If there’s one group of people who have raised the collective eyebrow of society more than any other, it’s those iconoclasts who have chosen to buck social conventions and never marry — not even once. In this feature, exclusively for Singular magazine, we take a look at the few, the proud, the never-married, and how they illustrate throughout history, a life without marriage can bring singular satisfaction.
Actor, director, producer, writer, photographer, singer, real estate developer, mother and muse: What hasn’t Diane Keaton done? Keaton turned 70 in January, and in those years, she has made more than 50 movies, winning an Oscar for her iconic role of Annie Hall in 1977 and inhabiting a breathtaking span of roles that range from comedic to the dramatic.
She has lived a life of Garboesque seclusion, yet her love affairs with Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino garnered attention as much for their combined star power as for Keaton’s ability to inspire her on-, and off-, screen partners.
Yet, through it all, Keaton has remained single. In an interview, she said, “I wouldn’t rule [marriage] out, but at the same time, I do not see that in my future. I mean, there’s a certain point in your life where you can’t help it, you’re biologically charged and driven towards the opposite sex. You dream about men, you love them, you’re excited by it, and I don’t feel that way now. There’s a kind of freeing aspect to that.”
The man has made political satire a media empire. Bill Maher has had a legendary career as a stand-up comedian, written seven books, helmed three successful television talk shows and wrote, produced and narrated Religulous, a scathing documentary that boldly questions religious belief.
If gossip, steamy tell-alls and court cases are to be believed, Maher’s taste in women runs a wide gamut. Of his dating habits, Maher says, “I couldn’t go out with bimbos if I tried! I scare them off! The women that like me are smart.”
Avowedly agnostic, professionally politically incorrect and a gleeful provocateur, Maher cheerfully flouts social conventions. “I always compare marriage to communism,” he said in a Rolling Stone interview. “They’re both institutions that don’t conform to human nature, so you’re going to end up with lying and hypocrisy.”
Given his outspoken views, Maher hardly keeps it a secret that as a highly politicized single dude, he puts the “libertine” in “Libertarian.”
Modern women owe the existence of the following to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel: the little black dress, pants, unconstructed suits, sling-back pumps, bobbed hair and ropes of pearls.
Chanel also created a collection of bons mots that are as lasting and relevant today as they were when she first dropped them. “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous,” “There is time for work, and time for love. That leaves no other time,” and “Great loves too, must be endured,” are aphorisms worthy of Oscar Wilde.
Chanel was more than a dress designer: She was the architect of the modern woman, a woman who wore comfortable but complimentary clothing such as suits based on menswear but impeccably tailored for the female form, a woman who defined herself by her work and unapologetically lived her life on her own highly luxe terms.
Which is not to say that Chanel never relied on men. Rather, she took them up and put them down with a kind of casual grace. When the Duke of Westminster asked Chanel to marry him, she declined and later commented, “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” Chanel died in 1971 at 87; her unrepentant and stylish modernism lives on.
Wilt the Stilt, the Big Dipper, the Chairman of the Boards — no matter what you called him, Wilt Chamberlain was a Goliath of a basketball player. Standing 7 feet 1 inch, Chamberlain played center for the L.A. Lakers, the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Yet his selection to 13 all-star games, his four MVP awards or even his two NBA winning titles don’t immediately pop into minds when Chamberlain’s name is mentioned. What does is his claim in his 1992 autobiography “A View From Above” that he had sex with over 20,000 women.
In his defense, Chamberlain said, “The point of using the number was to show that sex was a great part of my life as basketball was a great part of my life. That’s the reason why I was single.”
A pick-up artist who made Mystery look like a rank amateur, Chamberlain nevertheless maintained a reputation for being polite in his seductions.
Sheryl Crow has the best rock ’n’ roll hair this side of Ann and Nancy Wilson. She also has fantastic arms and a killer midriff; it’s a super bod that has kept her in step with superman boyfriends like Lance Armstrong, John Stamos, John Cusack, Ryan Seacrest and restaurateur John Cassimus.
More importantly, Crow’s assertively healthy lifestyle helped her overcome breast cancer in 2006 and adopt a son in 2007.
Today, Crow looks really, really good. Natural. And strong enough to be your favorite rock-and-roll woman. Which is probably what really explains Crow’s longevity.
In a sea of girl singer wannabes, Crow reads as a real woman with real pain and the real honesty to sing about the whole mess. Take “Diamond Ring” from her Detours disc: “Diamonds may be sweet/ But to me/ They just bring on/ Cold feet … Diamond Ring/Don’t mean a thing.”
Always public about her bouts with depression, her progressive politics and her personal struggles, Crow writes songs that tread the fine line between pop and poetry.
Crow may be the only woman in the current pop-rock scene who fearlessly and unapologetically presents herself as being the singular woman she really is.
Henry David Thoreau
Considering the almost uninterrupted praise that this author of such groundbreaking transcendentalist books as Walden and Civil Disobedience has received over the last century, it is easy to forget that Henry David Thoreau took a contrarian stance on everything from paying taxes to confining himself to a traditional marriage.
Though Thoreau wrote sparingly about his precise viewpoints regarding marriage and committed relationships, his often-stated antipathy to the idea of submission to any outward will made his life as a singular a virtual inevitability.
His brand of quiet anarchy likely grew from such extreme individualism.
More interestingly, perhaps, Thoreau seemed to suffer little from loneliness as a result of his solitude but instead found almost unending inspiration in the natural communities he lived in and explored. Naturalists, individualists and lovers of fine prose have been making their appreciation known ever since.
Oprah was born to a teen mother and raised in indigence. She was 6 years old before she had her first pair of shoes. As a child, she wore potato sacks fashioned into dresses. She was raised by her stern but supportive grandma and honed her interview skills by using corncob dolls as subjects. And she has — by sheer will, incredible diligence and raw, hard work — created a $700 billion empire that spans television, stage, screen and print.
Playing a role that spans being guru, therapist and shaman, Oprah cajoles, endears and enables her guests and her audience in what can only be considered the biggest group-therapy sessions (with shopping) in history.
Oprah has a network of tight friendships that includes childhood friend Gayle King; a history of boyfriends like Roger Ebert and Danny Glover; and a current relationship with her long-time partner, educator Stedman Graham, with whom Oprah has chosen to share a “spiritual union.”
In an interview in Essence magazine, she said of Stedman, “The truth of the matter is, had we gotten married we wouldn’t be together now, because in no way is this a traditional relationship.”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was arguably the greatest composer who ever lived. German, beetle-browed and with flowing white hair, he composed music of breathtaking passion and depth. When he became deaf, inconceivably, he continued to compose, perform and conduct music.
Beethoven was something of a rock star, as attractive to the empire-waisted women of his day as Kanye West is to those of today. Though besieged by female attention in the courts of Vienna where he lived most of his life, Beethoven was attached to only three women.
The most famous and elusive love affair of his life took place with his “Immortal Beloved,” a woman who has never been identified. Beethoven wrote a series of letters to this unknown amour: “Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us — I can only live wholly with you or not at all …”
Simone de Beauvoir
As essentially French as existentialism and those long sticks of crusty bread, Simone de Beauvoir was a seismic force in feminism and, dare it be said, in the contemporary notion of polyamory. De Beauvoir believed that marriage was an “obscene bourgeois institution.”
Born into a middle-class family in 1908, de Beauvoir soon distinguished herself with what her father termed “the brain of a man.” She graduated from high school, was accepted at the University of Paris, and soon met her long-time paramour, free-love consort and intellectual partner, Jean-Paul Sartre. The two were inseparable, in bed and out, except when each was having long, passionate affairs with other men, women or both.
De Beauvoir famously said, “To catch a husband is an art; to hold him is a job,” and the only job she wanted was that of writer. In her lifetime, not only did de Beauvoir pen her groundbreaking feminist tome The Second Sex, but she also wrote philosophical works and several highly autobiographical, highly erotic novels, thus laying the groundwork for the writings of Erica Jong and Jessica Cutler.
De Beauvoir had multiple lovers in the span of her 78-year life, but the 4-foot-11-inch existentialist philosopher Sartre was her main man. She claimed, “Our relationship was the greatest achievement of my life.”
He may be the winner of an Oscar, a few Golden Globes, a BAFTA, an Emmy, a couple of Tonys and more; he may lay claim to the title of being one of the greatest living American actors; but most importantly, Al Pacino is unquestionably a legendary singular.
His little black book reads like a Hollywood who’s who of actresses: Tuesday Weld, Ellen Barkin, Debra Winger, Diane Keaton, Jill Clayburgh, Beverly D’Angelo. Even Winona Ryder and Rose McGowan have been rumored to be attached to a much older, and more experienced, Pacino.
While he’s never tied the knot with any of his paramours, he has fathered three children: a daughter by acting teacher Jan Tarrant and twins with D’Angelo, whose split from Pacino was famously acrimonious.
Best known for his gruff roles with violent, macho tendencies, Pacino seems an unlikely romantic, and yet he has said, “I’m single and I don’t particularly like it.”
His personal history seems to demonstrate otherwise. Rare is the Hollywood actor who has never taken a walk down the aisle; in tribute to Pacino’s lifestyle, never-marrieds everywhere can raise a glass of champagne and exclaim, “Booyeah!”
Queen Elizabeth I
Called The Virgin Queen, Queen Elizabeth, the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, ruled from 1558 to 1603.
She brought a Renaissance glory to England, and while she was loved by her people, in all likelihood, she was not a virgin.
Elizabeth was Henry VIII’s daughter by his second wife, Anne Boleyn; caught in an intricate web of ascension, aspiration and decapitation, Elizabeth was called a bastard after her mother’s beheading, and yet she inherited the throne of her father in a time of much religious, political and economic upheaval.
While it was necessary for Elizabeth to marry to produce an heir, it was equally necessary that she not marry anyone Spanish, Catholic or sympathetic to the Spanish or the Catholics. Thus, no man became her husband.
Elizabeth essentially held her maidenhead for political ransom, recognizing that in giving up her hymen, she would give up her power. Famously, she declared to an envoy of a wooing duke, “I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.”
During one of his many runs for the White House, Ralph Nader appeared on Chris Matthews’ TV talk show Hardball. In an effort to compare Nader to President Bush, Matthews said, “He’s raised two daughters; he’s had a happy marriage. You’ve never been married. Isn’t he more mature in his lifestyle than you are?”
Such is the bigotry residing in an astonishing number of people when it comes to never-marrieds. After establishing a career as a consumer activist that culminated in forcing Detroit to install seat belts in vehicles, Nader, 82, has run for President six times.
Whether you regard him as a hero of the underclass or an extraordinary pain in the ass, he is arguably the most famous singular on the political scene.
Nader is notoriously tight-lipped about his private life. He maintains a modest home in Connecticut (in the town where he was born) and shows no signs of letting up on his attacks on graft, abuse of power and cronyism in Washington.
Love Nader or hate him, you have to admire his unflagging single-mindedness.
One of the great voices of modern pop and country with more than 100 million records sold worldwide, Linda Ronstadt was celebrated for her ability to adapt to a diverse range of styles, delivering albums that featured country, rock, jazz and Spanish-language classics. And she was telling the truth when she sang, “I never will marry, I’ll be no man’s wife…”
Despite relationships with former California governor Jerry Brown and filmmaker George Lucas, she told The New York Times that “I’m very bad at compromise, and there’s a lot of compromise in marriage.” She had no problem with long term commitment, however, adopting two children, Clementine and Carlos.
In August 2013, Ronstadt revealed the reason she had been absent from the music scene in recent years: she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which prevented her from singing. That fall, Ronstadt delved into other aspects of her life in her autobiography, Simple Dreams which follows her journey from her youth in Arizona, her early days in the L.A. music scene and her life as a pop star in the 1970s and 1980s.
In April 2014, Ronstadt was honored for her iconic career with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Love her, hate her, agree with her policies or abhor them, people come together on two points about Condoleezza Rice. First, they marvel at her amazing achievements, and second, they wonder about her love life.
Rice was raised in very segregated Alabama by her minister father and teacher mother, and she was also raised to excel. At 15, Rice graduated from high school; at 19, she graduated from college. She received her master’s degree in political science, and at 26, her Ph.D.
In 1983, Rice was hired by Stanford University and at 39 became its youngest provost —not to mention becoming its first black, and first female, provost. In 2005, she became secretary of state under George W. Bush.
On top of that, she’s a concert pianist, an avid football fan, gets up at 5 a.m. to work out six days a week (usually to classic rock along the lines of Cream or Zeppelin) and has never been married.
She is, however, quite fond of football players, including Gene Washington, former player and once the NFL’s director of operations. In a 2006 interview with Katie Couric, Rice said, “I’ve just never particularly wanted to get married to someone.
The Wright Brothers
Oh, those daring young men and their flying machines!
It is sort of easy to give Wilbur and Orville Wright a pass when it comes to their lifelong disinterest in getting married. After all, they occupied themselves for more than 20 years with the small matter of designing and building the world’s first heavier-than-air aircraft, an endeavor that culminated in the Wright Flyer’s first flight in 1906.
Though separated by four years (Wilbur was the elder), many who knew them said they were essentially twins and spent vast amounts of time in each other’s company.
Wilbur once said that he “could not support a wife and a flying machine,” but the likely truth is that lack of money had little to do with his decision to remain single; the brothers simply found all the stimulation they needed in the combination of air, wood, gas and physics.
Neither brother seemed distressed by being single, and both remained unrepentant bachelors for the rest of their lives.
The 56-year-old, never-married Englishman with piercing blue eyes and shock of white hair who is famous for his fish catching adventures is himself seen by many as a good catch. His fans should know that landing the “River Monsters” star might be more of a challenge than they’d expect. Jeremy is devoted to a life of freedom that includes 25 years of mostly solo travel in Africa, South America, Thailand, China and India. In fact, he says, he needs his single lifestyle to feel “properly alive.”
Martin Wade, his five-years-younger brother, says via a telephone interview from England that although Jeremy is “arguably attractive,” women can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that he’s not the type to tolerate domestic doldrums. “He wasn’t going to change so he could settle down,” Martin says. “I think he probably did break some hearts along the way, but the reality is, he’s often busy, he’s away and that lifestyle doesn’t suit women very well. At the end of the day he’s always off to find another fish.”
“I’ve lived a very nonstandard life,” Jeremy says. “On close acquaintance, people realize how disjointed it is from normal life. It’s all about being accepted for who I am,” he says. “That goes for anybody, doesn’t it? To be accepted for who you are.”
A recovering academic and a former stripper, Janice E. Cable has written under the name chelsea g. summers for magazines like GQ and Penthouse in the US, and New Woman and Scarlet in the UK. Her work has been featured on naughty sites like Filthy Gorgeous Things as well totally safe for work sites like Yahoo Dating; her erotic writing has also appeared in multiple anthologies. Janice/chelsea blogs irregularly at pretty dumb things, but recompenses for that irregularity by tweeting far too much every day.