“Beep! Beep! Beep!”
So went my alarm at 5:32; I had given myself the gift of one extra minute of slumber before waking up to check out Part Two of the Single Friendly Church’s discussion group, which would focus on teaching and leadership.
Once again, I was on as an observer, and I did just that this time: observe. No talking. But man, did I take furious notes.
First notable point: the poll that asked if their church taught about singleness indicated that not a single one did. I can’t say I’m surprised about that one; religious institutions (and the world at large) are generally focused around teaching about the building and maintenance of a healthy marriage/coupling. And when the world “single” appears in the class/workshop’s title or description, the purpose is to help participants exit singlehood. This is why, when I give workshops on singlehood, I include the disclaimer, “This course will not teach you how to date or how to “get a partner.” It will also not show you how to be in a romantic relationship. If you are looking for that, this is not the course for you.” When I taught a semester-long version of this course at Hampton University, my enlightened students seemed to get it. Someone in the group also talked about a course called Securely Single, which is based in the Christian faith.
The group also discussed ways to integrate singlehood with church leadership. As a single person, I’d like to see more happily single politicians, CEOs, religious leaders (outside of priests and nuns), school administrators, and the like; in their bios, so many of them emphasize how they’re a “husband and father” or “wife and mother.” I’d especially love to have a college President sans spouse (every college President I ever worked under routinely touted their spouse like they were a sporty new coat).
At any rate, here’s a list of political leaders who remained single. Whether you not you agree with their philosophies, they’re good examples that singles (whether by choice or by circumstance) can do what marrieds can, if not more so, due to the fact they don’t have to invest so much time and energy into their coupling.
I will acknowledge my last sentence has some bad connotations: “Well, you’re not married, you have time for such and such…” And the group acknowledged that when approaching single members to be of service, they should be careful not to take that kind of tone. And please, don’t say “Jesus should be your husband” to someone who WANTS to be partnered!
The world at large has some work to do when it comes to accepting singles. Religious institutions preach acceptance and tolerance, but it seems like they’re not quite there when it comes to their single members. I’m glad the Single Friendly Church is working to rectify that. I’m not a religious person by any means, but if you are and you’re invested in happy singlehood, I encourage you to help your church become a part of this network.
Yes, I know that last sentence sounded like an ad. But dammit, our message needs advertising!
“Beep! Beep! Beep!”
So spoke my alarm at 5:31. I knew it would be a challenge getting up an hour earlier than normal, particularly after a three-day weekend. But I saw that the Single Friendly Church network was holding a workshop about single-friendly language, which is something I’ve studied for the last eight years. So how could I not?
After engaging in my lower back stretches and making an extra-strong cup of coffee, I logged on, and my picture of Chester was greeted by Mike Simpson, the Executive Director of the network. I wasn’t surprised to see I was the only one unaffiliated with any church: religion and I have never been compatible, but many of my fellow singletons are active parts of their churches and various other religious institutions. And I figured it’d be cool to take the role of an outside observer.
Needless to say, I was quietly engaged throughout. Two breakout rooms took place; the first revolved around the use of inclusive language. As someone who conducts Critical Discourse Analysis, this is my jam. The group discussed the use of the word “family” and talked about including images on church websites that do not just consist of couples or nuclear families. Rather, they can show pictures of solos and groups of people interacting. I’ve been advocating for this everywhere, so I’m glad to see this message spreading.
They also talked about how they can be more welcoming of singles attending the church, particularly people going by themselves. One woman confessed she always feels a little awkward going to a place where she doesn’t know anyone, and everybody seems to be congregated in large groups. I feel that way too, so it’s important for a church or any institution be welcoming to everyone. And as the population of singles continues to grow, more and more of those singles will be members of churches. So if the churches want to continue to spread their message, it will be increasingly important for them to welcome singles.
And this group is advocating just that. They talked about some of the strategies:
1)Having members wear name badges
2)The pastor allows a moment for the parishioners to exchange greetings and introductions
3)Fellowshipping after services, like going out for coffee or lunch
4)Recognizing all motherly figures during Mother’s Day
I chimed in with an idea in one discussion: meetups strictly for the single folks, but with a twist: the purpose is to build community, not to match them up for the purposes of exiting singlehood. That’s what CoSP is all about, and I recently started a Meetup group for childfree singles in which I make it very clear it is not a “meet market”.
DINK stands for Double Income, No Kids. I do wish the word “dink” didn’t have such a negative connotation, but hey, progress is progress.
Finally, I encourage you to watch this video and help it win this year’s Smiley Charity Film Award by voting. This simple act will help spread the message of this group, as well as the universal pro-singlehood message.
I mentioned earlier that I’m not religious, and I likely won’t ever be. But I know Corinthians, where Paul discusses being single. And it may be God’s will for some to remain single; singleness does give a lot of people the room to be more integral parts of their churches. In fact, my good friend and colleague Elyakim Kislev found that singles are more connected with their communities than are married folks. After all, they’re not spending their energy maintaining and developing their family units.
This video also helps give a voice to what singles are saying everywhere.
When I was first getting into Singles Studies, a colleague mentioned to me that Paul was single. I conducted further research and found the following passage:
I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)
Paul didn’t necessarily propagate that everybody should stay single; indeed, some folks are better off in a couple. However, many are not. They’re called on to do different things, including the word of God. My friend Drew, a devout Christian, even told me, “You’re doing God’s work through your singlehood stuff.”
I find My Name is Earl the right mix of laugh-out-loud funny and poignant. The antics of the characters crack me up, and there’s often a touching message that gives me goosebumps.
The premise for those unfamiliar: Earl is a layabout, drunk, and petty thief who, after finding a $1 million lottery ticket, is hit by a car and loses his ticket. While in the hospital, he learns about the concept of karma from Carson Daly, and he concludes that he lost his lottery ticket because of all the bad things he’d done. By logic, he also reasons that if he does good things, good things will happen to him. So he makes a list of the people he wronged and sets out to make amends to them. Along the way, of course, he stops caring about the good guys that could happen to him and ultimately becomes a better person.
One such episode stuck out to me. At one point, Earl and his brother Randy stole an air conditioner from Woody, a pothead who didn’t even notice he was being robbed (he offered to make sandwiches for the thieving brothers). As part of his amends, Earl attempts to return the air conditioner to Woody, only to find he’s living in a hippie commune and no longer needs “such items of convenience.” As part of his amends, Earl stays in the commune for a week and learns about how they’re helping the environment.
After wondering how these hippies live without electricity, subsist entirely on vegetables, and live in cottages made of dung (yep), Earl comes to appreciate their sense of social responsibility and attempts to convince the word to be more ecologically sound.
This episode got to me because I had a similar journey as Earl did when it came to spreading the gospel of happy singlehood. After a breakup, I discovered the work of Bella DePaulo, recognized myself as a Single at Heart and became turned onto this developing field of Singles Studies and pro-singlehood advocate. I told everybody I could about it. In addition to publishing it, though, I was calling people out on singlism in daily life and even getting into altercations on social media. I’d get triggered every time someone said “my wife” or referred to their partnership. I’d tell everyone that the “single way is the best way,” trying to stuff the idea down their throat.
Similarly, Earl has this epiphany, and he acts in a similar manner. He tries to stop loggers from cutting down trees and he switches from driving to biking, hoping to influence others. When it doesn’t, his next step is to remove the air from the tires of cars, as well as turning people’s electricity off. That’ll show ‘em! And when he finds out about pollution in China, he freaks out. He goes back to the commune, hoping to live among his new likeminded friends, but Woody tells him, “Your list is your destiny. Just take five minutes out of your day to do little things to help the environment. If everybody did that, pollution wouldn’t be such a problem.”
So I try to apply Woody’s idea to my work in Singles Studies. I don’t peck at pro-marriage memes on Facebook anymore. I do challenge those views on Twitter, but I do so under my real name, and it’s always in a professional tone. And I continue to write and live. This past year, making other “single at heart” friends has been instrumental in getting my social needs met. December 10, the night Bella, Joan, and Kris gave that talk at Busboys and Poets, right before we single at hearts took over the back room at Shaw’s Tavern, was one of the best nights of my life. Yes, I’ve been flashing Bella’s new book, Single at Heart, on the subway. You could argue it’s a bit histrionic, but hey, maybe it’ll reach someone who might not know about this idea, but could benefit from learning about it.
“Are you Chazz?” “Are you Chazz?” I’ve never been asked that question so many times in one setting. “Chazz Pop” is my Facebook pseudonym so that my students don’t find me. If you’re a student of mine and you’re reading, it’s nothing personal; I just like to keep my private and professional lives separate. But yes, I’m known as Chazz on the Community of Single Page (CoSP) page, and it was fun meeting folks I’d only known by their discourse on the page.
I will admit, though, those lines too blur when it comes to my work in Singles Studies. Like most of my fellow Singles Studies people (whether they be academics, artists, advocates, “living the life” or a combination of two or more of those), we’re embodying singlehood and doing a damn good job at it. And it all came together the night of December 10, 2023 when Bella DePaulo, the pioneer behind Singles Studies and our pro-singlehood movement, came to Busboys and Poets (B&P) to read from new book, Single at Heart, and converse with Kris Marsh and Joan DelFattore, other revered figures in our movement.
To say I was ecstatic about this night was an understatement. Kris had spoken to my students at UDC about her new book, The Love Jones Cohort: Single and Living Alone in the Black Middle Class, which they had read. Joan and I met for coffee at Tryst earlier this year. Bella and I had worked on a few small projects, and she had spoken to my students a few years prior about her book, Singled Out, which they had also read. But meeting her in person would be, well, the best analogy I can write at the moment is that it would be like how many of my fellow Phishheads would get at the possibility of meeting Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, or Page McConnell Dead (I’m listening to a Phish show as I type this).
And it was just that. My good friend, Kevin, whom I met through CoSP, came to my apartment building. His drive from Wrightsville, Pennsylvania is an example of his devotion, as was that of Tanya coming down from Philadelphia. Special hats off, though, to Karen, who flew from Boston for the event.
Kevin and I enjoyed good conversation on the Metro to B&P. I anticipated a long line to get in, much like there usually is at Madison Square Garden an hour before a Phish show. But there wasn’t; our crowd filtered in gradually, though we did sell out and pack the place. We saw Tracey, a good friend and another member of our tribe, who was happily indulging in an appetizer at the bar. Christina followed, then Antionette. We had a few conversations going before we were let into the venue.
As I walked in and saw Bella, Joan, and Kris chatting in those chairs on stage, a la The View, I felt a bit of hesitancy. Should I go up? Is my sweater tucked in? Do I have something in my teeth? Those thoughts escaped once I met the night’s Holy Trinity. More folks piled in from the two Meetups I posted this to: Childfree Singles of the DMV and Asexuals and Aromantics of the DMV. A few people asked “Are you Craig?” I met Laura, Janel, Cenk, Armando, Thomas, Andrew, Stewart, Rolf, Lizzie, and a few others I can’t quite place. They had found their way through the Meetup site, and for those fleeting moments, I was the representative for happy singlehood (as I tend to be in a good number of my circles).
The show kicked off with Bella’s reading of excerpts from her book, all of which resonated with the Single Person at Heart who’s writing this. Then came the conversation between her, Joan, and Kris. And then the Q&A. The following themes/quotes stood out to me as I rewatched the event on YouTube:
There’s many more, but I don’t want to write forever. The post-reading dinner was fun. I felt like a tour guide, leading our group down a rainy U Street toward Shaw’s Tavern. I had the opportunity to converse with more CoSP folks, some of whom I’d met in person and others I only knew online: Janel, Alicia, Susan, Kelly. And there were those local folks from my Childfree Singles Meetup group. I enjoyed a nice, buttery Atlantic Salmon with rice and vegetables as I continued to talk singlehood with other folks.
I also met a dating coach who showed up, and I had to ask what she thought of the Single at Heart concept, as someone who tries to help people date “successfully” (I put that in quotes because success can mean different things to different people). She said, “I have many clients that need to be single.” And for those who want to “ride the relationship escalator,” enjoying one’s single life is a needed skill if they’re going to bring their authentic selves to the dating game – and to a possible relationship.
Kevin and I headed back to my place (with a quick stop at Insomnia Cookies on the way to the Metro), and once home, I was in a place of bliss. The world privileges coupledom (for now), and I often feel on the outside. But tonight, I was in my element. I do dream of a real-life Community of Single People. A town with Single at Heart people in it, where we can have laws and policies that favor singles. Maybe tonight was the first step.
Side note: I drive to New York twice a year to visit my Mom and brother. The anticipation of that trip stresses me out. When Kevin left, I empowered to just get in the car and head up. It’s interesting how that psychology works.
One of the positive things that emerged from the pandemic is the ability to connect with others on a global scale. Ketaki Chowkhani (India) and I (United States) have developed a deep friendship and partnership; we organized a conference and have our collection, Singular Selves, coming out in September 2023. Elyakim Kislev (Israel) and I also had a few Zoom chats and collaborated on a pair of articles, including “Changing the Language of Singlehood” and “Why Romance Movies May Be a Social Problem.”
But there’s nothing quite like a face-to-face interaction. So when Elyakim emailed me to let me know he’d be in Philadelphia for the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association and was interested in meeting up, I thought, duh! Of course I’m gonna meet up!
First, I love riding trains. Having become spoiled by the access to Metro in Washington, DC, I’ve learned that if I had my way, I wouldn’t even own a car. I’d love to take trains everywhere. So the two-hour Amtrak ride from DC to Philly was paradise. As always, I found a spot in the quiet car, where there was a nice mix of couples and solos traveling. I sat next to a perfectly nice-seeming dude who spent the ride reading a book, as did I. Jaclyn Geller’s Moving Past Marriage opened my eyes to some dark undertones regarding the matrimania that persists in our governments. The section on divorce should have been titled “Scared Single.”
I’ve become a compulsive step-counter this past year, so I saw it was only a 30-minute walk from the 30th Street Station to Reading Terminal Market, and the weather was nice and breezy. I had nice views of the Schuylkill River and Independence Hall on my walk over. Flaneuring, a word I learned from Solo, always puts me in a place of serenity.
I’d been to the Reading Terminal Market once before with my friend Melissa, where we got brownies. Doug, another friend, had told me about it as well. I have a proclivity for bringing pastries to my home (especially when they come from places outside DC), so I took the time to indulge, purchasing six cookies (all different flavors) from 4th Street Cookie Company and two donuts from Beiler’s Donut and Pickle Patch.
Elyakim and I met up at 3:00 at the Convention Center, and the next three hours were an inspiring experience, as we slowly gravitated back to Reading for some cheesesteak sandwiches (it’s not a real Philly trip without a cheesesteak). Singlehood Studies is something I’ve come to embody in the last eight years. First, I awkwardly asked him to sign my copies of both of his books, Happy Singlehood and Relationships 5.0. The following topics came up:
Safe spaces for singles
Earlier last week, one of my colleagues hosted a gathering, and in the spirit of inclusivity, said “Partners and children welcome.” Of course, in the spirit of my version of inclusivity, I asked if I could bring a platonic friend, to which the host said of course. Good job! The first two people to arrive after me brought their kids, one with her husband. Of course, the conversation revolved around childcare. As a childfree by choice person, I had nothing to contribute to this thread of discussion. Then, two more colleagues arrived, one who I know is single and childfree by choice. Ahhhhh, my peeps have arrived!, I thought.
As a result of this discussion, we talked about safe spaces for singles. Since we are a marginalized group that has to face a couple- and familycentric world, we need spaces that are strictly for singles (and that shouldn’t revolve around un-singling). For example, I started a group for Childfree Singles with the following rules:
1)You must not be in any type of romantic partnership.
2)It’s not a “meet market.” If you couple up organically, cool, but don’t come with that mentality.
3)If you couple up, you can stay in the group, but don’t come to events.
In the first month alone, this group has amassed 145 members. I have an event coming up on September 3. The reservation is for ten people, and we already have twelve on the waiting list. Conclusion: there’s a need for such a space. We’ll be co-authoring an article on this concept.
Reasons for Marriage
“If singlehood is to be respected, we must respect marriage as well.” That’s a good insight. And I’m not antimarriage by any means, and I believe it should be respected. I just don’t think it should come with the privileges it does (tax breaks, real estate priorities, etc.). Elyakim had a good insight: many people don’t necessarily get married because of those financial and legal benefits. More often than not, it’s due to societal and familial pressures. And with a system that is so ubiquitous, the pressure will come. Most of us have a primal need to belong, so joining into the system is a way to garner social acceptability. My vision for how we can reduce the stigma around singlehood can best be expressed in the following flow chart:
Ideas for Future Pieces
I’m invigorated when I devise an idea for a new writing project. Two came up: 1) a piece on “Safe Spaces for Singles,” inspired by our conversation; and 2) a book on Singlehood Discourse in film.
I’ve been a cinephile ever since junior high, when I wrote movie reviews for the school newspaper. This love of film continued into high school, when I took TV Production courses and made movies. I majored in Media Studies in college, and even though I didn’t pursue it as a career, that affinity for movies has continued. I’ve started writing weekly reviews of movies with pro-singlehood messages. I had mentioned that I had thought I had said everything Craig was able to say on the topic, to which Elyakim replied, “Nonsense.” I needed that little kick in the pants, just like my old department chairperson, Laurie Carter, gave me to take my promotion portfolio seriously.
We parted ways at 6:00, and I was aflame with inspiration. Elyakim had suggested Ketaki and I devise a launch for our collection, so we immediately set that up. I also worked on a piece in which I describe the experience of two people’s first times with solo travel (apparently, I inspired them both).
The train is a favorite place of mine to be solo; I always feel at peace, particularly when there’s nobody sitting next to me. I basked in the solitude as we rolled back to DC. And when I got to my home, I wrote down some ideas for the new book.
It was nice not having another person interrupt my flow.
I’ve said it many times on this blog, but solo travel isn’t just amazing; it’s necessary. Everyone should do it at least once in their lives, whether they’re single for now or forever. But it can be scary to some. What will everybody think? Will people look at me? What if I get lost? Those are common, understandable thoughts. Fear is a natural, fight-or-flight response to an unknown situation. But, as many therapists will tell you, the best way to get over a fear is to confront it head-on.
Two of my close friends are relative newbies to solo travel (one did this before getting married; the other before having her son). And I’ll boost my own ego for a second, but they told me all my solo adventures inspired them to try it out for themselves. They may not have had explicit fear, but they were venutring into the unknown, and there were concerns.
Sandy is somebody I know from the jamband scene: Phish, Grateful Dead offshoots, that sort of thing. I don’t usually write about it here because of the stereotypes, but I don’t fit any of the common ones, so I’m safe in doing so.
Sandy traveled solo a lot before she was married, but she never did the solo concertgoing experience (something I’ve done many times; through that, I’ve met cool folks like Pete and John, who I consider “ride or dies” with shows).
And that’s as an introvert. Sandy, who describes herself as “outgoing,” talked to a lot of people on the train ride from southern New Jersey to New York City for one of Phish’s shows at the 7-night run this summer. And she had a blast. She sat by herself on the train, but once a few other “phans” (one of the discursive features of the Phish community is to replace the letter “f” with “ph” when it starts a word) hopped on the train, she chatted with them. I do this all the time; it’s a good way to build community before we go our separate ways inside the venue. She did meet up with a friend once inside, so she claimed to not really be “solo,” but she went up solo, so I think that counts. On the train ride back, she talked with some other folks.
Even though I identify as childfree by choice, I believe single parenting is the most badass thing a person can do. Being responsible for another human being without the assistance of other adult? It’s hardcore. And Cathy did it for many years. A benefit was that she had her son coming with him to events. But, as he is now grown and in college, and my Facebook pictures seemed to inspire her, she was ready to try some solo travel. She had a place to stay with me in her Washington, DC segment, and we’d split an Airbnb in Astoria, Queens for the New York portion. I’d go to three nights of Phish at Madison Square Garden (different shows from the ones Sandy went to), meet up with Laura and her friend Lisa in Brooklyn for some swimming, and generally flaneur around Chinatown and Little Italy, while Chris would visit Ellis Island and the Museum of Modern Art. Our common link would be Katz’s Deli, though (I didn’t have what she was having).
She indicated feeling apprehensive before the trip; she was afraid she might be lonely without someone to share her trip with. Again, a natural fear, one that even crosses my mind as a solo traveler, but she remained open.
Her experience as a child of the military appeared to play into this openness. Before settling into El Paso, she had moved from country to country every few months, and traveling solo was a place to reclaim this version of her badassery.
She hustled through the streets and subways of DC and New York solo, and did the tours on her own. She found herself being able to enjoy the different languages being spoken in ways she might not have absorbed if she was with another person. But her highlight was meeting up with an old high school friend who, despite being engaged, told her that she admired her adult life: her courage, sense of style and personality, and a job doing what she’s passionate about: teaching art to children.
There were a couple of bumps. She took the wrong street to our Airbnb and had nobody but herself to rely on (who among us has never done that, really?), she made it home. And she got some bad blisters from all the walking she did (sturdy shoes are crucial). And when asked how she felt after the trip, she gave the following words: Liberating, Exciting, Freeing, Self-Loving, Lesson Learned in the Shoe Department.
The last one is a rite of passage for many solo travelers. The previous four words are how it should be.
LIBERATING, EXCITING, FREEING, SELF-LOVING, LESSON LEARNED IN THE SHOE DEPT
And to quote Phish, when you travel, whatever you do, take care of your shoes!
My friend Christina Campbell and I devised a letter to send to the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, a new organization that strives to promote equity in representation of marginalized groups in television. For years, Christina and I have examined how singles are portrayed in television, and we wrote them a letter back in June. We didn't hear back (probably due to the massive amount of emails these folks get), so I'm posting here, and you'll see this on Onely, Christina's site.
Dear Think Tank for Inclusion and Equality:
We admire your mission to help storytellers write non-stereotypical portrayals of characters from marginalized groups. In order to help you enhance your mission, we would love to help you create a fact sheet about how to write unoffensive, realistic portrayals of single people. In this note, we explain what “singlism” is, how scriptwriters unintentionally commit singlism, and how they can write better single characters. Both of us have extensive experience advocating for unmarried and socially single people; our advocacy work has appeared in national publications, multiple popular podcasts, academic conferences, and college courses.
WHAT IS SINGLISM?
Many people don't realize relationship status discrimination (aka singlism) exists. Singlism is the societal stigma against people who are not married or otherwise part of a couple. This discrimination not only exists, but it bleeds over into other "isms," such as racism, classism, and ageism. For example, over 1300 laws in the federal code privilege married people over singles; according to our research, an unmarried person can easily spend at least a million dollars more than her unmarried peer, just from discriminatory tax, inheritance, and social security laws. For example, a person can leave their social security benefits to a spouse, but not to a sibling or even a domestic partner. This discrepancy hurts all singles, but it particularly impacts singles from historically excluded groups. This government-sanctioned discrimination implicitly encourages commercial enterprises to have similar policies privileging marriage. Insurance companies often charge higher rates for single people. Employers, rental car companies, AARP, and countless other organizations allow people to add spousal benefits for free, without offering singles equivalent services for one of their loved ones. All this systemic singlism encourages our culture to view unmarried/unpartnered people as "less than," a view that shows up repeatedly in TV shows and movies.
HOW CAN SCRIPTWRITERS WRITE UNOFFENSIVE, REALISTIC CHARACTERS?
--Don't automatically conflate a "happy ending" with characters coupling up
--Don't use a character's marital status as a signal of how responsible/irresponsible or mature/immature they are
--Don't use a character's relationship status as a way to indicate how lonely they are (or are not)
--Avoid stereotypes such as the party-hearty, promiscuous single; the workaholic single; the recluse; or the man-child
--Show at least one single character being happy, responsible, and productive
--Avoid romantic subplots unless they clearly relate to, and advance, the story. Or don’t have a romance at all—surprise viewers by showing an important platonic relationship instead.
--If you do have a romantic subplot, consider having it derail and show the protagonist still coming out on top, which is a more true-to-life scenario
--Don’t always have the protagonist be married, or end up married/partnered
--If you have multiple protagonists, don’t have them all end up being married/partnered
We would love to work with you to create a fact sheet that educates writers about relationship status discrimination and helps them craft powerful, well-rounded single characters that challenge the stereotypes of single people as lonely, immature, and always seeking a partner.
Please feel free to check out our work. Christina’s websites are ChristinaDC.com and Onely.org. Craig’s website is TheHappyBachelor.org, where you can find links to his work, which has been published internationally. You can also contact Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org and Craig at email@example.com.
Thank you for your time,
Craig Wynne and Christina Campbell
One pastor said, "Would all the single people stand up?"
He said, "I hope all of you find a good spouse."
Another pastor said, "Would all the married people stand up?"
He said, "I hope all of you find a good divorce attorney."
The second didn't actually happen to my knowledge. But, in all seriousness, though, if you're offended/upset by the second pastor and NOT the first, you may wish to look at how you've been conditioned to believe that marriage is the right way and singlehood is the wrong way.
Research the terms "singlism," "matrimania," and "amatonormativity," and then I'll be happy to engage in a discourse with you.”
I posted the above on a few Facebook groups, as well as my own. In my journey through the world of Singles Studies, I like to get people to question our cultural norms/assumptions about marriage: namely, that there’s a cultural bias around marriage. And in my advocacy, I can get carried away with myself sometimes, and I can delve into self-righteousness. I originally framed this as a joke, but thanks to a friend directly calling it out, I realize I wasn’t really making a joke. It’s more of a commentary. But I think it’s an important one.
I haven’t had the experience of being divorced, but in talking to people I know, it can be brutal. So I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But it is interesting how we’re quick to accept the first pastor’s gospel as fact, and when I posted the second, I got a variety of reactions.
My personal page: laughter. I’ve developed a whole schtick around being a clown, so those who know me understand I mean no ill intent.
Community of Single People: (CoSP) laughter, applause, some questioning. Members who’ve been divorced would probably say no.
I tried it on another page because, well, I like to rabble-rouse every now and again. It got some applause and laughter from those with the capacity to understand, and I made a new Facebook friend, Rebekah. But there was definitely some hate around that post. Someone even called me an “incel,” which I found humorous. A few others, of course, went into how “that pastor should be fired!” I guess social media doesn’t convey humor or sarcasm very well (then again, I did relabel it a commentary).
I was inspired by Bella’s work in Singled Out where she said (and I’m paraphrasing), “We don’t encourage married people to become single. Why should we encourage single people to get married?”
That’s the big question that inspires Singles Studies. A phrase I learned recently is: acceptance is not resignation. I find my anger reaches into the stratosphere in my advocacy. But I’m trying a new approach. The statement “this is a cultural norm.” It is what it is. But if I can approach that norm with empathy, I might just be a better advocate and a better educator in this respect. And perhaps I’m being a bit quixotic, if more of us can do this, I think we might be able to change the world – in many ways.
I love to talk Singles Studies, but oftentimes, the problem is finding others to talk Singles Studies with, outside of the CoSPers. But, the last two years, NeMLA’s offered me an opportunity to present work to others who, at least for the duration of the panel, “get it.”
Elizabeth’s a great co-organizer to work with in this respect; we democratically agreed to split up the duties involving contacting presenters and doing those mundane, thankless tasks we do at conferences, like reading bios and timekeeping.
Getting to Buffalo was easy, although the contrast in weather was interesting. After a mini-jog in 75-degree weather, I wore a T-shirt jeans as I chilled out through the 90-minute Metro ride to Dulles International Airport. The Metro just expanded to Dulles back in March, which is very convenient. While I’m happy with being able to catch Metro straight there, the ride was very long from Van Ness, my neighborhood (note to self: fly out of Reagan next time).
Upon checking into my Airbnb at midnight, I slept very well and enjoyed a brisk two-mile walk to the Niagra Falls Convention Center, where I was met with a visual buffet of books, booksellers, tote bags, and name tags. The morning was productive: I attended two talks on mindful writing and mentored a job seeker named Yeojin, who’s interested in K-Pop.
The main act, though: our presentation on “The Resilience of Singlehood.” My presentation provided a Singles Studies 101 primer before going into the study I conducted on how singles in the US fared during the pandemic. Belkis Gonzalez followed with an analysis of a single female empowerment theme in Naima Coster’s Halsey Street; Andrea Covailis offered a talk on male friendship in the works of John Steinbeck (which brought me back to my experience having student taught Of Mice and Men and subsequently reading Cannery Row); Dany Jacobs went more deeply into the study of “incels” than I ever could have dreamed of doing in my research; Theresa Desmond delved into “spinster” representations in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. Elizabeth viewed the Hulu show, Only Murders in the Building, through a Singles Studies lens, examining the single characters. This show is now on my watch list.
Post-presentation, Elizabeth and I ate at Buffalo’s famed Anchor Bar, where I had to, by city law, order wings and a beef on weck sandwich. We went further into our analysis of societal perceptions of singlehoods, and we even shared our dating histories. I didn’t want to write it here, but I actually did date someone for five months. We got along well, but to put it succinctly, our core values didn’t match up. She wanted an escalator-style union, while I didn’t. In fact, through conversation, I concluded that while I like physical intimacy, I don’t need it. In fact, I see it more like chocolate cake. It’s fun to have once in a while, but too much will get boring and might even make me sick in the long run.
On my other blog, Not Enough Concerts, I write about the concerts I attend regularly. However, I’m currently on a 40-day cleanse (I’m on Day 15 as of the time I’m writing). I had four options to see concerts: a Rolling Stones tribute, a Grateful Dead tribute, a 90s tribute, and a funk/hip-hop group called Sophistafunk. I’m glad I forwent all of them. I would have had to rush through dinner to get to the show, Uber service wasn’t great in Niagra Falls (two cancelled on me just to take me from the Convention Center to my Airbnb), and I was exhausted from being “on” all day. It was nice being able to relax and mini-binge watch (two episodes) of You, that dark show about a love-obsessed serial killer.
Despite the delayed flight home (an hour on the tarmac without explanation), the trip and the conference were well worth it. Next year: a presentation on how I integrate Singles Studies into my first-year writing courses right on the banks of the River Charles, hopefully followed by lobster and clam chowder.
Conversations on the CoSP page really ignite my passions about singlehood. Conversations with Singles Studies colleagues about Singles Studies ignite those passions; not only are we academically in sync, but there’s a camaraderie that comes from that shared interest and trying to advocate for our marginalized population.
In my experience, though, nothing beats bringing these conversations out of our CoSP/Singles Studies cocoon into a world that, as far as I know, has been led to believe that “marriage is the way.” In that vein, I was thrilled to bring Dr. Katherine Fama of University College Dublin into my Foundational Writing class to talk about her research on the housing spaces of single women in the early 20th century U.S. While I have a very broad research interest in the intersection between Singles Studies, Rhetoric, and Popular Culture, talking with Dr. Fama brought me out of my comfort zone, into a much narrower field of study, one I knew nothing about. And I’d be taking this journey with my students, and my colleague, Dr. Jillian Wendt.
Dr. Fama’s presentation is a preview of her upcoming book, The Literary Architecture of Singleness: American Fiction & The Production of Women’s Independent Space, 1880-1929. I’m enticed by those narrow historical periods because there’s a clear focus for what I’ll be learning. It essentially offered an intersection between how single women were portrayed in late 19th/early 20th century American fiction and their housing situations.
As a kinesthetic learner, I was most enthralled by being able to read the rules of the Stewart Hotel for Women, which opened in New York City in 1877; my students were asked to write about what stood out to them. Some excellent notes arose, such as:
While some of these rules might be familiar to anyone who’s ever stayed in an Airbnb, particularly in New York City, these are obviously degrading to single women. When my student, Nick, made a note about having to pay extra to be in the room alone, my mind immediately rushed to the phrase, Singles Supplement! We talk about these all the time on CoSP: being charged extra if you want your own room on a group tour, cruise, or something of the like. When I went on a seven-day group tour of Ireland, everybody in the group got their own room, and everybody paid the supplement. A nice way to make an extra profit, right?
When we parted ways, I felt exhilarated by the pro-singlehood conversation I so rarely get to experience outside of CoSP, but work very hard to facilitate in academic spaces. I must say that while it saddens me that some of the events Kate referred to still occur on a small scale today, important work is being done to raise awareness. And with that could come change.
My name is Craig. I'm an educator, writer, and unapologetic singleton. When not reading, writing, or teaching, I enjoy hiking, running, watching movies, going to concerts, spending time with friends, and playing with my cat/son, Chester.