The first chapter addresses the question “how come you’re not married?” Edwards suggests that society’s theme song toward singles is “there’s something wrong with you.” She goes further than identifying this, though: “This social contempt eventually brings about self-contempt. Like any group that has been constantly ignored or downgraded, singles come to believe what others say about them.” (18) She suggests that we are learning to create a need that is experienced so strongly that it feels as basic as the need for food and water: “Psychiatrist Roderic Gorney, in the Human Agenda, says that from babyhood on, we in the Western world have been overfed and overstimulated on a diet of intense emotional relationships so that what is actually an artificial need is experienced as a basic, urgent, almost physiological one. Intense emotional involvement – with mother, father, siblings, friends, and later lovers, spouses and children – is so taken for granted that questioning it would seem to be denying our need for such essentials as food, water, and oxygen.” (21) This outlook leads to the Eternal Search for a partner. Edwards lists two errors that she sees as underlying the search for the One-and-Only: 1. There is only one such person and 2. Finding the One-and-Only will solve all your problems (31). After presenting a positive vision of being single – including mentioning some developments in the legislative arena, which appear to have disappeared – Edwards suggests that as singles we ask ourselves the question of why we’re not married. Not as a question to determine what is wrong with us but as a question to explore why we are making that choice, what we find positive about being single, and what we might be missing.
It is clear from this chapter that Edwards sees people as either single or married. In the early 1970s, unmarried but coupled people were not as much on her radar screen. This adds to an unfortunate dichotomy and leaves out people who choose not to get married but still enjoy being in a conjugal relationship.
In chapter 2, Edwards addresses myths about being single. These myths are somewhat similar than the ones Bella DePaulo debunks in her book, which is another sad reminder of how little progress we have made in overcoming singlism.
- Myth #1: All single women want to get married
- Myth #2: All confirmed bachelors (single men) are afraid of responsibility
- Myth #3: It is easier for men to meet women socially than it is for women to meet men
- Myth #4: All unmarrieds are terribly lonely
- Myth #5: Single life is hazardous because there will be no one around to help you if you are hurt or sick
Edwards then debunks all of these. I won’t repeat this here because these myths are just that: Myths. We don’t need to continue debunking them; we need to let go of them, especially the internalized versions, as Edwards pointed out in Chapter 1. As she underscores: “Getting married is […] something one chooses to do or not to do, not something one must do in order to lead what society has deemed a complete life” (45). (If you find this quote, you’ll notice that I changed it slightly: I took out the word “becoming.” Due to the backlash, marriage is still very much expected but it is still true that it should be viewed as a choice).
These myths have a direct impact on us even if we don’t buy into them: Discrimination (what Bella DePaulo coined “singlism“). Edwards explores the examples of taxes, jobs, credit, housing, and insurance. Let’s look at these areas today.
The tax code still very much discriminates against singles and all unmarried (if you don’t believe this, you can use this tool to see what happens to your taxes when you “get married” at the same income). Unless a married couple is an equal-earner couple, they are benefiting from the tax structure.
I have not experienced different expectations on the job between married and single folks. It seems to me that we’re all now expected to get married to our jobs because the old employment-for-life contract is no longer valid… Credit seems to be given to everybody, well, at least before the financial melt-down, independent of marital status. Feel free to write about your experience in the comments, though. Just because I haven’t experienced the discrimination doesn’t mean it no longer exists!
As hard as I find it to believe, housing discrimination is still very much alive and kicking, as stories from the Alternatives to Marriage Project attest, although most of these are not directed at singles but at unmarried couples. It’s discrimination nonetheless.
Insurance, especially health insurance, remains a large area of discrimination, just like taxes. Access to health insurance can be secured through a married partner but not through a friend, for example. And health insurance premiums tend to favor families with a married couple (just like family memberships to museums and health clubs, I might add).
In addition to these areas of discrimination that Edwards identified, AtMP lists adoption, welfare, and immigration. Clearly, we have a lot of work left to overcome singlism!
As Edwards points out at the end of Chapter 2, these are “only” the “major discriminations, but singles are subject to a parade of small needling ones as well” (58). These range from cheaper food in family sized packages to discounts at hotels and health clubs. And then there is the stigmatization we face when confronted by the myths: “the inevitable pauses and puzzled glances from many people you meet when they learn you are single” (59).
I don’t agree with Edwards that “these discriminations and myths which do, indeed, exist in the outside world can only really harm you when they exist in your own head as well” (59). Tax discrimination has a very real harm on our finances and don’t have to exist in our head. Yet, I agree that the myths – not the discrimination – can only harm us if we buy into them. Overcoming singlism has to include both inner work and work in society at large – the political and private are very much interconnected: “If you value yourself enough, you will make every effort to assert – to yourself and to the world around you – ‘It’s okay to be single.’ With that understood, you can begin to fortify yourself with your own individualism and an appreciation of your own talents” (59). And you can move beyond seeing relationships as limited to the conjugal pair and start valuing connections with all people around you.