Kate Bolick's cover story in the Atlantic magazine, "All the Single Ladies," is a real blockbuster. It soared to the top of the most popular list at the magazine when it first came out and has not budged since. In less than two weeks, it has been recommended more than 22,000 times on Faceboook. The author has appeared on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, Gayle King, Morning Joe, NPR, and probably tons more.
I knew it was coming and couldn't wait to read it. As soon as it appeared online I printed it - it came to 19 pages. There was lots of great stuff on every page (and some not-so-great stuff - maybe I'll discuss that some other time), but I kept waiting for the real story to begin - the one about single life and not about the marriage market.
That didn't happen until page 13, when Bolick said of her own single life:
"If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional, perhaps I'd be a little...happier. Perhaps I could actually get down to the business of what it means to be a real single woman."
At that point, the story really picked up. We learn what Living Single readers have long known - that the stereotypes of single women have little in common with the real-life single women. We hear about single women living their single lives fully - buying homes, engaging with children if they so desire (sometimes as parents, often in other roles such as aunts), maintaining personal communities in which friends often figure prominently, and exploring new ways of balancing sociability with solitude.
Kate Bolick did not stick to her own demographic. She spent time with African-American singles and low-income singles. She traveled to Amsterdam to visit a set of 106 apartments, all for women living solo, and dating back to the 12th century. In her research, she also traveled back in time, to explore single living at different points in history.
To get to the story of "all the single ladies" actually living their single lives, though, we first read 12 pages about marriage, and especially the marriage market. Women are becoming more successful in their educational achievements and jobs and professions, while men are becoming less so. So will women begin to "marry down"? How are the changing relationships between the sexes changing the nature and appeal of marriage to women and men? What about our ever-evolving sexual standards? What about that ticking clock, available only in pink?
I have been studying single life for well over a decade, and I have never written about the changing sex ratios or the marriage market except in the context of discussing other people's offerings on those topics. Why not?
If you are single at heart, as I am, none of that matters. I just don't care how many potential marriage partners there might be out there. I don't care if they are shorter than me or have less education or a lower professional status. Married life (or coupled life, without the legalities) does not suit me. Single is who I really am.
That's why I want to see a blockbuster article or book that begins and ends with single life. Kate Bolick's approach, though, may be a necessary chapter in the narrative. It is, perhaps, a transitional piece. It's a huge step forward from that awful 2008 Atlantic story admonishing all us single women to settle (not that the 2008 author herself has done so, as far as I know), but is not yet a story that embraces single life without angst or tears.
My sense is that Kate Bolick is doing for single life what Sasha Cagen did for the single-at heart - providing the bridge to the 21st century of single life. Sasha Cagen named for us the quirkyalones - those singles who will not date for the sake of dating, and love lots of aspects of single life, but who ultimately are head-over-heels romantics once the right person comes along. That so many people embraced the quirkyalone concept is good for all of us who want to make the case for being single-at-heart - a concept likely to meet with far more resistance.
Thanks, Kate and Sasha.
[Note: My personal website, www.BellaDePaulo.com, started misbehaving while I was traveling last week, as did the blog, "All Things Single (and More)," that is part of the site. Both are working fine now. My apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced. Also, if you have not yet checked out the new site, Single with Attitude, aggregating blogs and resources about single life, please do. And please let me know right away if you have any problems with any of these sites.]