When I’m ambivalent about addressing a particular topic, sometimes hearing from readers tips the balance. That just happened with Sara Eckel’s new book, It’s not you: 27 (wrong) reasons you’re single, and the press about it. Enough people have asked me what I think that I just had to take a look.
I was reluctant because I have an aversion to the “why are you single” genre and that tainted my expectations, even knowing that Eckel was out to debunk all those patronizing, contradictory, and inaccurate nuggets of advice that are offered to single people, supposedly to help them become unsingle. Also, having written an article called, “The last ‘why are you single’ list you will ever need”—plus an array of posts on related themes (see below)—it did seem to be time to move on.
On the other hand, I knew she was a good writer from some of her previous work. Plus, she checked with me before the book went to print on what she wanted to say about my writings on single life. That meant two more points in her favor—she was including my point of view, and she cared about accuracy.
Sara Eckel is writing from a very different perspective than my own—she got married at 39, and really wanted to be married much sooner. I never want to get married and never did want to marry. So reading about her experiences and those of her single friends, some of whom also stayed single well into their 30s (or are still single but do not want to be), was a bit like delving into anthropology. Oh, so that’s what it’s like?
I think I’ve missed out on a lot of pain. Again and again, Eckel talks about how lonely and distressing it was to spend still another Saturday evening home alone watching TV. Each time, I thought about how much I enjoy spending Saturday evenings home alone watching Netflix. Not that I’d want to spend every night like that—I enjoy my time out with friends (and family when we’re on the same coast), or home watching Netflix with them, and I like to do other things, too. But I never once have felt badly because it was Saturday night and I did not have a romantic partner.
Now I have felt badly about being excluded from social events when many of my friends were coupled and they socialized mostly only with other couples. I objected to needing a romantic partner to be included, not to not having such a partner.
Sara Eckel is an engaging writer who lets her vulnerabilities show. I have been reading her book and her other related writings with more interest than I had anticipated. The best thing about her writings, for me, is that she never forgets that not everyone wants to be coupled, and that plenty of single people are living the life that is right for them.
Here are a few examples. First, from an essay in Salon:
“…women are delaying and forgoing marriage because they can.” [Note how she includes not just women who are delaying marriage but also those who are forgoing it.]
“…what is perhaps most impressive about single women today is their ability to build rich, meaningful lives without any sort of blueprint. It takes courage to stay true to yourself when so many voices are telling you to follow a more conventional path.”
Now, here are just a few of the many examples from It’s Not You:
“As I speak with other people who stayed single well into their adulthood—and whose unattached state was not a choice….” [notice the important qualifier]
“When you are a single person who would rather not be…” [again, notice that she makes it clear that she is not talking about all single people]
[Here, she makes that point explicitly:] “I don’t presume to speak for all singles. Of course, many people are happily unattached or are searching but don’t trouble themselves with the question, ‘What’s wrong?’”
[Also here:] “…I certainly know that there are plenty of people who genuinely adore their solo life—the freedom, the travel, the deep peace that comes from living in a home where everything is arranged exactly as you like it.”
I don’t love the use of the term “unattached” to refer to single people, since most single people do have genuine attachment relationships—they just aren’t attached to a spouse. But I think she does recognize that point, as when she notes that a sense of intimacy, closeness, and connection “doesn’t necessarily have to come from a romantic partnership.”
I’ve been talking mostly about the tone of the book, but I also appreciated the substance. Consider, for example, her analysis of the double standard with regard to credit for the tasks you do as a single person versus a married one. As a married person, she notes, her husband does some of the things she had to cover when she was single. Yet, you can “still get full credit for being an adult—more credit than if you were handling everything on your own…In many ways, I was never more adult than when I was single.”
In a way, what Eckel is trying to do in Its Not You is the same thing I set out to do in Singled Out (and in my blogs and other writings)—bust myths about single people. Eckel, though, draws mostly from her own experiences and those of her friends, whereas I rely more heavily on scientific data. I think the two approaches can complement each other.
Here are some of my previous writings on the ‘why are you single’ topic:
Here are some of my myth-busting writings:
[Note: Thanks to Sheila, Psyngle, and others who do not want to be named, who emailed me about the book and other writings about it.]