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The Dark Side of Singles’ Advocacy: Ignoring Institutionalized Singlism May 26, 2020

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Marital Status Discrimination.
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Welcome to the first installment in our new series, The Dark Side of Singles’ Advocacy. By dark, we mostly mean “unrecognized”. An updated and more personal version of this post was published on Bella DePaulo’s column at Psychology Today

The singles advocacy community consists (pretty much) of progressive people who are in favor of equal rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of lifestyle, but sometimes we act in regressive ways that do harm to ourselves and our cause. Or sometimes, we just miss a big part of the picture.

Today’s installment of The Dark Side is about the gigantic chasm between our movement against socio-cultural singlism and our movement against institutionalized singlism. Relatively few people in the community for singles’ rights pay attention to institutionalized singlism. That’s a problem. That needs to change. Now. While I appreciate memes and media pieces that tout singleness as a valid–or even preferable–lifestyle (socio-cultural), I want more discussion about how marital status discrimination is written into laws (institutionalized). All the rah-rah-singledom rhetoric in the world isn’t going to help a single mother who is paying more taxes then her married coworker, or a disabled person who can’t use their close friend’s health insurance because the two of them aren’t having regular government-sanctioned sex.

Maybe I need to take breath, back up, and give some definitions: By socio-cultural singlism, I mean relationship status discrimination (RSD) that is informal. An example is not being offered a plus-one to a wedding, if you’re not married or dating someone seriously. Another example is the wedding shower–there is no equivalent gift-grab for people who don’t get married. By institutionalized singlism, I mean RSD that is formally codified in our federal and state laws, which largely means marital status discrimination (MSD). MSD  filters into other large commercial and financial institutions. Problematic examples include: retirement account laws, estate tax laws, income tax laws, health insurance policies, and social security policies. (See here for examples from Onely via The Atlantic and from Dr. Bella DePaulo via the nonprofit advocacy site Unmarried Equality.)

When people become involved in advocacy against RSD/MSD/singlism, they usually progress through various levels of awareness, like leveling-up to different belts in Tae Kwon Do.  I myself was in my thirties before I even recognized singlism was a thing. It happened after a particularly mind-bending breakup. At the time, I didn’t even have my white belt in singles’ advocacy and was feeling sorry for my single self. Then my soon-to-be-coblogger and master rhetoric scholar Lisa asked me,

Have you noticed that all articles about being single and happy say ‘you need to be happy with yourself before you find a partner’? Well, why can’t we just be happy with ourselves without the ultimate goal being a relationship?

My brain went boom, and Onely was born. That was over ten years ago. Nowadays it’s a lot easier to find cultural think pieces, films, and books with the message “you don’t need a partner to be complete”.  However, much of that media stops at white-belt or yellow-belt level advocacy. To say, “I love being single, because I appreciate the privilege of living alone and not needing to clean up the cat hair unless I start choking on it” is yellow-belt-level. It’s fine, and certainly we’ve made our share of such comments on Onely, but that rhetoric doesn’t really rise to a force that bruises the System’s shins. For that, we need black-belt singles’ advocacy–this means we need talk that challenges the laws and corporate policies that privilege married people over singles. This discussion becomes complex, as it’s tied to the worlds of commerce, law, and finance, which have specialized rules and vocabulary, where the average advocate may struggle to articulate the problems and offer solutions.

I can easily count on one hand the singles’ rights advocates who have written at brown-to-black-belt level about institutionalized singlism and called out the U.S. government (or others) for blatant discrimination based on marital status. (more…)

Pioneering Singles’ Advocate Dr. Bella DePaulo BlogCrawls onto Onely! September 26, 2009

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Guest Bloggers, Guest Posts, Singled Out.
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23 comments

Happy Last Day of National Singles’ Week!!

final Singled Out TP coverYes, it’s the end of Unmarried and Single Americans Week, but don’t be sad! We’re going out with a bang! Today singles’ advocate extraordinaire Dr. Bella DePaulo relates some personal watershed moments when she realized she didn’t have to find a “Sex and Everything Else Partner” if she didn’t feel like it. One reason Onely hearts Bella is because she has coined some fabulous terms to describe the lopsided treatment of singles in society, including singlism (discrimination and prejudice against single people), matrimania (the myth of marriage as a cure for personal and social ills), and the much underused SEEPie.

How I Discovered that Living Single Was My True Happily Ever After

by Bella DePaulo

In seventh grade, on a break from class, best friends Maureen and Linda took turns walking slowly and deliberately, hands clasped at their waists. They were practicing the walk down the aisle. They also compared notes on their wedding dresses, the bridesmaids’ dresses, and who those bridesmaids would be. No, they were not getting married at age 12 – they were just fantasizing.

Even as a 7th grader, I found this strange. I just didn’t see the appeal of planning, or even thinking about a wedding. Turns out, I never would.

I have always lived single, and never yearned to live any other way. For a long time, though, I was puzzled by the disconnect between the way I liked to live, and the kind of life so many others seemed to wish for, and expected me to wish for, too.

I tried out several solutions to this. I had a bug hypothesis for a while – marriage was a bug, and I just hadn’t caught it yet. Eventually, it would get me. (Looking back, I’m now bemused that I did believe in a disease model all along – but the disease was marriage, not singlehood.) Then I tried out the long-distance version of the longing – maybe I’d like it if I had a long-distance relationship. That way, I could have my time and space to myself all week, and have a partner for the weekends. I thought about it, but I never felt it.

I don’t think there was a specific moment when I realized: I LIKE living single. This is who I am. It is not going to change.

To get to that point, I think I had to understand a bigger point – it is fine (good, even) to live the life that is most meaningful to you, even if your way is not the most conventional one. (more…)

SEEPage November 24, 2008

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Singled Out.
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40 comments

For all you writers out there!! Here Bella DePaulo admits that in an early draft of her opus Singled Out, before she heard about Liz Spencer and Ray Pahl‘s study of different kinds of personal communities, she had a “clunky phrase” to describe significant others who form the nexus of their partner’s social life (per Spencer and Pahl, that would be a “partner-based personal community”). The term DePaulo used to describe that kind of significant other was “Sex and Everything Else Person,” aka a “SEEPie”. She said that readers of the draft hated the term, so she scrapped it. But I like it! I wonder how our Copious Readership feels about Seepies. Either way, it just goes to show you what a freakin’ headache writing is.

I was raised in a foreign service family. This means that my mom, dad, sister, and I travelled around together, one little square unit. This setup feeds into the partner-based personal community paradigm. (more…)

Being Eaten By Cats: thoughts on the myth of dying single August 11, 2008

Posted by Onely in Uncategorized.
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Remember the Sex in the City episode where Miranda almost chokes to death while alone in her apartment? In the aftermath, she fills her cat’s bowl to overflowing so that, should she choke again, the animal won’t feed on her bloated corpse. I watched this episode and felt the exact empathy and horror the producers wanted me to feel. But in this Onely venue I feel compelled to rethink Miranda’s situation:

1) If I were lying there on the floor dead and my cats were hungry, I would want them to eat me, of course. (more…)

REVIEW: SINGLED OUT, by Bella DePaulo–Exploring the myth, “You will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks” August 11, 2008

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews, Singled Out.
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3 comments

DePaulo, Bella. Singled Out, How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006

(This is an ongoing, serial review, continued from an earlier post)

 In Singled Out, DePaulo explores the myth of singlehood, “You Will Grow Old Alone and You Will Die in a Room By Yourself Where No One Will Find Your For Weeks”. 

“How could marriage possibly provide insurance against dying alone? (more…)

REVIEW: SINGLED OUT, by Bella DePaulo–Why are matrimaniacs matrimaniacs? August 5, 2008

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews, Singled Out, We like. . ..
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4 comments

DePaulo, Bella. Singled Out, How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006

(This is an ongoing, serial review, continued from an earlier post)

In Singled Out, DePaulo theorizes that “matrimaniacs” (people who fixate on the importance of marriage and coupling) belittle single people for the following reason:

(more…)

Book Review: Singled Out, by Bella DePaulo July 21, 2008

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews, Singled Out, We like. . ..
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34 comments

DePaulo, Bella. Singled Out, How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

From Singled Out

“Some components of singlism are built right into American laws and institutions, which means that neither coupled nor single people have any say about sustaining them. Take Social Security, for example. If you are a married person covered by Social Security and you die, your spouse can recieve your benefits. But if you are a single person who worked side by side with the married person at the same job for the same number of years and you die, no other adult can receive your benefits. Your money goes back into the system.”

How could I have never asked myself: Why? DePaulo explores why few people question our culture’s ingrained bias toward coupledom, and why we should start.  (more…)

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