One of the challenges of choosing to be single is that there are so few role models for a different way of relating to people, for valuing all relationships we’re in, and for forging ahead with a happy life. Many of us are making up the way to live as we go along, continuously counteracting messages we get from the culture around us that we should get married or at least get a date. As we muddle along, it is hard to envision different cultural messages, so to celebrate Singles Week (aka National Unmarried and Single Americans Week), I suggest that it’s time to do some visioning! What would a society look like that has moved beyond the overvaluation of couples (couplemania) and the stigmatization of singles (singlism)? It might be difficult to envision a society without couplemania and singlism while living in one that is steeped in both. But visioning can help us clarify what we would like to change – and this can range from the (seemingly) irrelevant to governmental policies. So, let me start painting a picture of a society that values everybody, no matter what our coupling status!
It would be a society where all relationships are valued and respected. Men and women would interact with each other without evaluating the other as a potential partner but rather looking at them as a potential friend. When we fill out forms at the doctor’s office, these forms are about us. They don’t ask if we have kids or sleep with anybody unless it’s relevant. Your dentist doesn’t need to know whether you’re coupled. Instead of discounts for families, restaurants offer buffets that let everybody enjoy a discount. And if you dine by yourself, you still get a nice table out in the open.
Social security has been redesigned to ensure that we have a safety net as we age. If we don’t use all the money that we put in, what is left when we die goes back into the pot to ensure that others can benefit. A similar social support is available through universal health care. As a society, we decided that it is unconscionable to leave access to health care to chance – whether we find a job with benefits or a partner who has one. Taxes are paid on an individual basis – removing the last vestiges of the male-breadwinner model and reflecting the reality that everybody works, at least part of their lifetime.
Movies show the beauty of friendship networks. Friendships are portrayed as important in themselves, not as means to a partner. Just like life off the screen, the movies depict the variety of relationships: Some are deep and intimate, some might involve cohabitation, others involve sex, while some are maintained through once-a-year phone calls. None of the friendships are described as more (or less) important than the others. A well-rounded person – the movies suggest – have all kinds of relationships and value them all.
Marriage is still available but we wouldn’t recognize it as such. It has turned into a ceremony that affirms our commitment to and affection for another person (maybe something along the lines as suggested in some of the articles listed here). All sorts of pairs marry – same-sex and heterosexual, sometimes three or more people marry each other during the same ceremony affirming the various relationships they have with each other. Sexual attraction is not necessary. Caring for each other is. And people marry because they like to celebrate all their relationships, not because they want to show off one relationship. And there are no tax benefits (unlike today).
Children love this new society because they have many adults to turn to. They are no longer confined to one or two (biological) parents as their go-to adults. They have several adults who they go to when they want support – and these adults may or may not be biologically related (maybe something like this). They do live close to the kids – not across the fence because there are no fences anymore but maybe on the other side of the hallway or across the play area.
The President of the United States is single and nobody really cares about that. In fact, hardly anybody asks about her children – all of them biologically related to her friends (but nobody really worries about that either). What people care about are her policies, not her dating life.
I am sure I forgot many aspects of this society. What would you like to add? What is your vision?