Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Will Mate-trimony Make It Fashionable to Be Single?

Selling singlehood by putting a price tag on friendship

I like to talk about single people and singles’ issues in terms of values like meaningfulness, authenticity, choice, and social justice. People who live their best, most meaningful, most authentic lives as single people – the single-at-heart – should be able to do so joyfully and unapologetically. All people who are single, whether they want to be or not, should get to be treated fairly and they should be free of singlism, the stigma and shame that others sometimes try to impose upon them just because they are single.

That all sounds very nice, but it hasn’t worked all that well in terms of, say, getting people to flock to Unmarried Equality to declare their commitment to equal rights for single people. We haven’t seen all that much progress in getting new laws that recognize the lives of single people, or expanding the ones we have to let single people in on the benefits and protections that married people already have. (Here’s an important exception.)

Maybe it is my motives that are getting in the way. I hate to even consider this possibility, but what if people and organizations motivated solely or primarily by profits are better at “selling” singlehood than those of us who care about things like social justice and quality of life?

I started thinking about this because an article by UK blogger and author Paula Coston alerted me to a report on the rise of singledom in the UK. (Thanks, Paula! Readers, you will hear more from her soon.) This was no dispassionate review written by scholars in academic jargon. Instead, it came from confused.com, which describes itself as “on a mission to save you money.” What they really seem to be trying to do in the report is to create a new market for insurance. That new market is going to have single people and their friends at the center.

The report is based on a survey (legitimate, I think – not a push poll, for instance) documenting the importance of friendship to single people. For example, they found that huge proportions of singles say they have people they expect to be friends for life; they also think friendships last longer than romantic relationships. Many also say they turn first to friends for emotional support.

Combine (a) those findings and others like them with (b) the growing number of single people and (c) the substantial percentage of single people who say they do not expect to marry, ever, and the report comes up with a suggestion: Let’s have “mate-trimony”! Because, as their tag line puts it, “Mates matter more.”

Consider this bold statement about friendships versus marital relationships: “In the future, we could see friendships among single people recognised as relationships that work, while marriage increasingly fails.”

The report is good at acronyms and slogans. In addition to “mate-trimony” there are also some new events in the lives of people who marry their friends: “frennymoons” and “frenniversaries,” for instance. And how are these married friends going to live? They will engage in “MOSHing” – “Multiple Occupant Shared Home.” (That seems like an overly complicated way of saying that the friends will live together, but no matter.)

Interspersed in the pages of positive depictions of single people and their friends are what I see as the sales pitches. For example:

  • “In the future we may see new products created, tailored to meet the needs of friends or groups of friends who wish to protect jointly-owned assets and pooled incomes.”
  • “Relationship status on passports and census forms could include mate-trimony as an option, next of kin will automatically be friends, and more and more singles will protect their most important relationships – their friendships – with life insurance.”
  •  “…MOSHing is redefining the traditional household structure, and the insurance needs of friends investing together.”
  • “MOSHers will take out life insurance on their fellow MOSHers to make sure that they are covered in the case of death.”

When I think about extending legal protections to friends, these are not the ones I think of first. I would like to see the kinds of benefits and protections that same-sex married couples now have, become available to friends as well. For example, as it stands, single people with no dependents cannot leave their Social Security benefits to anyone after they die – that money goes back into the system. I think they should be able to designate a beneficiary, such as a close friend or sibling or anyone else important to them. But maybe if insurance companies are persuaded of the financial advantages of offering the kinds of policies suggested by confused.com, then other benefits and protections will start to seem worth advocating for as well.

[Note: You can find more of my writings about friendship here.]

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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