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Great Single Women in History: Ume Tsuda May 8, 2020

Posted by Onely in Great Onely Activities, Honorary Onely Awards.
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A woman–an unmarried woman at that–was sitting in judgment of men.

–Janice P. Nimura, describing Ume Tsuda




I feel annoyed when people make assumptions about me because I’m not married. Onely is full of such stories. Recently, though, when reading Janice P. Nimura‘s gripping book Daughters of the Samurai (WW Norton & Co, 2015), I was reminded that despite today’s pervasive marital status discrimination, in the late 1800s in the US and Japan, singlism was much worse. This is the story of my new historical hero, Ume Tsuda.

Ume Tsuda was one of five young girls sent by the government of Japan to the U.S. to receive a Western education. The intent of both the Japanese and U.S. governments was that the girls would return as adults to Japan and help introduce possibly useful Western ideas about education and women’s role in society. Three of the girls ended up growing up in the U.S. and became fully Americanized until, as young adults, the time came for them to return to Japan and essentially pay back the Japanese government’s investment in them. The two older girls still remembered how to speak Japanese, but the youngest, Ume, no longer spoke her birth language. Even so, at eighteen she was eager to return to Japan and try to share some of her learning over there, as was expected of her. But she would soon discover a whole additional set of expectations.

All three girls felt the pressure not only to somehow impart their American education to Japan, but to do it while sensibly and honorably married. Ume’s two friends married soon after returning to Japan, for complex and almost unavoidable financial and societal reasons. Ume, however, had never wanted to marry. She thought it would interfere with her dreams of contributing to Japanese education and culture by starting a school. She was right. But staying single in late 19th century Japan was a lot, lot harder than she’d thought it would be.

Nimura writes,

Her privileged Georgetown girlhood had left her unprepared for her own future. Marriage was abhorrent; anonymous teaching, a thankless grind. . . “I want to have my school, and never marry, though I do not say I shall never do so, because it is so hard, so very hard, to get going alone.” (191)

Even Ume’s fellow American transplants, Sutematsu Yamakawa and Shige Nagai, tried to convince her to get married, as they had. But Ume saw their lives overtaken by obligations to their husband and their husbands’ social circles, as well as to children and step-children. She preferred to focus on setting up her school. About her friends’ situations, Ume wrote to a friend in America, “Such a life is killing to me. . . I get quite provoked with these horrid men, and yielding women, who surprise me so much!”

Nimura writes,

Sutematsu’s life might be full of parties and servants, but Ume claimed not to be tempted. “I am much more happy in my work, I am sure. . . I shall have all the comforts and luxuries that Sutematsu has,” she wrote with satisfaction, “Of course, temporarily, without marrying for it as she did.” (196)

Feedback from friends in both Japan and America threatened Ume’s preternatural confidence. Many thought she should marry, and they said so repeatedly.  But Ume remained convinced marriage would only distract her. Already she had to deal with her teaching career stalling because her (Japanese) mother was expecting and Ume was obligated by custom to return home to help (203).

Ume did end up establishing a successful school and had several audiences with the empress. Yet she could not shed the stigma of her single status, especially combined with her gender.

Nimura writes,

On the holiday celebrating the emperor’s birthday that November, citizens of her rank were required to pay their respects at court–a privilege that Ume had craved since her return to Japan, and to which she looked forward with nervous anticipation. But. . . Ume was the only woman of her bureaucratic rank. It would not do to have an unaccompanied woman among the men at the imperial audience. “So they asked me privately, you see, not to come, for the would not know what to do with me,” Ume told [her friend] Mrs. Lanman, covering her disappointment with a show of relief. On the appointed day, when her colleagues went to the palace, Ume had the day off–“far nicer than to bow one’s head off at court,” she insisted staunchly. (207)

At one point during her education career in Japan, Ume returned to the U.S. to get her college degree at Bryn Mawr. Here the attitude toward single women was more liberal.

“Our failures only marry,” the college’s imposing dean, Martha Carey Thomas, was heard to say. Here, at least, no one was going to question the path Ume had chosen, or try to find her a husband. (227)

Ume returned to Japan, continued teaching and planning her own school, and promoted a new scholarship fund. And yet. . . (more…)

Marriage–Even The Dead Are Doing It March 21, 2016

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities, Look What Google Barfed Up, Uncategorized, We like. . ..
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Even though single people–especially women–are taking the Western world by storm in politics and pop culture, our culture still has an unhealthy (unrealistic) obsession with marriage. Historically, marriage played many different roles in different cultures and this post does not intend to demean all the traditions behind marriages across the world.

Onely.org does, however, feel that marriage’s strong roots in abuse or belittling of women require that we look at the institution closely to see if it still meets our social needs, or how it can be adjusted to be a more equitable institution (IMO: Separ-ate Sex from State!). Or, allow marriage between the dead and the living. Either way, things need to be shaken up.

The below information on GHOST MARRIAGE comes from the very interesting Salon article by Ella Morton.


I am a previously-avowed Sinophile, but I don’t know the current status of the following tradition, so Copious Readers, feel free to weigh in:

The Ghost Marriage tradition (which is supposedly no longer legal, but happens anyway sometimes) developed from (shocker) the patriarchal family structure. When a childless single woman died, she left no one behind to honor her spirit. (Sound familiar? How many of you childfree woman out there have been asked, “But who will care for you when you are old?”) Part of the problem was that the woman’s birth family could not display a memorial for her; it had to be put on an altar in her husband’s home. But no husband, no altar. Solution? Ghost marriage. According to Morton,

A woman’s spirit can be worshipped by bringing her into the family of a husband who has been chosen for her after her death.



I am a new Japanophile (?), having recently started Beginner 101 Japanese and read all about the classic Haiku travelling poets (Issa named himself after the bubble that comes up when you put a teabag in hot water–I plan to rename myself as well a soon as I come up with something half as fantabulous). However, I do not know about the ghost marriage aspect of Japanese history/culture so I’m hoping some Copious Readers can additional provide perspective.

According to Morton, who quotes Bride-Doll Marriage scholar Ellen Schattschneider, people who died early resented the “sexual and emotional fulfillment” they never received through living marriage. (Sound familiar? How many of you unmarried people have been told that you just don’t know what love really is, or that your life is meaningless, or that you aren’t as good at communicating and sharing as married people?) These supposedly  repressed, frustrated single dead people took out their frustrations on the living. Says Schattschneider:

Spirit marriage, allowing a ritual completion of the life cycle, placates the dead spirit and turns its malevolent attention away from the living.



Guest Post: Single in the Cocktail Hour of Life December 31, 2014

Posted by Onely in Dating, Everyday Happenings, Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities, Guest Bloggers, Guest Posts, Secret Lives of the Happily Single, Singles Resource.
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Happy 2015 everyone! Christina here. It’s a new year–we’re all one year older and despite what the Clinique “anti-aging” posters at the mall say, another year past is nothing to be afraid, sad, ashamed, or angry about. All of us who have made it this far are privileged. So let’s not say that forty (my age!) is the new thirty. Why do we need to go back to thirty? (When I was thirty I was a poor grad student with a broken toe that had me limping for several months.) Instead, let’s say forty is the new forty! Copious Readers, please welcome Beth Portolese, who taught me that concept:

Onely is happy to have a guest post by Beth Portolese, founder and publisher of FiftyIsTheNewFifty.com, the online magazine targeting people in “The Cocktail Hour of Life.” As always, we note that guest posts may or may not entirely reflect the views of Onely.org (though usually they do).

Over 50, Single and Gratified

Guest post by Beth Portolese

I am a woman in my 50s with no husband and no children. What I do have is a happy and fulfilling life. Regular readers of Onely are probably not surprised by this. Being unmarried and childless (or childfree, depending on your POV) and living happily single is not necessarily an oxymoron, although folks might think so when reading women’s and general interest news magazines or watching television.

I didn’t anticipate winding up this way. When I was a kid I figured I would get married while I was in college and be on my way to having my first child right after I graduated, because that is what magically happened to and for girls at the time.

The reality is that I got married at 33 and never got around to having a child before my marriage slid downhill. Since my divorce, I have had a few relationships, but have spent most of my time single and definitely living solo. And, for the most part, I prefer to live this way.

Why is it that so many people feel that heterosexual men and women who don’t fit the standard mold of being both partnered and parents must be unhappy and lonely? It’s a mystery to me, especially since I’m well aware that you can have a partner and feel quite alone anyway. I have many single friends who feel the same way and we have created an ‘urban family.’ My particular group formed because we all live in Manhattan and worked together at some point resulting in us having gotten to know each other over the years. My brother and a few other siblings were added into our group, which increased its size. We all come together for various events and holidays to support each other, celebrating the good and productive things in our lives.

I recently saw a piece in the news about a gene Chinese scientists believe they have discovered. It’s being called the ‘singleton gene’. Apparently, their research shows that those who have this gene are 20% more likely to be single than others. Hmm, well maybe I have this gene! If so, perhaps the fact that I enjoy not having the responsibility of a relationship is genetic. If genetics enter into it, people might accept that being alone is normal for some people – it seems that when people believe biology = destiny, they feel a lot more comfortable.


I Spent Christmas Alone December 26, 2013

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities, I want to..., Some Like It Single.
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4156759926_26aa1c1c16_oActually, that title is not true. It was Thanksgiving that I spent alone, and which I wanted to post about several weeks ago. But I never got around  to writing the piece until just now, so I tweaked the title just to make this post more timely.

I didn’t have to spend Thanksgiving alone. I could have joined some friends or my family. But I wanted to be alone during the entire Thanksgiving weekend, and be thankful for my aloneness. But would it work? Could it be done?

Answer: Kinda.

My plan: On Thursday morning, I would drive twenty minutes to Bull Run Park, where I would spend three nights camping in a Rustic Cabin, writing my Adequate American Novel and snacking (not necessarily in that order).

There would be no WiFi.  I had long believed that if I could simply get away from the Internet, I would finish my book in a weekend, easy.

The nice woman on the phone at the park swore my computer would not pick up one single quiver of WiFi. “No Internet,” she said, “But there is heat, a microwave, mini fridge, futon, table, chairs, queen bed, and bunk beds.” This all seemed a bit luxurious for a writing retreat in the deep woods. But perhaps I’d get lucky and the heat would fail, and I would have to continue typing in fingerless gloves with a scarf around my neck, hunched over my keyboard, as boundless creativity flowed from my stiff white fingertips, the way I’d always imagined–correctly or incorrectly–Henry David Thoreau did when he went to Walden Pond.

Now it’s true that Thoreau did not have a down comforter, plus a down-filled bomber jacket, plus a calf-length down coat (not meant to wear over the bomber jacket, but I wore it over the bomber jacket).* Nor a frozen Trader Joe’s spinach pie (Thanksgiving dinner) and a bag of organic pears and nutmix. But nonetheless the words he used to explain his famous explanation for his retreat kept playing over and over in my head. I remembered them from the movie Dead Poets Society.  Or thought I did. (I did not and will not Google them to make sure I get them right.) This is what I kept hearing as I shuffled around my little cabin, from computer to refrigerator and back again: (more…)

Seeking Happily Ever After, Ever After! December 8, 2013

Posted by Onely in film review, Great Onely Activities, Honorary Onely Awards, Reviews, Some Like It Single.
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Copious Readers, several months ago Onely was excited to view and review the independent pro-single-women film Seeking Happily Ever After.  Now it’s more widely available on DISTRIFY, where anyone in an English-speaking country (for now) can rent it from their own computer. (Distribution in non-English-speaking countries has not been implemented yet due to the cost of subtitling.)
Producer Michelle Cove provides some statistics that drive home the need–or rather, the market–for pro-singles films such as Seeking Happily Ever After:

• The number of single women has more than doubled over the past three decades. –2011 General Lifestyle Survey Overview from the Office for National Statistics
• In England, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, approximately one in five women in their late 40s remaining childless. –Yale Global Online, 2012
• In Australia, almost 1/3 women aged 30 to 34 do not have a partner.–Census statistics
• 62% of U.S. residents 18 and older have never been married. –U.S. Census, 2011
• In Scandinavia, the majority of mothers in all social classes are unmarried.—Sociologist and leading researcher on men and masculinity
• In Spain, 92% of women do not censure the fact that they have had a child without a partner.—NSI (National Statistics Institute)

Buoyed by the success of Happily Ever After, we at Onely hope that one day someone will make a film about single men. Granted, women are more immersed in the White Dress Marriage Myth and hence the greater need for a film such as SHEA. But a positive film about unmarried men would be interesting too. Any takers?

Guest Post: Why People Living Alone Can Be Happy May 28, 2013

Posted by Onely in Great Onely Activities, Guest Posts, Secret Lives of the Happily Single.
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6a00d8341eb61d53ef01348621cb5a970c-800wiCopious Readers, as you may have noticed, Onely likes to have guest posts from anyone who has something to say about how single people experience life–we welcome (even crave) input from all cultures and all sorts of relationship statuses, from divorced to widowed to single and seeking to single and happy to asexual and even married. Here is another guest post, this time by Ryan Thurmost, who talks about the benefits of living alone, which as you know is just one aspect of being single (and a privileged one at that). What other benefits can you add? Or drawbacks? Do you agree or disagree with the stated benefits? For more information, check out Eric Klinenberg’s book Going Solo

Why People Living Alone Can Be Happy

Everyone wants to find true happiness, but this can be a difficult task. Many find it surprising that living alone may be one of the solutions, but they really shouldn’t be. For a lot of us, it just makes sense. Here are some of the reasons why individuals who are living by themselves might actually be the quintessential picture of happiness 🙂No Financial Fights

If you surveyed a bunch of people who have roommates about their biggest stressors, you might discover that finances are the biggest reason for disagreement in their apartments or houses. Those who live alone have total control of their budget. If a bill doesn’t get paid, they have no one to blame but themselves. On top of that, they’re free to do what they want with extra spending money (within reason, of course) and don’t have to consult with someone on mundane topics such as whether or not to keep the A/C on high. They can install a new appliance when they want, they can order whatever cable package they want, etc.

Loving Themselves
You’ve probably heard people say that it’s hard to love another person when you don’t exactly love yourself. Individuals who live alone usually have the time to focus on themselves. They’re less likely to have to worry about caring for someone all day long, and they don’t constantly have to clean or cook to suit the needs and tastes of another. People who live alone have time to explore their hobbies and get to know both what they really like and what they want to do with their lives.


Visualize Living Alone: Infographic About This Extraordinary Privilege May 3, 2013

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities, Uncategorized, We like. . ..
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Copious Readers,

We here at Onely like to experiment with guest posters! We love having them and the interesting perspectives they bring (which may or may not completely jibe with Onely’s optic). Today we are moving from pure text to something a little more visual–an Infographic. This medium is new to us so we’ll be interested in hearing your feedback on both the form and the content, which in this case has to do with the growing trend of Living Alone. Click on the graphic to see the whole image on ForRent.com, an apartment search company exploring this new trend. Normally Onely does not advocate specific businesses, but we believe in companies that consider renting or building alternative housing for non-traditional familes such as single people, and so we appreciate that ForRent has taken notice of single dwellers.

In 1950, only 9% of households had single occupants. Comparing that with today’s 27%, it is easy to see the trend of solitary living. With extending life spans, the average age of marriage slowly increasing and large rises in urbanization, we are on a path that will not be changing in the near future. The economy is in a slow recovery yet, surprisingly, a very small amount of young adults have moved back into their family homes.

In this infographic, we will take a look at some of the other factors influencing Americans to forego residential companionship and instead prefer to live by themselves.

Alone But Not Lonely
“Alone But Not Lonely” infographic designed by ForRent.com

Microwave Cooking for One: Sad or Spectacular? May 29, 2012

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Secret Lives of the Happily Single, single and happy, Your Responses Requested!.
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Christina and I had a mini-Onely reunion when I landed in Philadelphia for a conference (she drove all the way up from Northern Virginia to see me – yay!). Among our many adventures, we found ourselves wandering around a delightful used bookstore in downtown Philly. Just as we were about to leave, I stumbled upon a major find – a cookbook entitled Microwave Cooking for One. It was so amazing, I decided to splurge and buy it ($2 USD + tax), and I gave it to Christina, since I don’t have a microwave.

We haven’t tested any of the recipes, but wanted to share some of our favorites so far – they range from fancy to practical, as you can see:

Lobster Tail:


Fresh or Frozen, it’s no problem!

You can be sure to enjoy a rubbery, buttery meal for one with this delicious “Lobster Tail” meal for one.









The lovely Ms. Marie T. Smith gives us a more traditional recipe for pasta in the second version of this recipe, but if you cook the first version, the pasta (which she generally calls “macaroni”) will absorb all the water! I’ve never seen pasta do this, but I’m intrigued by the powers possessed by the microwave. There’s nothing like enjoying a soggy pasta topped with cold sauce (we can’t figure out why the sauce isn’t getting microwaved too) all by oneself.

Obviously, Christina and I are all in favor of cooking and eating for one and are happy to see progress made in this direction, but we also value our dignity. You might be able to guess our answer to this question, but we don’t want to be unfair to the talented Ms. Smith… Copious Readers, what do you think: Is Microwave Cooking for One Sad or Spectacular?

Single With Attitude: A Compendium of Singles’ Blogs January 2, 2012

Posted by Onely in blog reviews, Great Onely Activities.

Do you like Onely’s perspectives on single life but think we don’t post often enough? Do you find yourself desperately needing your progressive-singlehood fix, but none of the super-singles blogs you regularly read have anything new up, because their authors are too busy watching five straight hours of Breaking Bad on Netflix (an example just off the top of my head and not based in any way on any actual blog authors living or dead)?

Never fear! Just go to the new compendium of enlightened singles’ blogs at Single with Attitude, a site set up by singles scholar Bella DePaulo. Fresh posts from the different blogs feed to the top of the page–posts from Onely and other sites you may know from our blog roll, and posts from new voices you may discover you like.

Check it out.


Writing is Like Dating October 1, 2011

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Great Onely Activities.
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One of the most famous myths of singlehood is: Your work won’t love you back.  Meaning: Any passions not of a committed romantic nature are inherently less desirable. Although we at Onely (and most smart people) realize the many logical fallacies in this statement, in the past we sometimes balked when a heteronormahole challenged us to name one of our interests that truly paralleled a romantic relationship. How to answer? Well, I love learning languages and Lisa loves dog training. But if we gave those as examples, even though we think they’re as good or better than having boyfriends, the heteronormahole would have laughed in our faces.

But no more!  Because I’ve realized that we do have a hobby that is more relationshipy than all our previous relationships put together. You see, Lisa and I are both writers. And for writers, a significant other is redundant–because we’re already dating our craft:

There’s a honeymoon period after you first discover Writing. You effortlessly churn out brilliant character names and gripping sex scenes  (Kitty Chuckup’s heart heaved as Cecil Flickmeister slowly unsnapped his bowtie) and Pulitzer-caliber plot twists (Little did Kitty know the bowtie was the only thing holding Cecil’s head onto his neck). Writing flows from your fingers like an extension of your soul. You never tire of those words streaking across the screen. Your Writing is all you can think about. At your day job you stare out the window and daydream about the exciting things you’re going to do to that short story once you get home (What if Cecil isn’t the blind stablemaster’s illegitimate son after all?! And what if–OMG–the stablemaster isn’t blind either?!) You’ve never felt so complete.

After spending so much time with your Writing, you begin to wonder if maybe you should get serious. You know, think about Publication. Get Published, put out some little pieces that can carry on your name and maybe even grow into big books that make a lot of money to support you in your old age.

After all, everyone wants to get Published, right? Plus the alternative is so humiliating.  If you tell people about your Writing, they’ll ask you, “Are you Published? No? Are you talking to any publishers? Editors? Do you you at least have a blog?” and then give a pitying head-shake. “Well, don’t worry, one day the right agent will come along just when you least expect it.”

They just want to help. They know being Published is the only way you’ll be taken seriously. Think of all the privileges you receive automatically upon Publication, even if you really only found the right Publisher by sheer luck (and it’s always luck), and even if the quality of your Writing isn’t all that great (well, not *your* Writing, because *your* Writing is amazing and special–we mean the other 50 percent of Writings which end in dangling participles).

Whereas if you stay Unpublished you will die unread (platonic friends and extended family who may have loved your novel(s) or memoir(s) don’t count).

To avoid this terrible fate, you pick some Writing you guess is good enough (maybe the chapter where Kitty and Cecil find the time portal)  and start preparing to get Published. You’re planning your Submission–researching the best literary magazines, shopping for that perfect agent, figuring who you should put on your acknowledgments list–when you get cold feet.  You look at your Writing and realize that while you love it–you really do–you can’t help but notice that its clauses are so dependent, its verbs so passive, its modifiers so often misplaced, and — to be honest — its narrative can’t follow an arc to save its life. In fact, if Kitty laughs liltingly one more time you swear you’ll just scream.

Suddenly you’re not sure you’re ready for Publication just yet. Would it be so bad to just enjoy Writing without planning to Publish?  Of course it would. You’d be writing in sin. And you’d also be selfish, hoarding your Writing all for yourself. Plus you’d just be in denial anyway–no one’s ever *really* happy only writing for themselves. They can’t find anyone to Publish them so they just pretend to be happy being Unpublished.

Sometimes that’s easiest. After all, Writing for Publication is hard. It’s a numbers game. You need to put yourself out there, over and over again. A top-tier journal won’t just call you up and say “Hey, you have any nice stories sitting around on your computer? Maybe something about a zombie and a stableboy?”  You have to dress up your drafts–a tight intro, a sleek font–then send them out and sit by the phone waiting to find out if anyone liked them.

It’s risky. You may never match your Writing with a perfect publication venue and may end up Unread anyway, after exposing yourself to all that judgment and rejection.

You also risk the fifty-page itch.  A third of the way through your novel, the plot seems predictable, the diction stale, the characters too familiar (ho-hum, Cecil’s sitting in the hay writing more haiku while snacking on brains again).  You’re still typing, but sluggishly. You keep sneaking looks at a new document, where you’re thinking of starting a fresh, sexier project (hm, maybe a blog post about the similarities between writing and dating).

Copious Readers, which of your interests have the same dramas, benefits, and challenges as romantic relationships do?


Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström

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