Who tends to be the most outgoing, most active, most involved in their communities? Contrary to conventional belief, it’s singles, especially single women.
Two years ago, I moved from Brooklyn to a small city in upstate New York and subsequently faced the question of re-locaters everywhere: How will I make friends? I work from home, as does my husband, so there are no after-work drinks with colleagues. Our new city, Kingston, is small enough that people say hello to strangers on the street, but large enough that there’s a good chance you won’t see them again.
Fortunately, I have made some wonderful friends, and I’ve noticed that most have something very interesting in common: They’re single.
At my local meditation center—now the epicenter of my social life—it was the single women who immediately organized a group dinner, and we now enjoy regular ladies’ nights. During our moving frenzy, they offered us their trucks and their guest rooms. Once we were settled in, they were the ones coming up with ideas for group outings—hikes, lectures, trips to antique stores. They also generously offered to pick me up for those activities—after more than twenty years in New York I am slowly re-learning how to drive.
Although I am married now, I was single for most of my adult life—I met my husband, Mark, when I was 39. So I feel a deep kinship with single people. My book, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, has a snappy hook—firing back at all the inane things singles hear about why they’re unattached. But it’s also a meditation on the complexity of the single experience, and why I believe it has never been given the respect it deserves.
After It’s Not You was published earlier this year, I once again enjoyed the enormous generosity of single people. A blogger in Philadelphia who is a member of SingularCity got me a spot on a television news program, in anticipation of the book party she threw for me at a local restaurant. A dating columnist in Boston used her contacts to get me a bookstore reading and a feature in the Globe. And a marketing executive in Washington D.C. hosted a dinner party for twenty of her single friends and me.
I had never met any of these women before, but they extended themselves in this most uncommon way. That’s what I have noticed about single people: They are very good at forming new bonds and building communities.
My experience jibes with recent research on singles and communities. Sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian, analyzed data from The General Social Survey and The National Survey of Families and Households and found that, contrary to popular perception, single people take better care of their friends and extended family than married people do, as they are more likely to call, visit or offer practical support to parents, siblings and friends than their married co-horts.
“Spouses are expected to be confidants and the main source of emotional support, so the married are much less likely than singles to call a sibling, parent or friend to recount their day at work or their problems with their kids,” Gerstel told me. “The married are also less able to spontaneously get together with friends without worrying that their spouse will feel emotionally deprived.”
Initially, Gerstel and Sarkisian assumed that this gap could be attributed to child-rearing duties—we all understand that kids absorb enormous amounts of time and energy. But after controlling for parenthood, the researchers found that kids actually bring couples back into the fold—school fund-raisers, soccer games and the like. Married non-parents are the people who are most cut off from their communities.
I’m glad this research is out in the world, but we still have a quite way to go before our society recognizes all the contributions that single people make. Unfortunately, we still associate marriage with “growing up” and treat being single as some kind of developmental stage en route to true adulthood.
Hopefully, that’s changing. Because one of the most powerful things I see at the many single-women events I’ve attended in the past few years is the commitment singles have to each other—to helping out single friends when they’re sick, or lending a hand with pets, kids or aging parents.
They’re also a lot of fun to hang out with, because they’re so good at being present. After my event in Philadelphia, a small group of women stayed late—we ordered another round and talked some more, without interruption from the pings and bleats of smartphones.
Why do women now stay single into their thirties, forties and even forever? Simple: Because we can. Historically, this is unprecedented. In generations past, marriage wasn’t a choice for women; it was necessary for survival.
We can now enjoy the luxury of being single—either because we’re holding out for the right relationship, or we’re not interested in being in one at all. The larger culture hadn’t quite caught up with the notion that this is a very rational, empowered, grown-up choice. The good news is, we have each other.
Copyright © Sara Eckel 2014 / Singular Communications, LLC.
Join Singular magazine and your friends from SingularCity at L.A’s coolest bookstore, Book Soup on Friday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. where we’ll meet columnist/author Sara Eckel and hear a reading from her new book, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single inspired by her viral New York Times column “Modern Love.”
After the reading and book signing, we’ll walk over to State Social House at 8782 Sunset Blvd. to enjoy snacks and sips with Sara.
Please RSVP by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. This event is FREE!