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Singles and Spare Time: Defying the Laws of Physics August 3, 2011

Posted by Onely in Everyday Happenings.
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I’m single; my friend John has been married for about eight years. One day we were browsing a bookstore’s memoir shelves. I read a lot of memoirs, so I was excitedly pointing to a few books that I had either enjoyed or read about: “Ooh look, The Glass Castle! Ooh, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly!  Ooh, Autobiography of a Face! Ooh, Half a Life! Ooh, Still Hungry After All These Years: Richard Simmon’s autobiography!” (I said I read a lot; I didn’t say I read highbrow.)

“Wow, you read a lot,” said John. “I wish I had time to read as much as you. But then, you’re single.”


As our Copious Readers are surely aware, a common stereotype of singles is that we have oodles more free time than coupled people. This implies that coupling sucks more time and energy than any other life obligations. This is obviously not true, although it can seem true, given how “intensive coupling” (where your partner is everything to you all the time) is portrayed by media and social institutions as the only acceptable kind of romantic relationship.

At first I didn’t mind John’s comment, for two reasons: One, he is about the sweetest person in the universe and I know he would never want to hurt my feelings for the world. Two, he said it with a tone that sounded as if he were jealous of, or had admiration for, my single state. I think he meant it as a kind of two-pronged compliment: first of my reading prowess, and second as praise for my singleness. (Praise built on faulty assumptions about singles, but still.)

Then later I realized something that made the comment bother me more, so I had to vent about it here on Onely:

I, the ostensibly free-to-read single person, work thirty-five hours a week, often more.  John, the ostensibly too-busy-to-read coupled person,  is unemployed due to the recession and is relying on his wife’s income. Yet because I’m single, I must have more spare time to read than he does. Somehow, I have managed to defy the laws of physics, time, and space.  (Yay me?)

His comment, while not ill-intentioned, devalued all my hard efforts to fit reading into my life. I read good books during those hard hours after work, when my brain is mush from spreadsheets and meetings. Health issues require me to lie flat for long periods, so I read good books in bed, though sometimes when discomfort forces me to read the same Chekov paragraph three times I wonder if I should switch to Dilbert. Reading doesn’t just fall into my empty outstretched apron like cherry blossoms in a breeze. I have to climb that tree and shake it.

The most interesting (and disturbing) facet of all is the insidiousness of singlism: John was always one of those friends who seemed to totally get the concept of Oneliness, yet even he slipped into a moment of singlism without even realizing he’d offended. Because he is normally so supportive, I decided not to call him out, but to remember times when even I have said thoughtless things (shocker!). I will ultimately just let it go (um, right after I publish this post).

Copious Readers, has anyone ever insinuated that because you’re single, you have lots of spare time that you don’t have? How did you respond?


P.S. Richard Simmon’s autobiography is quite entertaining. Like.

Photo credit: Briar Press


1. singlutionary - August 4, 2011

Oh yeah. I think there are a lot of people who were really unserious about life until they coupled. In other words, before they were in a relationship, they were committed to nothing. I have a lot of commitments. I realize this more and more, how many things I have intentionally and unintentionally committed to in my life. And I realize more and more how this makes me different from other folks who’s only commitment is to their spouse.

However, living with someone and sharing a bed/room/toilet with someone does make it harder to read. Mainly only because you have less space to be quiet and be alone in. Some spouses are particularly needy. In your friend’s case, he could read when his wife was away at work.

But reading is a solitary act and when you’re sharing a bed/room/toilet, you might have to CARVE out space for that solitude. Just like you CARVE out space for reading because it is a priority for you.

The question is — what do you carve out space for? Christina reads. Her friend plays video games? Or whatever? Or maybe he doesn’t carve at all.

Onely - August 4, 2011

All true, that. And single people living with roommates would have a lot of the same “carving” challenges. = )

2. Alan - August 4, 2011

I wonder if people are confusing flexibility with the freedom of additional time.

As Christina pointed out, there’s no reason to assume that single people have more free time than coupled people. Indeed, you could argue that singles may have less free time because they have to do more things on their own.

But singles do have greater flexibility, in that actions can be taken without having to consult a partner (Granted, single people may have responsibility for children, elderly parents, or extended family members). Perhaps it’s this flexibility that people are thinking of.

Stephanie Black - August 5, 2011

I agree that singles often have less time. When you live by yourself you do everything – laundry, dishes, cleaning, shopping, etc. I don’t mind doing it and I love living alone, but ideally half of this stuff would be done by my partner if I was coupled and living with him. My life is incredibly busy, but I find time to do the things I love, and it’s wonderful.

Charlie Fields - August 9, 2011

“Actions can be taken without having to consult a partner.”

That’s why I love being single!

3. Rhea - August 4, 2011

well… i think that was just a lame excuse!!!!
i know married people who work 40 hours a week and they read.
they are not just married, they also have children.

your sweet friend probably just “grabbed” the first excuse he found in front of him!!!

i am single as well… i work… some weeks 50 hours, some weeks 60 hours… i find time to read, and invest time on my hobby that i love, spend time with my doggie, clean, do laundry, see my friends, go dancing, go to the movies, do volunteer work… all i don’t have time in my life is a for a boyfriend! =P
priorities my friend!!!

and that bring me to the question… do couples think singles have more free time??? well, have they considered some people are singles because they have not time at all!?!?


well… whatever the case is… it’s all a matter of priorities!!!
enjoy your single life!!!!

Onely - August 4, 2011

“Have they considered some people are singles because they have not time at all!?!?” Perfect.

4. clofa - August 7, 2011

I hate it when people do this, mostly my family. Instead of considering I have to work twice more than them, be it for income or maintaining the house, with no shared responsibilities, they think I have nothing to think about and nothing to do!
AND, I have a stack of unread books and no time to read them 😦

5. MissBates - August 7, 2011

Ha! I am single, and have worked 70+ hours a week in a high-pressure job for most of the past 20 years. (Gee, I wonder WHY I’m single . . . ? LOL!) I also read, a LOT. You just can’t deal in generalities about whether single or coupled people have more time. As with most things in life: “it depends.”

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