This Sunday, February 12, the Washington Post Magazine will feature a long story about people who are single, "The single life: Some people never find the love of their lives. And live to tell about it." It is already available online, under the heading, "Lonely hearts," which is so unfortunate in so many ways, but not least of all because the main theme of the story is not at all "oh, poor me, I'm single."
Let me jump straight to what is the coolest part, with regard to this Living Single blog. The story is mostly about Wendy Braitman, one of the enlightened singles bloggers whose feeds are included in the Single with Attitude website, and who also contributed to the Singlism book. In a shorter section, reporter Ellen McCarthy also talks about yours truly:
"In 10 years, this social psychologist has become the country's leading expert on singledom. She has written three books and attracted a loyal following for her blog on the Psychology Today Web site."
[Since she gave me the opening to do this, my three books are Singled Out, Singlism, and Single with Attitude - yes, the same name as the site featuring the many splendored singles bloggers.]
McCarthy acknowledges that there are people who are single at heart and that I'm one of them. Most of the rest of the story, though, is about people who are single even though they would prefer to be coupled. If that sounds dreary, happily it is not. Here's a key excerpt about Wendy Braitman:
"After several hours in Braitman's comfortable home, with Rose curled up on the couch, it's striking to think about how much of the distress surrounding her singleness stems not from her actual existence, but the reactions of others, whether real or perceived.
'I've survived and had a really full, rich, interesting life," she says. 'Part of writing about it is spreading the good news: Move on, there's nothing to pity here.'
There's no way of knowing how a movie about Braitman's life would end. But perhaps that's not the point. Maybe the point is that it would be surprising, compelling and deep."
Another person McCarthy interviewed was 65-year old Aviva Kempner, a documentary filmmaker. Here's how the reporter concluded that part of her story:
"At the end of our lunch I ask Kempner if solo life is as bad as society would have us believe.
After a beat, she says, 'I think if I found true love now, it would be the icing on the cake - but the cake is still pretty good.'"
I especially like McCarthy's suggestion about the psychology behind the perceptions of people who have stayed single beyond a certain age:
"...when we meet someone who hasn't married by 40 or 50, we want an explanation. So, we assign one: He's a commitment-phobe. She's too picky. They all have 'issues.' Because if there was no reason, it could happen to any of us - and that's not a prospect we're eager to confront."
The idea is similar to one we discussed here previously, about how happy single people pose a threat to people who want to embrace the mythology of marriage (here, here, and here).
There's a lot more to say about this story, but for now, I'll just mention one thing that could be interpreted in a misleading way. It is about that study of happiness over time (reviewed in Chapter 2 of Singled Out), showing that people who get married and stay married only get a brief increase in happiness around the time of the wedding, then go back to being as happy as they were when they were single. McCarthy notes that the people who stayed single end up less happy than those who are in the married group, adding that Singled Out "does not dwell on" that.
Those of you in the loyal following of this blog probably already know the problem with that claim. For any newcomers, it is this: The married group only includes those who got married and stayed married! Those who married, hated it, and got divorced, are set aside - and in fact, their happiness levels are lower than those of the people who stayed single the whole time. So if you got married and didn't like being married, you can step aside and not have your lower happiness levels ruin the married-people's supposed happiness. But if you are single, it doesn't matter if you want to be or not - everyone's happiness is included in those calculations. Even with that technique that so clearly makes getting married look better than it really is, those who stayed single end up squarely on the happy end of the scale.
Anyway, read the whole story if you are interested, and let us all know what you think. Also, remember that survey I mentioned? There's a separate article about the results - I haven't even gotten to that yet.