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.

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?

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