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, June 7, 2009

Single by Choice or by Circumstance?

Increasingly, the single population seems to be dividing into two camps--singles by choice and singles by circumstance. Maybe you've noticed it, too. Maybe you've eagerly aligned yourself with one side or the other, or maybe, like me, you've been hesitant to label yourself and even a little concerned about the repercussions of divisive language.

When I started Singletude, I intended to serve both audiences indiscriminately. The idea was not to push singlehood as preferable to marriage or coupledom but to celebrate its unique advantages, as you might celebrate any other stage of life--childhood, adolescence, parenthood, late life. Singletude was designed to meet singles where they were, regardless of how they got there, offering resources, support, and a positive attitude toward the unattached. I believe in making the most of the lives we're given and wanted to help people recognize that, whether or not they chose the single state, they could be happy living it. Furthermore, I hoped to expose discrimination against singles in its many insidious forms and mobilize others to speak out against it.

That said, I don't mind telling you that when I began blogging, I was single by circumstance. I didn't state this overtly because I didn't want to alienate those who were single by choice, although I'm sure some of my posts spoke for me. At the time, I'll admit I even thought that while it was the bees knees to be single, it was their whole honeypot to be married. I had bought into the shoddy popular science that claimed marriage was a panacea for depression, loneliness, ill health, poverty, and socks with open-toed sandals. Moreover, while I firmly believed it was better to be single than sorry, which is more than one can say for a lot of matrimaniacs, a relationship chock-full of chemistry, romance, and commitment was something I very much wanted. And, yes, dear readers, I hoped it would one day lead to marriage.

Go ahead. Lob your tomatoes at me. Just make sure they're fresh-picked organic, please.

I still don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be married. In fact, I think monogamous commitment is the best context in which a relationship can grow. (Yeah, I'm familiar with the argument that we're biologically programmed to hook up with multiple partners, but we're biologically programmed to do lots of things we no longer do, such as spear those we don't get along with.) The desirability of marriage (to some people) does not make the single state undesirable, nor does it make unmarried people any less worthy of the perks and protections currently enjoyed by those who are legally wed. That's what this blog has always been about, not an attempt to glorify the solo lifestyle above all others or convince everyone who wants a mate to repress that longing.

In fact, I'm a little disturbed when I see what I'll call militant singles bashing those who are or hope to be partnered. True, there's a fine line between living with that hope and living for it, and I think that line trips up some well-meaning singles who worry that their peers will put their lives on hold until marriage. But they miss the fact that a single person can have a full, exciting life and yet also want to add a spouse to it, just as he or she might want to add a child or another friend. The difference, I suspect, is that the child and the friend don't provoke our resentment because people aren't rewarded in a way we perceive as unfair when they have children or make new friends. Nevertheless, our justified resentment of singlism should not justify berating singles who seek relationships, whether or not we're interested in the same thing.

I include myself in this reminder because in the past few months, I've crept over the line into the league of singles by choice. I can't tell you when exactly it happened. I didn't desert the ranks of singles by circumstance and make a mad dash for it. It was more the culmination of lessons learned in my third decade of life--not lessons that apply to everyone, but to me. Regretfully, more than once I've caught myself trying to generalize those lessons, to urge other singles off the path to joint filing and his-and-hers wash towels. But that's not right. In pressuring others to conform to my idea of happiness, I'm no different than the majority who insist that I can't be happy single. So, as I find myself changing my stance, I want to recommit myself to representing all singles at this blog, not just those who do or don't want to be.

Nevertheless, the cat is out of the bag now. I have become a single by choice. I hesitated to reveal this because I don't want to be divisive. I don't want singles by circumstance to feel that they aren't welcome here or promote a mindset that some singles are different and better than others. Neither do I want to sign up for a lifetime membership in the single-by-choice club so that I can never change my mind without feeling like I have betrayed someone. But chances are that although I will still cover all topics that I believe are relevant to singles, including dating, there may be times when my own beliefs will influence what I write, whether or not I'm aware of it.

By now you must be itching to find out why I've made a philosophical 180. If so, get some calamine; it must be poison ivy because nothing I have to say is that exciting. :) However, for the gossips, the rubberneckers, and the bored workers waiting for summer hours to kick in, Singletude will dedicate its next entry to the premature demise of my relationship-seeking days.

Have you observed a division in the singles community between those who are single by choice and those who are single by circumstance? If so, what do you think the cause might be, and how should it be addressed?

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!


Anonymous said...

I like to say that I am single by chance, but I *choose* to accept and embrace singlehood. If I met a stellar, stellar guy, I would not be averse to becoming unsingle. But I'm not going out of my way to find him.

Before starting Onely, I used to think that if I met this stellar guy, I would probably marry him. However, as we approach Onely's one year birthday, I've come to understand more about the institutions of couplehood and marriage, and while I would not be averse to partnering with said Stellar Guy, I do not ever intend to get married. And *that* is a definite choice I've made.

April said...

I think that sounds like a fairly natural progression, and I can relate to it.
Now I have to be careful, too, about not sounding like I'm forcing anything down on anyone, but I am trying to speak more openly about how I feel because it's exciting to me! Sometimes passion can be mistaken for militant.

Rachel AB said...

I am not sure if I've seen much of the division you're talking about, Elsie. But maybe I need to pay more attention!

I embraced being single when I realized that I can actually make that choice! I don't have to pretend that I am between relationships. So, I would venture to say that the (only?) difference between singles by choice and by circumstance is the awareness that we can be single and happy (even if our single state only lasts a month). This then lead to the realization of singlism all around me and my wish to fight it. I am not sure if I'd take that fight on with as much energy if I'd expect this state not to last very long. But I also realize that not everybody feels as strongly about this as I do and some people do not want to embrace being single for whatever reason. I don't think there's anything wrong with that per se except that it might (!) reflect societal attitudes toward single. And this is why I'd want to help raise consciousness in other singles that it's okay to be single - as a choice for a while or for life. I am grateful to you for raising this issue, though, because similar to what April pointed out, my consciousness raising might be mistaken as attempts at conversion...

I agree with Christina, though: I am having more and more problems with marriage as an institution. I am getting to the point where I don't feel comfortable entertaining the thought of getting married just to get the 1100+ benefits. But that is my choice at this time. If marriage were the only way I could get health insurance, for example, I might feel about this differently... I don't think I'd have a big white wedding though...

Unknown said...


This topic is the reason I went looking for blog about being Single. In the last few years I started having shorter and shorter relationships and longer spans between them. Its something that I reflect on more as I realize I'm about to be 31. Its been two years since my last relationship. (Wow, has it really been that long?) Its a state I never would've expected a few years ago. But I'm surprisingly comfortable with it. Growing up there was never a thought that this could be how my life would be.

Being single is complicated and I think everyone's experience is different. Thanks for sharing yours.

CC Solomon said...

I think I'm single by chance because of my choice. Make sense? I could have been in relationships but I chose not to be with those guys because "it" wasn't there. I just didn't feel the bond to be in a relationship and I'm sorry that's needed. So I know many friends in the circumstance category who would view me as being single by choice but I figure this, if I'd rather be on my own than hang out with that guy most of the time then that guy is not the one for me. But there is a definite difference between the two camps and how they see things and even behave.

The Singlutionary said...

I have noticed that there is a distinctive difference between single by choice and single by chance. But I think we have a lot more in common than we have differences.

I am not sure which camp I fall into. Because I do feel that I choose to be single, in a way, by not pursuing relationships and by living my life so fully that there is not really room for a relationship at this time. But it seems that the single by choice camp tends to say: I am single and I will ALWAYS be single.

I am not interested in making a statement about the rest of my life. I am open to becoming coupled. Of course, being coupled in a Singlutionary fashion is much different than the couplings I have observed my friends make over the years.

I used to think I would never get married because of all the stuff Christina Onely said above. But now I 'm not sure that marriage is worth resisting.

And yet I am so far away from being married.

In short: Choosing to live a full life as a single is making a choice so while one could say that I haven't chosen singledom, I have made a choice to embrace it live it and love it, just as I would have if I had found myself sucessfully and joyfully partnered (which I didn't).

Monique said...

I think every single person is in that status by choice, to a certain extent. Because even the actively looking or desperate singles can find someone if they try; it might just not be who they want. So isn't that being single by choice? I suppose someone who just got out of a relationship can say she/he's single by circumstance, but even then, nothing keeps that person to go out and meet someone..... humm.. I can't really draw the line here.

As for me, well, I'm not opposed to marriage either, but I love my single state and I think it should be enjoyed to the fullest.

Clever Elsie said...

First of all, thanks to everyone for these particularly thoughtful comments this week! Most of you beat me to the punch since next week's question was going to be whether you saw yourself as single by choice or by circumstance. I love the array of answers here! I'm going to respond to all of you, but Blogger is being finicky, so I'm going to have to split my reply into two.

Christina: I like "single by chance." It has a nice ring to it! I used to also meet your definition of "single by chance," although now I'm not sure I'd want a great relationship even if it fell in my lap!

I'm not anti-marriage in general, but I don't see myself getting to the altar if I can't even get into being a girlfriend!

April: That's true that it's easy to read more animosity into some commentary than is probably intended. It's possible that I have misinterpreted the tone of some of the things I have read, too. But, as you say, it's always good to be aware of how we come across to others and the messages that we might unintentionally communicate.

Rachel: Hmmm...Interesting points. You know, for the purposes of this blog, I always considered "single by choice" to describe someone who would prefer to be single than in a relationship and "single by circumstance" as someone who would prefer to be coupled than single. But, as I'm realizing from your comments, it's not so black and white. There are also singles who are genuinely contented in either state. Kind of funny that I overlooked them since I've gone through periods in my life when I was one of them!

I just want to say that I admire and appreciate your efforts to combat singlism. Yours is one of the most consistently enlightening and provocative voices to advocate for singles on the Web.

I too am disgusted by the numerous legal privileges that are granted to married couples over singles, and I am committed to speaking out against that. But it's tricky for me because I also believe in the value of marriage as a lifelong commitment, so if I found someone I wanted to marry, I wouldn't shun the institution, just keep protesting the legal benefits on behalf of singles. I do, however, understand why the practice doesn't sit well with you as a whole.

Clever Elsie said...

Part II of my responses:

Bryan: Hi, welcome to Singletude! I love seeing new "faces" here. Like you, I really couldn't have imagined that I would be single at my age. I have this vivid memory of a childhood friend and I swearing that we wouldn't get married before 25 so that we'd have a chance to see the world, but I never really thought I'd be pushing 30 without a husband, much less a serious relationship. Thankfully, my prolonged singleness forced me to realize that...hey, I may actually be happier this way! Now I feel grateful that I reached this conclusion before getting married!

CC: I'm really liking this concept of "single by chance," which Christina also mentioned above. I feel like my experience has been similar to yours--an active rejection of relationships I didn't want, resulting in extended singlehood.

I think you're the first one who's commented that you also see the two single camps squaring off. I'm glad I'm not the only one! I agree that there's a real difference in mentality. For me, it's made it difficult to know my audience as a blogger.

Singlutionary: Yay! Another person who gets what I'm talking about: But it seems that the single by choice camp tends to say: I am single and I will ALWAYS be single. Yes! That's what I mean.

Even though I'm currently single by choice, I completely understand the desire to leave your options open. That's the way I feel, too.

Also, I agree that the commonalities between the two groups outweigh the differences, especially in terms of the singlism we face and the daily reality of living uncoupled. Whether we're happy being single or not, we still have to pay almost double the taxes that marrieds do, go to weddings alone, and figure out how to move in that new couch with just one pair of hands.

Monique: While I believe there are people who really, truly can't find partners at all, usually because of physical or emotional conditions, remote location, or poor social skills, I think you're right that lots of singles who would rather be partnered could be if they lowered their standards. But IMO, lowering your standards if they're anywhere near reasonable is not an advisable thing to do, so when I say "single by circumstance," I'm generally referring to singles who would rather be coupled if they could find suitable partners.

Thanks again to everyone who has commented so far! What a good discussion!

Anonymous said...

what i like about this post is that it shows that rather than an either/or situation, singleness can be a both/and. you can be both happy being single and appreciative of connecting with someone else.
perhaps 'single by choice' is really 'comfy with being single', while 'single by circumstance' could mean there's a lagging doubt and/or want for things to be different.

Clever Elsie said...

SW: Hi! Thanks for commenting! Yes, I think there are a lot of people out there (largely underrepresented) who appreciate both states equally but for different reasons. Thanks for pointing that out.