A Solo With A Spouse

SOLO 199 | Married And Solo


Peter McGraw speaks to Jen O’Donnell, a friend and early-reader of his new book, about being married and solo.


What do you think of the conversation? Join the Solo community and let Peter know: https://petermcgraw.org/solo/.

Listen to Episode #199 here


A Solo With A Spouse

I’ve been experimenting with simply having a conversation with a member of the Solo community. One was with Carrie Bally. This episode features a married solo, a new mom, and a friend I know from the world of comedy. She was also an early reader of my forthcoming book and even provided a few punch-ups. Welcome, Jenn O’Donnell.

Thank you so much. I am excited to share my enthusiasm for this book. I laughed out loud in the middle of the night often reading it. I’m a new mom and I read the book. The only time I had was while I was pumping in the middle of the night. Picture me in a dark room lit by a phone screen or a computer screen and laughing alone, trying not to wake the baby. There is a lot of enjoyment in this household so far in the book.

You laugh easily.

The book is fun and I was laughing at my jokes, too.

That’s high praise. It’s high praise that given your situation, you found such joy.

I found a lot of joy in reading it and it got me through those long pumping nights. I wanted to read it because I like to read your work. I enjoy the read. It hit me too as a person who is married solo and has a kid. I don’t initially consider myself a solo but this is a book for everybody.

When I met you, you were not married or a new mom. You were dating. Your boyfriend is now your husband.

Yes, we were together then.

We started as a semi-professional relationship. You reached out to me because of my work in comedy. One of my earliest memories of you is appearing on podcasts for video-based shows.

Yes. I’ve done a web series and I was like, “I need a science person who is funny.”

You got half that. I taped an episode on friendship. We were talking about the most important thing that you want to do if you want to make new friends is you have to try, ask, request, and engage. You can’t just wait for it to come to you.

You have to try and fail because it’s not easy. We’re making parent friends. Picture scheduling something for two couples so it’s 4 people plus 2 babies. That’s six people and everybody always has a runny nose. It’s hard to make friends.

Thank you for making the case for singlehood because it’s much easier.

Less runny noses.

I don’t know if you see it this way or remember it this way but I forced my friendship on you.

I don’t think of it that way. Suddenly magically, we were friends.

We ended up in adjacent towns through happenstance. You live in Southern California. I ended up in Santa Monica for eleven months. This was a pandemic time. You and your partner, Jeremy, were very kind to have me come over and sit on the roof and order Chinese food like salads.

We’ve got some good times up there, the conversation.

Why do you identify as a solo despite the fact that someone looking at your life would have trouble seeing that?

I do think that I’ve had the benefit of being able to operate as an independent adult for pretty much almost as long as biologically possible. I moved to Los Angeles for grad school when I was 22 and I got married at 35. Unlike a lot of generations that came before me, I had time to be a person with no other responsibilities, which is huge. It’s major.

I guess I’m somebody who’s always had a generally rich in her life. I make myself laugh a lot. I consider myself a friend to myself. As a person who likes to explore hobbies and be a part of lots of different worlds, I spent a lot of time just being a person. It’s as simple as that. My main responsibility wasn’t caretaking, being a partner, or something like that. I’ve had the privilege of being able to spend a lot of time solo.

I see it. I will say this too. You’re a stand-up comedian. In some ways, you have to be cut from a solo cloth to be a stand-up comedian.

Yes, to stand alone in the middle of the room.

There’s this sense of autonomy and sufficiency. You’re an unconventional thinker as a stand-up.

Stand-up is one of the most entrepreneurial artists. You specifically have to be a real self-starter and a real entrepreneur to be a stand-up, and also be unconventional. When I say stand alone in the middle of the room, I also mean be uncomfortable often. It’s not always a pleasurable experience from that cloth.

It can be a little bit of, if you’re not careful, a lonely profession. You spend a lot of time in solitude creating. People see stand-ups on stage amongst a crowd but a lot of the time, the travel, the prep, and so on is something.

Also, the late nights. You’re not a part of the regular world during the day often. That can make you feel like you’re floating out and not attached. In some ways, it can be a very fun way to live for a while but you can try.

Something I’ve written about and we’ve talked about is being detached and not being part of the mainstream is a feature, not a bug, of stand-up comedy. It helps you see the things that are wrong with the world. When you see those things that are wrong with the world, then you can make fun of them.

As my brother said, he was in town. I was expressing my opinion as I do to him. I said, “I’m sorry. I can be a bit much,” and he said, “You’re just calling the play.” I appreciated that because I’m looking. I’ve got a little microphone and I’m telling you what I see to the people who are playing. I’m calling it as I see it.

The other thing about you is you come from a very traditional place. You live in Southern California and you’re in Hollywood. You’re in the startup world and the tech world. Amongst a lot of unconventional thinkers, you married an unconventional thinker.

The institution of conventional thinking. I come from a place that’s working class or service class. We grew up in the Catholic Church. Your family lives nearby. I always think it’s funny like this nepo baby conversation in Hollywood like, “She got that job because of her dad.” That’s how Buffalo works. That’s how plumbing something works. There’s a lot of similarities in funny ways. The thing too is I didn’t leave that world. I’m still very much steeped in that world. I have college friends, friends who I grew up with, and a huge family. I spend a lot of time with them.

If I remember correctly, you too have some plans to live part-time in that part of the world. Am I remembering this correctly?

Yes. It’s a big goal. We spend about a month and a half back East, which is a pretty significant chunk but we’d love to be able to spend when the weather’s nice and for the holidays each year. That would be an ideal way to raise a kid and be able to stay close to our family. I truly love Buffalo. I say this with a little hint of I’m just kidding when we were back.

It’s like walking through a neighborhood and I was like, “Jeremy, there’s something about being here. It feels like this is sometimes where dreams go to die.” It doesn’t feel like a place where anything can happen, even though you can work. If you’re a creative there and you’re a person who is there who comes from there, you can make it happen. It is a much different mindset.

It’s good that you’re going to raise your child there because then they will be like one of those Southern California soft kids.

I can’t handle it.

Is it Ani Difranco who is in the Rochester summer? She’ll certainly be your friend.

Yes. She bought a church and turned it into a cool concert venue that you can also get married in, FYI.

Look at her being an entrepreneur. Your nepo baby observation feels like a good premise for a bit.

There’s something there, for sure, especially because Max is like, “Mom, I want to work in television.” I’ll be like, “This piece of crap.” People will be like, “Do you know who his mom is?”

Another reason that you’re solo, in my opinion, is it’s not clear to me that what has happened to you was destiny. It’s not clear that you were destined to get married and have kids.

Like you could have gone the other way, you mean?

First of all, there are not many men like Jeremy who’s your partner. Maybe you could date, fall in love, and marry all types of people. He seems like a special good fit for you.

He’s an exceptional person who also has a very rich life.

He’s a weirdo.

Yes, like me. It’s great. The one thing I’ll say is that if you have two solo people who get married and they do have a child, you have to figure out a childcare plan. Now, it is all about like, “Who can watch Max for a few hours a day because we both have things that we want to do?”

I say weirdo as a compliment. I love weirdos. There’s a lot of creativity in having a house. I can imagine you’re handing this child back and forth to each other to work on your various projects.

Also, being like, “Can we stick his head in this VR set?”

Let’s talk about raising your son because you’re the second person who has mentioned this. This has happened on a show with Bill Neil. Bill is a member of the community. He has two teenage children. One of them is a solo and one of them is not. What he realized before he realized that one of them was a solo and one of them was not was that he was raising them to ride the relationship escalator.

He recognized it by reading the episode because he would say things like, “When you have kids, you’ll understand this and that.” It then dawned on him and he goes, “I don’t if my kids will have kids. I don’t know if they want to have kids. I certainly don’t want to create this premise that I have an expectation that they’re going to walk this particular path.” He’s had a solo conversation with his kids.

It was funny because one of them is very bright, curious, a scientist, and an artist. It’s not clear which way she’ll go. She’s a solo at heart as much as you can tell at that young age. I can’t remember correctly. It’s not clear that she’s going to have a family. He said, “The conversation with my son was much quicker. He goes, ‘I hear you, Dad, but I’m going to get married and have kids.’” He knows it. Bill is an exceptional person. If Bill was my dad, I might have had a more positive view of family life.

The easier path, perhaps.

Yes, better role model. You had said to me as you were reading the book that it gave you ideas. Your child is how old?

Several months.

Not even here yet.

He’s not dating seriously.

The girls and the boys love him, I’m sure yes. He’s not ready for this.

He’s got these huge, blue eyes. You get him on an airplane and he makes eyes at the flight attendant. I’m like, “Are you going to take her home?” He’s personable. We’re at the driving range. What a lady killer. He’s around other girl babies and they’re like, “Who’s got a boyfriend?” I’m like, “We start this young.”

I could imagine that as he gets older, there are going to be moments where it would be very easy to default into this expectation conversation about what his future is going to look like. It’d be very easy to make it look like yours, even though yours was not a sure thing.

In general, it’s this idea that I should be thinking about raising my son as somebody who would be okay with and supported to not lead a conventional life.

If you became a stand-up comic, you would not.

I would maybe steer him away from that. The first pop into my head was reading in the middle of the night because, during the day, there’s always so much to do but on top of that, I’m experiencing for the first time my time does not always belong to me, especially that he’s developing and I find it very fun to interact, play, and be with him.

This little kernel popped that I feel this mom guilt often that if I’m spending time on myself, he is worse off because I’m not spending time with him. Suddenly, I thought, “Who says that this kid wants to hang out with me all the time?” Suddenly, I thought, “Me being a solo gives him the opportunity to also develop a rich in her life, to entertain himself, self-soothe, and stare at a tree.” If I’m entertaining him all the time, which culturally as a mother I’m supposed to be doing, I’m doing him a disservice.

First of all, I was surprised that you’re a stand-up comedian because that’s the kind of insight that stand-ups tend to have, which is not defaulting into the norm. It sounds like you’re raising him to be a high-quality Gen X-er. That, in many ways, was the experience that my generation had.

It’s almost like a latchkey kid but he has emotional resources.

You didn’t drink and smoke with him in the womb.

Just after. He had the sac so he didn’t hear or see it.

It’s very difficult to be a parent, not just because of the time and energy but it’s because you don’t know what works. What good parents tend to do is everything. What they don’t understand is that most of what they do doesn’t matter because it’s 50% of it is genetics anyway.

Also, some jerk he hangs out with in middle school.

Who’s like, “Try this drug.” Some of the other stuff is super boring. It’s like making sure your baby gets plenty of sleep and good nutrition in their first two years of life. Those things matter a ton more than people think oftentimes.

SOLO 199 | Married And Solo
Solo: Building a Remarkable Life of Your Own

You could even say that my time spent pumping and reading your book was doubly good for him because I was providing him with the best nutrition possible and getting some me time.

That’s a valuable insight, which you can apply to relationships, more generally, especially romantic relationships. Esther Perel talks about this. I had an episode with Mary Delia Allen. She made this joke about married people that if you’re single, the next sex you have may be the best sex you have but if you’re married, it’s not. You know what’s coming. I’m misquoting but that’s the sentiment of it. Someone turned it into a meme on my solo community. They were so tickled by that. Esther talks about how predictability and comfort are bad for your sex life and your love life more generally. We get turned on by novelty, excitement, freshness, and newness.

Comfort can sometimes be bad for sex life, creativity, and a lot of things. It’s necessary sometimes but not a box you want to be stuck in.

One thing the solos can do is they can be very present with their partner, their child, or whoever it is and then they can be very comfortable being like, “I’ll see you later.” That provides that person other opportunities to grow and experience new things and to do things that they like and you don’t. You then get to come back together fresh and excited with new ideas.

It seems like the best of all worlds to me. That does.

Don’t tell your partner this but I have had multiple people tell me who are divorced and they split parenting 50/50. They’re like, “This is the best.”

I have heard that.

For one week, they’re footloose, fancy-free, and single.

They then get to be like, “I buy it.” You go back and you’re refreshed. You can be present. There’s an end.

You get to be 100% with this little thing that you love so much.

I can be a mom for 2 hours on and 2 hours off. That’s the best-case scenario for me. As you know, I’m an entertainer. I feel the need to be entertaining, whereas Jeremy can be like, “We’re going to sit on the couch and watch Sports Center.” He’s going to drink a bottle that’s going to fall on the couch and I’m not going to notice but the baby’s fine either way.

Speaking of being entertaining, people may not remember this but you may seem familiar to them because you were one of the guests on The Golden Girls episode, which is a tremendously entertaining episode.

The Golden Girls are clutch. For a solo or anybody, that episode was the one where she was robbed. She was part of a scam.

Danielle gave us a homework assignment to watch some episodes and one of them was one in which one of the Golden Girls got scammed.

It’s a classic. Anytime you are watching the Golden Girls episode and there’s somebody dressed up as a nun, you know you’re going to laugh.

You’re reading this book. You’re pumping. I would say you’re rationalizing, as a joke, about how it’s good for you to have time away for both your child and yourself but then also this idea of not defaulting into this narrative that as you talk to him as he develops. You’re going to assume that he’s going to live the same life as you are. Was there anything else in particular either about your partnership or relationship with your child that crystallized?

Thinking about him as a person, what’s weird and crazy is you hold this anxiety throughout pregnancy and all of it that you think about him as a baby and a solo, an adult, and somebody who would go beyond me to live a life. The idea that I wanted my child to grow up to be solo, whether or not that meant he was a partner or not, made me feel like you should think about franchising this as a parenting lifestyle guide.

There’s this Bringing Up Bébé. What is that? Why is that relevant to this idea?

That was a book I read when I was pregnant. It was very popular several years ago. It was popular off of like the French women don’t get fat ten years before that and it was like, “This is what we can learn from nutrition from the French. What can we learn about parenting?” That book was pretty interesting for me to read.

A lot of European parenting is the Montessori style where there is a lot of hands-off encouraging things like independent play and not interrupting your child if he is engaged in something would encourage him to continue to want to engage in things. It’s the antithesis of American helicopter-style parenting. In turn, kids become very comfortable in institutions and follow the rules of the group. That, to me, felt like “Maybe Peter McGraw is going to become a parenting child expert. Maybe we got the solo baby.”

My attempt to do this, which is languishing, is I have a children’s book that is about a penguin. Penguins are known for monogamy but they’re not as monogamous as people think they are, especially all these religious types.

I’ve read this. Is it in your book?

It’s in the book. The emperor penguins, which are in the movie March of the Penguins, are held up as a standard of their commitment and adoration for their partner but it’s not portrayed accurately.

This is perfect. I love the solo penguin baby book.

That’s the idea. The premise is a penguin and mating season comes along. It’s time for her to do what she’s meant to do and she doesn’t want to do it.

Sometimes a happy life isn’t black and white.

That might be the subtitle. A happy life doesn’t have to be black and white. I don’t have the full story. I have the premise. I don’t know how to write children’s books. That’s a problem.

I haven’t done it either.

The idea though is this penguin, Penelope, has other skills. She’s artistic and athletic. For her, it’s to set those things aside to just be a mom like every other of her kin.

To settle up with this guy for life.

I’ve envisioned it as a virgin’s promise story rather than a hero’s journey. The kingdom becomes brighter, which I write about in the final chapter of Solo. Disney’s catching on a little bit.

Frozen blew my mind. I remember watching that and being like, “I did not see that coming.”

Did you think Barbie was a solo story?

I’m trying to remember because I did have an edible in the movie theater. She ends up single, right?

I don’t know. I haven’t seen the whole thing. I got to sit down, take an edible, and watch it too. I know enough about the premise. She leaves Barbieland to go into the real world. That’s a very unconventional thing to do.

Yes, to break the rules.

She is self-reliant. She does not rely on Ken to survive.

Even in the Barbie World, she does not.

She has some of those elements in many ways.

I didn’t think about Barbie as a solo.

I feel like it’s a bit of a solo story and a virgin story.

In some ways, she almost starts as a solo, which is the idea.

It’s trickling into the zeitgeist. It’s hard to create a rom-com based on single living. You don’t have the right arc but you’re seeing it creep into music. It happens on occasion but I don’t think it’s happening enough for children and so on. I’m through the first wall.

We get very invested. I’m very invested in a particular relationship, the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce saga.


This is somebody who’s known for writing stories about ending up unhappy. We’re invested because we wonder if she’s going to end up happy. Wouldn’t it be such a twist if Taylor decided that she would just be solo? The juxtaposition is because she’s somebody who writes about wanting a partner.

Yet failing to be able to do it and thus very relatable as a result of that.

She could surprise us all. We don’t know.

Do you want to make bets on this?

Sure, yes. Real dark horse.

A professional football player? It’s not going to happen.

I can make a case for it. Here’s my biggest thing, lifestyle.

I’m going with base rates alone.

You’re talking money.

Also, the pressure cooker of being in such a high-profile relationship. I don’t know if that’s what Taylor wants.

Him in particular or relationship?

A relationship.

Do you think she’s going to end up a solo?

She could end up being Diane Keaton.

I could see it. I’m also invested in that as well because of the juxtaposition of the journey. I did find this. This is a bracelet that was given to me at the Taylor Swift concert. It says, “F***.” Somebody gave it to me in the bathroom while I was pumping in the bathroom. This is my only piece about why it could work.

I never thought I would have this conversation.

People love it. This will be culturally relevant for a while. People will keep it interesting until after the Super Bowl. The people are going to make it. The media teams will make it go. Here’s my thought. Travis Kelce is a professional football player. He’s got professionally a few years left at most. If I’m Taylor Swift and I’m looking for a zaddy for life who’s going to be like, “We’re both 65. I’m still banking on my 1999 tour because I also wrote an album for that year,” she’s got a very long professional career ahead of her. She doesn’t need somebody but what would work for her and the only thing that would work is somebody that would be dedicated to making her life easier.

You’re so wrong about this. First of all, retro football players do not age well.

Meaning, mentally?

Mentally or physically. I don’t want to be flipping here but it destroys their body and minds. Those men die early. They die young.

Perfect for the Diane Keaton storyline then.

As a long-term bet, he’s a terrible bet. The type of personality you need to succeed at that level, let’s say that agreeableness and caregiving are not high on the list.

I think if you were a professional quarterback, if you were Patrick Mahomes but you are Travis Kelce. You are used to uplifting the star.

This is such motivated reasoning. I’m not a gambling man but I don’t want to take your money but this seems like easy money.

Yes, it does and I’m willing to do it.

I appreciate your optimism. It’s a win-win for Taylor. She gets to have fun. She’s young and enjoying her life. If it doesn’t work out, she’s got a whole new album as a result of it.

There is no losing here. Good for her.

I think she’s a solo.

I can see it. What makes me think that is she’s a night owl. I don’t know. That feels like another clue.

That’s interesting. I buy that.

It’s probably the only time to be alone for her.

Let’s pivot. If you have opinions about this, please sign up for the solo community at PeterMcGraw.org/Solo. Are you on Team Peter or Team Jennifer? Let me know. I don’t talk a lot about loneliness in this book but I do a little bit of myth-busting. I certainly acknowledge the problem of loneliness and address some of the myths about it and so on. You used the phrase with me once about the American Christian patriarchal family structure and how it contributes to loneliness. It won’t be counterintuitive for the readers but it’s counterintuitive for a lot of people, certainly policy makers, religious leaders, and so on. Tell me why.

This American idea that every man’s home is his castle, an Evangelical Christian, Catholic, or any Christian Church is going to tell you that is biblically correct to have a partner.

I spent obsessing over an op-ed, responding to these pro-marriage advocates who have been urging people to get married. They’re seeing this decline of marriage, clutching their pearls, and wringing their hands. I have a line in there and I say, “Political and religious undercurrent aside, let’s take them at their word that they want us to get married so we could be happy like they are.” It’s very interesting. It’s not super popular to say, “God says you should get married.” It is popular to say, “Get married and be happy.”

Yes, or a man is supposed to get married and be happy.

What is interesting in what you’re saying, and I’ll let you get back to it, is that it is right there in church. It’s not just about happiness. Sometimes, despite the unhappiness, you need to be doing this. It is the righteous thing to do.

It is the righteous path and that is what is expected of you as a White Christian male in America. You can take a lot of those out as a male in America because we’re so influenced by the White Christian patriarchy that runs the country. As a man in America, the expectation is that you are supposed to get married, have a house, and have kids. Even if you didn’t want to do that, you still have this sense of loss or failure because that is what is destined and promised to you. That’s what this whole city on a hill is supposed to be.

Every man is his castle and the king. If that is what you are expected to do and even if it doesn’t serve you, you end up in it, or even if you don’t end up with it, it’s lose-lose. That’s the only way I can put it. The expectation of this is a lose-lose for men. I don’t think that it’s a perfect recipe for happiness. If you look at the statistics, and you talk about it in your book in terms of depression and suicide rates, men need to be supported to live unconventional lives along with women in this regard. It’s as important for men and women to have the community as solos.

There’s a distinction in terms of the messaging for the two. These deaths of despair are concerning and not being talked about enough. A lot of them are White middle-class men. What happens is if you’re a solo woman or you’re struggling to make this happen, there’s a lot of support for you, healthy support, and good voices. You can find Diane Keaton in the folks who are modeling late-life vibrancy thriving and so on. Good luck finding that with men. You got the manosphere types. Some of their messages are positive but they’re incomplete.

It’s because there’s no other messages. A broken clock can be correct.

What these guys get wrong is vilifying women and turning them into the enemy, misogyny, and so on, which is inexcusable but some of what they’re suggesting is these men make something of themselves. Otherwise, it’s very easy, especially in the modern day to lose yourself in video games and pornography.

It’s a bit predatory, honestly, the self-development space that’s targeted to the manosphere, everything from the protein powders down to the podcast that talks about rise and grind positivity. There’s so much grief here that. When I read this, I saw a peek of light because this book has the keys to saving lives for men who are trapped in this world. It offers a joyful path to an alternate life that they don’t even know exists because there aren’t voices in that world that are speaking to them as people who were born at not the best time, as so many of us. Maybe we were. I don’t know. That’s debatable. They don’t have what their fathers had and I don’t either.

I’m very moved to hear that. I hope you’re right.

Honestly, if you can stop one mass shooting, I truly believe that there are not enough people speaking to them like human beings.

We’re not going to help men by vilifying them. My heart goes out to them. Imagine you run my life as a simulation. In some of those simulations, I’m married with kids. Perhaps in some of those simulations, I’m a victim of a death of despair. I’m an alcoholic. I’m alone. I have developed the skills.

I hate to tell you this but if that simulation was true, you’d probably have six million followers on your show because the ones who tend to speak like that tend to get an audience, unfortunately.

I wrote the book with both men and women in mind. The book I don’t think does a good enough job serving a queer community and so on because I can’t speak to that quite enough.

With a lot of the letters for people who don’t know because I’ve read the book, Peter has friends in the solo community from different points of view who write solo letters. You can’t be expected to have the point of view that’s helpful to everybody but you did a good job of tapping into community members who might be more relatable to others like the queer community.

Among the 24 letters, you have a very good chance of finding someone who resonates. That’s probably pretty fair. One thing that I wanted to work hard to do is not just make a book about being single. I feel like that could be a short book. I wanted to write a book about being single and living remarkably. What a lot of people don’t understand, to your point, is that there are an infinite number of ways to live a remarkable life.

There’s not just this one biblically correct way to do it. If it can serve to license or even inspire someone to say, “I can live a great life as a creative person making art, that is good, and that’s no better or worse than being a family man. I shouldn’t be embarrassed about achievement, doing things bigger than myself,” that’s not selfish. That often helps make the world a better place. If that inspires people, makes them feel comfortable, and sets them on a path that they don’t see necessarily as a hobby but rather as a calling, that’s a very exciting proposition to me.

It’s all there. Also, the fact that you’re building a community around it because that’s the idea. Even if you are not partnered, that doesn’t mean that you are alone. The idea is that you intentionally build a community around you so that you can have a rich life where you love people.

I finished a mini coupling triple of friendships because that is the cheat code to life. It is these rich, remarkable friends. We don’t have enough conversation.

That is why you need strong-armed men your friend.

Both of our lives will be better off.

I also think this idea that a single person is alone in a basement or watching TV with their cats, whatever the male or female version of that is. This idea of a spinster is deeply feared. I’ve realized that some of my favorite books are at their surface about women who were left alone to do their work. That’s the ultimate fantasy to me but that concept isn’t like the number one Disney fairy tale.

It’s hard to make a room. There’s a reason that there’s never been a movie or television adaption of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

Maybe the penguin story could be. Maybe it’s an ice cave.

It has to be a cave.

There are so many contributions that solo people make that they would not have otherwise been able to make. That includes everything from being alone to doing your work. This is any kind of art music, creative contribution, or invention. This is also a huge piece of what we lack so much culturally, which is human caretaking. Solo people don’t have the emotional depletion of a partner, in-laws, a child, and parent friends. I have four nieces who are teenagers. Now I know that when you parent a kid, it means that you’re busy doing a lot of other stuff.

I know that as an aunt who was able to talk to them like a person, lead an example of a life that they might be interested in living, or be the one on Snapchat to be like, “What’s up? What happened in Chemistry?” You get to have additional parenting or caretaking because single people have the emotional availability to care for other humans. We look around and everybody’s like, “Where are the jobs?” I’m like, “There is work to be done.” One of those areas for me is human caretaking. It’s just being with somebody, whether it be an elderly person or a child. Singles contribute to this so much.

This is something that I wanted to run by you too, this idea that the Aunt Edith of the world wants you to end up together and partnered, and your parents and the church want you to end up partnered. It’s because people are selfish and they don’t have the ability and want to take care of you themselves. They’re like, “If you get sick, I got a husband. I can’t be making you a chicken broccoli.” There’s some selfishness in this idea that you’ll be happier with your partner. No, you’ll be happier because then you don’t have to think about them.

An even darker version of that is if Jen partners up, I don’t have to see her live this remarkable single life, where she is having the time of her life unhappy. I get to doubt like, “Maybe I should not have shacked up with this dude for the last 30 years.” There’s a little bit like, “Join the team. Come on over.”

“Be miserable.” It is because people are invested. Most people who are in failing marriages are likely to fail because of some type of financial issue. That’s why women got married. The idea that you are invested in an unhappy life means it’s hard to look at somebody who is not because that means that you’ve made the wrong decision.

I’m speaking very generally and a little bit facetiously there but I sometimes feel that.

I speak always generally and facetiously.

You can’t get your stand-up.

To all the readers and all the future comments, that was me speaking generally and facetiously.

That’s a fascinating idea. I’ve never considered it but there are many reasons that you get pushed. I certainly have had people say or heard people say this. I know a woman who’s Caucasian. She’s dating an Indian man. She met the parents and that was a big deal because she’s not Indian. Unbeknownst to the parents, they have this very freaky relationship. It’s a traditional Indian family.

The parents think that the most unusual thing about their relationship is their mixed race but it’s not. They are discreet about their freakiness. I was like, “How did it go?” I knew it was coming. She said, “It went well.” She said something about this behavioral thing but she said that the mother said, “It’s good to know that my son has someone who can take care of him.” Number one is to take care of them. The second one is to have babies of the right race.

I’m looking for a babysitter already. If that means that’s Max’s wife, great. It is, “Take this person off my plate,” sometimes. If you are already partnered and you already have responsibilities, it would be nice to go to sleep and know that somebody can take them cold medicine.

My mother did not raise me that way. My mom raised a solo from jump street, at least the first two elements. She didn’t want me. It’s not that she didn’t want me dating but she never was like, “Peter, is there anyone special?” Never. When I did bring a girl around, which was very rare, my mom was not delighted. I never felt any precious. My mom didn’t do it because she was elevated like Bill Neil. She did it because she didn’t see marriage as a path the happiness.

There wasn’t any value in this.

She certainly raised me to be independent, in part because she was working three jobs. The sooner she got this teen to be able to do his laundry, make his food, change the oil in the car, you name it, I did it right, that kind of thing, and my sister too, made her parenting easier. I don’t know if she was thinking ahead like that.

I don’t think people maliciously do it. You are going to mold the people into the life that you think will be easiest.

It’s all well-intentioned. I wanted to ask you about this before we pivot to the spiciest part of the conversation. You read, and I’m impressed by this because I read it also, Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage, a History.

It’s a very formative book.

First of all, this is the kind of book you lay on a piece of paper that you want to flatten out. It is a thick book that is incredibly well-researched and it’s got this tiny font.

It was from the library and I didn’t renew it because I’m a bad patron.

It’s a fabulous book. It’s laborious only in the length of it but it’s enlightening. It seems to me that it had an effect on you, too.

It did. Even in the beginning of your book, like reading through some marriage history or civilization history, I get pretty excited about that kind of stuff so it’s interesting to me. With her laying out the transactional nature of an arrangement, AKA marriage, in the rapidly changing arrangement and deals on the table, that’s very interesting to me.

I touch on these highlights a little bit. If you’re a fellow nerd and are interested in getting the full, the good, the bad, and especially the ugly of marriage, you can read that book. There’s another book called A History of the Wife.

I haven’t heard of it.

They cover a lot of the same topics. I can’t remember who the author is but also a well-respected academic, which is another one.

I do know that Stephanie Coontz has another book that I did try to read but it was not the right time of my life, which was The Way We Never Were. That’s the idea that we have this ideal version of the American way of life from the 1950s but that it never existed.

I love this idea. I touch on this a tiny bit, rates of homeownership, rates of car ownership, and all the stuff lower in the ’50s. It was a very small slice of America that looked like Leave It to Beaver.

Think about these people owning cars and homes. They’re racially segregated neighborhoods. They’re coming back for more with deep emotional trauma and everything. These were not happy households. These are not well-developed evolved households. We have this idea that we’re supposed to be going back to some version of America that never existed. That expectation and not meeting it is creating a lot of undue happiness.

It’s rife with alcoholism and abuse. It’s an absurd idea. I agree.

Plus, there’s no TikTok. It’s fun. What are you going to do all day?

One of the things that was very interesting learning about the history of marriage is that we had these arranged marriages. As society changed and we moved into the Industrial Revolution, people started to move into the city. As women started to get more rights, they were able to extricate themselves from these arranged marriages. The arranged marriages didn’t serve the same purpose. It wasn’t about a farm anymore and so on.

Streetlights meant that women could work at night and then go home. They could leave the house at night because women weren’t leaving the house at night. It’s a big thing to happen.

You have this rise of dating culture. I have to be honest. As a straight man who dates on occasion, I remember this topic of who pays comes up. I say, “I pay.” “Why do you pay?” I say, “That’s the way it is.” You just pay. It’s too much brain damage to try to not pay.

I have reasons why men should pay.

I know but the economist might disagree with you on some of those. The point is the reason that men pay is because dating culture didn’t exist during arranged marriages. The meetings were in the home. These were private affairs. What happened was dating moved into the public sphere. One of the ways that you impress as a man, because the patriarchy was alive and well, was you would treat and you would do so to signal that you had the money to take care of this one.

We’re living in the vestiges of this invention of public dating and courtship, which has played forward in many ways. The online dating stuff has made things better in some ways and made things worse in other ways but I wanted to get your take on dating. We haven’t talked about this but one of the things that you have done is you are a development specialist for reality TV shows. You have so many good stories. I love it. You’ve been to these far-out wacky places. You find weird people and help make reality shows about their lives.

You’re the ground floor for any subculture, like interesting newsworthy statistics and flying out to their home, sitting out their dinner table, and being like, “How does this life work?” In that, the first company I ever worked for did a show called Millionaire Matchmaker. That is still the quintessential matchmaking television show. When you work for a production company that does a show about matchmaking, you are looking for other matchmakers who might be an interesting franchise or spin-off. Maybe there’s a version for this for that.

There is a Dutch show about the farmers.

There is an American version, too, Farmer Wants a Wife.

I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ll tell you this personal story. I have a friend who’s Dutch so are his kids and his partner. I’ve spent a lot of time with them. Never is the television on in their house. One day, the entire world stopped because this Dutch farmer matchmaking show came on. The entire family sat and watched it. It was hard for me to track as you might imagine but I was like, “This has to be a big phenomenon for these.”

If they cared this much, then this is a thing. The farmer one is particularly interesting because it’s the perfect metaphor. Farmer Wants a Wife, that sentence is literal. You need hands on a farm. You need somebody to help your life. That is the idea. There was a book I remember called Sarah, Plain and Tall about a man who wrote an ad for a wife to come and live in this plot with his daughter but then they fell in love. These came from a need.

This was easy back in the day. Everybody was looking to partner their kids up to create an extended family for the farm. We then moved into this world of love marriages, which works very well for cities and industrial ages but what about all those poor farmers? They need a wife.

You can only feed so many pigs. I talked to Jewish matchmakers, Indian American matchmakers, and Mormon matchmakers. I remember the Indian matchmaker specifically talking about how it was a difficult time for matchmaking because women were educated. If the women are educated, can get a job, and support themselves, then they aren’t taking the deal. This guy also has to be educated. He also has to be able to financially support her. What else can he bring to the table? They were not used to the “What else can you bring to the table” question.

I’ll make a plug. There’s a Netflix show called Indian Matchmaking. You’re the pro. It was pretty well done. It didn’t have the best case studies. It wasn’t perfect but it was interesting as an American. I did an episode where me and an Indian friend both watched it independently and we came together and discussed it.

I’ve only seen clips of that. She’s a good talent, that matchmaker.

The matchmaker is the star of it. These are not always kids. These are 30-year-olds. They finished one with a solo, a woman who chooses to remain single and work on her fashion business.

Culturally, it is a heavy lift for her to make that choice.

Wherever she lives, absolutely.

For the men to have you lifted, paying on a date is signaling that you can take care of a person. If that person can take care of themselves financially, what other ways can you as a man signal that you can take care of a person? That’s the thing to be thinking about and then we see the joke over and over that they have no emotional intellect and personality. The idea is that people are looking for a more equitable partnership. The end.

The problem too is what the viewer wants. It’s not the jokes. They want the matches and love affairs so that’s hard. It’s part of the reason I’ve been banging the drum and wanting to talk more to men about you need to look past what you think is enough and develop yourself. I always say become interesting.

The first thing you can do is buy a copy of Dr. Peter McGraw’s book. Indian American matchmakers, the Jewish matchmakers, the deep cultural idea, and your friend who is dating a White woman, their parents are like, “It is going to be such an uphill battle in our minds for a person that comes from a different culture to come and be a part of our lives and for you to raise kids.” They don’t even want to think about how difficult of a lift that would be. My argument for that is if you can marry somebody whose family celebrates different holidays, that’s it.

You like holidays way more than me.

I love a holiday. Somebody would be like, “We’re Jewish. His family is Jewish. We celebrate Christmas.” I was like, “That’s perfect.” Nobody’s waiting in December about who goes where. That’s amazing. People don’t always think that differences could potentially make your lives more enriched. That’s what I found a lot within the Jewish and Indian matchmaking community.

I worked with a woman who was an Alaskan Matchmaker. There is the idea that there are so many more men than women there. She had this phrase, “The odds are good but the goods are odd.” Her whole thing was trying to get women from the lower 48 to come up to meet Alaskan men to decide to live there. These women who met all the same types of guys in the city are going to go find this “real man” and uproot their lives to go be with him.

Jen, why don’t we do a matchmaker for the New Ways? That needs to be done. There are those of us who would welcome a partnership of some type but they don’t want the escalator. It’s hard to beat those people. They’re living apart together, matchmaking. You take people who don’t want to live together.

I wrote The Unmatchmaker.

Well done, but it feels like there’s an opportunity there.

One thing I do know about matchmakers is what the networks would always ask. They’d say, “What are their rules?” Matchmakers have to have very hard and fast rules about how they believe you will find love and happiness. You could pull that together. The last one I remember being interesting when we ended up doing a pilot was a Mormon matchmaker.

That’s where I learned that in Salt Lake City, the biggest population is Mormons but the second biggest population is ex-Mormons. The idea that you are so accustomed to being a part of a community means that you usually don’t leave the place where you grew up because that’s where all of your ties and folks are. They are very invested in marriage there. They have Sunday church, and then after mass, because I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, they always have a reception and they call it take a cookie have a lookie because you all go to church to meet somebody.

Not only is that valued but that is the path to heaven. Otherwise, you’re straight to hell or wherever the Mormon equivalent is.

Let’s say you met somebody that made sense for your life and he wasn’t Mormon. It’s not going to happen for a lot of people who grew up like that because they don’t know other people.

How does that show not get picked up?

It probably wasn’t salacious enough honestly. I did ask about the garment and that question was unanswered. Perhaps if it had, I would have had a little more. It’s super interesting, especially being a matchmaker in that world because the stakes are high. The marriages are young. We ended up doing a spinoff idea based on that called Ring Before Spring about the college women who go to Christian colleges. The idea is if you’re not leaving college by senior year without an engagement or a ring and just a degree, it’s a major failure.

Talk about a throwback show.

It happens. It’s happening all over.

This is the case. I tell the story a lot. I got an email with a bunch of questions from a 21-year-old woman living in Oklahoma. I was on a long road trip. I sent an email back. I said, “I’m going to be on the road between 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Here’s my number. Call me.” We were chatting and she simply didn’t think she ever wanted to get married. In our world, among our readers, in LA or New York, that’s not an unusual thing.

I’ve had conversations with women who are like, “At twelve, I knew I was going to get my tubes tied.” In those cultures, that’s rare. I said, “Do you know anyone who thinks like you?” She said no. I said, “I’m not telling you what to do but you should consider living somewhere else at least at some point here. Austin’s nice, Denver’s great, and also Portland. It’s going to be very difficult for you to find support in your community.”

It’s very easy to find support in a cult. I thought that you said coma, not a cult. I was like, “Interesting.” That could use some alone time.

The last thing, and it’s just because it’s topical and I have no idea who to talk to about this.

Hit me.

There is a television phenomenon that’s happening outside of Taylor Swift. Do you know what it is?

No, because I only pay attention to that.

There is a spin-off of The Bachelor called The Golden Bachelor. I’m going to tell you what I know. I want you to fill in the blanks and I want your commentary on it., I want to call it The Grand Bachelor, which is hilarious.

I like that much better.

It’s so funny. I’ve written The Grand Bachelor several times. This dude is 72 and he looks fabulous. He’s twenty years older than me and he’s way hotter than I’ll ever be. I’m going to turn it over to you. For the reader who doesn’t know what The Bachelor’s about, The Grand Bachelor follows the same format. What is going on with The Grand Bachelor and why do you think it’s so popular?

It’s popular because it’s very buzzworthy. This is one of those things that my friends and I in development used to sit around with 3 by 5 cards and write words like bachelor, old, or a little person. We move them around to see if we can make up a show and I feel like that’s how they came up with it. They were like, “What if we had an old bachelor? What would that look like?” I first saw this preview of The Golden Bachelor. Keep in mind also that he’s a widow. This is a house reality show. It takes place in a house. They all live together.

There are twenty women?

Maybe at the beginning who he’ll initially meet. Big crowd and gates. He hobbles out to the gate. Everybody’s been waiting for him. He has this cane and this carpet in front of him. He trips over this piece of cobblestone but it suddenly turns into a spectacular somersault. One of the older women steps out of the wall and does it. It’s a great television. I did see the preview of this widow in this house reality show. He looks into the camera and says, “My soulmate is in this house.” At first, I thought he meant that he brought his dead wife’s ashes.

That’s such a bad joke.

I thought it. I was like, “Interesting that you would say that.” He’s determined to find love again as everybody watching television is hoping for.

Someone must take care of him.

Hope springs eternal. Somebody’s trying to get him off their back or lift. I do have to say a shout-out. A friend of mine is a dancer. She was in a scene where he takes one of the women to a diner. There ends up being a very coordinated flash mob that breaks out. My friend and her group of dancers choreographed it. I was asking her about it. I was like, “Do you think there are real feelings here?” She was like, “Absolutely.”

Is this sponsored by Cialis?

I saw the commercial for the carrot. Have you seen that one?


There’s some kind of commercial where I watched it and was like, “Is this an actual commercial?” It is. I will tell you nothing else but there’s a phallic carrot involved.

I’m at the age that the little time I spend on social media, I do get the occasional male erectile dysfunction-related products. It starts young.

No shame.

I don’t know how to create a TV show like that for the solo crowd. It’s a tough nut to crack.

It makes people uncomfortable. It’s a tough nut to crack because it’s difficult to normalize this. It’s so ingrained in our culture that there is only one way that we have a hard time with it. We have to be more imaginative.

Jen, I’m optimistic that you and I are going to do this at some point. It is destined. What a great partnership, the married lady with a kid and then the lifelong bachelor pitching this thing. How do they say no?

We could probably travel the world. I see all kinds of funny bits, like my baby wakes you up constantly. We’re like, “The Pack ‘n Play happens to be in your room so you’re going to have to watch him tonight,” and then I go out and have fun. Jeremy was like, “You become the babysitter.” I’m like, “I’m supposed to be traveling the world as a solo.” It’s like three men and a baby but a solo and a baby.

It’s not a terrible idea. There’s something there.

What about this? Dear reader, would you watch Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift’s love story but find out if Taylor decides to be a solo at the end? She takes the rose away from Travis. That’s it.

Sign up at PeterMcGraw.org/Solo. Let us know what you think. Jen, I knew this would be fun. Thank you for contributing to the project, for the encouragement, and for joining us once again on the show.

I’m happy to do it, always a fan, and always a blast.



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About Jenn O’Donnell

SOLO 199 | Married And SoloJen O’Donnell is a creative executive who has worked in development for television production companies in Los Angeles: creating and producing documentary series, reality docuseries, gameshows and a variety of unscripted TV formats. She is a stand-up comedian who also hosts and produces The Ladies Room, a women’s stand-up comedy show.