I earned my Ph.D. on May 2, 2014. If you had walked up to me on that day and told me that one day, I’d be co-organizing a Singles Studies Conference, I would probably give you a side-eye. But life has its surprises for sure.
Ketaki Chowkhani and I and spent some time writing up a CFP, looking at proposals, communicating with correspondents, promoting, and performing all kinds of other administrative tasks we academics hate doing. But it was all in a good cause. There were challenges and twists, the details of which not need be mentioned here, but we pulled through.
I had some anxiety the day before. What if my Internet stops working? What if I mess something up? But I found an evening with Netflix and a good night’s sleep helped a lot.
I woke up the morning of and did my usual routine: meditation, stretches, breakfast, and I added coffee to the mix. I logged on at about 8 a.m. EST to see that we already had thirty people signed in. I was quite impressed to see that all the presenters, no matter what time they were scheduled to present, were on before the festivities started and they stayed on the entire time. I was particularly impressed at those who logged on late and stayed on until morning (Laura Dales, I’m talking to you especially).
Bella’s keynote set the stage for the conference, and I thought it was a good primer for the validity of Singles Studies as a discipline – Singles Studies 101. Adriana Savu provided what I thought was a very interesting linguistic breakdown of the word “single” as it is used in Romanian culture. Laura examined the plight of single women in Japan. Lots of questions emanated from those two talks; mine was, “I wonder why divorced women in Japan are more than likely to marry than men. The research I’ve read suggests the opposite.”
In the next session on “Singlehood and Space,” Nora Kottman examined the living spaces of single Japanese women, which brought me back to Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo, which had me wanting to advocate for more solo-occupancy dwellings, which may become more commonplace as marital rates continue to decline. Paromita Chakravarti examined single women’s residencies in hostels in Kolkata, India, which had me thinking of my observations of the badasses who hostel-hop. While I like the privacy afforded by AirBnBs, I do dig the “adventurer” vibe that comes from the singles who’ve populated the hostels I’ve stayed in.
The next panel was on Singlehood and Literature, which appeals to my inner English major. Katherine Fama analyzed Edith Wharton’s work as having a substantial connection with singles studies per her Wharton’s depictions of divorcees and widows in her work. Joan DelFattore analyzed Wit, a play about a single professor who is depicted in terms of singlist stereotypes.
I gave my presentation on how the nuclear family is prioritized in pharmaceutical advertisements, and Katherine’s comment about a Bechdel test for singlism gave me an idea to develop an instrument to create such a test. Saumya Sharma critically analyzed the discourse presented to singles on Valentine’s Day (which I typically celebrate by doing fun “singly” things).
Finally, Dominika Ochnik conducted an empirical study on satisfaction related to singlehood, and Elyakim Kislev, author of Happy Singlehood, in which we discussed the finding that singles have more social networks, which is correlated with happiness.
I couldn’t engage with the presentations as much as I would have liked due to doing some behind-the-scenes administrative responsibilities, but I’m glad as hell these conversations happened. And I got some great ideas from the conversations and presentations. And I look forward to Ketaki and I turning this conference into an essay collection.
My favorite part: living my fun solo life with a jog, a bike ride, and a solo (outdoor) dining experience out with some Italian food at a lovely restaurant called Tesoro’s on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC (they didn’t sponsor this post).
Last year, I blogged about my activities for each day of this delightful week devoted to us singletons. This year, since I’m adjusting to a new job in a pandemic (and I spent most of my time inside), I’m just writing one blog posting.
I’ve recently moved to Washington, DC, a VERY singles-friendly environment. Sunday was the most interesting. I met up with a new friend, Joe, a singleton, and we checked out the memorial to recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The flowers and notes brought goosebumps to my skin.
Joe is an extrovert and highly knowledgeable in all things DC-related (I guess living year for a decade will do that), so he pointed out all the cool sights, such as The Library of Congress and Mitch McConnell’s house, which we saw two other people flip off.
The work week was action-packed, involving teaching and me getting to know my students. Some highlights: a presentation on low-stakes writing instruction for faculty in different disciplines, which was successful. I also got a nice email from one of the attendees, a psychology professor, who asked me to be a guest speaker on the topic of writing anxiety, my dissertation topic (which I revisited in planning for the presentation). And Ketaki and I exchanged correspondence on our upcoming Singles Studies Conference.
I’ve been doing some solo exploration of my city too (well, as much as could be done during the pandemic). I recently got a Capital Bikeshare membership, which only cost me $25 for the year thanks to my city employee discount, so I’m riding a few times a week. It’s quite the rush riding in city traffic.
Watching Premium Rush Saturday night indulged my fantasy about being a bike messenger (even though I could never weave through traffic like the people in that movie), which I followed with The Warriors, a guilty pleasure. While written, acted, and directed stiffly, I still enjoy those grungy New York City locales in that movie. I also rewatched the first season of Cobra Kai now that it’s on Netflix (even though I’m one of the few that watched it on YouTube Red) , that Karate Kid sequel that shows Daniel and Johnny as three-dimensional characters.
On the culinary front, I reheated some mac and cheese I had made the week before with some cut-up bratwurst for my Friday cheat. Saturday’s a fasting day, but I bought some romaine lettuce and a giant green pepper at the farmer’s market that takes place every Saturday morning less than a block from where I live. That pepper will get cut up with a remaining piece of bratwurst, both of which will be placed on a club roll, for my Sunday cheat.
For my Saturday cheat, I devoured a pair of crispy spring rolls and a chicken Banh Mi sandwich from Viet Chops, one of two Pho places within a half-mile radius of my domicile. Each week, I try a new restaurant. I start in Van Ness, my neighborhood, and work my way out. I also felt the need to get a pair of cupcakes from the Red Velvet Cupcakery, up on the DC/Chevy Chase border. I thought I could only get one, but that didn’t happen. Limiting to two is good for me. After dinner, I thought I’d only have the Southern Belle (ostensibly a red velvet cupcake), but after about an hour, I felt the Peanut Butter Cup calling my name. It went well with coffee. Ehhh, I’d be lifting weights and biking the next day.
Oh, and I got a ticket to see the Yonder Mountain String Band, the recap of which will go on my Not Enough Concerts blog. While the weather's still nice, I'd like to spend as much as time as possible outdoors before I essentially become a hermit this winter.
And, all the while, Chester was grabbing at my leg and saying, “It’s time to give me treats, human!” I did what the cat said.
Now that I’m in singles-friendly DC, where a number of us members of Community of Single People (CoSPers) are located, I can hang out with other happy singletons, and whenever I do, it’s going on the blog. Discussing policies and criticizing the media are fun and useful, but social interaction is important for me as well, and these days, well, I just prefer to do it with other happy singletons.
So I got up at 6:45 on Sunday morning to have a quick breakfast, shower, and walk to the National Zoo to meet Heather, who had come down from the Baltimore area. After some confusion involving where to meet, we got together in the panda section (she loves pandas!). A few weeks earlier, I had gotten together with a few other friends for the zoo, which was fun, but they didn’t quite have the passion for animals that Heather does, so that increased my enjoyment of the experience.
Among the things we watched included monkeys climbing across high-wires, wallabies being wallabies, a lion being a lion, cows being cows, and pandas between pandas. And Heather and I had some good conversation. I found out she was from New Jersey, which always brings me home. I love meeting people from the Northeast; I find there’s usually a psychic connection of some sort. We talked our jobs, politics, music, and life in general. And of course, our cats. Cat people are the best people ever! We pondered hopping the fences around the carousel so Heather could get a picture, but three would have been too complicated. But it did inspire a microfiction piece to come.
We broke from the zoo for a bit to get brunch at the Woodley Cafe (for me, it was second breakfast a la Pippin). Heather inspired me to order an omelette with garlic mashed potatoes in it, and I’m still thinking about it the next day. And it was there where she found out my real name (I have an alias on Facebook). And that’s very interesting in this era of social media how we can get to know each other without really needing to know the basics (I mean, Craig is just a name, really). And it inspired another microfiction piece to come.
Eventually, a group of us COSPers will get together. Stay tuned!
NOTE: A spoiler for the show’s ending is in the first paragraph. Do not read if you plan to watch or are watching.
I have to credit my friend Nicole with introducing me to this show. When she edited How to be a Happy Bachelor, she mentioned the show as an example of a popular culture item that ultimately celebrates singlehood because, at the end, a not-so-single-at-heart character embraces singlehood. At first glance, it seems like brain candy, but it’s got some depth – and a good message.
To sum up the show arc, Rebecca Bunch, a wealthy New York City lawyer, moves to a town called West Covina, California in order to “be with” Josh, her old summer camp flame. Needless to say, things get complex (or, as Rebecca would say, “it’s a lot more nuanced than that”).
Her presence serves as a catalyst for just about every character in the show, including the three guys she dates: Josh, Greg, and Nathaniel. She spends much of the series hopping back-and-forth between these three dudes; finally, in the series finale, a ghost, appearing in the form of a therapist, shows her what her future would look if she ended up with either of them, and she’s not happy in any of them because as her future self tells her, “You don’t know who you are.”
After an episode in which she goes on one date each with the three guys, she decides to pursue a new love: music, which culminates in her singing and performing an original song at a Valentine’s Day open mic event. She has a speech in which she realizes that love does not have to be the end of the story, but rather a part of your story. It’s a healthy realization for her to come to, but I would also add it doesn’t even have to be that. But, at least, TV writers are attempting to make progress in this area: I guess they have to go through Calculus I to get through Calculus III.
I also loved the arcs of the supporting characters; some end up coupled and happy, others end up single and happy. Greg, who struggled with an alcohol problem in the first season, is now happily sober, happily single, and the owner of an Italian restaurant. Nathaniel, a miserable workaholic, got the strength to quit his father’s law firm and become the legal counsel for a zoo. And, when he had the monkey on his shoulder, I certainly did not say, “Hellwoooo, Chester.”
I could have done without White Josh’s (WiJo) comment to Greg during the open mic, “I will not be secure until you or Rebecca are married.” Fortunately, Greg has found enough strength to shut him down.
Did I mention that WiJo is “still single?” What’s up with that!?
“Married people have the one, single people have the ones.” This is one of my favorite lines from Bella DePaulo, and it’s true. When a person gets married (and I’m generalizing), the spouse becomes the person’s “everything,” and most cultures revere it. But when you’re single, you have multiple people in your life, and for me, it’s a lot richer.
Take my weekend, for instance. I just finished my first week at my new job in my new city and was looking forward to unwinding. Friday afternoon, I did just that on the tennis court. After driving to Rose Park in Georgetown, I met up with Enrique, who posted on a tennis group in Meetup that he was looking for a volleying partner. I hadn’t even picked up a racket in a year and a half (I had gotten complacent with it in Hampton Roads), but in the city of Washington, DC, there are tennis players galore, so I had browsed some Meetups for it. There was quite the line of people waiting to play, so Enrique and I got to know each other. A lighting technician in the theater, he was out of work due to this damdemic (I’m calling the pandemic the “damdemic;” it just seems fitting). I feel for you, dude. We had a good volley, even though I’m super rusty and have trouble letting the ball bounce before charging into it.
Saturday morning, I went for a brief hike with Guy, who I met on a runner’s meetup group. We met at Bread Furst, that aromatic bakery on Connecticut Avenue, and went on a trail. We shared tales of our travels. That afternoon, it was a trip to the National Gallery of Art with Joel, who I met through a writer’s Meetup group. He brought his buds Jacob and Rob. I was able to talk movie soundtracks and music with Jacob, Jewish lingo with Joel, and philosophies of creativity with Rob; after the museum, we went to the café where we talked about sweets. I never thought a topic as mundane as cookies would create such an enthralling dialogue, but there you go.
Yesterday was the CoSP meetup with Misti, where we walked around the National Mall and saw two people flip off the White House. Right on! We talked politics, travel, singlehood, and I love Misti’s insertion of popular culture references into conversation (Steve Martin’s The Jerk, Aerosmith’s “Jaded,” and I’m referring to the desolate DC landscape at DC: Zombie Apocalypse Version). We have plans to play tennis, grill, and see some socially distanced outdoor live music.
All in all, a hell of a weekend. Way more interesting than some backyard conversation about which lawn mower or juice box is better.
Community of Single People (CoSP) is a great resource on all things singlehood-related, but the Netflix series, Indian Matchmaking is the first experience I’ve had with watching a show based on the group’s recommendation. I also heard Peter McGraw do an insightful podcast and when he and his friend, Roopali Malhorta (who used a matchmaker), discussed it.
In McGraw’s words, the show barely touches on the idea that being single is a valid lifestyle choice, but I guess it has to appeal to their viewership, the majority of whom will want to see these hopefuls couple up. He and Malhorta also discuss the idea that many of the characters might actually be better off single.
This is where I want to discuss. I watched the series over eight days (one episode per day), and I took notes as I watched. The show revolves around Sima Taparia, whose profession is that of a matchmaker. An Indian woman, she helps people find partners, and she has a booming business because marriage is highly prized in Indian culture. The series tells several stories of Indians trying to find their partners. I’ll be giving a brief evaluation of each client/character.
I felt some empathy and sympathy for Nadya, not a single-at-heart person. An event planner from New Jersey, she truly wants to find a partner. I don’t know if that pressure comes from her family, if she’s internalized that pressure, a combination of those things, or if she may actually be better off with a partner. In Roopali’s words, “dating can be fun,” which I agree with if you don’t have expectations. Sadly, in most cultures, dating is supposed to “lead somewhere.” And her in words, Indian culture isn’t like that; you’re looking for a “potential life partner,” which is a part of all cultures, I think. I’d love to teach her about internalized singlism. Vanay, her dating partner, flaked on her twice, and yet, she’s still willing to date him. The last shot of her arc has them walking off together (spoiler alert: they’re not together anymore, surprise surprise).
Aparna’s a strong woman, an attorney from Houston. She appears to be very picky (a characteristic Sima uses to describe her), one of those people that, on a dating site, might write a laundry list of demands from her partner (those scared me off back when I did those sites). But she might actually be a single-at-heart. She’s successful and self-assured; if she ever got exposed to CoSP, a light bulb might go off in her head, and she might make a good singles activist.
I wanted to yell at Pradhyuman, “Dude, get some new friends!” At first glance, he might come across as your stereotypical “bachelor.” He dresses well, he likes fancy cocktails, and he has very high standards for physical appearance. I’m drawing on McGraw and Roopali’s analysis, but he’s the type of person that would do well in an urban environment, where a lot of people date just to “date” and don’t necessarily want to settle down. Yet, he keeps getting pressure from his friends and family to get married. The wife of one of his friends says, “I wish he’d get married because he’s always pulling my husband away on some kind of boys trip.” She can’t spend a minute without him? That sounds like some co-dependent, needy behavior right there!
The dynamic of Akshay’s family can be summed up in the following line from his mother: “He has all these gifts. Now we just have to find him a girl because marriage is important.” For the most part, it seems like Mom makes all of the decisions for him. In fact, her blood pressure is off the charts because of her concern for Akshay’s well-being and love life. I say, let that bird fly and enjoy your life! Of course, I am coming at that from a Western perspective because marriage is valued quite differently in Indian culture than it is in American culture, so I’m going to try to stay humble.
Anyway, I had some issues with him. He said something to the effect of, “If she’s busy with work, who’s gonna take care of the kids?” Ummm, you? So much for staying humble, I suppose. He’s the type that, if he does marry, will probably need someone’s who willing to play the role of a surrogate mother. He also doesn’t like cats, which is just not cool.
Vayasar’s the kind of guy I would’ve loved to have had as my college counselor. Funny, charismatic, and yet, he feels incomplete without a partner. When the creators interviewed his students, someone mentioned Vayasar had seen Endgame solo, to which some students went, “Awwww.” One young man spoke up and said, “Don’t awwww! That’s some self-empowerment!” That’s a smart kid right there. He has some dark family history, and dating encouraged him to open up to another person about it, which I can actually get on board with. Sometimes, when we meet the right people, they can inspire us out of more comfort zone. And they don’t necessarily have to be romantic partners. Sadly, the show wasn’t very clear on where that exchange went, but we found out later on that it didn’t “go anywhere.”
Ankita was my favorite. She’s a true single-at-heart. She got angry with a matchmaker who said, “Women take a backseat in marriage.” But, in her words, she wanted to try anyway. Her character arc did end with her realizing she doesn’t need a man, and she talked to a friend about living in a house with friends like the show Friends. Her friend was very supportive. Despite what appears to be a matrimaniacal stance on the part of the show’s creators, I’m glad they included one storyline that ended in happy singlehood. On the one hand, this seems like tokenism; on the other, I’m glad they somewhat recognize singlehood as a valid lifestyle choice.
Overall, the show gave me a good insight into marriage and Indian culture (for example, the differentiation between “arranged marriage” and “love marriage”). It has been criticized heavily for encouraging outdated views on marriage, which I get.
I was happy to see that, despite the creators’ need to end with the “happily ever after” trope, none of the couples stayed together after the show (this includes Akshay’s broken engagement). Despite this, I won’t be tuning in for Season 2.
In March, right before this pandemic began, I took a workshop with the Muse Writers Center on how to build a platform as an author. About to launch How to be a Happy Bachelor, I thought this would be a great course. And it was. The instructor, Sylvia Liu, recommended using Twitter because your ability to view (and be viewed) is unlimited. So I stepped up my Twitter game, and in doing so, I found Steph Penny, an Australian author who has many of the same views on marriage and childfreeness (yes, I made that word up) that I do.
It was hard to find a common time, but we finally did so, and we had quite the conversation! I shared some of my views with her on bachelorhood and childfreeness. I also learned quite a bit about how some churches view singledom. I was overjoyed to see that as a married woman who supports her church, one of her missions is to help make churches more inclusive of singletons.
I was happy to hear Steph’s story about a conversation she had with a female pastor in which she brought some of her ideas about inclusivity of singles, which the pastor was very happy to hear. This brought to mind a conversation I had with Tyler Sit, a minister at New City Church, a very progressive church in Minneapolis, MN, in which he talked about singlehood as a valid lifestyle choice. He even had a sermon about it, which I can’t seem to find on the Internet anymore.
And it makes sense! I’m no Biblical scholar, but I do know that Jeremiah was single, Paul even endorsed singlehood, and let’s not forget Jesus Christ (I wish I was quick enough to come up with that argument when a religious former colleague of mine responded to the title of my book with “You need us!” I could have said, “Aren’t you supposed to be a Biblical scholar?”) I’m all about family-friendly programs, for those who have kids. And if churches are going to have Singles groups, they shouldn’t solely be focused on matchmaking. In Steph’s words, many singles just want to meet other singletons to hang out with, without the conversation devolving into “my kids” or “my husband/wife/partner.”
Bottom line: it’s not just about us singletons. If religious institutions want to ensure their long-term survival and thriving, they need to become more inclusive. It is predicted that by 2030, one in four adults will have never married by the age of fifty. Many will probably go to religious services. As our population of singletons increases, such institutions will need to meet their audience where they are. And if more married folks have the mindset of Steph, they’ll support inclusivity of singles.
So let’s move forward!
Over the past few years, I've been researching, blogging, and writing about singlehood and the stigma surrounding it. During my interview process at my new job, I gave a series of elevator pitches around it, which seemed to impress the people interviewing me. As part of my tenure packet, I'll need to provide a narrative on how that study benefits the institution. During our New Faculty Orientation yesterday, a faculty member who had been through the process invited us to think about our professional and personal identities and how they can tie into our new jobs. We could meditate, write, draw, whatever. As a writer, I find writing is the best way (for me) to process thoughts. Here's the freewrite I devised in four minutes (no proofreading):
As a happy singleton, I also like to research and write about issues related to singlehood. As pertains to my professional identity as a rhetorician, I particularly like to examine the rhetoric of marriage and singlehood and how that shapes the hegemony of marriage, because as a singleton, I feel I am a part of a marginalized group. I bring that into my teaching through my themed composition courses on singlehood, and I invite students to think about those particular students, because some of them MAY NOT MARRY in their personal lives (some of them have already indicated they don’t want to). As far as UDC is concerned, if we’re trying to build scholars and critical thinkers, I want to help students also understand implicit bias exists in the language we use in a lot of contexts (not just marriage) and I also want them to think critically about why people get married so they can also make the right decisions for themselves as far as whether they choose to marry or not. I’m not saying don’t do it, but I do feel that if students can learn to be critical about how society promotes marriage, they can be happier if they choose to be single. They can also be critical of language functions in the workplace and how it can shape policy, and I’d like to get them looking at it on a local level.
So my cat/son Chester stayed with his Aunt Maggie during the move because his human/Daddy knew it would be too chaotic for him. I went back to Hampton Roads to tie some loose ends up, most notably, picking Chester up and transporting him to DC. Maggie sedated him with some Gabapentin the night before (and the morning of) so he’d be mellow during the ride.
And that he was. He played with Maggie and even head butted Daddy when he was trying to pull out of the gas station. “Sorry, Chester, gotta get you there alive,” I said.
Chester really loves looking outside on the balcony, and he’s been out there twice (under Daddy’s supervision).
During Maggie’s visit, Chester mostly slept in the living room. But she left for Newport News on Sunday night, so it’s just the two of us now. Challenges include keeping him from exiting the front door, and for about a day or so, he was lying in bed next to be and not on my leg. That changed yesterday evening when I placed him on my lap, and then he didn’t get off. In fact, I’ve been lying in bed for an hour and a half and Chester still hasn’t gotten off my leg. He also continues to head butt me in the mornings.
He’s adjusting well, and it’ll be even better when my couch gets in.
On Friday, Maggie and I brought Chester up to my apartment (there will be a separate blog post told from his point of view to come). After a power nap, we walked around the National Mall before heading over to Café Berlin for our 7:00 reservation. We started out with a pair of German pretzels with bier cheese (freaking awesome).
We both ordered a sausage platter; they were juicy as well. Neither of us were overly impressed with the German potato salad; the pickle and dill they added just didn’t work for me. The mac and cheese was okay, though Maggie didn’t care for the egg noodles she got (she is to German food what I am to pizza).
We then retreated to our separate spaces (her space in the living room, me in the bedroom) to crash early because we’d get up early the next morning to hit the National Zoo.
I’m only about a mile from the zoo, so we took the 20-minute walk there, where I was enthralled by all the shops in Cleveland Park, as well as the number of apparent singletons. There were a few coupley-looking folks there, but it seemed evenly distributed. And not a ton of PDA there, which I like. We met up with some friends of ours at the zoo (also singletons) to explore. This was my first time there, and my major takeaway was that tigers are introverts and lions are extroverts. I’m a tiger.
We walked back up to the Italian Pizza Kitchen, where Maggie had the best-looking Stromboli I’ve ever seen. I had two cheese slices; nowhere near as good as New Yawk, but not bad either.
After a powernap, we headed over to the White House and surrounding area. We came across a beautiful memorial devoted to the Black Lives Matter movement, with posters hanging from fences. I bought a purple Black Lives Matter hat; I would have gotten the black one, but it read “Black Lives MatterS.”
We then encountered a truck playing reggae music and some kids dancing to it. Maggie and I joined in for a bit before we headed over to Fat Pete’s in Cleveland Park for some Carolina-style BBQ. Of course, we got a picture of Maggie in front of a Jerry Garcia portrait that adorned the window of an art store.
I ended up taking my babyback ribs home, and Maggie and I retreated to our separate rooms for the night.
The next morning, we walked over to American University’s meditation labyrinth, which was about a mile and a half. Those houses on Van Ness Street are beautiful. And many of them had Black Lives Matter placards on their lawns, a nice contrast to the Trump ones I used to see in the South. I’d love to settle there.
The area around that labyrinth is quite verdant; I can see myself going there on a regular basis to meditate. It was a good place for me to reflect on all the activity that’s been going on the last couple of weeks. I’ve had some big things happening, and as I write, it’s nice to be able to spend some time reflecting.
We went to Bread Furst, where I was hoping to get a toasted bagel with cream cheese, but I learned they stop serving breakfast at 11, so I settled for a huge ham and cheese, of which I could only eat half. But that’ll make for a good lunch for today. After a powernap, we went for a walk and I escorted Maggie to Union Station. After we parted ways, I teared up a little bit. Maggie’s a close friend, but she’s symbolic of my old life in Hampton Roads, which is now officially gone.
I did enjoy the Metro ride home solo; it’s a reaffirmation that this is my city – at least, for now. I hope to stay here for a long time, but we’ll see what the forces of nature have planned. One thing I kept saying all weekend was, “I can’t believe I live here” as I admired the urban landscape and the constant stream of activity.
I still can’t believe it. In time, I’ll adjust.
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.