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.
More and more people are opting not to travel the traditional route of marriage and parenthood, or as Amy Gahran would deem it, the relationship escalator. Thanks to social media, we can access article upon article giving various takes on this trend. And, of course, social media brings out people’s true (and oftentimes dark) natures on this subject. In reading through comments on such pieces, I’ve devised the following categories of commenters:
Matrimaniacs (who are mostly Boomers)
People are generally uncomfortable with change. Many people who were raised with the attitude that they needed to get married and raise 2.4 children are naturally going to want everyone else to do it (“We had to do it, so you should”). I saw a meme that read “Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.”
While tongue-in-cheek, like most jokes, this meme has some truth to it. The folks that are alive and lamenting the declining of marriage are typically Baby Boomers, who don’t know any relationship style outside the “escalator.” If they’re not, they usually come from conservative areas and have been raised inside the “monogamy box.” They’ll make comments like “I’ve been married for 43 years, and it’s been worth every minute” or “people just don’t want to work for love anymore.”
On the plus side, the former category will die soon. And the more we continue to accept alternatives to marriage, the more newer generations will embrace those alternatives, and the latter category will eventually fade away (or at least decrease in number).
Because many pro-singlehood articles address women who are opting for singlehood (and virtually none too for men), much of the backlash comes from angry singles (usually men), who fit the stereotypes matrimaniacs purport and give the rest of us a bad name. Many men feel that the fall of marriage was the result of women being allowed to have credit cards and work outside the home, and they reflect a 1950s patriarchal attitude (men work, women cook).
They’re an angry group. Angry that they just can’t get a phone number or a date because women are now more liberated and don’t have to settle for the first dude that comes along, unlike the matrimaniacs we read about above. They need to learn how to be comfortable in their own skin as singles before they try dating.
Like singles, those who support singles are not a monolithic group, so I’ve divided them into categories:
The Bitterly Coupled or Divorced
These are people in unhappy relationships or those traumatized by a bad breakup or divorce. They’ll make comments like “never get married; it was the biggest mistake I made. 25 years of hell.” After a bad experience in couplehood, they’ve learned (or are learning) to enjoy singlehood.
I really appreciate these folks; it takes a lot of intelligence and open-mindedness to be able to see outside your own experience (something I’m still learning to do). These people tend to have happy, healthy relationships because they’re comfortable in their own skin and have identities distinct from their partnerships. For them, their partnerships are like icing or sprinkles on the cake.
The Happy Single
I don’t need to say much about you. You’re truly the shining stars and will be a great example for future generations.
I’ve loved live music since college, when I saw Phish play at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center. And I’ve had experiences where I’ve gone to shows with friends, as well as those where I’ve gone solo.
Going to shows with friends is wonderful. I have one friend, Sal, a drummer, who would provide critiques and commentary on who the “weak link” in the band was. Some of my fellow Deadhead friends went to shows in the 1970s and 1980s and have enlightened me on some of the history behind the songs played by the Grateful Dead. And there’s always the pregame dinner, where we talk about the show, as well as the postgame trip home, where we comment on the show’s highlights. My friend Maggie and I once went to see Zoso, a Led Zeppelin tribute, where we interacted with a group of friends who engaged us in a bet to see what song they’d play. My friend Pete, who goes to way more shows than I do, is able to inform me what tunes certain bands play if I’ve never heard them. And they’re all stars on my blog, Not Enough Concerts.
But there is a great deal to be said for solo concertgoing. When I do go to a show solo, I’m a lot less insular and more open to meeting people. And with jam bands (particularly general admission shows), there’s an energy that just unites us fans and keeps us engaged with each other, as well as the music.
The first time I went to a show in DC (after lockdown) solo (a Grateful Dead cover band called Better Off Dead), I met a dude named John, a lawyer who I subsequently met up with at future shows. A month later, when I went to see Trey Anastasio play, I ate at an Indian restaurant near the venue. Pete commented on my Phish T-shirt, and we just got to going. A few minutes later, we were walking to the show, and we’ve met up for several in the DC area since, as well as a Phish show in Philadelphia. There was also my adventure trying to catch an Uber when Phish played at Jones Beach, and teaming up with John during my quest. And having Larry introduce me to all the regulars when I saw the Montgomery Warlocks (another DC-based Dead cover bad) solo.
And I don’t always meet people who I stay in touch with for long periods of time. Sometimes, they’re just friends for the night. Like that guy Mark who had driven from Boston to New York to see Phish. And those two dudes from Georgia who flew up to New York for the Widespread Panic show. And countless other people whom I can’t remember.
As an introvert, I definitely appreciate this article and have internalized most of the tips, like being close to an exit (I like standing in the back during general admission shows). One nice thing about going solo is that I can leave whenever the hell I want and not have to stand around and jiggle my keys while one of my extroverted friends chats with some stranger.
Not that I don’t love my extroverted friends, but still…
A few days after the “slap heard ‘round the world” at Oscars, I just had to buy a ticket to see Chris Rock. I had seen him on his Tambourine tour at Richmond, Virginia’s Altria Theater with Drew/Brometheus, Maggie, and Sherrie (RIP) and found it funny and insightful, so I figured why not? I had never gone to a comedy show solo, but there’s a first time for everything.
DAR Constitution Hall is a regal venue with stylish carpeting and architecture. I don’t have pictures because we had to lock our cell phones in cases (no videotaping!). Usually, when I’m solo, I’ll read articles on my cell phone or read a book. But, no bags either, so no books. I did settle for writing in my notepad and making observations. I did see a nice diversity of cultures there, including a group of what appeared to be Indians. And they were enjoying the show. I did see one other solo person, a young woman in glasses and ripped jeans who barreled through the couples and groups to get to her seat. The way I look at it, when traveling solo, you’ve gotta be dominant.
I didn’t care for Rick Ingraham. While insult comedy is his specialty, I didn’t like the stereotypes of Asians he presented (“you’re all engineers, right?”) and his calling out of the dude there by himself as “creepy,” even if they were audience plants. But that’s comedy, so what can you do?
Chris Rock immediately followed, and his shows seemed to follow a structure. He starts with political humor, riffing on current “wokeness” and “victimhood.” The selfishness of non-maskers came up, as did the idiots who stormed the capitol on 1/6/21. From there, he got into the personal, like with parenting, and I love that story on how he told his daughter’s school to expel her for breaking an important rule, and how, as a result, she became less entitled. While I’m adamantly childfree by choice, I wish the parents of some of my students would follow Rock’s example.
When he got into relationships (the typical closing routine of his act), I couldn’t disagree more. Men are supposed to pay for everything? I can get on that in situations where the gender pay gap applies (men do still make more than women, and if that’s the case in the relationship, the scales should be balanced), but in some situations only. Why do men have to be the pursuers/hunters in relationships? And do all women want to be pursued? Do some want to do the pursuing? Are men less than men if they don’t have to pursue? When Rock said that “women want to be taken care of,” there was a smattering of applause.
In a previous blog, I shamed Rock for chiding his audience to “settle down” when he seemed to be unhappy in his marriage, and indeed, he did divorce from his wife in 2016, largely due to his cheating and pornography addiction. In his Tambourine special, he embodied regret and essentially told his audience, “Do as I say, not as I did in order to maintain your relationships.” He mentioned that he’s single again, and he stated one line, “Women say all the time ‘I don’t need a man’ but you never hear a man say ‘I don’t need a woman.’ I need a relationship!”
I love to analyze people. So, here’s my “pop psychological” take on the roots of that statement: Chris was born in 1965. He was probably raised with the idea that “you need a spouse.” In his 1996 special, Bring the Pain, when he was just marrying his wife, Malaak Compton, he said, “You gotta settle down.” Eight years later, in Never Scared, he said “You’re either married and bored or single and lonely.” My guess is that he had grown bored of his married routine, hence the pornography and the cheating.
Now he’s single again. A few minutes after stating “I need a relationship,” he said, “There are times when I don’t want a relationship and sometimes I do.” Is it possible that Chris Rock is a Single Person at Heart and unaware of it? Perhaps he “needs a relationship” because that’s what he’s been taught? He does go to movies solo. While that doesn’t necessarily categorize him as a SPAH, I wonder if he’s just wired for singlehood.
Maybe we’ll find out on his next tour.
SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read if you plan on watching the show.
Last year, I wrote a post about the first season of Kevin Can F**k Himself, a show that peers into the dark side of the “nuclear family” sitcom trope, revealing the husband to be less of a buffoon and more of a self-centered narcissist and the wife, traditionally a foil, as a fully realized human being. The second set mines that to be even more extreme depths. And after watching the second season, particularly the series finale, there are layers of pro-single messages, which I’ll examine through the lenses of the four major characters. At its core, this is a show about people taking a back seat in their own lives and learning how to “show up” for themselves.
Kevin’s put-upon wife, in a traditional sitcom, would either shrug and roll her eyes at his antics or be the “voice of reason.” Here, Alison is looking to get away from Kevin, and while she seems like a milquetoast, she is self-aware enough to realize that she’s miserable always having to give everything of herself to Kevin. We learn that she was a talented runner and once had dreams of getting out of the blue-collar haven of Worcester, Massachusetts before meeting her husband. After a failed attempt at murder and a successful one at faking her own death, she realizes running doesn’t solve anything. After six months under the assumed identity of Gertrude Franch (and a successful stint at working in a Maine boutique), she comes back to tell Kevin she wants a divorce (to thunderous applause from the laugh track). The resolution of the film then gets several degrees track, as we finally see Kevin outside of the sitcom world, and he is an ugly sight.
Patty is Alison’s sorta friend-by-proximity. She’s the sister of Neil, Kevin’s best friend. She sits in the shadow of Neil, who is just a sidekick to Kevin. She comes alive when she learns of Alison’s plans to separate herself from Kevin, and, while she claims to hate Alison, she still assists her. During the first season, she begins dating Tammy, a police detective who’s on the cusp of finding out about Alison and Patty’s plan. Tammy is the dominant partner in her relationship with Patty, constantly trying to shoo away Alison from her. When Alison “disappears,” she’s on Patty to move away with her. In the series finale, Patty decides she’s staying Worcester, and she kicks out her freeloading brother, Neil, who’s been like a Kevin to Patty.
While Neil is not likable by any means, we’re able to empathize with him in the second season, when he becomes a part of Alison’s “dark world.” He stays loyal to Kevin, his lifelong best friend, despite being the frequent target of his bullying. When he learns of Alison and Patty’s plan to kill Kevin, they give him a concussion and are intent on disposing of him as well. He tries to inform Kevin, but he laughs in his face. This is a turning point, where Neil starts to realize Kevin isn’t much of a friend. He starts sleeping with a married family friend, Diane, and when Kevin mocks him for it, this is where he tells Kevin to go f**k himself. When Patty throws him out of the house, he invites Diane to run away with him out of desperation for a place to live. Diane has feelings for him but knows it wouldn’t be the right move. In Neil’s last appearance, he huffs off from Patty and carries a duffel bag with him. This suggests that Neil has potential to learn to stand on his own.
Onscreen, Kevin plays the role of the traditional sitcom buffoon. Offscreen, he’s committed arson, vandalism, and he’s even gotten people divorced and fired from their jobs due to pure malice. He meets his new girlfriend, Molly, at Alison’s funeral, and they’re dating immediately afterwards. At one point, he confuses the two (“Sorry, I was thinking of my past partner” is a line of his, when he’s berating Molly for forgetting something). By the time Alison divorces him, Neil’s walked out on him, Molly’s realized she’s made a mistake, and his own father’s written him off (repeatedly making fun of Dad’s girlfriend’s laugh really isn’t cool). Having grown a full beard and drank an entire fifth of whiskey, he calls his “support” to get “revenge” on Alison, but nobody responds. Finally, he’s burned down the entire house.
I’m sad this show only lasted two seasons; there are heavy themes of codependency and self-suffiicency, and the pro-single message is clear. The last line of the series, as said by Alison to Patty in a salute to platonic friendship: “Let’s die alone together.”
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.