A Singles Manifesto, from a Pioneer

Singles Manifesto: Will it stick this time?

Posted Mar 03, 2009

Optimistically, I like to think that the writing and research and public speaking that I do about living single is in the service of social change. I like to smash myths (especially the ones that purport to have scientific backing, only they don't), underscore inequities, and point to the strengths that so many singles demonstrate despite all the relentless singlism and matrimania that permeates society. You might even say that I'd like to start a revolution, or at least a singles movement.

So I was more than a little surprised when I discovered that there already was such a movement, not so very long ago. I learned this from a headline in the Los Angeles Times last week: "Marie Barbare Edwards dies at 89; psychologist helped pioneer a 'singles pride' movement."

Edwards had written a book, The Challenge of Being Single, in 1974. The same year, the Los Angeles Times wrote about her in an article titled, "A Singles' Lib Manifesto."

Of course, I immediately searched for the book. Holding it in my hands, I was both delighted at what I found and sorry that I had not known about it when I wrote Singled Out. Edwards did not write a social-science based book in the way that I did (though with her degrees from Stanford and UCLA, she could have); still, in spirit, I now consider her my intellectual godmother.

Consider just a few highlights from The Challenge of Being Single:

In the first chapter, she begins by gently mocking the question, "How come you're not married?" It is, she quips, the equivalent of being challenged to "prove that you're not a freak."

Among the errors and myths she describes are:
• Finding the one-and-only will solve all of your problems.
• All single women want to get married.
• All single men are afraid of responsibility.
• All unmarrieds are terribly lonely.
• Single life is hazardous because there will be no one around to help you if you are hurt or sick.

What, according to Edwards (and her co-author, Eleanor Hoover), is the end result of all of these stereotypes and myths? Discrimination. Again getting there before I did, she spells out the unfair costs to being single in taxes, the workplace, insurance, and housing. She does not see singles simply as victims, though, and ends with a chapter on the greatest advantage of being single and with her manifesto.

SINGLES MANIFESTO

Edwards' book includes the complete Singles Manifesto, consisting of a Preamble, three Articles (attitudes toward self, others, and society), and 17 statements. Here, for your reading pleasure, are some excerpts from this 1974 proclamation.

PREAMBLE of Marie Edwards' SINGLES MANIFESTO:

Whereas the written and spoken word about singles has been and continues to be one of gloom and doom, untruths and misinformation, we the singles of the United States - divorced, separated, and never-married - in order to bury the myths, establish the truths, uplift our spirits, promote our freedom, become cognizant of our great fortune as singles, do ordain and establish this manifesto for the singles of the United States of America.

SAMPLE STATEMENTS from Marie Edwards' 1974 SINGLES MANIFESTO:

• I will, in my deepest feelings, know that it's okay to be single and, becoming braver, know that it's even more than okay - it can be a great and untapped opportunity for continuous personal growth.

• I will stop searching for the "one-and-only," knowing that as I become more free to be myself, I will be freer to care about others, so that relationships will come to me as a natural consequence and I will feel free to accept or reject them.

• Instead of searching for the "one-and-only," I will realize the tremendous importance of friendships.

• I will no longer suffer in silence the injustices to me as a single, but will do everything I can to eradicate them.

• I will, by choosing to live a free single life, be helping to raise the status of singlehood. In doing this, I will be strengthening rather than weakening marriage, for when we truly have the option not to marry, marriage will be seen as a free choice rather than one demanded by a pairing society.

When Will Singles Awareness "Stick"?

Discovering Marie Edwards, the singles pioneer from decades past, reminded me of the experience I had while gathering materials for the first course I taught on singles in society. I found a number of academic articles, published years or even decades earlier, that all started or ended with the lament that there is just too little scholarly attention paid to people who are single. As I continued to prepare my course, I realized that the state of the scholarship had not changed much - there was still far too little serious research and thinking about the place of singles in society.

There are similar trends in the popular press. Edwards' Singles Manifesto is again a relevant example; it was published in the Los Angeles Times in 1974, but it did not stick.

There are no long-enduring singles advocacy groups, comparable, say, to AARP. The American Association for Single People (AASP) did some important work for a while, then got tripped up by financial challenges, and is now an informational resource. Its advocacy work is now pursued by the Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP).

The question now is, Will any of this stick? Will scholarship on singles gain momentum? Will the number of singles-relevant courses increase and earn a permanent place in the college curriculum? Will advocacy groups strengthen and multiply? Will awareness of singlism and matrimania take permanent hold in our society?

I will address these questions in a future post. In the meantime, please share your own predictions in the comments section.