Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

What You Miss by Doing What Everyone Else Does

A new take on “you don’t know what you’re missing”

An unlikely figure graced the cover of a recent issue of Hollywood Reporter. Rachel Maddow, the highly successful host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, is not exactly your standard-issue female anchor with blond hair, predictable prettiness, short skirts, and high heels. Instead, she is tall, with short dark hair and wears simple blazers. She is also, as the Hollywood Reporter notes, "the first openly gay person to host a primetime news program."

Rachel lives with her partner Susan and is not shy about mentioning Susan on her show. In a publication with a name like The Hollywood Reporter, you know what question she is going to get asked—when are you two getting married?

Rachel uses her platform to push relentlessly for rights for the LGBT community. With regard to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, for instance, she just never gave up. But when she gets asked The Question, here's what she says, "We know a lot of people who have gotten married but I don't think we feel any urgency about it."

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Later she admits that she's actually ambivalent about the cultural impact of gay marriage.

"I feel that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships," she explains. "And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture."

As single people, we are often lectured on what we are supposedly missing by not being married (and if we are not parents, by not having children). What I love about Rachel Maddow's observations is that they raise the flip side of that perspective, a side that is so very rarely addressed - what married people miss by not being single. Or, more broadly, what people miss when they just go ahead and do what everyone else does.  

If you are single—especially if you are living your single life fully, joyfully, and without apology, rather than simply looking to become unsingle—think of all that you have in your life that you may have missed out on (or marginalized) if you were married in the conventional sense. If you married and practiced intensive coupling, whereby you and your spouse aspire to be everything to each other, it is true that you would have each other (well, for as long as your union lasts), but what would you not have?

For example:

  • Would you have the same personal community that you have now? Perhaps you have friends, relatives, neighbors, mentors, coworkers and other people who are important to you, and to whom you devote as much or as little time and attention as you like. You have friends, and you can, if you want to, spend more time with them because you do not have friends-in-law. Friends-in-law are those people who come attached to the person you really do like, when that person is coupled and does not like to venture out without the other half.
  • Would you have the same potential to indulge in sweet solitude, spending time on your own when that is what you prefer?
  • Would you have a place of your own, or a part of a place that is organized and adorned in the way that best suits you, including the option of not organizing it or not adorning it at all?
  • Would you have the job you wanted most (of those that you could obtain) or would you have the job that you would have to settle for in order to accommodate a spouse's wishes?
  • Would you have pursued your passions in the ways you do now?
  • Would you be able to manage your time and your interests in the way you do now?
  • Would you be living where you most want to live (within your resources)?

This is just a partial list. What can you add?

 

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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