Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Do Your Parents Dream About Your Wedding Day? The Highbrow Media Dreams Small, Too

The rise of singles is the feature story still unwritten

The first time I ever gave a talk about singles to a big audience, a man came up to me afterwards and told me that he has a happily single sister, but his mother still prays every night that she will find a husband. He wasn't the first to tell me a story like that.

I think the assumption that everyone is heterosexual is going to fall before the assumption that everyone wants to get married. The former is already limping. The ongoing and very salient debate over same-sex marriage, together with other high-profile discussions and projects, such as Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign, have given pause to at least some people about to ask a woman if she has a special man in her life, or a man if he has a wife. They realize that a person's romantic partner could be of the same sex, and occasionally adjust their queries accordingly. But rarely does it occur to the questioners that nabbing a romantic partner of any variety may not be every person's goal.

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By aiming conversational volleys in the same predictable direction every time, our partners in small talk miss out on all of the other big things going on in our lives - all of our other interests, passions, and pursuits. We need to be ready to volunteer our own stories, lest we be altercast into caricatures of ourselves.

The same sort of narrow-minded singlism plays out routinely in the media. In a recent New Yorker, for example, Nick Paumgarten wrote a long article titled, "Looking for someone: Sex, love, and loneliness on the internet." Twelve pages, plus one full-page illustration, were devoted to the conventional matrimaniacal theme. The reporter followed the bright fuzzy tennis ball into the corner of the court, urging all eyes to follow the scantily-clad players who pursued it. In doing so, he remained oblivious to the rest of the playing field, and all of the other courts of our lives.

The big story of 21st century life is not that people look for romantic partners online instead of the old-fashioned ways. It is that the greatly increased number of years that Americans spend single (together with people from many other lands) is revolutionizing the way we live our lives. How about that for a feature story?

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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