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Sitting on the Couch in Stained Sweatpants: Is it Cool? July 13, 2020

Posted by Onely in Great Onely Activities.
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Unpartnered people are unfettered. They are free to live bigger, fuller, more intellectually and physically stimulating lives than marrieds. Singles can volunteer to build fences at big cat refuges in Namibia, or vacation in a hut on the beach in Belize, take late-night programming or language classes, or . . . SCREEEEEEEECH.

Hold on a second. Just how accurate is this trope? Pro-singleness rhetoric often says that singles have more opportunities to expand their minds and follow their dreams. But this is only true for some very privileged singles. What about single people with disabilities, financial challenges, children, or obligations to elderly parents? Speaking as a single person with an invisible disability who frankly sits around in stained sweatpants a lot (even before COVID), I feel conflicted when I hear stories that praise single people who are zooming around helping their communities and learning about different cultures and starting businesses. These stories often imply, “It’s ok that Sue is single, because look at all the cool things she does to compensate for her lack of attachments!” It creates a false equivalence:

Single Person Living Mindblowing Life = Married Person Living Non-Mindblowing Life

This sometimes makes me ask myself, on a near-subconsious level, 

Should I be doing more cool stuff, to compensate for being single? 

But now I pose a healthier query: 

How can we make sitting on the couch in stained sweatpants cool? 

It should be obvious that regardless of relationship status, a person’s level of engagement with the world has no bearing on their worth as a person. We just have to make space in the cultural consciousness for this image:  A relatively sedentary single person living a non-mindblowing life is as respect-worthy as the single person hammering fenceposts at the refuge in Namibia. Activities don’t matter–what’s important is your inner moral compass and kindness to others. (Or so I tell myself, while I’m binging Youtube videos of My Cat From Hell and scratching my unwashed scalp.)   

In singles advocate and behavioral economist Peter McGraw‘s excellent podcast, Solo: The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life, he has an episode about whether single people are cool. Spoiler alert: Yes, they are! In the episode, McGraw discusses how Caleb Warren’s Theory of Coolness applies to single people. McGraw and Warren talk about what makes a single person cool. Some of the podcast veers into the “action-oriented, high-achieving single person” coolness trope. To be clear, I’m not against this image or rhetoric–I just want to also value couchbound singles who are not physically, financially, or socially privileged enough to live mindblowing (my term) lives. Fortunately, large chunks of McGraw’s podcast do honor these people. Specifically, in the discussions about what makes a remarkable life, the participants cite criteria that can apply to all singles, not just physcially and financially privileged singles. Some of their examples of what makes people cool and remarkable are: tenacity, maintaining your wonder, being nice and doing no harm, feeling grateful, working within your means, and helping out when you can. 

Per these criteria, I am pretty cool, although I probably lose points on “being nice” because I’ve been known to cuss out health insurance company reps and people who stop their car at the first set of gas pumps even though the next set is empty and now I have to drive around them and back my car up to the pumps. . . 

Copious Readers, are you cool? What criteria do you use to make your assessment? (Other than the obvious fact that you’re reading Onely.)


Photo credit: Markus Spizke at Unsplash @markusspiske



1. Caroline - July 13, 2020

WOW! You make such a good point here. I have lately been contemplating a related subject- how childfree people are supposed to be pursuing absolutely AMAZING CAREERS, unencumbered by children. So, using your analogy:

Childfree Woman Building a Mindblowing Career = Mother Having a Non-Mindblowing Career

The truth of the matter is that I do NOT have huge aspirations for a career. I never really have. I want to sit on the beach and read my Kindle and eat popcorn in front of Netflix and go on walks and pick blueberries. (And, it goes without saying, listen to podcasts about Dogman.)

I think it’s wrong and unhelpful to assume any woman who chooses not to have children is making way for her career. Instead, I like to think of it as choosing the freedom to lead an authentic life, whatever that may look like.

2. Craig Wynne - July 13, 2020

Awesome stuff, Christina! Even pre-Rona, I thought it was cool to chill out in sweats watching Netflix while everyone else was out doing “coupley” things like going to restaurants at one partner’s whims and spending time with another couple, of which one-half is friendly with the half of the other couple, and the other two are kinda bored.

I like my life.

3. Kamala Harris’ Singles Comments: Problematic or Progressive? | Onely.Org - November 30, 2020

[…] out their toxic financial parasite ex well before COVID and can therefore weather the pandemic sitting by themselves on the couch eating macademia nuts and intermittently unhooking their bleach-stained sweatpants from the claws […]

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