Going Solo in a Book

I was asked to review Eric Klinenberg‘s new book Going Solo. A sucker for free books, i agreed not realizing that i might end up reading a book in less time than i would enjoy. Fortunately, the book isn’t one of those back-handed singlist books, so cramming wasn’t too painful.

Aside from its groundedness in research that Bella DePaulo already noted, what i most enjoyed about the book is that Eric isn’t afraid to look at the dark side of being single – or being a singleton, as Eric calls those of us who are single and live alone. The feminist Texan recounts her own experience of being totally alone when sick. Eric adds other stories and asks: What will it be like for singletons when we are too sick to care for ourselves? Will our friendship networks hold up then? Or will we fall back onto the support of our biological family?

Eric touches the fear i have felt, asks the questions i have tried to avoid asking. It is scary to face these questions! And yet there are there like an undercurrent, especially for me because i am also creating my own right livelihood, which in a lot of ways increases my reliance on others. So, Eric dares to ask the touch questions.

He doesn’t stop there, though. Eric doesn’t give the usual answers to these tough questions. He doesn’t tell me that the solution for me is to get married, to go get a job, or whatever cultural quick-fix might be thrown at me. Based on his research, he knows that singletons are here to stay. We are increasing in numbers. We won’t go away. So, instead of calling (only) upon individual solutions, he suggests cultural, social changes: Let’s redesign the way we live to provide the support, connections, and safety we all long for. We cannot legislate away singletons. We can however design our cities to allow for connections beyond family ties and we can nourish these connections by supporting them through legislation. It’s really about community building that consciously increases the responsibility we sense for each other, acknowledging our interdependence rather than pretending that we can all be an island onto ourselves. Eric provides some examples of “states and societies that [...] give singletons the kinds of support that they now offer to those who are married [and are] better able to meet their citizens’ needs” (213).

I read this book as a call to recognize the importance of supporting each other for all of us. Nobody is truly fully supported unless we extend our willingness to help each other beyond biological or marital ties. This will, as Eric puts it at the end of his book, “spark new ideas about how we might better live together.” And, yes, that’s what this is all about: Not living alone but rather living our interdependence.

(You can read other reviews from the book’s tour site.)

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Going Solo in a Book — 4 Comments

  1. Rachel, I agree with you. The beauty of Going Solo lies in Eric’s ability to leave old paths and to open up the box of the unexplored. Yes, living alone is exciting and scary at the same time and yes, living alone is here to stay. So, what do we do, as society, about it? Shall we all move to Sweden? I also agree with you that self-reliance is a myth and that we have to further explore the idea of interdependence.

  2. I am also on the book tour and will do a review at the end of the month.
    But, for me, I am not fearful of what I will do if I get ill or when I grow old. My part time job is in the medical field so I see first hand the ill and old and have made plans. I already know which retirement home I will be living in (well, there are a few picked out) and if I get sick, I want to be put in a nursing home. Luckily here in Canada, we Canadians are blessed with health care so this is not really too much of a concern. I am saving my pennies now to ensure that if I live long enough, I will be able to rely on myself and not my sisters (who are younger) to care for me. But, they know my wishes and will carry them out. I will always want to be placed in a nursing home if I cant care for myself no matter what.
    The points in his book are all very valid but I love how he says that society has to find ways to make room basically for solo people instead of ignoring us and helping those in the traditional family roles.
    I firmly believe that whether single, partnered off, childless, with child(ren) etc, people have to try to care for themselves solely as we cannot and should not rely on others.personally for myself, I am in the process of making sure I have enough cash for my burial (again working in the medical field makes me immune to this stuff). there is a lot of stuff to consider and ensure being single but I think evryone should think of the long term.

    • It sounds like you’re well prepared, Rhona! I suspect you are in the minority, though, and i very much appreciated Eric’s call for a society-wide solution – similar to the health care system you experience in Canada.

      I don’t agree with you that “we cannot and should not rely on others.” I think it’s impossible: How would you access the internet, for example, without relying on others? Even if you are saving money for your burial, you are relying on others. You wouldn’t be able to earn money without others. Self-reliance is a myth – and it’s a myth that Eric is trying to counteract in his book.

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