Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Singletude Posts Appear at SingleEdition

This just in! SingleEdition, an up-and-coming online lifestyle magazine for singles, will be reprinting a number of Singletude articles, beginning with Crime Safety Tips for Singles from my original post Crime Safety Tips for Singles, Part I.

SingleEdition provides news, feature articles, product reviews, a panel of experts who answer reader questions about everything from fashion to real estate, and interviews with singles like you. Topics are wide-ranging, as is the style and tone since lots of different authors and experts have input. Stop by and ask a question about the practical concerns of single life or get ideas for your Christmas list. And, of course, look for upcoming Singletude posts in the Feature Article section!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Singlism: Examples in the Media

Last time, Singletude ran a review of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella DePaulo. In the book, DePaulo coins the term singlism to refer to discrimination against singles. Sometimes singlism is blatant and has visible consequences that are keenly felt by those who are unmarried, as with the singles tax penalty, singles travel supplements, or the lower wages paid to singles even when other differences are factored in. Other times, singlism is an attitude, an expectation, white noise in a culture of couples. Just the other day, I saw two examples of the latter form of singlism in the media.

The first was part of this quiz, called "Are You Aging Yourself?" by Gabrielle Linzer at AOL Health. The test informally assesses how your lifestyle might contribute to early aging, honing in on sleep patterns, eating habits, exercise routines, and the like. But then there's this gem of a question:

At the end of the day, you are greeted by:

A. Your loving (occasionally annoying) family
B. You're not home too much
C. A silent, empty house

Guess which choice is right, students. If you circled A., give yourself a gold star. AOL gives you a green check mark next to the "right" answer and red x's next to the "wrong" ones. In explanation, "the benefits of keeping connected" are touted, and a psychologist is quoted warning of the health risks of isolation and loneliness. In summary, "if you aren't graced with a family or someone special," AOL reminds you to hang out with your friends and keep busy with social activities.

Well, okay, but if your life's a social whirlwind, wouldn't it be safe to say that you're probably not home too much? Seems like that was the so-called incorrect answer B. Moreover, just because you live alone (and notice that the only options given are living alone or living with family since no one lives with friends or roommates apparently) doesn't mean you're automatically lonely or isolated. Plenty of singles like living alone and the peace and quiet that come with it. And living alone hardly means they don't have voicemail in their inboxes and options of who to see on a Saturday night. To top it all off, AOL points you in the direction of friends and social organizations only if you aren't "graced" with the real blessings in life--a significant other and kids. Guess I'm one of the unlucky unloved!

And how about this article by MarketWatch reporter Ruth Mantell, which made the Internet rounds last Thursday? The first sentence says it all:

Women have become increasingly vulnerable to job losses during downturns, putting families at greater financial risk during these troubled times, according to a Tuesday report from the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee.

The article goes on to bemoan how difficult it is for families when the second income earner loses her job, leaving no padding for her primary wage earner husband. Excuse me, but shouldn't these families be thankful they have a primary wage earner? The fact is that half of households in this country are headed by singles, which means that half the population doesn't have a fallback to begin with. If a single woman loses her job, she doesn't have any cushion other than her butt when it hits the street. Obviously, the same goes for single men.

Oh, but that's right. I forgot. Singles don't count. Their lives aren't important to the media or the government. Your needs are of no concern unless you're part of a family, which means a husband and a wife, preferably with children.

You see how insidious this stuff is, folks? One article here or there, maybe it doesn't mean a lot. But when you start to compound them, with all their digs, dismissals, and diminishments, they take their toll on how singles are others and by themselves. After awhile, you almost don't notice it anymore. Of course couples with kids are healthier than singles, right? Of course families with children are worthy of more economic protection. It becomes taboo to even question the validity of these premises. If you do, you must be selfish or a child hater.

So where is the "positive" in this blog post? It's in who we are. It's in the quality of our lives and our value as productive members of society even when it's not acknowledged by the media. It's in our ability to be shrewd consumers of news who know bias when we see it and don't buy into the popular image of the singleton. The first step to combating singlism is awareness, and that's a positive thing.

You know what? I'm going to challenge everyone who reads this post to write a letter to the editor denouncing singlism the next time you see an example of it in a newspaper, magazine, or other publication. Then come back here and tell me about it, and I'll run an announcement about your letter as soon as it's published. I, too, will accept the challenge and write my own letter to the editor.

It's easy for a single voice to get lost in a crowd of families, but if we raise our voices together, they'll be 89 million strong. Think about it.

Fun Link of the Day

Friday, July 25, 2008

Singled Out by Bella DePaulo: A Singletude Review

Today I want to introduce you to an eye-opening book that confirms what many of us have suspected about singlehood but lacked the research to prove--yes, we singles are treated like second-class citizens, but we're still some of the happiest, healthiest citizens in the world. Welcome to Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever Afterby Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.

In bookstores across America, self-help manuals instructing supposedly desperate singles to settle a little more and love themselves a little less overflow the shelves. This is not one of them. Singled Out shatters the stereotypes of the forlorn spinster surrounded by cats and the messy bachelor in the midst of dirty laundry and pizza boxes and replaces them with the research-based reality of 87.5 million singles leading richly fulfilling, resilient lives in which marriage is an afterthought if it's a thought at all.

In an effort to raise awareness for the last unrecognized minority in this country, DePaulo coins the term singlism, discrimination based on relationship status, and shows how insidiously pervasive it is. When you're taxed at a higher rate because you're single, when you're denied access to a relative's Social Security or health insurance because yours is the bond of blood, not a marriage certificate, when you bankroll couples' hotel accommodations, car rentals, and gym memberships by paying the full fee as a single person, that's singlism. It pops up in subtler, more personal ways, too--at those parties you're not invited to because your friends "didn't think you'd want to sit around with a bunch of couples," in those alumni newsletters that advertise weddings and births but not professional accomplishments, in those tsks and tuts from family members when you don't bring a sweetheart home for the holidays again this year.

Anticipating the argument that marriage really is our natural state, DePaulo traces the history of the institution as a practical foundation for reproduction and its eventual convergence with the concept of romantic passion in the 18th century. While denying that she is anti-marriage, DePaulo asserts that the marital relationship has only recently been elevated to the pinnacle on which it now reigns, above all other ties of family, friendship, and community. This is an unnatural state, she declares, albeit one that our society has become invested in supporting for reasons detailed in the book. She then lays out ten popular myths about singles, scrutinizes the falsified claims undergirding each one, and systematically demolishes their flimsy pedestals, which can't stand against solid research.

You may be surprised and dismayed at how many of these myths you've unknowingly bought into, even if you're happily single. For instance, most of us singles know that we have a rainbow of interests beyond just dating (Myth #2), can be as hard-working and generous as marrieds (Myth #4), and are far from "alone" (Myth #9), maintaining strong connections with our friends and family.

But did you also know that, despite facing rampant prejudice, which has been proven to contribute to depression, singles and marrieds barely differ in self-reported happiness? On a scale of one to ten, the difference in happiness between singles and marrieds is less than a point. It's even smaller, half a point, when only never-married singles are considered. Furthermore, married individuals were happier from the outset, long before they were married, so we can't conclude that marriage made them happier. On the other hand, we can conclude that financial and health status both predict happiness better than marital status.

Speaking of health, did you know that, regardless of media propaganda to the contrary, marriage actually doesn't convey any longterm health benefits? Men who marry experience a boost in good health around the time of the marriage, and widows and widowers see a dip in health when their spouses die, but within a few years, all of these people are no more or less healthy than they ever were. For never-married singles and married women, there's no change in health status, while those who divorce are healthier than ever once their marriages end.

What about sex? We all know that married people have the most sex, right? Well, no. Cohabiting people do. Okay, but married couples have the most emotionally satisfying sex lives, right? Err, um, not quite. Never-married cohabiting women are more likely to be "extremely emotionally satisfied" with their sex lives than are married women. As for men, although more marrieds than singles report high levels of emotional satisfaction, the most emotionally satisfied men are--wait for it--cohabiting divorces. And--oh, dear--guess who complains of the most sexual dysfunction? That would be married men. Moreover, there's no data to compare how sexually active or satisfied any of these individuals were before and after marriage, so, once again, we can't say it was a white dress and a minister that made the difference.

One by one, Singled Out picks apart some of the most lauded, influential studies on marriage and shines a light on their bias toward couples, explaining the tactics they use to obscure confounds in data collection and interpretation. This could be dry, confusing, or intimidating, but DePaulo uses everyday language, real-life anecdotes, and a light, humorous tone to demystify the charts and stats. In fact, even if you have no interest in singles issues, this book is worth the read simply as a layperson's crash course in experimental analysis, after which you may forever view pop science headlines with a more critical eye.

A brief summary of the myths DePaulo addresses and refutes wouldn't do justice to Singled Out, which teems with truths about the single life that will by turns amaze, appall, and encourage you. However, suffice it to say that by the time you've read it, any stereotypes you've clung to about such maligned figures as chronic bachelors, career women, and single parents will be turned inside out. However, the main thrust of the book, once you perceive the patterns evident in the research, may startle you even more, and no, it's not that the single life is better than marriage. It's that marriage doesn't matter all that much. At the end of the day, whether you take a husband or a wife or a solo trek around the world, your life will probably be about the same. Your experiences will be different, but you'll still be as healthy, happy, and wise as you would've been had you taken the opposite path, maybe even more so.

You see, while finding a spouse doesn't appear to be a transformative event, losing a spouse is. Eventually, recovery is possible, but on numerous measures, those who've always been single fare better, making marriage, at least as it's practiced in the Western world today, a risky proposition. DePaulo suggests that glorification of the nuclear family at the expense of the larger social network guarantees that many couples will wrap themselves in the insular bubble of The Relationship, only to be devastated when the bubble bursts, leaving one or both of them flailing in a sea of strangers. The final chapter presents a vision for the future in which this trauma would be ameliorated by true legal equality, renewed emphasis on extended families and community, and respect for singlehood as a legitimate lifestyle.

If Singled Out has any flaw, it's that it may underestimate the deep-seated desire to couple that many singles have. In one vignette, when someone asks DePaulo why she's never married, she replies, "I love being single...I just love my life…the way it is." Much of the book seems to operate on the assumption that most singles would agree, but the evidence isn't entirely convincing. For instance, the oft-quoted Pew Internet & American Life Project survey does show that 55% of single adults are "not looking for a partner," but that includes the elderly, divorced, and widowed, who may not be eager for a second or third time around. But among adults in the prime marrying years, 18-29, only 38% are "not looking." This is not to say that marriage is preferable to singlehood or that the wish to marry isn't partially fueled by enculturation, but it is a wish shared by a substantial portion of the population, both men and women, and shouldn't be dismissed.

That said, if there is a tendency to minimize the urge to couple, it's a minor complaint in this remarkably clear-eyed, meticulously documented depiction of the single life with all its--pardon the pun--singular challenges and satisfactions. DePaulo is the champion that we singles have awaited to validate the worth of the individual in a "matrimaniacal" culture and advocate for our fair treatment, and Singled Out could be the vehicle for a sea change, a reconstitution of what it means to be single. Read it, enjoy it, learn from it, pass it on to other singles to inspire them and to couples to clue them in. Even with the cards stacked against us, we singles are doing okay. In fact, we're doing better than okay--we're growing, thriving, and living our lives to the fullest. We know it, and now it's time everyone else knew it, too.

Were you surprised to learn about some of the myths discussed above? Have you experienced singlism in your life? If you've read Singled Out, do you have comments on the book?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a book or web site for or about singles that you would like Singletude to review? Contact Elsie!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tips for Online Dating Success, Part IV

Today, Singletude concludes the "Tips for Online Dating Success" series. Now that you're armed with all the tricks in the book, get thee to eHarmony and put them to the test. ;)


Okay! You've sent a message, and a prospective date has responded to you! You've reached level one! Give yourself a pat on the back for getting this far and take a minute to rest on your laurels. :)

Now I want to return to what I said in 8. about forcing respondents to pursue you. While Singletude doesn't advocate game playing in the sense of manipulating others toward ends that are beneficial to you and harmful to them, it's helpful in online dating to have an understanding of human nature. And one of the well-researched facts of human nature is that we value things we have to work for.

This is why I suggested in 8. that you hold off on barraging your potential date with compliments, contact info, and requests to meet up. Not only will that put an unbearable amount of pressure on him or her, but it also establishes a pattern in which you're doing all the work. And if you're doing all the work, what incentive does he or she have to meet you halfway?

That is not to say that you should kick back and twiddle your thumbs while your soon-to-be significant other tries desperately to flag your attention. Singletude doesn't support The Rules or similar systems designed to drive your date crazy with angst, jealousy, self-doubt, and confusion. However, if you think of your budding relationship as a game of ping-pong, you'll soon realize that you can't play it if one person isn't returning the ball. When you "ping," your romantic interest has to "pong" and vice versa.

To that end, you've set the pace with the first message, and your prospective date should respond in kind. From this point on, you will probably engage in a series of emails leading up to a phone call or two, and if the phone contact is smooth, you'll most likely arrange a date. (Of course some encounters will depart from this pattern, but at least in my experience and that of others I know, this seems to be the general structure of online dating relationships.) The emails you exchange should parallel each other in response time, rate of self-disclosure, overall enthusiasm, and progression toward the next level.

If you write to a member every day, but he or she only writes back once a week, that's not a good sign. Similarly, if after several weeks of communicating your potential date knows all about your family, friends, job, star sign, and favorite color, and you know...his or her first name, something's amiss. Did you give out your number but wait in vain for your phone to ring? Have you scheduled dates that the member keeps canceling? These are all situations in which you're pinging but not receiving a pong.

If you're not getting consistent pongs, examine your emails for the following problems:

A. Are they too long? When people want to read novels, they go to a bookstore, not an inbox. Run-on emails can make the reader feel overwhelmed or intimidated. The exception to this rule, of course, would be if both parties like to write and send lengthy emails every time.

Are they too short? Emails of just a sentence or two may communicate a lack of interest, especially if the other person tends to write fuller replies.

C. Are you responding promptly? If you wait too long to respond, your potential date may lose interest. A good rule of thumb is to reply within two days of receipt of the last message, more often if he or she replies more quickly.

D. Are you balancing your messages between information about yourself and questions addressed to the other member and/or responses to what he or she has written? If you don't seem interested in what the other person has to say, you risk coming across as a self-centered bore.

E. Are you revealing so much of yourself that there's no mystery left? Don't be "easy." Try to save something for the phone call and first date! ;)

Regardless of how closely you adhere to the above guidelines, some members will cut you off during the email stage. This can happen because a member has met someone else with whom he or she has a better connection, detected some incompatibilities after reading your last message, or had a bad experience that suddenly turned him or her off to online dating. Sometimes it may happen when the member is a flake, commitmentphobe, or cheater playing around. For whatever reason it happens, it signals that this person is not a good catch. You may want resolution, and of course you can ask for an explanation, but if you don't get one, don't waste your time. Look elsewhere.

On the other hand, perhaps your pings are getting ponged, and your game is seeming more and more like a love match. Great! Now comes the real hurdle, taking the ping-pong table out of cyberspace and plunking it down in the midst of the real world without losing your stride. How and when do you move your interaction to level two?

There are as many different preferences concerning the pace of online dating as there are singles. Generally, women are more cautious than men, so if you're a guy, don't be fazed if she's not ready for dinner and a movie as soon as you get her personal email. On average, users exchange two to three emails over three to four days, but it's not uncommon for communications by email, IM, or phone to continue much longer before a first meeting. While there is some evidence that these virtual interactions can strengthen the foundation of a relationship, few would deny that chemistry is best judged in person. Accordingly, if you postpone your first date for months on end, you're liable to form expectations based in fantasyland that are particularly suscpetible to disappointment when you finally do meet.

A lot of singles recommend setting a date to meet after a few weeks or a month if possible, and that is Singletude's recommendation as well. If the frequency of communication is quite intense, with emails flying back and forth every day and nightly phone conversations, it may be appropriate to meet even sooner. The point is to make sure that the missing puzzle piece, physical attraction, is present before emotional bonds become so deep that an in-person mismatch is devastating.

Online daters typically spend some time agonizing over where to meet, what to do, and how long to do it for. Obviously, safety is paramount, especially for women. For your first date, you should arrange to meet in a public place and have your own transportation so you don't need to get in a car with your date. It's not a bad idea to leave your date's name and contact info with a friend or family member and promise to call him or her when you get home. Resist the urge to go back to your date's place, no matter how the sparks fly and sizzle. After all, moving slowly never hurt anyone, and it just might save your life. (For more online dating safety tips, see, Safer Online Dating Alliance (SODA), and Online Dating Magazine.)

Even if your date isn't Ted Bundy, keeping your time together short and sweet will build anticipation for date two...or give you a convenient escape route if you're already regretting date one. A lunch break or cocktail hour, after which you have other places to go and people to see, can be the perfect setting. Some singles even go so far as to specify a time limit for the rendezvous, although it may take some finesse to walk out when your date's 30 minutes are up and he or she is only halfway through the story of Uncle Billy Bob's first time on Jerry Springer.

You can maximize your opportunity for interaction by picking a quiet location and an activity conducive to conversation (think coffee at Starbucks, a picnic in the park, or, yes, a walk on the beach). Resist the impulse to avoid the getting-to-know-you dance through a movie, at which words are forbidden, a concert, at which you can't hear them, or some athletic endeavor that will leave you breathing so hard you can't form them. Those are great ideas for later dates, but the first meeting should be about assessing your connection.

Above all, the first date should be casual. Caviar and Cristal at this stage will likely seem pretentious, disingenuous, or even desperate and add an unnecessary weight to what should be a lighthearted encounter. Furthermore, if you're meeting a lot of site members, your wallet will empty quickly unless you budget your dates.

Speaking of wallets, as the evening draws to a close, the inevitable question of who's paying for what will arise. Dates with those you've met online generally follow the same etiquette that you're accustomed to with everyone else--in other words, none, so expect the same confusion over who's supposed to pick up the tab. Many women these days offer to split the bill but hope the men refuse as a sign of courtesy, while others genuinely want to pay their own way as a matter of principle or a concession to fairness.

Personally, I like to go dutch at least until there's an established relationship so that there's no chance my date will feel I owe him something, and I recommend the same policy to other women. The more expensive the date, the more essential this is. Furthermore, the meal ticket attitude that some women have toward men with whom they have no intention of developing a relationship makes me uneasy. Girls, if you know as soon as you lay eyes on the guy that you'd rather kiss an orc, don't smirk behind your forkful of filet mignon while he forks over the cash. Unless he's Mark Zuckerberg and earns money just by breathing, help the guy out!

By the time your date has wrapped, you'll probably know whether your ping-pong tournament has resulted in a match or a zero score. From here on, if both of you want to play, the game of love proceeds the same as it would if you'd met at work, through friends, or in line at the grocery store. Whether or not you reach level three, an ongoing relationship, isn't dependent on how you met but on where you go from here, and you have the same odds of staying together as any other couple. That's why you should consider yourself a successful online dater even when you don't progress beyond level two.

However, if your date isn't so keen on a rematch, be prepared for him or her to disappear. Although this isn't the most polite way of communicating disenchantment, online daters seem prone to fall into the black holes of cyberspace when no longer interested, perhaps encouraged by the anonymity of the medium. If two follow-up calls and/or emails from you are met with silence, accept the member's decision to forfeit the game and move on. Repeatedly contacting someone who has made it clear, in word or in action, that he or she doesn't want further contact, can be perceived as harassment and could get you banned from the site.

But if you and your date don't hit it off, don't worry. If you've made it to level two once, you've acquired the skills to make it there again...and beyond! Internet matchmaking sites are not the holy grail of the dating world, and they hold no magic potion for singles seeking mates. As in the "real world," you'll go on a lot of dates, and most of them won't be with someone you could fall for. But dating sites do provide a venue to meet a lot of singles in a short span of time, and those sheer numbers dramatically increase your chances of finding someone sooner rather than later. So check out the newbies, serve up your best introductory emails...and wait for the volley!

Have you ever gone out with someone you met on an Internet dating site? If so, what advice can you give to other singles about that crucial first meeting? Do you have any success stories or--God forbid--horror stories to relate about people you met through online dating sites?

Fun Link of the Day

(Although I'm no fan of The Rules, if you have the urge to find out why, read it for yourself.)

Clever Elsie is a freelance writer and a successful online dater. If you need help making your online dating profile the best it can be, finding matches, or polishing your emails to potential dates, please contact her for rates and more information.

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about online dating or some other aspect of the single life? Write in, and you just might see your question posted in a Singletude Q&A!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Single and Independent

I hope you all had a sparkling, popping Fourth of July weekend and didn't let a little rain dampen your plans if you live anywhere near me!

Although Independence Day celebrates the liberation of the United States from British rule, this weekend it provoked some thought about personal independence. Many people consider the single lifestyle synonymous with independence. Since we live in a world designed for couples, we singles are certainly forced to be more self-reliant. Don't believe me? Let's look at the following scenarios:

1. The average cost of a house in the U.S. in 2007 was $308,275. According to this mortgage calculator, at an annual interest rate of 5.75%, a 30-year mortgage for an average house demands a household income of $77,100.40. Yet households earning more than $60,000 a year had a median of two income earners as of 2006, while households earning less had a median of just one. Clearly, home ownership is designed for couples.

2. A plumber, electrician, or other contractor needs to make a visit. Someone has to be home to let him in. This would require that someone be home at least part-time if not full-time, and, of course, most part-time workers are married women. In the worst case scenario, in which both members of a couple work full-time, one of them may have to take a day off and, if he or she works for hourly wages, forfeit that day's paycheck. However, a single person has no one else to stay home and no second paycheck to help make up the financial loss.

3. It's moving day. It takes two people to lift that dresser. And that couch. And that chest full of mothballs that Grandma gave you.

4. An important package needs to be weighed and sent by certified mail, stat. But the post office is only open till 6:00. Meanwhile, creditors are pressing for payment of a bill, which means that paycheck has to be deposited today, but the bank also closes at 6:00. For couples, this is a no brainer. One of them goes to the post office after work, the other to the bank. But for singles, being in two places at once is a lot trickier.

5. When traveling to an unfamiliar destination, it sure is helpful to have a designated map reader.

These are just a few examples of everyday challenges in which the assistance of a partner is assumed. To cope with these situations, we singles have to double our efforts and learn how to maximize our strengths to pick up the slack that a partner would otherwise tighten. We are, one might say, modern-day Emersons living his theory of self-reliance, pioneers bucking the mantle of traditional coupledom to brave the frontier of singlehood.

Furthermore, our self-sufficiency extends beyond the solo completion of menial tasks to encompass a mindset or spirit of independence. It's not that unusual for marrieds to flounder without each other, especially when they've been together a long time. When separated, their responses may vary from boredom and loneliness on the milder end of the spectrum to panic and complete immobilization. For example, we all know that guy who pokes around in the kitchen like a helpless hound without a scent trail when his wife isn't home to cook him dinner. Likewise, we can all think of a woman who hyperventilates when hubby isn't around to explain that smoke pouring out from under the hood of the car isn't just bad for the scent of her freshly shampooed hair, it's bad for the engine, too.

In contrast, we singles with singletude are comfortable entertaining ourselves. Quiet time doesn't scare us more than an encounter with Tom Cruise in a dark alley. We can work without oversight. We enjoy the freedom of planning our own schedules and setting our own budgets. What's more, we can probably nuke a meal with our eyes closed and know what's under the hood of the car...or have the number of a mechanic who does. We recognize that trials and tribulations are part of life and feel confident that we will overcome them whether or not we own a marriage certificate.

Yes, singles are definitely an independent bunch. Or at least we're independent-minded. Whether or not we intended to be single, our independence is a source of pride more often than not. But this weekend, in true devil's advocate form, I began to wonder if singles are really as independent as we think. Is it true that we're more independent than our married friends? What exactly is independence anyway and what is its value?

Singletude can't answer all these questions, but I can pose them and provide some statistics that might point in one direction or another. For example, singles who have never been married are more likely to live at home with their parents than are those who are or were previously married. Singles also receive more financial handouts from their parents than marrieds do. Plus, although I'm not aware of any research on the number of singles that have roommates, who presumably share the burden of rent and residential maintenance, we can estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 survey that if there are 89.9 million legal singles, 47.7 million of whom either live alone, with children, or with an unmarried romantic partner, then 42.1 million must live with roommates or other family members. That's a substantial portion of the single population! So, in some ways at least, perhaps singles are less independent than we give ourselves credit for.

This begs the question of how we define independence and whether some forms of independence have more value than others. Is a single woman who gets some parental help with her rent less independent than a wife who demands her husband stay home seven nights a week because she can't bear to be alone? How about a single man who lives with his parents but otherwise looks after himself versus a married man who can't do his own laundry? In American society, we tend to view married couples as more independent than singles in either of these situations (or even sometimes singles in general, which is a travesty), but we may be overlooking a reality that transcends marital status, the reality that humans are interdependent creatures.

That's right. We're social animals. And since Singletude is a humanistic blog, I feel compelled to point out that interdependence is a natural state for which we're evolutionarily designed. Now, I don't want to mix up interdependence with dependence or, as some relationship gurus like to call it, codependence, an inability to care for oneself as a separate individual. Obviously, the value of self-sufficiency is that adults today will spend over half their lives alone, and those who don't have a life raft of family or friends to fall back on need to swim for themselves to stay afloat. But a wholly independent life isn't historically the norm and may not be ideal for us, single or married. Humans have always lived in communities, and it's the rare individual who has learned to survive outside of them. The fact that isolation even within the community has become the new American standard doesn't mean it's what's best for us as human beings. So perhaps it's to be expected that adults who don't have mates would turn to other relations and friends for support.

Independence has long been an American ideal, but maybe it's time to reevaluate our conception of it. Maybe what we should really be promoting and teaching our kids (for those of us who will have them one day) is interdependence, the concept that people aren't made to go it entirely alone and that while those who do may be admired for their courage and dedication, it's not something that everyone can or should do. We're built for specialization and for socialization, which means that not everyone is equipped to do every task or to spend long periods totally alone. Instead of proudly insisting that we can do these things, no matter how unpleasant they are, maybe we should be looking for ways to integrate with other friends and family members to create a society in which everyone contributes and everyone benefits, rather than walling ourselves off to struggle alone as a matter of pride.

Do you think of yourself as an independent single? Do you think you're more independent than the coupled people you know? What does it mean to you to be "independent"? Do you value independence highly, or would you rather be more connected and interdependent?

Fun Link of the Day