Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

National Singles Week: 16 Reasons Why We Need It

Celebrating single life, not escaping it

Today is the start of National Singles Week, September 15-21 (sometimes called National Unmarried and Single Americans Week), but don't expect to find any greeting cards to celebrate it. That's okay about the cards - I don't care about them. But I do care about increasing awareness of the truth about single life. We need National Singles Week because we need consciousness-raising.

1. We need it because living single is how we spend the better part of our adult lives. Americans now spend more years unmarried than married. But even if we spent only a sliver of our lives single, we should be able to use that sliver to pick any door or puncture any myth.

2. We need it because what it means to live single has changed dramatically over the past half-century, but our perceptions have been left in the dust. Bogus stereotypes rule, and they need to be dethroned.

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3. We need it because fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you are a plastic Barbie or Ken doll or you play one on TV. If you are a real person, you are no more likely to live happily ever after if you get married than you were when you were single. We need to know that.

4. We need it because the media has grabbed onto the Marriage Myth Express and taken it for a long and silly ride. I don't just mean the dopey shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. The press does us wrong even in reporting the news. As I've been documenting in my blogs and my books, media descriptions of the latest scientific studies consistently add a little glitter to the any results that look good for married people, while batting away any promising findings about single people.

5. We need it because our educational institutions - those colleges and universities that should be at the leading edge of scholarship and critical thinking - have been just as smitten by the marital mythology as the rest of society. Those bastions of higher learning are filled with courses, degree programs, textbooks, journals, endowed chairs, research funding and all the other components of the intellectual industry that is the study of marriage. As for the other 44% of the adult population, we're still waiting for the scholarly spotlight to shine as brightly on us.

6. We need it because we are shorted on the 1,136 federal benefits, protections, and privileges that are available only to people who are legally married. We need it because there is housing discrimination and there are tax penalties and pay disparities linked to marital status.

7. We need it not just for the privileges and protections but also for the opportunities to give and to care. Because I am single and don't have any children, no one can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for me if I fall ill. That's a missing protection. But I also can't take time off under the same Act to care for a person who is important to me, such as a sibling, a nephew, or a close friend.

8. We need it because there are now 103 million of us, and even without any of the opportunities offered to married people by policies such as FMLA, we are doing more than our share. In some significant ways, more of the work of holding together our networks, families, and communities,  sustaining intergenerational ties, and caring for people who cannot care for themselves is done by single people than by married people.

9. We need it because we have untapped political potential. We don't vote as often as married people do. If that changed, so would some of the most regressive policies in the nation.

10. We need it because if single life were taken more seriously, then the relationship life of all people, single and married and everyone in between or on the side or undecided, would be expanded and enriched. Follow the finger of married people as they point to an important person in their life and you will end up staring at a spouse. Follow the finger of a single person and you may find yourself gazing at a close friend or a sibling or cousin or a mentor or a neighbor. Look more closely at that person and maybe you will newly appreciate the importance of the entire category that person represents. Friends are hardly "just friends."

11. We need it because single people who live solo can show us that living alone is not the same as feeling alone. They remind us of something that is too seldom acknowledged in a society that so celebrates the buzz of social life, something that people of all marital statuses can appreciate - that solitude can be sweet.

12. We need it because the de-stigmatizing of single life does not undermine marriage, it strengthens it. When single people can live their lives with all of the same respect, benefits, protections, and opportunities as people who are married, then those who want to marry are free. They can pursue marriage for the right reasons - not to run away from the stigma of being single, but to embrace the attractions of being married.

13. We need it because, when it comes to kids, love is the answer. Single parents can give quite a lot of that. Add all the other important people in the lives of single parents and their kids, and then you truly have a whole lot of love.

14. We need National Singles Week to change the default setting for the meaning of the word “single,” so that the next time you type it into your search engine, the first result to appear on your screen is not “Top 10 Dating Sites.”

15. We need it because the rise of single people, and of people living alone, is an unprecedented demographic revolution that is changing the way we live, the way we love, the way we vote, the way we do business, the way we age, and the way we think about what constitutes a meaningful life. A week for taking these trends seriously hardly seems like enough.

16. We need to value single people because that's what progressive nations do. They look for the people who have been marginalized and diminished, and invite them into the center of society. That way, we can all live happily ever after.

Happy Singles Week.

[Notes: This is the third blogfest organized by CLUE, the Communication League for Unmarried Equality. The CLUE organizers are Cindy Butler, the Executive Director of Unmarried Equality, Christina Campbell and Lisa A. of Onely, Eleanore Wells of The Spinsterlicious Life, and yours truly. For those of you who use hashtags, the tags for this event are #singles week and #singlesblogfest. Our first blogfest was on the topic of economic discrimination against single people. The dozens of people who participated, and the links to their posts, are here. The second theme was independence – and interdependence – in the lives of people who are single. Here are the participating posts from that event. If you blog about single life (living it and not trying to escape it) and would like to be included in this blogfest or any future ones, just contact me or one of the other CLUE members. Finally, I don’t often cross-post, but to mark Singles Week, I will be posting this in several places.]

[On another topic: The New York Times just published “Living apart together.” I wrote about that topic in “Why would committed couples live apart when they don’t have to” and I will also be writing about it for my new book project.]

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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