Two against one: The stigma of being single -

Two against one: The stigma of being single

A Toronto professor fires a volley into the culture war

The stigma of being single, the lack of role models, and how coupledom shrinks the world

Photographs by Andrew Tolson

Updated Feb. 15, 2018

Michael Cobb, 39, an English professor at the University of Toronto, also teaches in the university’s Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. He’s the author of God Hates Fags: The Rhetorics of Religious Violence and Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled. The latter is a literary theorist’s take on how popular culture has not caught up to social reality when it comes to singles. Despite the fact that singles now outnumber married people, they don’t really exist as a recognized category, because our prevailing cultural narrative sees them as “real” people in waiting. Single is Cobb’s opening volley in a culture war.

Q: You’ve written quite a polemic over something scarcely noticed by the world. But singles’ cultural invisibility is the starting point of your issue with coupledom.

A: I had a lot of frustration with why singles weren’t being represented. We were always pre- or post-coupled—widows or bachelors or divorcees, unfortunates of some kind. Just a really awful category. When I started the book, I’d been single for 10 years of my life, and quite happily so, and not because I had endless freedom to pursue whatever person or fleeting irresponsible experience [I wanted]. It was more a joy of being by myself and being able to cultivate all sorts of relationships and not have one person completely be the centre and focus of the world.

Q: Still, you were unhappy being the odd man out?

A: It started to occur to me that single people really are a strange sexual minority category, and perhaps the least valued. There’s no history, there’s no language, just a lot of pity that’s foisted on us. Carrie Bradshaw launches Sex and the City—you know, fabulous, glittering New Yorkers—to answer, she once wrote, “the burning question” about herself and her friends: “Why are we still single?”

Q: So there’s schadenfreude too?

A: Oh, yeah. A lot of bad feeling. There’s always an assumption that you need to be coupled off to complete yourself. Even though we all know that people are not all saved and made happy in their coupledom. There are lots of distressed couples, lots of divorces, lots of frustrating, sad marriages. I tried to question all that. I’m not against couples—I’m against the fact that in our society it’s the way people become legitimate. Think about this: any major politician in the U.S., have they been single? When you start thinking about it, it’s just absolutely everywhere.

Q: Even when you think it’s not, as you found in Beyoncé’s All the Single Ladies.

A: It’s supposed to be an anthem for single ladies, and when you hear it for the first time and don’t think about the lyrics it’s great: very exciting, uptempo, a great video that everyone absolutely adores—especially Kanye West. But the idea you think you’re getting—all you single ladies bond together, you’re going to be okay—no, it’s all about single ladies who are single because the man has chickened out, hasn’t “put a ring on it.” Now he’s faced with seeing Beyoncé or some other single lady in the club later on with another guy, and there’s regret and sadness. She’s basically announcing to him, “You had your chance, you should have given me a ring; now I have someone else.” It then gets weirder when she says, “But if you actually decided to treat me how I deserve, which means become a couple with me, there could still be a future for you.” That’s pop culture’s basic message on being single. So this anthem, this celebration of singleness is about how one day you’re going to be strong enough and grown up enough to get married. That’s distressing to me.

Q: It’s more than enough to make you question yourself.

A: There’s that great moment in Bridget Jones’s Diary when she’s being interrogated at a dinner party full of couples and she’s the one single person, and they ask her, “So why is it that women are not getting married?” Meaning, “Why are you not married yet?” and she replies, “Oh, it’s because we’re covered in scales.” They all look like they’re actually entertaining the thought that it could be true. And there are times, when you’re being really hard on yourself, when you get to thinking that “maybe there is something wrong with me.” That’s the thing I resent more than almost everything else—there are very few examples growing up when self-esteem is correlated to an experience of being by yourself. Family and school will tell you that you can be whatever you want to be, but they never say, “And if you want to live by yourself and have a cluster of friends around you, that’s wonderful, too.”

Q: You also talk about all the classic indignities of the single life: the wedding invitations with “and guest,” the puzzlement when you go alone to a restaurant—all of it ongoing even while the world changes. The growth in people living by themselves is remarkable and yet there’s no language, no narrative to reflect this.

A: When I’m with my busiest friends, I’m thinking how we actually are more in relationships with our technology than each other, people staring at iPhones or BlackBerrys, to the point that I think, “Okay, something else is happening here, we are removed, we have other ways of associating.” Somehow we are often actually more comfortable associating with people far away than beside us. I’m not lamenting that, I’m just saying that it’s a dynamic that is happening, but the old grand narratives about how you belong to a culture and a world, a society, haven’t changed. There has been an extraordinary amount of singles studies that have appeared in the last year or so. The cover story for the Atlantic in November [2011], written by a friend of mine, Kate Bolick, called “All the single ladies,” pointed out that sometimes successful women don’t want to get married, even in their late 30s. You start a conversation on this and you find a swell of support from people saying, “Yes, this is exactly what I experience myself.” Many single people are craving some kind of language, some kind of analysis that says you do not have to do this thing: married, children, retirement.

Q: Does the gay community bring a particular insight or emphasis to this?

A: It’s been very interesting to watch what has happened to gay politics in the last decade or so. Marriage equality—especially in the States—became the major focus. In Canada, we got it relatively quickly, and it wasn’t traumatic—the sky didn’t fall. But it shows the power of the couple idea. Sexual minorities felt like, “Okay, one way that we are constantly officially delegitimized is because we are not able to marry,” and it’s true. I’m appreciative of that desire to correct that civil wrong, but on the other hand it still proclaims the most legitimizing thing you can be is married, which will enable the rest of the world to say, okay, now you can inherit each other’s property, you can have visitation [rights], you can make stable custodial arrangements for the children. I don’t know if a lot of people have done enough thinking about this. Why is the couple and very official couple-making the goal we’re all driving toward?

Q: Your argument goes further, though—it is a polemic, after all: coupledom doesn’t just overwhelm singleness or isn’t always as perfect as claimed, it’s actually often toxic.

A: Coupledom shrinks the world. I use that language deliberately because being part of a couple is the thing that’s supposed to save you, as it does at the end of almost every single romantic comedy. I’m not saying people don’t have wonderful, large, fantastic relationships, but they are also anxiety-producing. They do shrink the world. You have fewer friends, you have fewer opportunities to go out in the world and explore and have all sorts of intimacies and associations and friendships and activities. Some people really like that, but I don’t think it’s much better than any other kind of situation. I’m trying to knock it off its hierarchy a little bit.

Q: Your point is that there are far fewer pairs who complete each other than there are couples?

A: Exactly. In couples there’s a lot of angst, a lot of anxiety once you get involved with anyone. Think of the torturous years when you first start dating, or during moments of indiscretions or betrayals. There’s just a lot of anxiety about managing this thing that’s supposed to make you solid. Things are incredibly fragile all the time, and there’s a lot of loneliness in those moments. I’ve often felt the most lonely when up against another person, because the boundaries between both of you are highlighted in that moment. It can be disquieting, especially if the other person gets sick, or if they go away, or when they seem distant and removed. So there’s a lot of negative energy there that I think is actually displaced on singles, the idea that they must have it worse. That’s a cheap trick, a mean trick, but it acts to keep people pursuing relationships that may or may not be everything. Actually, they will never be everything because a couple can’t be a world.

Q: Is that the lesson you draw from Love Story?

A: When it starts you know that Ali MacGraw’s character is going to die; it’s the first thing you learn. Then that sadness fills the movie and the relationship with so much pathos, so much anxious feeling that is frequently in any kind of love story. The story not only admits that death will end the couple, it prompts you to long for that kind of devastation. Years ago I went to a wedding where the minister decided to ad lib. As he was talking about the circle of the rings as symbols of eternity, he started predicting all these horrible things that were going to happen. “You’re going to have fights, you’re going to be upset, there’s going to be illness, for better or for worse is really, really true. I want you, when you’re there, to think, when you’re about to get mad and you’re about to leave, I want you to think about how you felt right at this particular moment, come right back to this moment, and you will feel connected and secure.” The sense I got was, okay, there is likely failure, there’s definitely a death in your future with this person, so how do you deal with it? By pretending that time doesn’t matter, that events don’t matter, that history doesn’t transform us indelibly, that you can go back to this moment and feeling.

Q: That’s why people are dropping “till death do us part” from their marriage rites? I thought it was more pragmatic: until we divorce.

A: I see people using instead “forever and ever and ever” language. By doing that they give themselves an optimistic sense that even though there is a tragedy waiting, you’re going to be able to be together forever. It’s very seductive language, and this is why I focused so much on the language that swirls around singles and couples rather than sociological case studies and statistics. A lot of any relationship is ritual and a lot of words: texts, phone calls, emails, as much a linguistic relationship as an actual lived experience. And the kind of rhetoric people use to talk about how things should be to themselves and to each other are often these flights of fancy. They’re very literary, they’re very strange, but they make sense. Saying, “I will love you forever” is so much better than, “I will love you for nine months,” or however long.

Q: You say that you “lapse into coupledom” on occasion. Do you get grief from fellow militant singles for being a backslider?

A: No [laughs]. Partly because I don’t publicize it that often. In the last long-term relationship I had, what seemed to drive everyone crazy was that we spent all this time with our separate friends and never were out together. And I liked that, not because I didn’t enjoy his friends, but it was just a sense of being separate individuals. It certainly made the breakup much easier.

Q: You didn’t have to divide up your friends? Or your dog—I saw on a professor rating site . . .

A: Oh God, you read that? I refuse to read that website! I think they’re actually good to me, but it is a scary, scary thing.

Q: Well, there was mention you talk often about your dog, but I don’t see one.

A: I do have a dog, but he’s with my ex. You know, that shared custody struggle.

Q: Many earlier works on singles stressed the sex-life aspect of singleness, but you strive to keep that out of your book. Why?

A: Because of the old assumptions. When people are single they’re either lonely or they can’t be committed, they’re too interested in their libido, etc. I got tired of people saying, “Single? Oh, single!” that is, swinging singles, relieved of the hard work of relating, off being selfish and enjoying your own physical pleasures. I wanted readers to think that singles are not just out to have pleasure, they’re often just being themselves, you know? I don’t want the assumption to be they’re just finding tons of possible people they could couple with, but won’t. That could be the experience of people—and often it is—and I don’t want to honour or disparage that kind of experience, but instead I just want the focus to be on, rather than sex, all the other kinds of emotional and political and theoretical impact.

Q: People do know that being alone does not necessarily equal being lonely, but you think the two often blur in our emotions?

A: You can be completely lonely at times when you’re by yourself, but you can feel the same thing when you’re with someone. I’m trying to take away that kind of pathetic condition from singleness: “No, there are experiences of being by yourself that are incredibly interesting and rewarding, with all sorts of fantastical moments of imagination and insights.” Some will make you feel more connected than anything else. I often find that when I’m away from the immediacy of some terrible emotion I’m having with someone that I’m deeply invested in, that’s when I can start figuring something out. Then I feel fonder and closer in some ways. Even people with happy marriages have moments when they’ve never felt lonelier, when they realize that the other sees something differently. That’s because you’re building such a narrative of “we’re sharing everything, we know each other so well.” But you never, ever can know the totality of what someone’s thinking. You can know their emotional processes, you can sit there and spend days, months, years trying to figure it out, but you’re never going to figure it all out. Think of your own self, the unconscious stuff going on in your head when you’re reacting and acting out in certain ways. It’s never going to be full disclosure.

Q: Do you think the iron grip of coupledom will ever slacken?

A: It will be interesting to see what will happen now that there are all sorts of creative associations with new technologies. Certain kinds of lonelinesses will not be experienced like they traditionally were. People go away and you can Skype, you can have face time, you can text, you will feel connected to them in all sorts of ways. I wonder whether this is going to intensify the anxious relating and clinging onto another person or allow for all sorts of other associations to crop up, because you’ll never feel you’re that removed. But you may also feel that you can never escape. It’s always a moving balance, at all times.


Two against one: The stigma of being single

  1. Gotta say, I’m a little disappointed in Macleans on this piece. While Michael Cobb has some interesting ideas, much of what he put forth should have been challenged by Brian Bethune. I didn’t see an ounce of skepticism in the questions, even on the question of the definition of “single.” Cobb makes it sound as though society has a large yet silent group of individuals who are single because being single is a state they have consciously chosen and which makes them happy. That just doesn’t pass the smell test for me. While I have no doubt that there are a few folks out there – and perhaps Cobb really is one of them – that are single because they much prefer to be that way than to be in a relationship, I am also convinced that the vast majority of singles are single because they have not found someone with whom they can be in a meaningful relationship with. Because there is no way that under Cobb’s definition of single, Bethune’s opening stat on singles outnumbering married people can be correct.

    • I was thinking many of those same things.
      Cobb’s view sounds awfully contrived to me. More of an attempt at self justification than a real insight into a “group” of which I believe, like you, most people wouldn’t identify with in the way he claims to. I don’t want to disregard his own experiences of course, but having been a member of course at one time, frankly I don’t recall many people jumping for joy over the fact.

      • Phil, I don’t see it as contrived. I see him as being at a point, at age 39, when all this becomes very serious – whether to marry or not.
        Having been married, but at a time earlier than others speaking here, I can understand why many women wouldn’t want that kind of life, even though the kind of life we led was very traditional and not what women have now in their marriages.
        I’m not sure what you are saying, when you say, “having been a member of course at one time, frankly I don’t recall many people jumping for joy over the fact” What does that mean? Are you saying you were single, or divorced, or married? Who were not overjoyed? Your parents?

    • “Cobb makes it sound as though society has a large yet silent group of
      individuals who are single because being single is a state they have
      consciously chosen and which makes them happy.”

      That’s actually not at all what he is saying. He is saying there IS a dominant discourse of coupledom in society and that social constructs do make people feel like they should be in a couple. He is saying it doesn’t need to be this way. As he says he’s trying to “knock it off it’s hierarchy” he’s certainly not saying all single people are happy.

      • Yeah I was afraid my comment might be interpreted this way. So if you’ll bear with me, I’ll be slightly more long-winded this time.

        The dominant discourse that Cobb refers to is actually *inclusive* of singles – just not the kind of single person that Cobb means when he uses the word. So let’s define the term: A single person is someone in one of two modes. The first mode – the one that I believe is predominant in our society – is someone who is waiting to find a person with whom they can have a meaningful relationship. Their single status is not something they are trying to expressly preserve. It is merely what they happen to be at the current time for a myriad of reasons.

        The second mode – the one which Cobb not only identifies with personally, but also feels is left out of the dominant discourse – is a person who has chosen to live their life outside of a pairing. Cobb seems to have had some really bad experiences with relationships and this would seem to be at the root of his choice, but I would imagine there are other reasons too. Regardless, this mode of being single is a rarity in my experience.

        As someone who spent a good deal of his first 30 years as a happy single, and then the most recent 12 years as happily married, I can say that I have never felt left out of any societal construct. Quite the opposite. I’ve always had a voice, I’ve always felt valued for the role that I chose to play and if it ever felt that certain things were expected of me, I recognized that the feeling of expectation was being generated internally, not imposed externally.

        Perhaps this is where I really break with Cobb on his approach to this issue. To be truly happy, be it single or coupled, you first have to be comfortable with who you are. Without this, you will always feel that external forces have a greater impact on your life than they really do. I’m forced to wonder if all of the angst and terrible things that Cobb associates with relationships is merely a result of his discomfort in his own skin. As I read through his descriptions I kept thinking the same thing: This does not match a definition of a healthy relationship and it doesn’t mirror anything I’ve ever experienced.

        No wonder he finds being single preferable. But I think he’s in the minority.

        • Simon, this is interesting; however, I believe you’re giving the good professor more credit (for depth) than is justified. This article has been published under a misleading title, because it’s only superficially concerned with ‘being single’. You are probably hitting the right note when you speculate on Cobb’s personal difficulty with coupling, but Cobb is an English Prof at U of T, which means that his stance is political, not personal. Cobb’s rant is better described as orthodox anti-marriage propaganda, part of the faux-progressivist stance of gay ideologues in campus settings — a bit of twee politics that has been around now for 25 years or more. They wish to accredit their own lack of ability to stay in couples by constructing a political argument for not coupling. This is an apologetic for gay promiscuity, not a cogent argument for “being single.”

          • Yes, I have thought, too, that gay men and straight men have a lot in common. The difference may be that there are women out there who see an advantage to marriage, whereas gay men might not, but would rather keep on enjoying single life. But they will grow old too, someday.

          • Well, s.a., now you’re penetrating towards a *real* centre of discussion (something which, I repeat, you won’t get from Cobb). What part of gay promiscuity (let’s call it ‘failure to sublimate’; ‘failure to accommodate’; or ‘refusal to defer gratification’) is ‘male’ in nature, and what part is ‘gay male’? A good and penetrating question; the problem with examining it is that the examination — where it is allowed under political correctness — is left, not to disinterested academics, serious scholars, but to gender politicians, either in Gay Studies or Womyns Studies, where generalizations about males are notorious: often crude, speculative, self-interested, and inevitably superficial. There is a universe of study ahead for those who, unlike Cobb, don’t have a ‘dog in the hunt’ and should therefore be, well, let’s say it, ignored.

          • I just think that the difference between male and female sexual desire and needs is what makes men’s similarity obvious, whatever their sexual preference. There are many women now who like to claim that their sex drive is the equal to men’s, which is nonsense. Even some feminists are saying that. But all women have to do is go to a bar at closing time and stand outside and offer it and see how many men are interested. Let a man do that outside a girls club and it just doesn’t work the same way.
            It goes against society’s norms to prefer “the same.” Our society is based on opposites. I guess biology and much of science is too, isn’t it? Actually, if one really looks at it, it is odd to have a man and woman attempt to pair up when they are so ‘opposite’ in many ways. But it’s what they have to do if society is survive. And that’s why so much effort goes into promoting marriage and encouraging singles to get together.

        • The reason you were accepted a a youthful single is that you were involved with the opposite sex. Your intentions made a difference!

          • Perhaps, but I don’t think that Cobb’s comments on being single were aimed exclusively at people who find the same sex attractive. I believe he was attempting to frame the issue without regard for sexuality.

          • Okay, so he’s framing his argument without regard for sexual preference. But if you’re straight, and people treated you well when you were living the hetero single life, then that would be a lot easier than being gay and single
            I’m not sure what you are saying. If you are gay, and the whole world treated you well when you were single, well that is a surprise to hear.
            Even though one puts gay and straight into the same framework, as I did in my proposed research (see link on this page) that doesn’t mean that one cannot discuss each separately. We don’t just tell the similarities. We discuss differences too.

        • simon, I have often heard that too, that “To be truly happy, be it single or coupled, you first have to be comfortable with who you are.” That is a bit of nonsense psychotherpists made up, no doubt. Have you ever met the kind of people who fall into relationships, and aren’t they the most insecure, naive, immature people ever, and don’t their relationships just last forever? No it isn’t about being comfortable with who you are. It’s about being able to adapt, I guess, changing when necessary, and not changing when it can cause problems. But that singular approach doesn’t make sense, because no one can knwo “who they are” and if they do, you know the next thing that happens is that they change. It’s a great traditional tool, that’s all.

          • Whether psychotherapists espouse a similar philosophy or not, I believe it to be one of life’s fundamental truths. I’m curious about your point re: insecure people having relationships that last forever. I don’t know about you, but I would never judge the success or the happiness of people in a relationship by how long they’ve stayed together. There are plenty of miserable co-dependents (I think Cobb pointed that out) who spend their entire lives together. My point is that individuals are responsible for their own happiness. That comes from inside. A tormented, confused, insecure person cannot make themselves happy by getting into a relationship. But the person who is secure and comfortable with who they are can find their happiness almost anywhere – even if they experience personal change.

          • My parents were married 60 years. It was an accomplishment. And they came through it with many good memories. That doesn’t mean everyone should stay married, or should marry in the first place.

            You’re using a pop psychological approach. – re “a tormented, confused, insecure person cannot make themselves happy by getting into a relationship.” No? But an insecure woman can make themselves happy by marrying a man who will ensure they have the career they want. A tormented person might just find happiness by marrying, How do you know she or her can’t?

            Perhaps you could read about Bella de Paulo too. Happiness doesn’t come from inside. We are individuals, but we live in a society, and society can be pretty nasty. Sure, believe in God, that she or her will save you, and you will be happy as you die.

          • Simon, missed a part
            If we were all a bunch of happy well-adjusted individuals who got together with like people of the oppostie sex, how boring life would be – in general, I mean. Life is just not like that. I have thought about this, though I don’t know how to convince you of it. My parents fought during their marriage, largely because my dad couldn’t figure out his own masculinity, probably, having come from a traditional family background. My mother’s mother had been a missionary, but never worked as such, as women didn’t then. She taught art, wrote a book (including her views on sex) pained, held art exhibitions, and did what women did in order to survive. She and hubby lived apart for 10 years, she in england, so the giirls could go to school, him, in Hong Kong. Her book suggested that she struggled with many issues, though in order to be sent to HK, the missionary society considered to be a very stable, very competent young woman. I have given the URL of the essay that I wrote about her – well-researched but not published. Why? Probably because it was not about a man. But I did get the essay I wrote about her husband published – see it here – J. L McPherson and HK YMCA: 1905-1935 .

          • Sue, are you suggesting that successful relationships are born out of compromise…because if you are, I agree wholeheartedly. However, if you are saying that those of us who are in long term relationships are “insecure, naive and immature”, I have to disagree. Simon is right. There is a need for self-awareness on the part of both participants for a relationship to be successful. You have to be honest that you are not perfect and that no one else is responsible for your happiness but you. You have to admit to all your shortcomings at least to yourself. Then you have to do your best to be generous about your partner’s shortcomings as perceived by you.
            How can you say that “No one can know who they are” and that “people change”. If you have woken up crabby ever since you were a child, you are not going to change. If you have always been overly opinionated but had a generous heart, you are not going to change. If you are quick to anger but quick to apologize, you are not going to change. That is who you are.

          • No, Healthcare insider, I am saying there’s all kinds of relationships. so some are bound to be between neurotics. You’re quoting psychobabble. I’ve been there too! You don’t even mention people who are treated badly by society and who don’t get to live happy lives. what you say applies to the well-off in western countries, that’s all.

            You can be a happy child and then experience something horrific that changes you forever. It happens all the time to people. the ones who push it to the backs of their minds are more likely to appear content, until something happens to bring the horror back – like sexual abuse by a hockey coach.

            Believe it or not, I was so much under everyone’s thumb – parents, brother, husband, that I never really had an opinion. I never responded to questions in class, not in high school nor at university some 20 years later, Not until my third year. My husband used to describe me as a “perfect housewife.”

          • Neurotics…hmm, I do not think we use that term in modern day “psychobabble”. What you are describing is Borderline Personality Disorder and you will find it in the DSMIV under AXIS II mental health diagnosis.
            Contrary to what you might think, these people who have a poor grasp of self and are needy and insecure do not stay in longterm relationships. They initially idealize someone and expect this partner to fulfill all their needs. They make many demands of their partner and when their partner cannot meet those demands, the person becomes disillusioned and wants to seek out a replacement who they are sure will make them happy.

        • Un amigo recientemente publicó un artículo promoviendo “El Movimiento de la Nueva Chivalry”. En su lugar, propongo que nos movemos más allá de la caballerosidad y el sexismo benevolente y nos volvemos todos juntos los individuos más educados y corteses hacia las personas de todos los géneros.

    • When I fill out forms, I still have to say “divorced” Women or men who remarry say “married”. Single women say single, I guess. I’m not allowed to use that category. Being single never becomes a permanent status for women or men who divorce.

      I try to speak out, or wrote, but I am often silenced, as I mentioned above. My research for my PhD,. if I had been permitted to finish it, was about single women divorced, growing older. It was about sexuality.

      Probaby many of those who are single are older people, particularly women. Older men can still marry much younger women and get away with it (be accepted).

      • You make a very good point. I was just thinking of the “singles” I know who fit Cobb’s definition – they are all older women, mostly divorced. Had Cobb made it clear that this was the group he felt had been sidelined by our society’s discourse, I probably would have been on-side from the start. These women are often invisible and it’s not okay at all. But instead, Cobb appeared to focus on younger people and I guess that just didn’t work for me. I’m now coming around to his viewpoint just a little bit ;-)

        • I hope you will look up Bella DePaulo, Simon . She writes about singlehood, is also a prof – psychology. She also delves into sexuality I think – being celbate, or asexuality?, I forget. I did read her Psychology Today piece but it was a long time ago.

  2. Maybe if he didn’t wear a toque in the summer . . .

  3. I only read a part of the interview above, but I’ll take the opportunity to complain that the country is biased against single people. It’s easier to get some jobs because you’re married (more likely to stay in the same city and less likely to quit so I’ve been told), your insurance is less, you don’t get all these tax credits that couples do or those with kids do. I mean single people already have to pay double the rent/mortgage than dual income couples, we don’t share the costs of everything.

    Being single is a big disadvantage in society these days….

    • Being single has always been a disadvantage economically. I don’t think that’s new. What is new is that singles have more choice than ever – especially single women – in how they live their lives.

    • First of all, the job comment is just silly. It’s equally easy to make the argument that many employers prefer singles without kids because they can work more overtime. Look at any lawfirm, taxfirm, corporate head office etc etc.
      Secondly, insurance is based on risk and risk only. These guys don’t care one whit about your status, only their return. The reason married couples get cheaper life insurance for example, is because being married (for whatever reason) increases life expectancy considerably. Singles tend to engage in riskier behaviour overall and its reflected in insurance rates.
      Thirdly, no you don’t pay double the rent. You pay the exact same rent in fact. You simply aren’t splitting with another person, which you could easily do with a roomate. What’s that you say? What a hassle? Welcome to living with other people. It’s always a hassle, even when you’re in love with that other.

  4. I agree with Cobb that single people are an ignored
    demographic based on a 1950s assumption that everyone is going to couple up eventually. There are real examples of government policy which have not caught up
    with the realities of people being single for most or all of their adult
    lives in Canada. For example, BC Healthcare costs:
    “Effective January 1, 2012, monthly rates are $64.00 for one person,
    $116.00 for a family of two…” I understand paying less for children but
    why should a person in a couple save $72 dollars a year? So over ten
    years I would pay $720 more than coupled people for the same (mandatory)
    gov’t healthcare?

    • You forgot to mention that a family of 3 or more pays only $128.00 so they are REALLY getting a steal of a deal.
      Of course we encourage couples or at least coupling…we need children to be born in Canada and we need them to grow up and pay taxes so we can still afford healthcare. It occurs to me that in at least province, we reward people for having children. If you steadfastly remain single, you are not procreating….procreate, get that child and you too will pay $116.00 for a family of two (you don’t need to be a couple), instead of the inflated price of $64.00 as a family of one.

      • People live longer now. And so the population of people who have reproduced might also be single as they grow older. Especially women.

        • Yes, that is true but we will likely always offer a “family discount” because we need people to keep re-producing and the singles out there have to do their part too or pay higher prices. At any rate, I am sure there is a seniors’ discount for the old singles, isn’t there?

          • As far as I can think right now, any discount would be on the basis of age, not need, as discounts for families are mmore likely to be. Yes, discounts for seniors wishing to transform their own homes into elegant havens for the sick and infirm, while the rest struggle.

          • I live in Alberta and no one pays for healthcare premiums. However, seniors get a bluecross discount (65% off) for everything…prescriptions, physiotherapy, ambulance rides, etc.

  5. I picked up Macleans at the dentist office today, and I have to say this article was the weakest piece of journalism I’ve read in a long time. I have no problem with Michael Cobb promoting his new book, but how is this the cover story? Brian Bethune asked no tough questions. The article is written by a fan, not a reporter.
    The issue seems real, but I how about some statistical data? When I was in college I learned in Sociology that married people live longer and have less depression than single people. What does the research say today? And rather than musing about the difficulties of the perception of single life, let’s talk about policy and what we can do as a community and society to close the gap if it still exists.

    • Yes, married people can take care of one another, and it’s likely that that happens more often than not. Single people are left on their own to try to find a way to cover such things, if they need assistance. I did mention this at the Age Friendly meeting I went to, that single seniors are more likely to be isolated. the immediate response was several suggestions on groups to join and where to go for companionship (this was a married senior). But the thing is, and I believe this is what Michael Cobb is saying, the assumption is that all singles want a partner, and that they must socialize in order to be happy.
      I menioned this issue at the Age Friendly task force meeting because I felt it was a particular problem, not for socializing, but how to enable a single person to live at home, alone. I got nowhere. At the next meeting it was left off the list for ‘Respect and Social Inclusion’. I imagine other people would think that social inclusion means to have people ‘join up’. But I guess I am more like people who just don’t think like some other people, and don’t want to go to coffee chats or continuing ed, etc. I just want to seen as who I am, a person who lives alone and who has no support in the city of London, here. I was told they didn’t want to include anything “negative” in their suggestions.
      So should I have to go to coffee chats, or groups that hold no interest for me? I swim, go to the gym, and have a bike – all activities I do alone. Groups for ‘singles’ always sound as they they are for people looking for partners – or sex. My interests are gender, sexuality, aging, and other inequalities, and writing about these. I am not saying this because I am seeking a partner. I am just saying this is what I like to do. But it seems as though relationships are what are most important in today’s world.

  6. He makes some interesting points for sure (the plus-ones on the invitations, the ubiquitous married politicians). However, I think a few of his ideas are misguided. I don’t agree that there is more anxiety with being in a relationship than with being single. Having a strong partner means there IS someone you always know you can rely on and fall back on in moments of anxiety and when you’re feeling upset. Sure, it’s true that there are moments of deep loneliness and insecurity for all couples, but I’ve always felt far less of this while coupled than while single.
    And yes, you have to accept that someday one of you will die or maybe you’ll break up, but that’s no reason to live in anxiety. That’s like saying you can never enjoy a job, cause you know either you’ll retire, quit or be fired eventually.

  7. So, like, this is a tenured professor of English at U of T? Oh my gawd, who killed standards? [see my comment to Simon Cohen, above, good on ye, Simon]
    What I read here is a thinly disguised rant against heterosexual marriage. Period. This comes out of the demi-monde of gender-id politics, so preposterously tolerated nowadays by ‘English’ departments. It’s a veiled apologetic for gay promiscuity and lack of ability to commit– not any cogent defense of ‘being single’.
    Gay marriages tend not to be monogomous, which means gays can just be “single” when they feel like it, and married when that suits them. Or, they transit regularly between the “accompanied” state and the “single” state. Which means a professor of Gayness is not qualified to write on this topic. By the way, the professor (according to what I see here) does not even distinguish between “single” and “celebate” — and that shows how facile this stuff is.

    • Why would one even have to defend ‘being single.’ As it happens, that is one of the titles of a section one my webstie, Diversity in Retirement. . There’s only three stories on it. Perhaps if I enjoyed the credibility of marriage I could get more readers interested in the website, and ready to take the plunge and be interviewed!
      Yes, we give singles people a special promotion, so to speak, as we do women or any other group that hasn’t received as much attention in society. It isn’t that we are against coupledom, only that that is the common state of marriage. See the story of grandmother for more on marriage for women: . And of course, my grandfather’s story.
      I agree that it might have been better if someone from another dept – women’s studies or sociology – had written about being single, but professors are often so tied up with their work within the university that they just don’t have the time for newspapers.
      The issue of celibacy, or even asexuality, is rather complex, and didn’t need to be discussed here, unless, of course, one sees sexuality as underlying all these matters of singlehood and marriage. But what about adultery? Where does that fit in. But of course, marriage is what enables one life to move forward in this society, in which conforming is all, so a slight infidelity is to be expected, and sometimes can be the basis of a marriage.
      A real rant against heterosexual marriage inevitably includes the term ‘breeder’, a word I have encourage the ones who use it to refrain from doing.

      • SA, dozens of qualified authors have written articles, even books, about solitary living. Also, to some extent, about socially validated behaviors, including monogomous marriage and going out as couples (and being a couple-consumer). This is the legitimate material in the discussion of ‘singlehood’;it’s already been covered, and this professor isn’t the slightest bit interested in it.
        This prof of Diverse Sexuality (sic) is _not_ writing about ‘singles’ or even about solitary living; if so, he’d admit that solitary people often asbtain from sex. He’s merely tilting against the favor with which heterosexuals, monogamy, and coupling are greeted… and he’s polemicising against the movement for _gay_ marriage, which he’s ideologically opposed to (because it’s not modelled on gay behavior,he believes). Mr Cobb belongs to a political cult which thinks that gay promiscuous sex should be celebrated as a social value.
        Not on this planet, girl.

        • The term “solitary living” suggests a particular kind of lifestyle – not just living alone, but one where any kind of social life isn’t welcome. Grey Owl would havefit in that category – he and his the native woman he lived with. I guess that’s why they don’t use the term ‘single.’ I think that’s different than being aingle, meaning unmarried. My grandmother, who I mentionedd earlier, was quite a solitary person, but was living firmly within a marriage when she worte, and painted.
          fabulosa says, “Solitary people often abstain from sex.” But no more, or less, than anyone else, surely. But you’re talking about a particular psychological makeup – that of being solitary, not wanting intimacy if any kind, or at least. of that kind.
          You’re confusing the issue when you bring in the idea of solitary living. I don’t know what Cobb’s aim is. Marriage is a reasonable resonable response to not being seen likfe other people. Becoming assimilated into society is a good way for gays and lesbians to be seen like anyone else, and gives them the opportunuty to split their pensions, etc.
          I doubt that he is purposefully promoting a promiscuous lifetyle. They haven’t been able to do that since the 90s have they. So there you go, guy. They can’t overtly promote that, any more than heterosexuals can, overtly.

          • S.a., first, do note that Cobb says of gay marriage, ‘oh I guess it’s an ok charade, but gays should really think twice about doing it.
            Other than that, ‘solitary’ doesn’t just mean living in isolation; it can mean living solo, unattached. Perhaps, though, my use of it is a bit ‘poetic’.
            Just to anwer a couple of your very interesting points, Cobb’s pro-promiscuity isn’t declared openly , I’ll grant you that. But if you know how gays tend to live and think, you’ll see an appeal to ‘hooking up’ all through what he’s written. He sneers at commitment. Many of his points around this issue are glib and sophistic — let’s call them sly and misleading. For example, the rant about how, when you get married, your chances for intimacy are soooo limited, your world is ‘shrunk’, all those fabulous chances for intense – if fleeting — relationships are diminished, in fact, cut off. So here are these hetero people chopping their feelings off, growing stunted, walled off, unable to bounce off people and be passionate with anybody.. All that is code for “I wanna get laid as often as I can and I wanna flirt with whomever I wish, and I wanna take off the next morning.” That’s a fair description of how most gays actualy live. The reference to couples ‘never being a world’ and collapsing from all that ‘negative energy’ that comes from keeping a partner happy, such claims are scandalously shallow and reveal how perverse the man is. The ‘negative energy’ comment virtually pegs Cobb as a superficial one-nighter. And the comment about couples walling themselves off from intimacy and ‘never being a world’ demonstrate that Cobb has zero undertanding of real couples and of why they stay together. The most profound microcosm of the world is the intimacy of the heterosexual couple, who can complete each other and produce offspring. This is something that is inaccessible to Cobb, both personally and intellectually. Yet he claims to have done profound reading in this (by watching sit-coms, judging from his remarks) and has advice for the young and yearning.
            Finally, and this really is final, I can’t help coming back to who this man is and what he is paid to do for a living. It is astonishing that so shallow, self-absorbed, self-referential, and utterly contemporary a figure can be employed at a major university (outside the janitorial staff). U of T (my alma mater) you are one degraded institution.

          • I tried reading it again, but I must have missed the part where he says something about married people missing out on sex. Perhaps you could quote his words, and not just interpet them, and then I could see for myself what he said. And was he talking about gay marriage or hetwro, or both? Better yet, quopte his words and give the first words of the paragraph in which he says them.
            Cobb claimes to have been in longer term relationships (than one night) so I don’t know what to make of your post. Couples “never being a world” – what does that mean, where did it come from, which paragraph?
            Who said this: “The most profound microcosm of the world is the intimacy of the heterosexual couple, who can complete each other and produce offspring”. Was it you, fabuloso? Complete each other – do you mean, have sexual intercourse? I do agree, motherhood and fatherhood are what enable the world to continue, from one generation to the next. But not everyone has to reproduce. Tell that to people in the third world. Will that stop them from their most “profound’ microcosm of the world? I doubt it. and why? because there’s more to intimacy than reproducing, and more to this social world than reproducing. I did it, by the way, and I don’t see anybody being nice any more. They were when I was married and pregnant, but they’re not now I’m old and grey (sounds like a song, doesn’t it) . . .will you still love me . . . when I’m 64.
            Funnily enough, I also have objected to gay marriage. I find it belittles marriage to have people marry and play at the marriage ceremony who don’t have a clue what marriage was like for women back then, 40 years ago. Maybe they do and I don’t know it. Maybe they get married for security and inheritance, and power of attorney, and property ownership, and support in their careers, just like straight people do. I had often thought that at least striaght women know, but increasingly I get the impression that they don’t. Once women gained power in the workplace – and thus at home – all knowledge of women’s struggles seemed to slip right in one ear and out the other. Or did they get their brains “cooked” out.
            Gay people now are so much like straight people it’s ridiculous. It’s only the fact that men are doing something heteros consider unnatural, and women having sex with women doesn’t count because it isn’t really sex but straight men think is good to watch, that makes it an issue.
            I attended the first gay and lesbian studies course at Western a number of years ago, when the lesbians gave J Miller such a hard time because he was so sexist. If you wanted to see someone even more self-absorbed and self-referential, you would have to watch him teach a class.

          • First, a quick retort. You say, “Gay people now are so much like straight people it’s ridiculous.” I say “only in the eyes of a hard-core ideologue.” Anyone who frequents gay men can tell you a homosexual will never be a clone of any heterosexual.
            However, for a variety of socio-psychological reasons, reasons of mental and physical health, being in a long-tem, committed marriage is probably useful for gay men, so it’s to be applauded, in my view, and gay [monogamous!!] marriage is a worthy goal.
            To the rest of it:
            As I have stated, s.a., Cobb’s words are sly, sophistic, and misleading. Accordingly, he fails to make a bold statement about ‘missing out on sex’ — as I say clearly. So it’s obvious from my post that I’m providing a gloss on his text, not quoting. As for ‘never being a world’, true, my quote marks were a quick slip; I was paraphrasing. Cobb’s actual quote is ” a couple can’t be a world.” He is part obvious and correct; part disingenuous and sly, which is how much of his text works. Also obvious is that my comments about the profound parts of heterosexual marriage, that they reconstitute a microcosm of ‘the world’ — that world being the psychological, even cognitive one — that my comments are my own, and, more pertinently, that they are _a polemical reply_ to Cobb’s flip and shallow glibness. You find them offensive, perhaps, because heterosexual coupling is not what you’ve done in life or yearn for. Tell us that before you sneer at my private comment.
            Another obvious item is that you yourself are wounded by my validating comments around straight marriage; and that you yourself are an ideological opponent of all forms of marriage. Are you a lesbian? Nothin’ wrong or unusual about that, but we need that information to be able to contextualize your comments; as you yourself _now_ tell us, you went through the gender-feminist mill at university — exactly what Cobb indoctrinates in his classroom. However, that was not clear in your earlier remarks. Perhaps you question Cobb only because he’s a ‘male’?
            The rest of your demands for quotes is rhetorical, not helpful. I could write a book to satisfy them, but this blogsite would find that unreasonable. Take off those rainbow-colored, angry, gender-fem glasses, s.a., and I’ll buy you a friendly beer.

          • If you have managed to misinterpret what Cobb says anything like you have my post, then you probably have it wrong. I have explained that I was once married, with children. Isn’t that enough? You say you need to contextualize my comments, and sure that often helps when trying to hold a conversation. We respond to people on the basis of their gender. Sometimes, people who can’t tell from my username think I am male. Yes, I took women’s studies and gender studies. But my major was in traditional sociology. So I have both sides of it – the traditional male perspective and the newer women’s approach to the world. so I put them together and developed my own theoretical approach. I took these after my marriage ended, by the way. I was seeking an explanation for marriage and my experience in it, and why he was like he was. So I learned a lot. And now the world has moved on, attitudes towards sex have changed so much. It’s all about sex now. So why you keep trying to emphasize a gay tendency towards promiscuity is beyond me. Have you heard of Lisa Brown and her vagina? Just don’t show too much interest in it. She doesn’t like that. I don’t know what Cobb’s aim is. At one point he says “instead I just want the focus to be on, rather than sex, all the other kinds of emotional and political and theoretical impact.” He’s talking about a book he has written. I will say this: if I had to read a book on singles written by a man I would rather it were written by a gay man. For example, how much of The Black Swan – the movie – does a person have to watch before they figure out it must have been written by a man, and directed by a man. It is a male fantasy – a hetero male fantasy. A woman must come to terms with her sexuality – it says – before she can really come into her own – or as someone in this discussion would say, she has to be comfortable with who she is. It only appears that that is a requirement for success because without sexual attention, women scarcely receive any attention at all. So as I said, I’m not what you think I am. Angry gender fem inplies anger at men? Did you read this: Feminism’s legacy: contributing towards social inequality: Sue’s Views on the News: . Yes, we can have a beer, or a cup of tea, whatever you like.

          • s.a., I loved your reply, very honest and very thought-out! Thanks very very much. It’s very difficult, impossible, to take up all your points, since they cover a wide theoretical ground (and no, I’m just an observer, not a ‘theoretician’). First, let me say that I forgot that background info. you’d provided, about your family life, which was in your very first posts. My apologies, all I was doing was extrapolating from your recent remarks.
            I do have life experience with the gay male thing, that’s my own revelation. As I said ‘way up there in the first posts, there’s a ‘male’ component to all male behaviour, regardless of gay or straight; but there’s something very specific to gay male promiscuity that I don’t think has been tackled honestly and rigorously, in part, due to political correctness. I don’t have the answers, but loads of anecdotal experience.
            Coupla things. I don’t think you can dismiss all of the social sciences as “male.” Sure, men invented them and provided groundbreaking insights. But women have been involved, are involved massively today, and, more importantly, real research under rigorous controls should correct for gender bias. Secondly, I totally agree with you that female sex-drive has been underestimated. In my view, women are _more_ sexual than men, for a vast array of potential reasons. Also, women are just as likely to respond to the urge to have recreational sex, nothing more; certain innate factors in women — best word is biological memory — tend to make women more desirous of long-term relations, and less anxious to get their ovarian rocks off, that was a joke. However, by no means do I accept that we understand all of this, which is one of the reasons why Cobb’s meanderings about singlehood are so useless (the other being that he’s a downtown gay and has no access to the profundity of heterosexual coupling).
            Cobb is first and foremost an ideologue who, I suspect, thinks it’s ‘progressive’ to reject the notion of nesting, monogamy, fidelity, and the nuclear family. What I find incredible, here, is that he pays no tribute to the old, very well understood notion of _deferred gratification_, which, all in all, is a defining trait of humans in their struggle to live in societies and build civilizations, not just to boast that they had a string of conquests before they kicked the bucket. Cobb’s lack, here, is devastating to his creds. He doesn’t even tell us that the sit-coms he claims represent today’s society are often WRITTEN BY GAY MEN and designed to amuse women who find gay humor both funny and titilating. That’s the AUTHORSHIP and AUDIENCE, and Cobb doesn’t even mention it. True, he does reference them to polemicise against what one character says in one sit-com, so it’s a bit inconsistent if his aim is propaganda. However, television is a patchwork of pre-programmed stimuli, designed to hit all the demographic buttons that a broadcaster-advertiser wishes to hit. It’s not a live video document produced in situ by real people. He has to mention that and take it into consideration before he cites this stuff in his work.
            All in all, Cobb comes off as a combo gay-male barfly and ‘progressive’ dogmatist, with little thought for depth or reading.
            This is my last contribution, but many thanks for your replies, and all the best!

          • I will respond anyway, as there are things to respond to, even though you have moved on. Do you know the name Barry Dank. He runs an academic sexual correctness discussion group – asc-l, which I was a member of a long time ago until he realized I was not altogether on his side. But he did start off his career by writing about gay men and the tea-room experience, pre-AIDS. I don’t recall how it went but I believe he interviewed them. Since that time Dank decided that male profs should be permitted to have relations with their female students and as far as I know, he is still talking about it. Again, I have a piece on my blog about this – , not the gay part, but stuff that includes marriage and casual consensual sex. You mention a difference in promiscuity among gays than for straight people, but of course, it’s men having sex with men and they don’t need to even touch, not like a man having sex with a woman. So of course there’s a difference. And there was AIDS.
            I was generalizing about sociology. 20 years ago most of it was still male – male theories, male researchers, etc. But I did take a couple of courses about gender in the Socioloy Dept, one taught by a male prof. By now there would be much more crossover of courses between the faculties. Your “joke” about women and sex is just about the truth of it. If women seem more sexual to you than men, it is probably due to how your brain is hardwired (at this time).
            In an article like this it is difficult to say everything one wants to, and after all, he was only responding to the actual author of the article. So it was to promote his book, I think, and his attempt to open up this subject to further research and discussion. If he mentioned tv too much, it is probably a reflection of what he thinks non-academics are like. But the point is, he didn’t actually sit down and write out this article. Brian Bethune did.
            It’s been nice talking with you.

  8. Dang right, Mr Ivory Tower dweller with an axe to grind and visible contempt towards anything deemed “traditional.” Let’s go ahead and create a new class of dispossessed citizens. Although single folks shouldn’t feel so bad. Just imagine if you were single, a visible minority, gay and disabled all at once.

  9. Both Sociology and Women’s Studies goves people the tools to question coupledom and singlehood. On the individual level, I’m sure people do think that having a partner is practically a requirement in society today. But there’s a lot of pressure on women, and probably on men to, to find a partner. I thought as one grew older, that pressure would subside, but I’m still made to feel like less of a person, and I believe it has quite a bit to do with being alone, without a partner. Worse yet, for women, I’m quite sure there are stilla lot of men who think they really want sex, with or without the relationship. But of course, it’s having the sexual encounter that helps a women to be seen as a ‘contributing’ member of society. Besides that, having a partner does provide each one with a kind of respectability – it enhances the way they are perceived by others, and generally, makes life easier, to mix, to eat out, to go anywhere. When I was younger I made a point of doing things alone – eating in restaurants, walking into a bar, travelling alone. Now I find that I don’t want to do that any more. I also find the younger generation, in general, not all, can be quite disrespectful (as in the situation of the school bus monitor currently on the news). There’s nothing admirable in being alond. as the article states, it just leads others to look down in pity, or loathing.

  10. This is a pretty bad article – not up to Maclean’s usual standards.

    This guy has a personal beef with marriage, so he looks hard to find a level of ‘descrimination’. It was a waste of time to read this.

    • When my research wasnt able to be continued, I got the imporssion it had something to do with attitudes towards sex and sexuality.

      • Not sure of your point. It seems like you were joking, but I am not sure.

        • Sorry. I was talking about the problem of personalizing things. Women did it, writing about women’s issues, so they weren’t takn seriously at first. Gays did it. And modester see Cobb as having a “personal beef with marriage.”

          I wasn’t able to do my PhD, and it had developed into something on sexuality. It’s a subject of personal research interest. And the openness of flirtatiousness where I was doing it was worse even than Canada.

  11. Being single is a sexual minority now? This is just pretentious bullshit to justify a society which praises individuality over responsibility to others. I’m sorry your dog was taken by your ex, but get over it. And yourself. And that stupid toque. Done.

    • Reponsibility to “others” or responsibility to one other, as in coupledom? Single people can still be responsible, though the likelihood of them being excluded from community or family for being stubborn about it and not even trying to find a mate is greater than for other kinds of “antisocial behaviour.”

  12. I don’t care what the ‘disadvantages’ of being single are. I have been blissfully single all my life. I am a self-sworn celibate (atheist). I can do what I want, when I want and answer to no one but myself. I don’t like complications in my life. I do believe that couples (married or otherwise) do enjoy more ‘perks’ and benefits, considering solitude is MY choice, I am happy for them. Cheers all!

    • As long as you are independently wealthy, or have managed to get yourself into a secure position before letting on your non-intentions, you will probably be okay. But it’s money that is most important, after demonstrating loyalty to one side or the other. (and gays can be just as bad with that, preferring to put their efforts, or scarce resources into politically-motivated endeavours on the basis of sex, and that includes university professors, whose brains are god knows where – and most women). If one doesn’t have the money – if one was left struggling through lack of support of career due to actions by individuals who make detrimental choices – then one can be left struggling in every area – for health care, housing, and community acceptance. If you want to know the reason for the feelings you have, it boils down to the class divide, more truthful than any talk about “knowing oneself” or “being comfortable with” oneself or than any psychobabble can be.

      • I wonder where having money, career or being gay got into my statement!? I made my decision based on my observations of relationships. That is not to say I saw only bad ones. My parents just celebrated their 60th anniversery. My sister completed 21 years and all my cousins are enjoying healthy marriages. I am the only one in my entire family still single. I am not rich. I am not gay (at least I am very sure I am not). I am not, however, comfortable with relationships beyond friendship. As I mentioned, I don’t like complications. Relationships are complicated – a mix of politics, compromise, and a very delicate balancing act that I personally believe is a waste of time and energy. I very secure with myself, though my level of self-comfort is a work-in-progress (I am overweight). Psychobabble does not make sense to me. I prefer to make my decisions based on my observations and experiences. I have been called an aberration and selfish. That means nothing unless I feel that way. I AM definitely a MINORITY. Cheers!

        • I’m not speaking from personal experience, or imagining what I think your life must be like. Knowledge of society suggests that those without careers or jobs who are the most vulnerable in society, are more likely to be sexually exploited, and that includes women in poverty (who always have something left to sell, don’t they) and young boys, and sometimes adult men too, if they are vulnerable. So if none of this applies to you, I can’t think of another explanation except that you may have a very supportive family, and possibly live at home with them – or be financially independent, which I already said and you dismissed. Of course, these days the disabled can get a substantial amount to live on, depending on their circumstances, enough to make independent, single life possible. So you might want to dismiss the money aspect, but the fact you do that probably means you are surviving okay with what you have. Not everybody is, and some people do find themselves having to pair up just to survive. Others join churches. Some become prostitutes. All this seems apart from your experience, so you must be getting money from somewhere. I don’t care where you get your money. But I do care when you make false claims about your chosen lifestyle, making it all seem very rational and personal and something anybody could do, when the fact is, it isn’t. Being asexual, or celibate, whatever you call it, isn’t a choice that’s avaiable for everyone.

          • The list of circumstances that influence life is long. Everyone is affected and everyone has to make decisions based on the situation/environment they find themselves in. Some can choose, others can’t, still others won’t. I live in Canada by myself. I have NO FAMILY here. I have a job and that pays me enough to live comfortably. I found my secret to a happy life. And it is working so well I see no reason to change it. But that is just me. I have no interest in forcing my ideas on anyone. I chose celibacy because I realised that it was just another form of control people (male and female) try to and tend to exert on each other. I have no desire to be controlled. I have no reason to make false claims about my chosen lifestyle. You, like almost everyone else, have a chosen a similar path through life, and therefore, can’t understand/appreciate what appears irrational to you. That is not my problem, and to you it is not yours either. I appreciate your opinion. It gives me another viewpoint to consider, something I value greatly. I have just started looking through your blog, and hope to actually read the articles when am not at work! Take care. Cheers!! :-)

  13. “Coupledom shrinks the world. I use that language deliberately because being part of a couple is the thing that’s supposed to save you, as it does at the end of almost every single romantic comedy. I’m not saying people don’t have wonderful, large, fantastic relationships, but they are also anxiety-producing. They do shrink the world. You have fewer friends, you have fewer opportunities to go out in the world and explore and have all sorts of intimacies and associations and friendships and activities. Some people really like that, but I don’t think it’s much better than any other kind of situation. I’m trying to knock it off its hierarchy a little bit.” – Michael Cobb

    In order to successfully un-clump (not minimize) and open up the idea of being single, or as some would imagine to put it “a strong and free person on my own”, he had to clump (minimize) those in a relationship. This argument has more to do with personal perception and association then reality. I am in a strong relationship and I am a strong and free person. When I was single, I was still the same, strong and free person (although time does allow for growth). All of this anxiety and shrinking has more to do with personal weaknesses or mistakes and its something I realize most people will battle with at some point but why escape when there are solutions? Of course, if you do find a solution you are still free to be single if you wish. Relationships build our society in business, politics, comedy, tragedy, life and death. You can’t avoid them by being single. Committing more time and energy to one person is like committing more time and energy to one job or hobby or yourself, you only have so much time and energy and therefore you can’t fit everything you’d like into life whether you are single or not.

    The germans have a word for Cobb: Weltschmerz. It comes about when comparing the world as it is to an ideal, hypothetical world. I’ll also note that Cobb pointed out this hypothetical world that couples supposedly amount themselves to. I think that has more to do with certain medias and fools.

    Once you realize that you are creating an ideal, hypothetical world whilst being single (much like when you were in a relationship), you will round back to where you began…with a new revelation, hopefully. I would also like to add that this hypothetical includes either the relationship, the person you should be, or a compilation of many things.

    This article did technically remind us to knock coupledom off its hierarchy. That’s what freethinking intellectuals do. Just don’t give the crown to singledom. That’s what fools do. There is no crown.

    • I believe Cobb’s idea was to knock coupledom off its hierarchy “a little bit” Jeremiah appears to be tryng to create an opposition where there is none. Cobb’s last words about coupledom were, “It’s always a moving balance, at all times.” I do agree, however, that he emphasizes anxiety within couples relationships whereas I, too, see that as the one aspect of all this that probably could be about the psychology of the individual, with a little bit of socioeconomic factors thrown in. As Jeremiah says, he was always strong (meaning mentally and emotionally, I think) though I can’t see how he thinks he was “free.” In my view – any man who thinks that might not exactly be marriage material. The idea of the couple means that the two together becomes as important as the freedom of each one alone.

      But does coupledom shrink the world? I would imagine it does, unless each one of the couple spends far more time doing their own thing than doing the things that apparently help couples marriages last. Unless a person is a soldier off in another country, or the two are living apart out of necessity for the kids, as my grandparents did (at a time when it took 6 weeks to get from Hong Kong to England) then it’s probably expected that they will spend a certain amount of time together, which would limit their free time as individuals. So yes, Cobb is using arguments that aren’t even relevant. There are so many difference among couples that one cannot easily generalize anymore. Gone are the traditional type of marriages that I had, and that many women had, that led them to seek other ways of living their lives.

      The fact is, marriage is still the most important setup in society – for purposes of reproduction and raising children – and for other reasons too. That said, I don’t think it is Cobb’s intention to knock coupledom off the top of the hierarchy completely, so it lands at the bottom. I believe he sees, and rightly, that there are many other forms that relationships and life can take, and singlehood is one of them – increasingly. It doesn’t have to be considered second rate to coupledom. I grew up at a time when coupledom was considered the thing to aim for, though several friends of mine at the time didn’t follow that route. In today’s world, it is still coupledom that many women aim for. I did discover a reason for that, and for what women expect from marriage, and I believe it is a throw-back to earlier times when women sought the best provider they could get. I have noticed that women today still seek the best provider they can get – the man with potential, the man who can provide them with the money and security to ensure their kids get the best education, the best healthcare, the best of everything. They don’t need it. But partly because of feminism’ influence, and their own feminine roots, and despite having careers of their own, this seems to be what many of they aim for.

      Jeremiah Dunlop is drawing conclusions that are not accurate, when he implies that Cobb would like to see singlehood at the top of the hierarchy. JD says at the end,”Just don’t give the crown to singledom. That’s what fools do. There is no crown.” His comment gives the impression that Cobb would rather see singlehood at the top of the hierarchy, which Cobb doesn’t argue for. But that’s what happens when someone makes a case as he has. It is assumed, because of the binary approach to language and thought that exists in our society, that that is what he wants – singlehood at the top. Rather, look at it in terms of ‘grey,’ not black and white. When JD says, “there is no crown,” he is wrong. Coupledom has the crown – for gays too.

      We shouldn’t all be expected to compete with others to find a suitable mate, and be punished and excluded if we don’t conform. Whether we’re gay or straight, or bisexual or asexual, or just temporarily celibate, there are many ways the individual can live within society today and contribute, and not just as part of a couple.

      • “In my view – any man who thinks that might not exactly be marriage material.” s.a.mcpherson.

        Thank you for clumping (minimizing) marriage. Thank you for clumping (minimizing) coupledom again. I was arguing against all idealized and hypothetical situations of which we create and simply choose rather then customizing them ourselves based on our knowledge of reality. The ability to do so takes strength (emotionally, intellectually) and is a solution with more freedom then simply choosing any idealized and hypothetical state of relationships or a lack thereof. All shades of the spectrum (and I will yield to your “in terms of ‘grey,’ not black and white”) require more then creating these states and choosing one or the other. In both terms of grey or black and white, neither are more shrinking then the other.

        “But does coupledom shrink the world? I would imagine it does… ” s.a.mcpherson.

        Every relation does, even one confined to yourself. As I had mentioned, whether you are single or not, you do not have time and energy for everything and therefore every choice you make “shrinks the world” regardless of relationship status. You have to deal with that. This ideal single life is not bound to more options in life, it is simply a different set of options. In order to commit time and energy to each option one must give up time and energy from another option. Personal preference is not an argument for a shrinking of society either.

        “… I don’t think it is Cobb’s intention to knock coupledom off the top of the hierarchy completely, so it lands at the bottom.” and “Jeremiah Dunlop is drawing conclusions that are not accurate, when he implies that Cobb would like to see singlehood at the top of the hierarchy.” and ” “there is no crown,” he is wrong.” s.a.mcpherson

        That is not what I had intended to portray. My intention was to knock them both to level ground and keep them there whether Cobb intended to do the same or not. I agreed with the knocking off of it’s hierarchy but disagreed with assumptions about singledom and coupledom. The favour of his comment (singledom) is created with expectations arisen by minimizing coupledom and over-inflating itself. As Cobb himself argued that over-inflating is what is happening to coupledom and as I myself noted was idealized and hypothetical and is thus wrongly placed. “There is no crown” is my opinion that it is an imagined construct as in “there is no spoon”. This should not be an argument for or against anything but rather a sign that we have to all drop these minimizing and idealizing tactics both for and against singledom and coupledom. One is not more free then the other, one is not shrinking more then the other. Unless you indicate personal preference at which point there is no case to hold.

        “We shouldn’t all be expected to compete with others to find a suitable mate, and be punished and excluded if we don’t conform.” s.a.mcpherson

        I agree. I would add that escaping expectations and creating your own does not have to be the same as escaping coupledom altogether. That only seems necessary when you clump (minimize) coupledom and singledom into black and white. Punished? It is unfair but everything about insurance and other such economic perceptions (as I have seen some add to comment) are based on paper and is always unfair (including sexism, ageism etc). The economy is never a good way to argue truth of the matter. It is unfair by nature. A family should require economic favouritism because it benefits the economy to have a healthy next generation. And yes I have seen a single person have a child (through IVF or otherwise) and recieve economic favouritism due to fair judgement on the employer’s side. It’s not perfect but again I point to the economic factors not being a function that is ever fair. Social factors? I’m sure if you argued your points for being single people would raise an eyebrow and say no problem or ‘to each their own’. Never expect to bond with someone who doesn’t share your interests though. Two single opposites could understand that.

        • Are you attempting to promote marriage of convenience, Jeremiah? Did you know some forms of that are illegal in Canada, such as marrying someone outside the country just so they emigrate here, although I am certain that other kinds of convenience marriages are happening here, for economic reasons, probably, or even for the sake of fitting into society.

          You left off part of the quote in your first line, where you wrote, “In my view – any man who thinks that might not exactly be marriage material.” And then you go into a diatribe on the “minimizing of marriage”. If you’d quoted the entire sentence and commented on that it might be more explanatory: ” As Jeremiah says, he was always strong (meaning mentally and emotionally, I think) though I can’t see how he thinks he was “free.” In my view – and man who thinks that might not exactly be marriage material. The idea of the couple means that the two together becomes as important as the freedom of each one alone.”

          Even when my grandparents lived apart, as they did for 10 years, they were still a couple, and not free to do exactly as they wished. My grandmother obviously had concerns, as she expressed them in the novel she wrote (1933), including thoughts on celibacy and promiscuity – an old fashioned grandma, with modern concerns. There have to be some limits on what marriage is, and while extramarital sex is something to be negotiated, a marriage between two singles who continue to see one another as completely ‘free’ of one another, or worse yet, where one sees freedom as his or her right, but the other one doesn’t have that choice, hardly fits what marriage is generally understood to be. So, no, I don’t see that I was ‘minimizing’ marriage.

          You also decide to give your views on my comment “But does coupledom shrink the world? I would imagine it does… ” to which I would add the rest of what I said in order for it to make sense but this is getting to be too much like unecessary work, trying to fix these errors of comprehension, or are they just language games?

          Enough is enough. Your comment adds nothing to what’s already been said, by me or anyone else.

          • No I was not focusing on marriage of convenience. Someone had mentioned economic complaints earlier and so I followed it through.

            Second and third paragraph response:
            Generally understood was seen as clumping. The two together are not necessarily as important as the individuals. I know there are limits on what marriage is (I also tried to clarify that marriage is not necessarily the only force in coupledom), and limits on other forms of being a couple but those limits are also in existence, as the same basic kind of limiting force: choice of A over B, to remaining single. That’s why I included singles and couples as shrinking inevitabilities and thus can not be said to be apart or different as an opposition to Cobb’s comments.

            The small quotes were to save space and sometimes grab a piece of the general idea of an area you wrote, leaving out the support (but not in the response) and/or leaving out something I did not disagree with. Sometimes also to clinch another point from Cobb.

            “You also decide to give your views on my comment “But does coupledom shrink the world? I would imagine it does… ” to which I would add the rest of what I said in order for it to make sense but this is getting to be too much like unecessary work, trying to fix these errors of comprehension, or are they just language games?”

            I addressed this correctly for the points that I was making to Cobbs comments. The following points you made did not cover all the bases fully. I was mostly adding. Replies are not always arguing.

  14. It seems to me that those who want to maintain the status quo, and coupledom as the ideal to aim for, must be getting a little concerned about the attention paid to critical analysis of this topic, and on changes in the family in general, especially such topics as singlehood, which is the focus of this article. There are good points made, and good arguments, in many of the comments below, so it would be good if readers would read through the responses to the beginning.

    I read something recently about Marilyn Monroe, written in 1963. It was by Ayn Rand, and in it she suggests that people were often critical of Marilyn (envious of her) for this reason: “it was the profound hatred of life, of success and of all human values, felt by a certain kind of mediocrity–the kind who feels pleasure on hearing about a stranger’s misfortune. It was hatred of the good for being the good–hatred of ability, of beauty, of honesty, of earnestness, of achievement and, above all, of human joy.” Ayn Rand .

    I suggested in a piece I wrote that it was probably something to do with sex, or sexuality, or her sensuality, that led people to act unkindly towards her – though it could have had something to do with her marital status, at any given time, and her approach to singlehood. I don’t think people would have envied her position – her career or life, as Rand suggested. But that’s what happens when people want to silence others about anything that goes against the accepted norms in society, and especially subjects like sex, or singlehood, if one hasn’t given them much thought.

    If it is reproduction of the species that has people worried, in general (meaning the majority) then the ones to approach are not single people, to do their bit for the world, but women who marry in order to gain career advantage, and end up having only one child, if that.

  15. I agree with what Brian is saying here. I am single and I prefer staying this way because I find I am more productive and less occupied with trivial things. I do feel happy for my friends who are in a relationship or getting married or even wanting to be in a relationship! But the problem occurs when they don’t see my choice of being with myself in the same light. It’s funny how a friends suggested this page to me recently because I have been having the same discussion with my mother and it is wonderful to know that I am not the only person with the arguments mentioned above.

    If a person decides to have a partner then that’s great but if they choose to be single then others should respect that and not try to set them up with people. I actually love being single, but I feel that in a social gathering I have to explain myself over and over again, and still people fail to understand and maybe even pity it (a bit). At least, I am not the only one with this chain of thought. I will definitely recommend this book to my mother! :)

  16. I appreciated this article and I do agree there is a perceptible social preference / assumption that married life is the expected normative behavior. Those of us who are single do often face the polite challenge – “are you dating”, “when will you settle down?”, “aren’t you afraid to get old alone?” or “its never too late to find someone”. This is especially true (I think) in the more conservative and religious Mid West where I live – marriage is seen as “ordained by God”. But its funny, because having been raised a Catholic, there is this conflict with the Jesus story – he apparently lived as a single man all of his life, there was a lot of minimizing the role of Mary Magdalene in the Jesus tale AND the Catholic Church has long held to an ancient Roman tradition of singlehood for its priests, bishops and nuns (despite a biblical reference to bishops being married)! It really galls religious people who seem to forever pimp marriage as the only acceptable way of life when I tell them that the need for marriage is really far less than in previous generations: Women are more well educated, will have access to good jobs and professions, can control their fertility and the ancient brutalities of life have been better addressed and remedied in the modern age so women do not need marriage to survive as they once did. I also like to point out that remaining single is every bit the challenge of marriage – sure I could bail out of my commitment to being single and latch on to someone for the economic and emotional crutch it provides, but then that could be just a lack of commitment on my part. I will just add too that some people really freak out when I point out that nearly every one will die alone – most women will outlive their male spouses and few spouses die simultaneously unless in some sort of accident or murder / suicide.