Single By Choice
Does this sound bleak? A rising tide of bitter singles who have cast love aside, dejected by their lack of prospects? Actually, recent findings indicate the opposite: A 2006 survey of singles by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 55 percent of the never-married had zero interest in seeking a romantic partner. It turns out that many singles enjoy their independence. They’re leading full lives. And they’re far less lonely and isolated than some may believe. Traditionally, we’ve thought of being single as a stop on the way toward the happy ending. But new research suggests it’s time to rethink what it really means.
WHAT DOES BEING SINGLE mean? On Facebook, you have seven different coupling scenarios: in a relationship, in an open relationship, in a civil union or domestic partnership, engaged, married, or the delightfully nonspecific “It’s complicated.” The formerly married can choose from among widowed, separated, or divorced. But the simple “single” encapsulates everyone from the 19-year-old college student hooking up on the weekends to the 85-year-old adult who’s determined that marriage and partnership just aren’t for her. How do we define the idea of being happily — and perpetually — single? What do we call that?
For Bella DePaulo, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the term is “single at heart.” She uses it to define herself, and she knows she’s not the only person who feels this way. “It’s a concept that I’m just starting to get out there,” she says. “Single is who I really am, it really suits me. I’m not against coupling. I’m single because it’s the kind of life that’s most meaningful and productive for me.” DePaulo is the author of Singled Out, and has pretty much become the arbiter of the unmarried agenda. She blogs regularly about the social issues facing single people at Psychology Today, taking on topics like stereotypes and stigmatization and highlighting glaring instances of public policy discrimination against the unmarried.
DePaulo says she began to think about the way society treats single people while working on her Ph.D. at Harvard, where, she recalls, her classmates would partner off on weekends, excluding her. Eventually, she coined the phrase “singlism” to characterize the social stigmas that unmarried people face, and edited a book of the same name that was released last May. For years now, she’s been working to shift the knee-jerk reaction society has to singles: that they’re promiscuous and immature, or lonely social introverts. And at long last, her efforts seem to be paying off. More and more of us are revisiting long-held assumptions about what it means to live alone. In fact, researchers are increasingly turning up evidence that marriage isn’t necessarily the better and healthier alternative to being single that it’s often assumed to be.
IT’S A BRISK NOVEMBER morning at Doyle’s in Jamaica Plain, and the weekly Sunday gathering of knitters have arranged themselves in a cozy, well-lit nook of the pub, needles thrashing silently in their hands. Alice Stern’s head of close-cropped silver hair is bowed, and she squints through her frameless rectangular glasses as she works on a beautiful cashmere cable-knit scarf she’s making for a friend she’ll see at Thanksgiving. The 10 or so women here — some single, some divorced, some married or remarried — busily discuss a knitting party they’re throwing on Black Friday. “Perfect,” Stern says, looking up. “I’ll be able to bring my new spinning wheel.”
Photo by Scott M. Lacey