and friends, focused on my writing, slowly settling into the quiet calm and comfort of being a single gay man."

Steven Bereznai

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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