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.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Anderson Woman Married 23 Times" by Konrad Marshall: A Singletude Response

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled blog posting to announce that Singletude has identified the first ever anti-singletude poster child, Linda Lou Wolfe of Anderson, IN, as reported by Konrad Marshall in an article, "Anderson Woman Married 23 Times."

Wolfe, who was born Linda Lou Taylor and is now 68, holds the Guinness world record for the most marriages of any female in a single lifetime. Her former husbands, apparently chosen for their aptitude to quickly and effectively end marriages, include a convict, a homeless man, and two who weren't even straight.

Perhaps desperate to wipe her slate clean in the eyes of God, Taylor Scott Street Smith Moyer Massie McMillan Berisford Chandler Essex, etc. married a Baptist minister, Glynn "Scotty" Wolfe, the male record holder for most marriages, becoming wife number 29. It seems the man of the cloth married so often to avoid the sin of premarital sex. His final marriage to Taylor, etc., a publicity stunt that never paid off, ended when he passed away shortly before their first anniversary.

Good thing he wasn't Muslim. He already got his share of virgins.

Wolfe advises singles to "just get married the once and stay married. I have not had a bed of roses, believe me." That is very true. Instead, she got cheated on, choked, beaten, and padlocked in a refrigerator by her dear hubbies. Nevertheless, she says, "I would get married again because, you know, it gets lonely."

I understand. I too get lonely when a man hasn't padlocked me in a refrigerator in awhile.

Seriously, if there was ever a person totally and utterly lacking in singletude, this must be it. One wonders what would happen to her if she let herself be single for a day. Would she explode like a piece of wedding cake smashed in a young bride's face? Would she melt like a groom's perspiring brow? Wolfe must've feared so. Why else would she have rushed 23 men to the altar--that's an average of one man almost every two years since she started her wedding spree at 16--even marrying one guy three times? (You know, after two times, you gotta figure something isn't working.)

Singletude readers, I don't think I even have to tell you to do as Wolfe says, not as she does. Marriage can be a celebration of a loving union between two people, or it can be a prop for someone who can't stand on his or her own two legs. It's a commitment that two individuals should enter into because they want to live their lives side by side, not because either of them won't have a life without the other. And those vows should be made thoughtfully and carefully, with the intention of fulfilling them, not with already in your bookmarks.

To people like Wolfe, I say if you can't marry for the right reasons, then don't marry at all. And mere "loneliness" is not a good enough reason! There are plenty of social organizations you can join to combat that, and none of them require a lawyer when you part ways with them. This woman needs a bumper sticker that says, "Reckless Marriages Destroy Lives."

Whew! Okay, I've said my piece. Or peace. Speak now, dear readers, or forever hold it. What do you think about Wolfe's 23 marriages? Do you think loneliness in itself is a good enough reason to marry? What do you think are good reasons to marry? How do you know when someone is the right one?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Single Homeowners: Ready to Be Home Alone?

Once upon a time, the "single-family home," despite its misleading name, housed a mom, a dad, two kids, and a dog...or, at the very least, a husband and wife in training for the kids and dog. If Mr. Jones pulled his Chevy into the driveway after a long day of work and disappeared into a dark, quiet house to eat take-out and watch TV by himself, then it was whispered that there must be something wrong with him. Why would one person need all that space? He must be antisocial...or a child molester...or...or...something else bad because everyone knows the key to being a good person is getting someone else to listen to you snore for the rest of your life, right?

These days, "single-family home" often has a more literal meaning as a house where a single adult lives, with or without kids. In case some marrieds are still wondering, singles buy homes for the same reasons you do--for privacy, space, an investment, stability. Apparently, these basic human needs are pretty important to American singles because, in 2008, 30% of home buyers were single according to the National Association of Realtors. Let me rephrase that for added impact: More than a quarter of U.S. home buyers are now living "home alone."

Since homes have declined in value by over 20% since their 2006 peak, now would seem to be the time to buy in for singles who have the means. But before you graduate from paying the rent to paying the mortgage, you should take an honest look at the hidden costs and upkeep required to keep those window boxes blooming and that picket fence sparkling white. Keep these factors in mind when evaluating whether single home ownership is for you:

1. The cost of owning a home extends well beyond the mortgage. It also encompasses property taxes (about 1.5% of the property value), insurance (about .5% of the property value), heating (about $101.20 per month) and electricity (about $1,182 from October to March), and routine maintenance. Some of these costs will vary by location and could be much higher. For instance, if you live in a northern state, the cost to heat your home during the winter months will jump to $2,725. Likewise, if you live in a good school district, expect to pay thousands more per year, such as the good residents of Westchester County, NY, who cough up an average property tax of $7,908 compared to their brethren in Vernon Parish, LA, who owe a scant $115. And the sad fact is that you can't call a landlord when you need a new roof or septic system, either of which can easily run you $20,000. So make sure you prepare yourself and your bank account for these additional expenses.

2. You will need to be your own handyman (or -woman!). Even if you move into a brand new house, sooner or later there will be drains to unplug, electrical outlets to install, major appliances to repair. On a more frequent basis, there will be minor tasks awaiting your tired back after a long day of work--carpets to vacuum, shelves to dust, windows to wash. In your one-bedroom apartment, you may polish off these jobs in an hour on a Saturday morning, but the average size of a house is well over 2,000 sq. ft.! And we're just talking about the inside. Outside, there will be grass to mow, leaves to rake, snow to shovel. Some of these responsibilities you will need to tackle yourself, and others will require you to hire a pro, often for a hefty $75 or $100 an hour, and take the day off to wait for him to (possibly) show up. Think about whether you have the time and physical endurance to be a good housekeeper...or whether you can afford to have someone else do it for you.

3. A house is first and foremost a place to live, not an investment. If you want to invest, try an IRA or a mutual fund, as millions of unsuspecting homeowners backed by Countrywide and Fannie Mae learned this year. That is not to say that your house won't appreciate over time, but we now know its value can also plummet, leaving you in hot water if you owe more than it's worth, a situation now facing 27% of American homeowners. So don't assume that buying is always a financially savvy decision. In fact, if your rent is at least 35% less than the annual cost of owning the home you want, re-sign that lease because you're better off renting. On the other hand, you will get a happy, healthy tax break for owning, so include it in your calculations!

4. A house is a place to put down roots and build a foundation. It is not a substitute motel room with more space and fewer bedbugs. If, like many young singles unsettled in their careers, you don't intend to stay for at least three or four years, you may want to put off buying. The costs incurred when a house changes hands can add up to a big fat loss if you have to go through the process twice in as many years, and if you sell before you've owned even that long, you'll get hit with a capital gains tax. So be sure you like where you live and that your source of income is stable.

5. A house is not automatically a home. While some singles luxuriate in the space and solitude of a house, others find that four walls and a roof don't equal a home without their roommates or neighbors across the hall. If you like to be surrounded by people all the time, living in a house by yourself can be an isolating experience. It also may raise safety concerns for those who are older, have health issues, or live in high-crime neighborhoods. If you're worried about any of these possibilities but still want a place of your own, consider condos and housing developments, where neighbors are more accessible. Also, just because you're single doesn't mean you have to live alone any more than it did when you rented. Now you can become the grouchy landlord you always hated and rent one or more rooms in your house, which will not only provide the companionship you seek but some help with the mortgage, too! (Just remember that if your tenant lives with you, there's a limit to how grouchy you can be before it's no longer in your best interest. ;) )

The five points above are not intended to discourage you from pursuing your dream of single homeownership but to remind you of the realities behind the romance of that little cabin in the woods or cottage by the shore. However, if you understand and are prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of a house, then there's no reason to wait for a significant other to enjoy the comfort, privacy, and personal space as well as the sense of pride that are part and parcel of owning your own home.

If still in doubt, test it out! You can always rent a house for a year or two to get a sense of what it takes to maintain a residence before you're the one required to maintain it. Who knows? The landlord may even offer to sell once you've established a good relationship.

Now that you're ready to join the big kids and be home alone, you face a long and sometimes arduous road from pre-approval to move-in day. Next time, Singletude will guide you down the path step by step with tips for single house hunters.

Are you a single who hopes to buy a home of your own? If so, what are some of the pros and cons that you've been considering? If you already own a home, are you glad you made the decision to buy? What advice would you give to other singles thinking about buying their own homes?

Fun Link of the Day

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!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You: A Singletude Review

I'm putting today's planned post about single homeowning on hold because the cinematic version of Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo's bestseller, He's Just Not That Into You, debuted this past weekend. Since the book's title became a rallying cry for countless singles, I know some of you will be lining up to pay homage to its truisms about boys behaving badly and the women who love them. So before you open your wallet and part with the equivalent of three Starbucks runs for the privilege of crushing someone else's cold popcorn kernels into the seat of your pants as the teenage boy behind you generously massages your back with swift, sure, repetitive kicks, I thought I'd put myself in the hot seat and possibly spare you the trouble.

As you may have inferred from previous statements such as "I hate Greg Behrendt," I really don't like Greg Behrendt. I didn't like the simplistic, one-size-fits-all philosophy he espoused in his book, so I didn't think I'd like the movie either. Well, the movie may not have been this year's Love, Actually, but as your standard rainy day romantic comedy, it wasn't half bad, and, to my surprise, I didn't have to give it an automatic thumbs down for towing the Behrendt line. If anything, the movie disputes his theory or at least leaves room for the messier elements of life that complicate relationships.

He's Just Not That Into You employs a star-studded ensemble as a selling point, and the acting is expectedly solid, but the Dickensian web of relationships is more convoluted than clever. I found myself wishing that the writers had condensed the book's talking points into just two or three arcs instead of creating a new character to illustrate each one. As a result, the characters fail to take on lives of their own and have about as much color and dimension as black-and-white sketches accompanying Behrendt's anecdotes. There's Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), the neurotic, pink phone clutching embarrassment to single women everywhere who manages to make every mistake in the dating book but can't imagine why guys don't call her back; Connor (Kevin Connolly), the object of her obsession, who just isn't that into her; Greg Behr--err, Alex (Justin Long), who just isn't that into anyone and makes it his mission to educate Gigi in the secret code of men; sexpot Anna (Scarlett Johansson), who throws herself at a married man, as all voluptuous blondes do; the philandering married man (Bradley Cooper), who of course won't leave his predictably uptight wife (Jennifer Connelly); and several other characters cobbled together from folk wisdom about the evils of cohabitation and the Internet.

The exception in this tribute to rules is Beth, a breath of circulating, if not fresh, air played with real poignancy by Jennifer Aniston, who must know a thing or two about the role of the long-suffering girlfriend coming to terms with her boyfriend's (Ben Affleck) contempt for the institution of marriage. Hers is the only story that pushes the boundaries of the cliche, though it ultimately does a 180 and ends up reinforcing them.

Interspersed with the vignettes are mockumentary-style interviews with sad examples of the female sex, who bolster the book's unstated but unavoidable blame-the-victim thesis. There are some genuinely funny lines here as well as throughout the rest of the movie, which is entertaining enough to rent the DVD and throw a pajama party. But there are also agonizing moments of heartbreak and humiliation that will hit close to home for singles who have been "on the market" for awhile without offering any insight or solution worth a $10 ticket.

And aren't insight and solutions what fans are expecting of the movie based on their favorite self-help book? For them, He's Just Not That Into You will surely disappoint and confuse for the same reasons that it surprised and pleased me: it doesn't actually support the book's prescription for dating success.

See, Behrendt would like single women to believe that men are all-or-nothing roboclones programmed to respond to the opposite sex in one of two ways--either flick them off like dung flies or fly them to the moon on a diamond-encrusted jet. No in between. And, according to Behrendt, this should be the case whether a couple has just met or been together for 30 years. Any man who hesitates to ask a woman out, call her back, commit to a relationship, or marry her just isn't into her and never will be. His philosophy of love leaves no room for baggage, shyness, insecurity, immaturity, or differences in romantic style, much less for the feelings that can blossom out of friendship over time. Plus, by absolving both parties of any blame, he does a disservice to both men and women. The message is that, whether you're a man who rejects women repeatedly and ruthlessly or a woman who's been repeatedly and ruthlessly rejected, you couldn't possibly have any problems except that you haven't found the right one.

Without throwing out any spoilers, let's just say that the movie contradicts this premise, and that, in my opinion, is its saving grace. It shows us relationships, in all their glorious sloppiness, breaking the rules. Friendships grow slowly into something deeper, men rethink their feelings and learn to commit over time, women make the first move and sometimes do get the guy. Interwoven with these anti-lessons are examples that support the book, too, but they succeed because they apply to superficial relationships, and that's where Behrendt's rules are of value. Your mother could've told you--and probably did--that most married men won't leave their wives for a fling. And, given the multiple avenues of communication available in our global society, if a guy doesn't contact you after the first date, he doesn't want a second helping of your wit and charm. Behrendt's problem is that he tries to force those broad-based guidelines to work in specific situations in which complex interactions of personal history, psychological needs, personality dynamics, and value systems determine the course of a relationship. The movie trumps the book because it acknowledges that a catchphrase like "he's just not that into you" isn't sufficient to explain those interactions.

But what I like best about this movie isn't just that it contradicts its source material; it affirms the single life in a way the book never did. In the end, no less than three characters choose to be alone for awhile, and that choice is presented not with pity but with acceptance and encouragement. As the camera pans through a final montage, the concluding voiceover reminds us that sometimes the happy ending is you on your own, making a new life for yourself. I'm into that!

He's Just Not That Into You won't win any awards, but it's cute, true to life, and surprisingly singles-friendly. If you're in the mood to waste some money this weekend, watch with my blessing.

Fun Link of the Day

(Read it and cringe.)

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!