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.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Alone Together" by Jennifer Senior: A Singletude Response

On November 23, "Alone Together" was the cover story of New York Magazine. Since I love it when the mainstream media addresses singles issues, I dashed over here to tell you about it. Unlike those brief pop newsflashes with their useless trivia ("4 of 5 Single Women Say they Want to Get Married,"anyone?), this article has heft and meat, even if I got the sense that a few of the marital stats used to dress up this hearty fare had passed their expiration date. Overall, though, the article takes an in-depth look at living single in the country's most populated metro center and, in the end, reaffirms it as a natural and healthy condition.

The fact that singles now live alone in one of every two New York City apartments prompted writer Jennifer Senior to question the stereotype of the lonely, isolated cat lady. In the process, although she trots out the same overblown Waite and Gallagher statistics about how much happier and healthier married people are (see my review of Dr. Bella DePaulo's Singled Out to better understand how this data is manipulated to support an agenda), she ultimately uncovers the truth that has quietly shaped half the American population--that social health is about depth and variety of connection, not marriage. And due to that finding, it should come as no surprise that, despite their tough veneer, cities are often the most fertile grounds for establishing and maintaining all-important social networks. Here are some of the article's highlights:

*Even though people are more likely to live alone in urban environments as opposed to less populated areas, city dwellers are less likely to feel lonely.
*Singles feel more connected when surrounded by other singles and are therefore less likely to be lonely in the city than out in the 'burbs.
*The unhappily married feel lonely as often as or more often than singles.
*A large network of close friends and acquaintances increases happiness and health as much as a good marriage. Urbanites tend to have more friends.
*Singles tend to have more friends and leave home to socialize more frequently than couples.
*Intimate friendships aren't the only benchmark of emotional health. Casual acquaintances (i.e., friends of friends) and colleagues increase our sense of well-being, too.
*The Internet communication that so many in the young single generation favor, long vilified for its propensity to isolate, is, in fact, a valuable means of socialization.
*Living alone in itself may provide personal satisfaction due to its association with maturity, independence, and achievement.

Senior fleshes out these claims with research evidence, expert interviews, and some editorializing that seems mostly on the mark and singles-friendly. She also raises a point that resonated with me and might with you, too. Specifically, if you are among the millions of professional singles who never step off the workaday treadmill, you may be particularly vulnerable to loneliness because your--pardon the pun--single-minded attention to work may preclude developing social contacts. I have to admit right about now I'm hearing strains of "People who need people/Are the luckiest people in the world..."

Now I know there are some critics who will be offended by the article's unabashed crushing on NYC and cities in general. In its defense, when I lived in a semi-rural area, I did feel more lonely than I do now, although I suspect that was due more to a difference of perception than actual hours spent socializing. Still, the potential for connection, as desired, that teems right outside my door in a big city is itself a comfort that I didn't have in a small town, and perhaps that sense of connectedness is almost as important as time spent in the presence of others. Nevertheless, while cities may be hotbeds for happening singles, the most important factor in your social success is how dedicated you are to cultivating connections. Even in a city as enormous as New York, like Senior, I am easily isolated by my work if I don't consciously make time for family, friends, dating, and outside activities.

In any event, I am pleased to see a high-profile magazine put a mostly positive spin on singlehood, confronting the myth of loneliness head-on and discrediting it. I observe so many writers purporting to do the same, who instead end up infusing their articles with nagging doubts about whether all those seemingly happy singles are really just donning a brave facade, intentionally hoodwinking traditionalists, or disconnecting from their true emotions. Senior takes the opposite approach, addressing prejudices right away and dispelling them. Whether you're a denizen of Greenwich Village or the plains of Wyoming, I encourage you to read this portrait of the coming era for singles.

What do you think about Senior's assertions in "Alone Together"? If you live alone, do you feel lonely? Do you think any loneliness that you feel is either ameliorated or exacerbated by the size of the town or city in which you live? Do you think you spend more time socializing and have more acquaintances than your coupled friends do? Do you find your social network as emotionally satisfying as a romantic relationship?

Fun Link of the Day

(This is your reference point for the dubious marital stats.)

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have a rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a Singletude Q&A or your rant or rave in a Singletude Sound-off!


bobbyboy said...

All I can really say from experience is that living in a city where a lot of people dwell, and where shops stay open longer, is that I don't feel as lonely as I would where it is less populated.

Great article Elsie!

Anonymous said...

I, too, was happy to see a MSM article that gave a positive spin to living alone and being single. I'm a single New Yorker and have lived alone for over a decade. I like my life and hate it when people assume I am lonely.

I'm a lot less lonely than many of the married people I know.

Anonymous said...

I'm a single person and have nothing against being single or those who prefer to be single but it just doesn't work for some, not even for celebs who have all the money, all the fame, all the friends, they still marry amidst all that success.

I don't think shops that are open 24 hours or even a good set of good friends can ever be compared to a 'real, God -centered' romantic relationship.

People are lonely in marriages because of choosing the wrong partner or marrying for the wrong reasons with wrong expectations.

Good topic though.

Clever Elsie said...

Bobby: As someone who once lived in a very different, more rural environment, I have to agree with that, Bobby.

SINgle: I know just what you mean about the annoying assumptions that people make! I don't like to feel pitied either. The truth is that, as you said, there are many married people who are lonely as well, and I pity them, but interestingly, it's much less socially acceptable to express your pity to someone in a bad marriage than to someone who's single. An example of singlism at work!

Thess: I'd have to disagree that being single "doesn't work" for some people. Certainly there are many people who prefer to marry, which is fine. But to say that it "doesn't work" implies that there are people out there who just can't exist in the state in which they came into this world--alone! Since I see that you identify as a Christian, I'm surprised that you would say that knowing that the apostle Paul highly recommended the single life and that, according to biblical teaching, God gives his followers the grace and strength to thrive and be joyful in any circumstance, married or not.

Indeed there is substantial research evidence to indicate that singles who have close relationships are comparable to happily marrieds in many ways--happiness, health, and longevity, for starters.

Again, there's nothing wrong with getting married or choosing to be in a romantic relationship, but singlehood gets a bad rap when, in fact, much of that bad rap is nothing but myth.

Anonymous said...

In defense of Thess, I do suspect there are people who can't stand being single, just like there are some people (like me) who can't stand being coupled.

Interesting discussion, especially whether or not cities are better places for singles. I'm presently planning to move farther from the city and into the suburbs, as I've always liked open space (and hated crowds, noise, etc.), but I've had to consider whether or not that would be a good environment for a single man.

I wonder if age plays a role as if younger singles are more attracted to the city's nightlife than older singles like me.

Clever Elsie said...

Alan: Hi! If memory serves me, you're a first-time commenter, so welcome aboard. :)

I agree that there are people who believe it's intolerable to be single. I worry about those people, though, because ultimately each of us is alone in one way or another. We come into the world alone and leave it the same way, and in between statisticians now predict we will live more of our adult lives single than married. So of course we can exist--and, in fact, have to--outside of dyadic pairings. It can be hard for those who long to be coupled, but those are the very ones who need to learn how to appreciate life with or without a romantic partner because, really, what other option is there when someone is alone?

I wonder if age plays a role as if younger singles are more attracted to the city's nightlife than older singles like me.

That's a good question. I'll bet age is a factor, although I don't have any research to back that up. It's a great point, though, because it can be misleading to assume that you have a better chance of meeting a significant other just because there are more singles in the vicinity. You have to participate in the activities that will draw those singles! So if you prefer socializing in ways that aren't popular with singles in your area, you may want to relocate to a place with more opportunities for meeting other singles through activities you enjoy.

Good luck with your move if you decide to head for the 'burbs! I hope you'll let us know how single life there compares to the urban singles scene.