Being Single in 2018: What Happened?
2018 was (mostly) a very good year for living, rather than escaping, single life
Posted Jan 02, 2019
I’ve been studying single people and single life for about two decades. Sometimes the persistence of stereotypes, myths, and discrimination is discouraging. And yet, I also think there have been significant advances toward more affirming and accurate discussions of what it means to be single.
In many ways, 2018 was a good year for single people. Some important books were published, singlism got called out in some big ways, some useful debunking was accomplished, and there were other affirming and intriguing developments as well. Of course, there were also some disappointments.
Here’s my round-up of 2018. In my next post, I’ll share what I already know is going to happen in 2019.
Some Important Books Were Published
The year 2018 brought an impressive crop of books relevant to single people and single life. Some are directly relevant to single people, and others are about topics especially relevant to single life, such as friendship and solitude. Other noteworthy books are mentioned in the section on singlism. (I’m skipping over the books that are about being single while looking for a romantic partner, since I care most about living the single life and not trying to escape it.)
Here, first, are the books from 2018 that I’ve read:
- No one tells you this, by Glynnis MacNicol. (Discussed here.)
- Leftover in China: The women shaping the world’s next superpower, by Roseann Lake. (Discussed here.)
- The art of not falling apart, by Christina Patterson. (Discussed here.)
- Alone time: Four seasons, four cities, and the pleasures of solitude, by Stephanie Rosenbloom. (Discussed here and here.)
- Text me when you get home: The evolution and triumph of modern female friendship, by Kayleen Schaefer. (Discussed here.)
And here are some others that I haven’t yet finished (or haven’t even started – but looking forward to reading):
- One: Valuing the single life, by Clare Payne. (So far, a very good book; I’ll write about it once I finish it.)
- Go solo: How to have fun without the plus one, by Michelle Ponto
- The art of living alone & loving it, by Jane Mathews
- The new old maid: Satisfied single women, by Maureen Paraventi
A Good Year for Solitude, Friendship, and More Expansive Thinking about Relationships, Family, and Ways of Living
A good year for single people is evident not just when singles are discussed directly in an affirming way, but also when aspects of their lives that are often marginalized are instead recognized and celebrated. We saw that in the books that were published (discussed above) as well as the essays, analyses, and scholarly articles that appeared in 2018.
In 2018, solitude got some of the respect it deserves, providing a much-needed counterpoint to all the obsessing about loneliness. (Loneliness is significant, but it is also important to recognize that time alone is often experienced as sweet, sweet solitude.) Solitude made it into some wonderful essays and analyses (discussed here). Scholars delved into it, too, showing, for example, that there are different motivations for seeking solitude and that pure solitude can be calming.
Friendship and relationships other than romantic ones
The important people in our lives include so many varieties other than just romantic partners. This was a good year for acknowledging friendships and other important non-romantic relationships in essays and books. Researchers jumped in, too, showing, for example, that friendship may be sweeter when you are single.
More open-minded thinking about relationships also means challenging the usual relationship hierarchy and scripts for being in relationships. It also means putting sex in its places, whether that involves acknowledging that young adults are having less sex, that some people just aren’t all that interested, or that some are quite interested but not that smitten by monogamy.
Different kinds of families, different ways of living
The families we choose have never been more important. In 2018, that point has more often been acknowledged. The different meanings of home and family and different ways of living that I documented a few years ago in How We Live Now have continued to be discussed as more and more people are exploring ways of moving beyond nuclear family living.
The Family Story Project continues to do important work on the many ways to do family and live a good life. They are also great at exposing biases in the media that perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
Singlism Got Recognized in Some Big Ways
- What better evidence do you need than the fact that Brides magazine (Brides!) published a story called, Are you guilty of singlism?.
- More seriously, singlism got called out in documentaries. Without using the word singlism, Libby Coleman described two criteria that need to be met in order for documentaries to get a passing grade on being reasonably free of singlism. (I discussed that here.)
- A new Facebook group was created, Fairness for Single People, for sharing examples of singlism to protest – as well as examples of positive practices to applaud.
- A 2018 analysis of employment trends by the Center for American Progress showed that single people are being left behind. They are more economically insecure than married people.
- In his new book, Has the gay movement failed?, Martin Duberman argued that marriage equality was too small a dream. The legalization of same-sex marriage created some positive changes, but it perpetuates the unfair practice of doling out benefits and protections based on marital status. That issue is also making waves in the UK.
- In Enduring bonds: Inequality, marriage, parenting, and everything else that makes families great and terrible, Philip N. Cohen takes apart destructive myths about single-parent families and much more. (Discussed in “Less marriage, more equality?”)
- Probably the biggest strides were made in pointing out singlism in health care. At Healthline, the article, “How medical professionals discriminate against single people,” was, if I remember correctly, the most popular article on the site for about a week. Health Psychologist, a publication of the Health Psychology division of the American Psychological Association, published Singlism in American Medicine: Patients without Partners Face Stereotyping and Discrimination. Other examples are here and here.
- Single people typically have fewer ways of accessing health insurance than married people do, so perhaps it is not surprising that some people really do marry for health insurance, as research shows. There was one ray of hope amidst all this documentation of the ways in which single people are disadvantaged in the health care system. A new study showed that Obamacare improved the lives of single people, though much remains to be done.
Some Useful Debunking
- Do you believe in the power of the “success sequence”? Maybe you shouldn’t.
- Do you think single people are selfish? You may just have that exactly wrong.
- Want to pin the blame for the supposed epidemic of loneliness on single people or people who live alone? Nope. Not anymore.
Some Other Affirming or Intriguing Developments for Single People in 2018
New research shows that people no longer believe that you need to be married or have kids to be fulfilled. And don’t try to shame young adults about being single – they’re not having it.
We also learned something we probably already suspected – that single people value freedom more than married people do. But the study added an intriguing twist – single people also get more happiness out of their valuing of freedom.
The Washington Post is continuing to do what every major publication should: publish a blog devoted to single life. I usually ignore the posts at Solo-ish (and everywhere else) about dating, but when about a half-dozen people sent me links to this one, I realized why it is worth taking a look at them now and again: Tinder and OkCupid have given up on finding you a soul mate. Even their ads admit it.
The online Community of Single People, started in 2015 for single people who want to live their single lives fully and joyfully and not obsess about dating, is still going strong.
Some affirming themes have made their way into popular culture. My wise sources from the Community of Single People tell me that “Black Panther” featured some badass women who were unpartnered and had no need for a partner and that on “Alone Together,” a TV show on Freeform, a man and a woman are best friends and never turn into romcom clichés. On the other hand, “RBG” was marred by all the hubby stuff (the author of the article about documentaries, mentioned above, thought so, too) and “Book Club” pushed four women into romantic relationships when they had been doing just fine on their own.
In 2018, we also learned more about the politics of single people. For example, a study showed that when congressional representatives have more people in their district who have never been married, they are less likely to support Trump’s agenda.
Not all of the singles-relevant news from 2018 was good news. Here are some of the low points.
- People who should know better continue to say that getting married makes people happier and healthier and better off in all sorts of ways. No, it doesn’t.
- There are college courses in which students get course credit for dating. Seriously. Here’s one example.
- Much to its everlasting shame, an academic journal published one of the world’s most egregiously bad studies, supposedly telling us something about single men. It was based on a Reddit thread. I made fun of it here.
- As has been true for a long time, people who write about single people or singlism do not always acknowledge the ideas and contributions that came before theirs. In some instances, maybe they don’t know about them. (In her memoir, “No One Tells You This,” MacNicol admits to not realizing it was possible to live a good life as a single person.) That’s why we need Singles Studies programs in our universities. Sometimes, people discuss a particular example of stereotyping or discrimination without using the word “singlism,” which would immediately connect their one instance to an entire pattern of disadvantage, which in turn would strengthen both their point and the whole notion of singlism.
- In the mainstream media, singlism does not get anywhere near the attention of other isms. Mostly, it is ignored.
- We single people in the U.S. haven’t created an activist movement for social justice, at the level of lobbying Congress or marching in the streets. But we have made some progress in getting our ideas out there, as this entire article attests, so that’s something.
This new year promises to be a good one. Already, I’ve seen some books and scholarly articles that will be published in 2019. I’ll tell you about those in my next post. Maybe 2019 will, in fact, be a happy new year.
[Note: This post was adapted from a column published at Unmarried Equality (UE), with the organization’s permission. The opinions expressed are my own. For links to previous UE columns, click here.]