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Book Review: The Challenge of Being Single March 15, 2009

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
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dae6c060ada0a6e640df9110l_aa240_Marie Edwards and Eleanor Hoover. The Challenge of Being Single: For Divorced, Widowed, Separated, and Never-Married Men and Women. Signet, New American Library: New York 1975. 

This book review will be done in the style of movie previews. 

California, 1971.

IN A WORLD where the ideal woman is still a homemaker and the ideal man her breadwinner, where “computer dating” means you fill out a paper form and send it via snail mail to a company for matching via punch card, where divorced women can’t pay their bills, and where landlords turn away singles and unmarried couples–ONLY ONE WOMAN has the courage to stand up for the rights of single people everywhere. Facing down bitter myths about unpaired people, FEARLESS PSYCHOLOGIST MARIE BABARE EDWARDS launches her workshops “THE CHALLENGE OF BEING SINGLE” through the University of Southern California. Then, with the help of INTREPID JOURNALIST ELEANOR HOOVER, she turns her workshop experiences into a ground-breaking book that, well, judge for yourself from these excerpts. Here’s Edwards in her own words,

In the Preface:

Single men and women of all ages, eighteen through seventy-two, come to the [Challenge of Being Single] workshops. . . this book, then, is the distillation of those years of research and in-depth interviews with several thousand single men and women–divorced, widowed, separated, and never-married–and, of course, my own personal feelings. 

On Marriage: 

Weigh and balance the pros and cons of singlehood and marriage. . . Never forget that an altar is also a place where sacrifices are performed. (39-40)

. . . It is significant that once a woman is divorced or widowed she is in no big rush to remarry. (42)

On Annoying Questions

Novelist Rona Jaffe describes her own encounter with The Question [“How come you’re not married?”]: “Being a single career woman has had its drawbacks, but things are not as hard as they used to be. Ten years ago it was embarrassing to be single. As soon as I met a man, he would ask me how come I had never been married–in other words–‘Prove that you’re not a freak.’ I was always tempted to say I had spent my entire adult life in an insane asylum but, now that I was out, I would start looking.” (17-18)

On Health:

A 1970 U.S. Department of Public Health study. . . reports that never-married people suffer less than marrieds from headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, insomnia, nightmares, nervousness, psychological inertia, feelings of impending nervous breakdown, and actual reported breakdowns. . . In fact, the results were so favorable to the never-married (and so contrary to popular mythology) that they made headlines everywhere in the country. (48-49) 

On Taxes:

Until Vivien Kellems. . . started her campaign in 1948, singles were paying as much as 41 percent more income tax than marrieds, on identical income. It was her relentless, one-woman battle against the IRS that finally caused Congress to pass the Tax Reform Act–but not until 1969. The tax was reduced, but singles are still taxed at a rate as much as 20 percent higher. (51) 

On Loneliness:

Society views loneliness. . . as negative, bad, or debilitating. . . How many times have you told a friend who asked you how you were that you were “lonely,” if that was how you felt at the moment? If you were angry, you would say, “angry.” (80)

Thomas Wolfe said: ‘The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness. . . is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. Loneliness is an essential condition of creativity. (93)

On Health Insurance:

 . . . The divorced come in for some special discrimination all their own. . . several insurance executives. . . explained that divorced people are “emotionally unstable,” that they “drink more heavily,” and that “their accident rate is higher.” . . . Only after a person is known to be unstable or undependable should he be denied insurance or made to pay a penalty. This is the way it works for married people. (58)

On “The One and Only”, or Marriage as Panacaea:

[Historically] marriage and family clearly met the needs in most peoples’ lives. Today, however, in the Western world, we have a society with far different economic and social realities than have ever existed before, and there is no longer unanimity about the need for, or the ability of, marriage and childbearing to provide fulfillment for the individual or for society. (19)

Psychiatrist Rodney 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. . .  Although cross-cultural studies rarely prove anything to everyone’s satisfaction, one can see in them useful alternatives. Tahiti, before it was partially Westernized, and the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific both have a different interpersonal tradition. In these societies the mother and father attempt in every way to “cool” the relationship between themselves, as parents, and the children by having the children’s needs met by the members of the extended tribal family. Various forms of communcal child-rearing have also been practiced in Scandinavian countries, in Israel, and by experimental social groups in the United States.  Although results from studies are not yet conclusive, children growing up in such societies. . . seem to have no need for the romantic dream that some day one perfect person will come along who will magically change their lives. Perhaps in all that “cooling” they learn easily and instinctively what we Westerners have to reach for–the idea that the only person who can change your life is you. (21-22)


P.S. I was shocked that despite the fact that Edwards assembled her data over thirty years ago, almost all the misconceptions about singles detailed in her book still pertain today; the only (arguable) exceptions are those I mentioned in the first paragraph of this review. Although in recent decades we’ve made significant advances against other “isms” (sexism, racism), we are still stuck in much the same old singlism rut.   

(Onely thanks Rachel’s Musings and Bella DePaulo for bringing this book to our attention. Rachel had the great idea of lobbying the publisher for a reprint. Check out her post for an email address to write to!)


1. Alan - March 16, 2009

Great to see another book about singles.

It is a shame that there hasn’t been more progress, but I do believe that things have gotten better since the 70’s.

Primarily, because there’s more of us today.

2. Maverick Spinster - December 14, 2019

Thank you for this wonderful review! I’ve been interested in pursuing equity legislation for singles and look forward to learning more about how Vivien Kellums waged her successful advocacy campaign – pre-social media! I was on the fence about purchasing the book as there were no ratings on Amazon. Now I can with confidence that I’ll enjoy it!

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