Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Who Is the True Avatar of the Lonely Crowd – the Single Person or the Couple?

Alone as “all one,” not lonely

Today marks the beginning of National Singles Week (or, Unmarried and Single Americans Week). The week is especially festive thanks to the recent publication of Michael Cobb’s Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled.

I’m a social scientist, so my arguments typically come from scientific research. I also greatly appreciate perspectives from other disciplines. Cobb is a Professor of English; his book is a work of literary criticism.

The introduction to Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled is an accessible overview of the author’s point of view, complete with a terrific take on Beyonce’s “All the single ladies,” a critique of John Cacioppo’s book on loneliness, some provocative questions about the ways people reacted to Sex and the City, and a whole lot more. I’ll focus on that here. (With no expertise in literary criticism, I found the subsequent chapters more challenging, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that you would.)

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Michael Cobb is “sick and tired of the single person being the avatar of the lonely crowd.” We have screwed-up beliefs about loneliness, he argues, especially as it relates to being single vs. coupled. He refuses to accept the stereotype of singles as lonely and pathetic:

“They may not be lonely – they may just want to be antisocial, or they may just want to relate to others outside the supreme logic of the couple.” (p. 32)

Professor Cobb also rejects the premise that a book about singles has to be a book about sex:

“I want to suspend questions of sex, sexuality, and courtship to open the possibilities of other questions about what it means to be single, to be in solitude, with no immediate relational/sexual prospects, or the couple’s narrative and historical belonging, in sight.” (p. 31)

Here are a few more of my favorite quotes from the introductory chapter:

  • “…the American citizen is not a he or a she, but a ‘we’ [and] not ‘we the people’ but ‘we the couple’ (and a couple ideally with kids).” (p. 19)
  • “The loneliest of us are not necessarily those of us who are actually alone but rather those of us trying our hardest not to be alone…” (p. 21)
  • “the single can be a figure that offers us not only a private room but room, roominess, as opposed to the crowded touch of the couple” (pp. 36-37)
  • “The single can teach us how to be alone – ‘all one,’ as the word alone etymologically suggests.”
  • “…an isolation free of loneliness could ideally give…the capacity to be productive and creative…” (p. 39)
  • “I wonder if by shifting the focus, by making the couple, rather than the single, the avatar of the lonely crowd, we can discover figures that are alone but not lonely, not menaced by the feelings of loneliness that push most of us into the couple, which is really the crowd…” (p. 22)

Michael Cobb’s work is that rare academic book that becomes the topic of some engaging discussions in the media. I wrote about some of them in the two posts listed below, so I’ll end this post here.

Happy Singles Week! Check out The 102 Million Singles March and other posts still to come on the topic.

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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