Feb 14

Single Vs. Married on Valentine’s Day

Single vs. married: who has it better on Valentine’s Day? Or any other day, for that matter?

For many the grass is often greener. Contrary to the Valentine’s hype, some couples aren’t so happy, some singles are quite happy.

Some couples are happy but no longer in their honeymoon bliss—a natural enough eventual outcome, of course. Such pairs might appreciate John Kenney‘s humorous Love Poems for Married People (2018) “in which he celebrates what happens to romance after years (and years, and years) of partnership” (Ari Shapiro, NPR). Long-term relationships, after all, often become more (comically) problematic than one had hoped for.

Many singles are happy, yet may nevertheless dread the external pressures Valentine’s Day can bring. Too bad, because in actuality, and speaking in theory and generalities, being single is no worse than being married, and being coupled is no better than being single. Of course it all depends on each person, each circumstance.

In a 2016 Psychology Today post, foremost expert on singledom Bella DePaulo, PhD, addressed the single vs. married issue. Cutting to the chase, “…I don’t think there is a simple, one-size-fits-all answer,” she said, “to the question of whether it is better to stay single or get married.”

A pertinent quote from DePaulo’s earlier book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After: If you are not already a happy person, don’t count on marriage to transform you into one. If you are already happy, don’t expect marriage to make you even happier…finally, if you are single and happy, do not fret that you will descend into despair if you dare to stay single. That’s not likely either.”

On the other hand, DePaulo notes some (perhaps unexpected) upsides to singlehood (Psychology Today):

Lifelong single people do better than married people in a variety of ways that don’t get all that much attention. For example, they do more to maintain their ties to friends, siblings, parents, neighbors, and coworkers than married people do. They do more than their share of volunteering and helping people, such as aging parents, who need a lot of help. They experience more autonomy and self-determination, and more personal growth and development.

Additional DePaulo quotes from a similar-themed 2017 article (NBC News):

…(C)ouples tend to turn inward after they marry, paying less attention to their friends and parents. Married people have “the one,” but single people have “the ones.”

We think that because married people have someone, they are protected from loneliness and single people are not. But that is another example of a misleading cultural narrative fixated on the perils of single life. It ignores the special pain of feeling lonely within a marriage. It fails to appreciate the deep fulfillment that solitude can offer, with its opportunities for creativity, reflection, relaxation, rejuvenation, spirituality and peace.

Compared to those who are afraid of being single, people secure in being single are less likely to be lonely, depressed or neurotic. They are less sensitive to rejection and get their feelings hurt less easily. They are more imaginative and more open to new experiences. They don’t need to marry in order to live happily ever after. They already have it figured out.

If you’re interested in more of her work, DePaulo has many available titles. However, a recent one that pulls a lot of her stuff together is Alone: The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone (2017).

Feb 14

Valentine’s Day: Myths and Misconceptions About Singlehood

Contrary to popular opinion, many people who are single and/or living alone like it, even choose it. Valentine’s Day be damned.

Social scientist Bella DePaulo has authored several books about being single, including Singled Out (2007) and Singlism (2011). “Singlism” is her own word to describe stereotyping, stigmatizing, marginalizing, and/or discrimination against singles.

Per her website, the following are some prevalent myths about being single:

  1. The Wonder of Couples: Marrieds know best.
  2. Single-Minded: You are interested in just one thing – getting coupled.
  3. The Dark Aura of Singlehood: You are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.
  4. It Is All About You: Like a child, you are self-centered and immature and your time isn’t worth anything since you have nothing to do but play.
  5. Attention Single Women: Your work won’t love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don’t get any and you’re promiscuous.
  6. Attention Single Men: You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay.
  7. Attention Single Parents: Your kids are doomed.
  8. Too Bad You’re Incomplete: You don’t have anyone and you don’t have a life.
  9. Poor Soul: You will grow old alone and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks.
  10. Family Values: Let’s give all of the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values.

How many people are potentially subjected to the above wrong-headed beliefs? According to sociologist Eric Klinenberg‘s 2012 Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (just out in paperback), almost half of American adults are single— compared to only 22% in 1950.

Like DePaulo, one of Klinenberg’s main points is that a growing number of adults of all ages—including seniors—actually choose to live alone. And living alone is often not about feeling alone and/or isolated.

DePaulo, in fact, titled her recent post about interviewing Klinenberg “Myth-Buster: How Going Solo Takes Lonely Out of Alone.” He relates the following about singles’ social networks:

Conservative cultural critics condemn ‘selfish singles’ for their purported narcissism, but I discovered that singles and singletons are actually more likely to spend time with friends and neighbors than people who are married, and – surprisingly – that they are more likely to volunteer in civic organizations. This is especially true for women, whose time and energy for public engagement diminishes when they get married and have children, but it’s true for men as well. Then there is the vast new world of middle-aged and older singles who are forming communities, networks, and in some cases alternative family structures to provide mutual support. They are participating in a genuine social revolution. After 200,000 years of group living, contemporary singletons are redefining the terms of collective life…

Consider this, then, those of you out there pushing your crazy Valentine’s Day expectations onto the world: Other than having to fend off your unfair pressures, many singles are probably happier and more socially fulfilled on this day than you are.

Feb 13

Antivalentinism, Singles Awareness Day, “(500) Days of Summer”

Antivalentinism: According to a past Wikipedia listing that’s no longer available (Update to post, 4/10/12), this “…refers to a set of criticisms of Saint Valentine’s Day (February 14). These tend to fall into two categories, one anticonsumerist and the other an objection to the ‘forced’ observation of romantic love.”

Antivalentinish alternatives to celebrating tomorrow’s holiday are honoring it as Singles Awareness Day (SAD) or participating in Anti-Valentine’s activities, otherwise known as “anti-V.D.”—a deliberate play on words.

You could consider reading a brand new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, by Eric Klinenberg.

A contemporary movie that may exemplify antivalentinism—it’s wound up on both anti-Valentine’s Day lists and pro-Valentine’s—is (500) Days of Summer (2009). Here’s why: Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer, thinks he’s found his soul mate in Summer (Zooey Deschanel), who digs him, but not the soul mate stuff. And we the audience know this is a fatal mismatch right from the start. Because our narrator tells us:

This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he met the one. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total mis-reading of the movie ‘The Graduate’. The girl, Summer Finn of Shinnecock, Michigan, did not share this belief. Since the disintegration of her parent’s marriage she’d only love two things. The first was her long dark hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off and not feel a thing. Tom meets Summer on January 8th. He knows almost immediately she is who he has been searching for. This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.

Paralleling Tom’s process of trying to figure the whole thing out, we see the unraveling of romance in non-linear time, jumping back and forth between better times and worse.

At one point, feeling particularly cynical and hopeless about love, Tom goes off about it at his job. With regards to a certain greeting card that could be considered representative of antivalentinism:

…How ’bout this one? With all the pretty hearts on the front, I think I know where this one’s going. Yup, ‘Happy Valentines Day sweetheart, I love you.’ Isn’t that sweet? Ain’t love grand? This is exactly what I’m talking about. What does that even mean, love? Do you know? Do you? Anybody? If somebody gave me this card, Mr. Vance, I’d eat it. It’s these cards, and the movies and the pop songs, they’re to blame for all the lies and the heartache, everything. We’re responsible. I’M responsible. I think we do a bad thing here. People should be able to say how they feel, how they really feel, not ya know, some words that some stranger put in their mouth. Words like love, that don’t mean anything. Sorry, I’m sorry, I um, I quit. There’s enough bullshit in the world without my help.

And here’s where you might want to stop reading this post. I mean it: Spoiler Alert Ahead!

Towards the end, we find out that the benefit to Summer of Tom’s deeply held beliefs in true love is…that she’s now been able to find true love after all—with someone else.