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The Spurrious Rhetoric of Singlism January 2, 2009

Posted by Onely in As If!, Food for Thought, Heteronormativity.
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This great article by Abby O’Reilly talks about  old-school stereotypes against single women. O’Reilly critiques some interesting rhetoric by Dr. Pam Spurr, “alleged sex and relationship expert at the Daily Mail” and, frighteningly, a life coach. (I forget which blog originally led me to the O’Reilly post, but whoever you were, thanks!)

Spurr espouses the notion, so prevalent in singlist society, that if you say you are single and happy–you’re lying.  She bases this grandiose generalization on the “thousands” of single people she has life-coached.

She doesn’t seem to realize that her data set is inherently skewed, because usually only people unhappy with their relationship status would approach Spurr about the issue in the first place; what about the thousands–or millions–of happy singles who never use Spurr’s services? Or worse, what if a happy single were to go to Spurr about a different life issue and in the course of discussion happen to mention she was single, and Spurr were to hit her with this, from Spurr’s article in the Daily Mail:

In fact, do you believe any single woman over 30 is being honest when she claims to be happy that way? I don’t. What’s really going on behind that confident demeanour and fulfilled exterior is crushing loneliness and desperation. Single women become adept at playing the isn’t-life-grand game. They have to do it around men so they don’t appear desperate. And they come to do it around other women, too…

Why. . . do they pretend to be a satisfied single? . . .

Yes, outwardly women in 2008 are supposed to aspire to careers and self-fulfilment, but inwardly they also long to satisfy an urge that’s been around as long as humankind: to connect with a partner. . .

Whoa, intelligent Copious Readership–before you start writing unprofessional, inappropriate comments like, “What an idiot!” or “How ignorant!” or “I can think of other people I’d prefer to have coffee with, like Satan,” or “Someone not getting laid much lately?” let me point out that Spurr’s comments absolutely do not indicate she is bad, stupid, small-hearted, unimaginative, or sexually repressed, so you can just stop thinking that right now. Spurr has simply been swept up, not at all like a dead roach, in our culture’s myth of the couplehood cure-all.

This myth says that any life is automatically and unconditionally improved–even perfected!–by the addition of a Sex and Everything Else Partner (term coined by social psychologist Bella DePaulo).  If you buy this idea–and it’s such a simple, easy-sounding premise that it’s comforting to buy it, which is why so many people do–then a logical next step is to think that a life without a romantic significant other is a sub-par life. Then if you buy that (and by now your intellectual wallet’s getting pretty light and floppy), the logical third step is Spurr’s reasoning that single people’s lives must be inherently sub-par. Less logical is Spurr’s follow-on assumtion that a life that lacks something (in this case, a significant other) must be an unhappy life. From that, we get her stubborn stance that any single person must be unhappy, and erego, a single person who claims to be happy must be either lying or in denial.

Lisa could speak more intelligently about the rhetorical fallacies of the “you’re in denial/lying” argument, but she’s off busy being not alone enough, so I’ll take a stab: The “you’re lying/in denial” argument is a cheater’s device. It’s not a real argument, because the person to whom it’s directed cannot possibly present a rebuttal other than, “Um, no, I don’t believe I am,” to which the cheater responds, “Yes you are,” forcing the conversation to the level of a third-grade schoolyard.

So all I can say here in response to Spurr is, “Um, no, I don’t believe I am filled with crushing loneliness and desperation.”

Oh, and I can also play a game we here at Onely like to call, “Things We Don’t Say, Because We’re Sane”:  

Do you believe any married woman over 30 is being honest when she claims to be happy that way? I don’t.  What’s really going on behind that confident demeanor and fulfilled exterior is crushing loneliness and desperation. Married women become adept at playing the isn’t-life-grand game. . . 

That sounds insane, and why should Spurr’s quote sound any less so? 

And what’s with the arbitrary choice of “over 30”? So a 29-year-old can be happily single, but a 31-year-old, no way?  At the advanced age of 34, I must be a pit of misery, eh? 

And you know what? I sometimes am miserable, lonely, and desperate. I’m miserable because my friend’s dad lost a lot of his retirement savings. I’m desperate because 360 people died in the Gaza strip. I’m lonely because I’m sick and have to spend a lot of time lying down, and because of my umpteen million great friends and family, no one knows what it’s like to have an ear that’s been ringing for fifteen years.  Life isn’t always grand, and I don’t pretend it is. But I am not naive enough to think that having a Sex and Everything Else Person will magically fix any of that.  

I used to think it would be nice to have someone to hold my hand when I was lying in bed feeling sick. I should have been careful what I wished for–my eventual hand holder kept waking me up by shifting his feet under the sheets, because “The soles get so sweaty!”  ‘Nuff said? 

What does help mitigate my particular miseries of life are: a network of close friends and family; a brain-flexing, well-paid job that also allows me time for acupuncture appointments and writing; a snuggle-hungry cat who visits me every day; my own, warm house not too big and not too small; our new president; New Scientist magazine; pho; my Costa Rican travel journal written on 3×4 inch notebook; writing a paragraph with good diction; Rosetta Stone; my Bose headphones; coffee shops; doodling; movie nights; giggles; the acrylic painting my sister did of my 16 foot Hobie Cat sailboat; volunteering

I could go on, but you get the idea. In the end, it all accumulates, and I end up feeling–wait for it. . . wait for it. . . HAPPY.

Should I do as Spurr seems to think appropriate, and ignore all the privileges and blessings I have, and not be happy, just because I don’t have a romantic significant other? Then I would not only be lonely and desperate, I’d also be a spoiled brat. 

What do you think, Copious Readers?

–CC

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Comments»

1. Nicole - January 3, 2009

great commentary – totally agree with your points although i can’t summon up anything pithy to add 🙂

2. onely - January 3, 2009

That’s ok, here at Onely we also accept pulpy.
= )
CC

3. Rachel - January 3, 2009

Oh, I am a total basket case! Not only do I pretend I am happy when I am around men and around women. No! I am even pretending to be happy when I am onely. Like this morning: Sitting in my little niche with a nice cup of tea, sunshine, and a great blog post to read. Ah! That is life! Oh, sorry, I let my denial come through…

I can’t resist adding the list of 10 things that have been culled from science that do make us happy. Note the wonderfully glaring absence of marriage or coupledom! (I still remember seeing this list for the first time: I had to check it several times until I believed that I didn’t have to send a scathing letter to the editor explaining why marriage does not make us happy despite some scientists claims otherwise… Maybe there is hope that we can move beyond singlist assumptions!)

Thank you for the great post!

4. bobby - January 3, 2009

“She doesn’t seem to realize that her data set is inherently skewed, because usually only people unhappy with their relationship status would approach Spurr about the issue in the first place…”

hahaha classic. One would think common sense might come into play here. I truly believe that ignorance is bliss for some people.

Great job on the rebuttal!

5. Lauri - January 3, 2009

People who link happiness to relationship status are missing the big picture. I believe that some people really are happier when they are in romantic relationships, but that’s not point- I’m happier when work is going well but it’s not always going well! The idea is to be happy with your life and go with the flow. I believe that romantic relationships just sort of happen, that it’s not something you can actively decide to just do, so this is why I don’t understand who are unhappy for the sole reason that they are not in a relationship or not married by a certain age. If someone were to say that they were unhappy because they had fallen short of making their first million by age 30, the general response would be that this is a weird reason to be unhappy, even though the goal of earning money is relatively controllable. But someone who says they’re unhappy to be single at age 30 is perfectly justified, even though finding someone you’d want to commit to life is probably akin to making your million by winning the lottery. It makes no sense, all these goals are arbitrary.

In general I feel really bad for anyone who is unhappy for the sole reason of not being in a romantic relationship. They’re wasting their lives. It’s akin to putting things off until you lose weight. From my teens through my early 20s, I was very depressed over the issue, but only because I had NEVER dated. Once I started dating, I realized how overrated the entire process is! Since then, yes, I’ve still dated, but it’s far from anything I’m going to get upset over. If I happen to meet someone “special” in the future, I might consider getting married, but I see many negatives to marriage as well as any positives.

I also think it’s impossible for anyone to say that they “want to get married” without adding a “to person x.” You can’t want to get married if you don’t have anyone in mind! You should want to marry a person, not just experience the institution.

These people who are unhappy by not being married should look at all the couples they see around them. Look at both the people in the couple. Would you really want to be married to either of these people? These could be beloved family and friends, but I doubt anyone would say yes to that question. What is so spectacular about any of these married people that you’d want to commit to them and live with them for the rest of your life?

6. onely - January 4, 2009

Lauri makes some really great points–

“If someone were to say that they were unhappy because they had fallen short of making their first million by age 30, the general response would be that this is a weird reason to be unhappy, even though the goal of earning money is relatively controllable. But someone who says they’re unhappy to be single at age 30 is perfectly justified,” Absolutely–isn’t this wierd? I think we all have some goals that are “arbitrary” as you say–some of us have the arbitrary goal of finding a life partner, and some of us have the arbitrary goal of making X number of dollars, and some of us want to become an expert in Appalachian folk music. Right now the first goal is the one that is most sanctioned and respected in society. We need to reshift so that all those equally arbitrary goals are given equal respect and weight.

” I was very depressed over the issue, but only because I had NEVER dated. Once I started dating, I realized how overrated the entire process is!” This cracked me up. So true!! But many industries and political lobbies find it’s to overrate dating/coupling, unfortunately.

“I also think it’s impossible for anyone to say that they “want to get married” without adding a “to person x.” You can’t want to get married if you don’t have anyone in mind!” I agree absolutely. However, I think a lot of people who say “I want to get married” are *really* saying “I want to find someone fabulous enough to always be a part of my life, always be accessible, and always give love to me.” Nothing wrong with wanting that, as long as you realize it might not be super realistic.
–CC

7. onely - January 4, 2009

Rachel, that is a great list of ten things science says make us happy–my favorite is “say thank you like you mean it.” I have been trying that and it’s interesting–it feels different to say “thank you” to someone who sold you a jug of milk, if you say it thinking that this person stands on their feet all day so you can have the convenience of your milk, than if you say it very rote.

So THANKS for all your comments, Copious Readers Rachel, Lauri, Bobby, and Nicole!
CC

8. onely - January 5, 2009

I am worried because I turn 30 in a little over 4 months — I am bracing myself for the disappointment and total, overwhelming misery that is destined to follow!!!

This is such a super post, CC — I am finally alone and home (home alone, ha!) after two very long weeks. Will post more soon too 🙂

L

9. Rachel - January 7, 2009

CC: This caught my eye as I am struggling, as so often, with a brain-numbing job: “a brain-flexing, well-paid job that also allows me time for acupuncture appointments and writing.” What do you do for your pay? (Feel free to utilize my email address if you don’t want to post the response…)

10. Great Onelies in Real Time: Wang GuiYing « Onely. - January 13, 2009

[…] a coincidence that Spears’ article appears in The Daily Mail, the same venue that published Super Singlist Pam Spurr’s rant on how single women who say they are happy are liars? What’s with The Daily Mail? Is it kind […]


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