Editor's Note: Rachel Sutton, a graduating senior at Hampton University, and student in my How to be Single and Happy class, wrote this letter about how the Fair Housing Act can be interpreted by some to be discriminatory against singles; her letter calls to level the playing field.
216 Multi Use Facility
Hampton, VA 23668
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20410
Telephone: (202) 708-1112
To Whom it May Concern:
The Federal Fair Housing Act under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states that it does not prohibit marital status discrimination. However, fewer than half of the states have laws that prohibit landlords from discriminating on the basis of marital status. Furthermore, in some of these states, courts have interpreted the laws so that unmarried couples do not receive protection from housing discrimination. In other states, courts have broadly interpreted the laws to give unmarried couples protection from housing discrimination.
This is completely unfair due to the fact that landlords can refuse single individuals housing or place unnecessary rules in their lease. In addition, states are interpreting the law so that it does not work in the favor of single individuals, which is a continued issue. Many cities have zoning laws as well, which allow an unlimited number of relatives to live together in a "single family" zone, but prohibits a group of single adults from living in the same area. This could further complicate a single person that is looking for a place to live, due to who is living around them.
The Federal Fair Housing Act completely prohibits marital status discrimination due to the loopholes that many states, and their landlords have found. The document needs to include specifics so that states can not discriminate on their own basis, and so that it will be fairer for people regardless of where they are in the U.S.
Editor's Note: Briana Roberts, a graduating senior at Hampton University and student in my How to be Single and Happy class, wrote this letter in response to an assignment to advocate for a policy change to a law that benefits marrieds. I was impressed by the creative position she took: pretending to be a senior citizen in need of such benefits. Enjoy!
123 Fake Street
Anywhere, USA 23666
Social Security Administration
11706 Jefferson Ave.
Newport News, Virginia 23606
To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Briana Roberts, and I am writing this letter to request a change in the Social Security Administration’s retirement benefit policy. As you will see in this statement, I believe that I have the circumstance to receive some form of aid from my late roommate.
For the past 30 years, I have resided at 123 Fake St. with Ms. Jane Doe. Both Jane and I are 85-year-old single women who do not have any children. Ms. Doe also does not have any living siblings. She and I have always been committed to helping each other; whether it was setting up necessary doctors’ appointments or managing tax information. Ms. Doe began drawing her Social Security benefits 23 years ago, and planned to give me her retirement funds if anything ever happened to her. Unfortunately, Jane recently passed away, and I am ineligible to receive any aid because she was not my spouse.
Currently, the Social Security Administration holds a policy that only allows spouses, dependents or paid caregivers to receive retirement benefits from a deceased loved one. However, as previously stated, Ms. Doe and I are single, without children, and we are not each other’s paid caregivers. I cared for Jane as if she were my sister, and I am most certainly sure that she felt the same way. Because of this, I believe that I am the most deserving individual to receive Ms. Doe’s retirement benefits. This money would not strictly be used to pay for living, medical or funeral expenses. I will donate this money to Jane’s favorite volunteer organizations, including The Dreams of Hope Foundation and The Helping Hands Program.
Even if this message is too late, or if I will not be able to receive any benefits from Jane, my request is that the current Social Security policy be updated or at least reviewed. More people are no longer pursuing marriage, and they are deciding to settle with a non-romantic partner. Changing this policy will allow individuals like myself to use benefits from a long-time friend towards bettering the current society we live in and help those in need. I know this is what Jane would have wanted; she would not be satisfied with her retirement funds going to waste. I hope you consider my situation and allow those who are not in a romantic relationship to be eligible for receiving their partner’s benefits.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
To say live music is an integral part of my life is an understatement. Going to concerts is so much a part of my lifestyle that I have a running joke on Facebook, “I don’t go to enough concerts,” a joke I make every time I’m at a show, which is nearly every weekend. Thanks to COVID-19, this can’t happen now. But, to paraphrase the Grateful Dead, the music never stops.
One day, almost on a whim, I picked up an $80 acoustic guitar from a pawn shop near me. I had played on and off since I was sixteen, but I never really took it seriously. That casual relationship resumed once I brought it to the office: I played it a few times, but ultimately, I stashed it in a corner of my office and forgot all about it.
When I found out we would be working remotely, something possessed me to take the guitar home. One evening, after getting done to work, I just felt the urge to play Phish’s “Waste,” a song I had committed to memory several years earlier. I had been witnessing the struggles of my loved ones on Facebook, so I posted a video of my performance. I was astonished by the number of “likes” I received. So I vowed to post a new song every week.
I started out with some other songs I had committed to memory: “Norwegian Wood,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and “Uncle John’s Band.” For me, these were fairly easy to relearn. Then, I decided to expand my comfort zone with more complex tunes, like Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.” Not easy, but I accomplished it.
After teaching myself a few songs, and a few new chords that went them, I decided to play for a purpose. While I’m childfree by choice, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for those parents trying to homeschool their children. I always struggled with math, so I can’t even comprehend trying to help someone in that subject, even in basic arithmetic. So I learned Jimmy Buffet’s “Math Sucks” to help soothe the frustrations of those parents struggling with math.
Ever since she saw Bohemian Rhapsody, my mother has been obsessed with Queen. I give all due respect to them as musicians, and I like some of their songs, but I’ve never been enough of a fan to pay money for their music. But I decided to learn “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” as a Mother’s Day present to her, which I sent to her phone.
One thing I’ve learned in my relationship with my guitar is that perfection is the enemy of progress. If I were going to be a rock star, it would’ve happened already, so if I simplify some chords or change a lyric or two, it doesn’t matter. The only people listening are my friends, and they won’t (or shouldn’t) judge. So why not loosen up and have some fun with it?
During the summer of 1995, the summer before my senior year in high school, I bought one of those Ivy League hats that other kids wore backwards. It was meant to display my image as an artist. I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg, and this hat would add to that. My friends mocked me for it (teenagers!), but I was determined to live that image.
That fall, I enrolled in Mr. Leonard London’s Project Advance English class, a college-level writing class that was offered through Syracuse University. I had managed to skate by through most of my high school career with Bs. My teachers up through my junior year were competent enough, but nobody really lit any fires in my heart. I enjoyed my TV Production courses, and Mr. Martin Markowitz, the teacher, was very supportive and encouraging in his guidance, but I suspect I would have developed the same passion with any other teacher. I was involved with drama, and Mrs. Isabel Feldstein taught me how to loosen up and project my voice on the stage, which has helped me a lot in my own career as a professor. Mrs. Judith King, my ninth-grade typing teacher, taught me the basics of how to type, which I still use today.
They were all great teachers, but none of them compared to Mr. London. He looked and carried himself like the media image of a college professor, leather elbow patches, tweed blazer, yada yada…My best friend, Albert Farmer, who was in the class with me and loved to rag on my hat, asked Mr. London, “Do you think Craig’s hat looks artsy?” Mr. London said, “Yeah, I think that’s a bohemian look.” At that point, I knew Mr. London “got” me.
The first semester of the class was a challenging one for sure; I did well, but one thing I learned was that everything I thought I knew about writing was wrong. Phrases I had used were not acceptable with Mr. London (for example, I couldn’t refer to “my Mom” in my literacy narrative; it was “my mother”). I was able to earn a B for that semester, which, with the 10% weight from an honors course, turned out to be an A.
But the second semester was where things got real. We read George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and while the specifics of class discussions escape me these 24 years later, I remember him assigning us a paper on our own choice of topic. Being really, really, really into movies (hell, I owned every movie review book known to humankind, from Roger Ebert to Leonard Maltin), I thought I’d give a comparison between the play and My Fair Lady, the 1964 musical it inspired. I remember Eliza Doolittle breaking it off with Henry Higgins at the end of the play; yet, in the musical, they got together. The same ending occurred in the 1938 film version of the play. I was pissed at this, thinking that this was just Hollywood’s bastardization and butchering of a perfectly realistic play. I wrote my heart out, and as Led Zeppelin’s “Sick Again” blasted over my stereo speakers, I hit a “writer’s high,” where I hit some sort of a-ha moment. For the first time in my life, I was proud of something I had written. The assignment had gotten an A-; not an A, but I was still proud.
That energy spread to my college Public Affairs class as well; for the first time, I was loving learning for the sake of learning. The following year, during my first semester of college, I was determined to keep that energy alive, and it resulted in my making the Dean’s List.
Twenty-four years later, my intellectual interests have changed. I’m not as into classic literature as I was, but I’ve developed a love of Singles Studies. My desk is essentially a shrine to Singles Studies; if one were to make a movie about me, a shot to establish my character might consist of a tilt of all those books on my desk: Singled Out, Happy Singlehood, I Didn’t Work This Hard to Get Married. My love of research and learning has been nurtured by many great mentors over the years. But it all started in Room 211 of Spring Valley High School by that man, Mr. London. I don’t know if he’s still alive (my Google searches have landed me bupkis), but sir, if you can read this, thank you!
How to be Single and Happy Class - Assignment #3 - Policy Change Letter and Overall Course Reflections
Much of our discussion on CoSP revolves around how the law and general business and organizational practices marginalize singles. Even in a course entitled “How to be Single and Happy,” I feel it’s important for students to be aware of how singles are marginalized, and my hope is that they will start to question policy and start advocating. There is, after all, strength in numbers. So for this assignment, students looked at this link from Nolo and wrote to a letter to an organization that a policy be changed to be more inclusive of singles. Here’s what they came front:
Mary – She advocated that a particular hospital should allow friends and extended family members of sick folks to be able to visit their loved ones. In other words, visits should not be limited to the spouse or immediate family members. And she brought the snark.
Karen – She also got sassy with Darlene Dovenberg, a woman who violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to a single mother because she “had no man.” Ultimately, she had to pay $15,000 to the woman. Victory!
Kelly – She proposed a change to the Family and Medical Leave Act, namely that it be expanded to the ability to look after other loved ones, such as a sibling or extended family members.
Tammy – An employee of Cracker Barrel, she advocated that the restaurant be more equitable in providing time off to its employees. In other words, why on Earth can’t a single person take a day off to go fishing when a married person can take a day off to look after a spouse?
Brenda – She got creative with hers, writing in the voice of an 85-year-old never-married woman who lives with her sister. She wrote to the Social Security Administration, asking that she be allowed to give her Social Security benefits to her sister upon her death. Makes sense to me! She gave me permission to post her letter on my blog, which will be coming up tomorrow.
Rebecca – She wants the Federal Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on marital status, in addition to its other provisions. Makes sense to me! She also gave me permission to post her letter to my blog, which will come up the day after tomorrow. Moreover, she submitted it! We shall see.
One reflection is that I’ll attempt to make is that in the future, I’ll make clearer that the letter should focus on one policy. There’s a lot of positive energy around singles activism in there, but a few people wanted to change multiple problems, which can be hard for an audience to digest. So I’ll emphasize that more in the future. All in all, I’m happy with the students’ passion for enacting social change here. And I’m happy with the way the course went. Students really got into the material, even after we transitioned to remote teaching.
Anybody who’s ever read a book or seen a movie knows how single people are portrayed in fiction and film. You have your stories where the protagonist starts out broken in some way (workaholic, promiscuous, selfish) and then suddenly becomes a better person as the result of adding a romantic relationship into his/her life. For example, take Trainwreck, where Amy Schumer’s ambitious, hard-partying journalist changes her ways as a result of becoming involved with Bill Hader’s sports doctor. In some stories, the single characters are depicted in nasty stereotypes. For example, in How to be a Latin Lover, Kristen Bell’s character is painted as a lonely woman who lives with dozens of cats. You have your tales where the hero has a goal, and just to add spice to the story, there’s a romantic subplot. Blake Snyder’s iconic Save the Cat even advises aspiring screenwriters to start a “B-Story” at the 30-minute mark, which, more often than not, consists of a romantic subplot.
These are prime examples of singlism, a term coined by Dr. Bella DePaulo, a psychologist from the University of California at Santa Barbara. This concept is defined as the stereotyping around singlehood.
We need to do a better job at accurately representing singlehood in fiction and film. The population of singles is ever-increasing. Fifty years ago, it was common for a person to marry right out of high school or college. These days, people are marrying later, and many are opting not to “tie the knot” at all. At the time of this writing, it is estimated that 50.2% of adults in the United States are single. In China, the marriage rate has declined each year by .57% since 2014. While most people do get married at some point in their lives, it is predicted that by 2030, 25% of adults between the ages of 45 and 54 will never marry. Given this increase, if you include singles who never marry or become divorced or widowed, the singles population will be even greater.
Why Should I Care?
Such stereotypes can be damaging. Many people become involved in romantic relationships because they feel “incomplete,” an idea that is often fed to us by popular romance (Jerry Maguire’s “You complete me” is an iconic example of this). Such involvement can lead them to stay in these relationships, even if they become unfulfilling, toxic, or even dangerous (the increased rates in domestic violence during COVID-19 are an example of this). For this reason, it’s important to know how to portray single characters and how NOT to portray them:
A lot of people grow up thinking that romantic relationships should be just like the ones portrayed in fiction, which, more often than not, just aren’t realistic.
Singlehood is stereotyped in fiction. So what follows are some tips on how to write single characters:
Clichés and Tropes to Avoid
This is a short, non-comprehensive list of how singles are stereotyped in fiction and film. These have been written time and time again, and a lot of us find them tired and compelling. Their character arcs usually find them becoming better people as a result of coupling up.
1)The Party-Hearty, Promiscuous Single
You’ve probably seen movies where the protagonist starts out as a playboy or a partier, but suddenly, a good partner (and even kids) settles them down (Trainwreck, Raising Helen).
2)The Workaholic or Recluse
On the other side of the coin, the protagonist is pretty settled in their lives: too settle. He/she doesn’t go out or have fun, and is a real fuddy-duddy. It takes a partner to “loosen them up.” If it’s a woman, she’s a real “starts with b, rhymes with witch,” and she often serves as the antagonist in a romance between a man and a more low-key woman.
3)The Mama’s Boy/Manchild
Attributed to men and often overlapping with #1, the manchild is essentially in a state of extended adolescence: video games, nightly pot smoking, un- or underemployment, empty pizza boxes and beer bottles strewn all over his hovel of an apartment. The woman cleans him up (see Knocked Up).
4)The Romantic Subplot
Sometimes, a romantic subplot can be a good thing if it helps the character develop his/her arc. However, much of the time, those romantic subplots are a distraction. If you must include a romance as part of a major story, make sure it adds to the story.
What To Do Instead
Nobody’s telling you not to write romance if that’s your jam. However, make sure you portray your single characters as living lifestyles that are equally worthy to that of those in romantic relationships. Show them engaging in hobbies, meaningful relationships (not just dating or sexually related), a full work life. And don’t have them be jealous or envious of the character(s) in romantic relationships. This can involve:
1)Don’t have all of your main characters be married. When I read Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things, I would have loved for at least one single character. At the end of the Harry Potter series, all of the characters end up married, according to J.K. Rowling.
2)If you have more than one protagonist who is single, don’t have all them all “couple up” at the end of the story. In additionally, if you have four or more, have at least two remain single. How to be Single and Girls Trip are perfect examples of this.
3)If you have a romantic subplot, it doesn’t necessarily have to “work out.” Have the romance be derailed in some way, and still have the character come out on top, which is truer to life. See Private Benjamin, Crossroads (the Ralph Macchio version from 1986), and Whip It.
4)Not having a romance in the story. Or even better, if a male and female meet, show a platonic friendship. A Few Good Men and Dolemite is My Name portrayed this type of relationship nicely.
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.