The Solo movement is growing. Lucy Meggeson has a wonderful new podcast for single childless women: Spinsterhood Reimagined. Peter McGraw was the first guest bloke to appear, and she kindly shared the audio with him, and he shares it here with you.
Listen to Episode #157 here
The SOLO movement is growing. I was invited by Lucy Meggeson, the host of the Spinsterhood Reimagined Podcast to talk about living single and living well. I agree with Lucy that Spinsterhood should be a state of the world that we celebrate. Spinsters in colonial America were women who could live on their own because they made their own money. Thus, being called a spinster is praise and not a pejorative. I’m flattered to be the first bloke on Lucy’s show and she generously shared the audio with me so that I could share it with you. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.
Peter McGraw, thank you so much for joining me. A very warm welcome to Spinsterhood Reimagined. I’m not going to lie. I’m in a mix of excitement and nervousness because you’re the first boy I’ve ever interviewed for this show. This is a momentous occasion. How do you feel about being my first bloke on the show?
Where do I begin? First of all, I love being called a bloke. I’m excited to do it. I’m up for the challenge. I am a huge fan of spinsters. We need to bring that term back and celebrate it for what it truly means as inspiration for all the spinsters in the world. If this boy can help a little bit in that endeavor, I’ll be very happy.
Put it this way, you’ve got off to a good start. It’s hard to know where to begin with you because you wear many different hats. Can you start by giving our readers a little bit of background about who you are, what you do and why you’re on a show about single childfree women?
I’ll start now and work backward a bit. I am going through my third professional reinvention. I’d say personally. It’s hard in my world and life to separate my personal from my professional life. They bleed into each other. I’m approaching the third anniversary of the launch of my show in 2023. I launched a show called SOLO, The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life.
As clunky as that title is, it does a pretty good job of describing what my intention is, which is to celebrate and destigmatize singlehood and to help people, primarily single but not exclusively, live a more remarkable and better life. I’ve stumbled along for a while and have caught a little bit of wind and the project has overtaken my life.
In addition to the show, I’m working on some writing to curate all those ideas. I have a project called Single Insights, which is designed for organizations to highlight the role of singles within their organizations and society and how they’re overlooked and undervalued. I’ve even started doing social events. I host something called The Solo Salon, which is a mixer of cultural entertainment. It’s not a dating event, although I like to say that if two people meet and their genitals touch as a result of that, I’m happy but that’s not the purpose of it.
My second professional reinvention is I’m drawing it to a close to create time and energy for the SOLO project. I’m a behavioral economist and a business school professor. For many years of my life, I’ve been studying humor, hence the genital joke. I’ve written books about that, given talks and published very dry esoteric insomnia-curing papers about that topic. I’m closing the door on that to see where this project could take me.
Thank you so much for that. Let’s start with the fact that you are a bachelor. Firstly, tell me when you decided that a bachelor’s life was for you. I’m very interested in how you, I suppose, label yourself with that term than spinster. How did you become a bachelor?
I’ve never been married with no kids and happily so. A lot of people would say, “His life is going to be tragic and it’s been far from it.” The seeds of that started around age sixteen. I remember this distinctly. I was part of this lunch table and it was a small group of diverse, smart, funny guys. I felt lucky to be part of this group. It was a highlight of the day. We have spirited comedic conversations.
One day, the topic of when we were going to get married came up. I don’t remember how or why but the question on the table was, “When will you get married?” Let’s pause. It was not if. It was when. At this stage in the United States, the average age of marriage was around 25. The rates of marriage were very high. My pimply friends who were tasked with determining our future all said something like, “Shortly after college,” in line with the norms of the day.
On the other hand, when it came to me, I answered that question with a bit of trepidation. I said, “I won’t get married until after I’m 30.” That was a bold statement at that lunch table. All our parents were parents by age 30. The idea that you were even putting it off that far was potentially controversial. For me, that’s not surprising. My parents were no longer married at that time. They were not a happily married couple. The divorce was a good thing for the family. Dad was not Mr. Darcy and mom was not Lizzy.
They both had their struggles and those were exacerbated together. I had no role models. I lived in a neighborhood filled with single moms. All my friends’ parents were divorced. This was a lower-income neighborhood. People were making their way but it wasn’t easy. I didn’t see the bliss that was being promised in Pride and Prejudice, The Cosby Show and the media of the day.
I don’t understand. What do you mean?
I know. Who would’ve thought? As I got into adulthood, girls didn’t come naturally to me. I was a bit of a late bloomer. I didn’t have those role models. I didn’t have the kind of confidence to be good at romantic relationships. I wanted to travel the world, make things and have adventures. I wanted a girlfriend and I eventually did but it wasn’t easy. It was fraught. What happened was as I got into my 30s, I started to figure these strange things like romance and sex. I had already developed a strong reluctance to the notion of having children.
I would’ve welcomed a “long-term and serious relationship” but it didn’t feel right to me. The second moment, affirming this bachelorhood, was at age 34. I was the new assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. I just moved to Boulder. I had done my PhD at Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. I had one friend visit me in Columbus, Ohio in five years. When you move to Boulder, Colorado, people want to come to visit.
I got the idea that I was going to create a reason to have people visit and I was going to bring them all together. I threw myself a bachelor party and the hitch was I wasn’t getting hitched. I had no girlfriend or fiancée. When you think about it, married people have all these ways to celebrate their relationship. We can go on and on. They have their anniversaries, weddings, rehearsal dinners, engagement parties and baby showers. What do single people have? Birthdays.
I said, “Why can’t I celebrate my singlehood?” The invitation subject line was Premature Bachelor Party. I promised my friends that if I ended up having a “real bachelor party,” they don’t have to come to that. 15 friends flew in from all over the country for a 3-day celebration with bar crawls, poker tournaments, whiffle ball tournaments and hiking. Backs were slapped and glasses clinked. We had a wonderful time.
I assume it was just guys.
Yes, it was. Although if I were to do it again, it wouldn’t be. It was a traditional bachelor party in that way. It was not traditional in the sense there were no strippers involved or anything like that. It was semi-wholesome, I would say fun. The third step and the one that in many ways affirms this is me turning 50 and launching the SOLO project.
When I started looking at my life, it was impossible to remove my singleness from everything else about my life. I felt I had the wisdom to share, the kind of wisdom that I wish I had when I was 16, 25, 34 or in my late 30s and 40s when I was negotiating relationships with women who wanted to get married, move in and add rows of pillows to my bed. Those relationships, while healthy and happy, came to a heartbreaking end. Not because we didn’t get along but because we wanted different things. They want the tradition and I wanted less of it.
There’s one thing I’m intrigued to know. You are a confirmed bachelor and have had many relationships in the past. Do you continue to engage in relationships? If so, where’s the boundary between being a casual or a fling and using your detested phrase, “A serious relationship?” Tell me about that.
Let’s step back for a second. I’m dating differently than I ever had before. It’s way more fun and much less fraught. That serious relationship, LTR, the ride or die, finding your partner in crime, your lobster, what is that relationship? I’d like to use the term that I got from Amy Gahran who has a wonderful book called Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator.
When you refer to this as the relationship escalator, people already know what it sort of is. It is the only acceptable romantic and sexual relationship that you should be pursuing. It has this time course. You meet, date, define the relationship and move in together. You might get married and often still do in America. You’re supposed to ride that escalator until someone dies. When someone dies within that relationship, that relationship is successful.
If it ends prematurely, you have failed. If you don’t move in together, there’s something wrong. The relationship escalator has these three hallmarks. The big one is continuous, romantic and sexual monogamy. Once you become monogamous, romantically and sexually, that’s supposed to continue until death. There are no breaks or flings. There’s no swinging, nothing out of the ordinary. To do that is to undermine the sanctity of this relationship.
There’s merging. You merge your living situation, identities and finances. I call it the beneficiation of a relationship. Ben and Jennifer are not separate individuals. They are one person. The last one is special status. This is a hierarchical relationship. It is the most important adult-adult relationship that you can have. It crowds out all of your other relationships. To not treat it in that way undermines the sanctity of this bond. What is interesting that has come out of the SOLO project is that there are four types of singles.
The first type is the Traditional Single Person. They want to ride the escalator. If they don’t and they look back on their life as failed to do this, they will have regrets. I call them the Someday Singles, these hopeless romantics who love Pride and Prejudice. They see that wonderful story and they want to have their Mr. Darcy or their Lizzy.
The remaining three I call Solos. These are single people like you and me who see themselves as complete individuals. They’re not looking for their better half or someone to complete them, make them whole and happy and solve their problems. They’re like, “I’m fine. Thank you very much.” They also tend to be unconventional thinkers. They tend to have a strong sense of autonomy and self-reliance. “I’ll solve my problems. You don’t have to solve them.” They may or may not be interested in a relationship. Most of someday adjacent, I call the Just May Singles. “I just may find someone. I just may ride the escalator.” They’re hopeful romantics.
Out of those three Solos, they’re the ones who are wanting a relationship, the most of those three Solo categories. Is that right?
Wanting a traditional relationship and the escalator, yes. If you said to them, “What would you like?” They’d be like, “I’d love to find my Jennifer Lopez, move in and have all these things.” However, that relationship is not going to be as traditional. Maybe Just May Single person would vacation without their partner. They might do little tweaks to the escalator to make it better fit them. The next group is surprisingly large and it’s one that few people talk about. Many of your readers will fit this.
I call them the No Way Singles. “I’m not interested in a romantic relationship. I’m fine the way I am. I’m involved in my community. I have close ties to my family. I’ve got good friends. I’m working on building a business. I’m getting my Master’s degree and PhD. I’m a happy aunt or uncle.” The reason I say that this is a big group is in the United States, nearly half of American adults are single. It’s that high.
There’s still the amount of stigma and lack of celebration. It’s insane.
I agree with you. It’s absurd. We’re living in the vestiges of this very tiny slice of Western history around the nuclear family, where nearly everybody got married and did so in their early twenties. That is no longer the case but the world is still built for these folks and assumes that you’re going to get there, even though the data conflict.
Of those nearly 50% of American adults who are single, I wouldn’t be surprised it’s that much different in the UK, to be honest. Half of them, according to the Pew Center, are not interested in casual dating or pursuing a long-term relationship at the moment. This means that if you are a No Way Single, you are normal. You are just as likely as a single person who’s pursuing something in the world. Although the world doesn’t treat you that way.
When you ask these No Ways why there are No Way, it’s a mix of answers. Most of them are positive. Most of the reasons are, “I’m working on other more important things. I had my attention focused on things.” Some of those No Ways are struggling. They’re recovering from abusive relationships. They feel like no one would want them. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows out there but it’s counterintuitive that most people are single by choice and happily doing other things. The final group is the one that I say I belong to.
I can’t wait to hear this because I wouldn’t so far put myself into either of the ones that you said. I’m not a Just May. I’m not a No Way. I would say that I’m somewhere not even in between.
The last group is the smallest group but the fastest growing. I call them the New Ways. I’d be shocked if you’re not a New Way, Lucy. What is it that the New Ways are doing? They are open to dating. They’re open to casual or pursuing something more committed long-term. What they’re doing is relaxing the criteria of the relationship escalator. This opens up a menu of opportunities for them.
For example, they may be interested in having a long-term romantic partner but they don’t want to merge their lives, finances and living situations. Your partner may live in the same building but in a different flat. They may live in the same neighborhood but in a different building. They may live in the same country but in a different city. They may live on the same continent but in a different country.
I wouldn’t want my partner to be on the same floor as me. People call that living apart together, for example. Maybe they’re interested in a friends-with-benefits situation or a consistent sexual relationship. It’s not romantic. It may or may not be monogamous but it’s built upon friendship rather than romance. Maybe the person is polyamorous or consensually non-monogamous and they’re looking for what’s called a monogamish relationship.
They have a primary partner whom they are romantically exclusive with but they are sexually non-exclusive with. Maybe they’re polyamorous have multiple romantic partners. They may all live together. Maybe one lives with them and the other one doesn’t. There’s a type of polyamory that’s called Solo Polyamory, where you maintain your independence but have more than one romantic connection out there.
Maybe they have a platonic partner that is someone to whom they are not romantically or sexually connected but this person is their life partner. They live together, make joint financial decisions and are their partner in crime so to speak. The list goes on and on. I’m not a No Way. I have been a No Way. Sometimes, I’m a temporary No Way. It’s more of a no-thank-you kind of thing.
I’m open to romantic and sexual connections. The one that I’m most against is moving in and merging my life with someone. I also tend to have much flatter hierarchies when it comes to my relationships. If I start dating someone, I’m not going to let them crowd out all of my other friendships. I’m not going to let that affect the friendship that we’ve had for twenty years. We’ve all had this experience. Anybody who’s reading has had a friend who meets someone and disappears.
You get tossed aside. If their relationship doesn’t work out, what are they doing? Calling you, “What are you doing on Saturday?” Asking you to process their heartbreak. In the world of Some Days, that’s acceptable. That’s what should happen. This person should be paramount and primary but in the world of Solos, that’s not okay.
It’s interesting to think of it as those four categories. I’m still slightly stuck as to where I fit in that because I would say that I’m somewhere between a No Way and a New Way. If anything, I feel more of the time in No Way than a New Way. Let’s talk about the not-moving-in thing. One thing that I talked about in the show is I’ve done an episode about living alone, how freaking awesome it is and how much I love it that I do.
The thought of moving in with a guy sends me into not just panic but more like horror because I love living on my own so much. Also, let me say that it cracks me up the way that people in relationships cannot fathom that. It’s like that head tilt like, “You live on your own.” I’m like, “There is no need for sympathy because it’s great.” Even if I met my Mr. Darcy, I fell madly in love and wanted to be with him for the rest of my life, the thought of giving up living alone is so much of a big deal to me that I’m not sure I could ever do that again. I’ve been single for six years in 2023. It’s the longest time I’ve ever been single.
Thank you. I’ll take that. That’s the thing. No one ever says, “Congratulations. You’ve managed to stay single.”
Think of all the heartbreak and headache you’ve avoided in the last several years.
I’m not a No Way in as much as I would say that I am open to something. I’m not a New Way because I’m the person that if I’m going to be with someone, I’m going to be with them. For example, I wouldn’t want multiple partners at the same time. I wouldn’t get into a relationship where we were both allowed to see other people.
That’s not the person I am and I wouldn’t be okay with that. If and when I get to the point of having something with somebody, it will be something to quote your favorite word “serious.” It’s weird. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with it or if is there something wrong with me. I’m not up for a casual sex thing. I tend to stay single because I’m all or nothing in that respect.
I should clarify. I would say that you’re firmly a New Way. What I was saying is there are an infinite number of ways to be a New Way. I pick some of the more provocative ways for people who are consistently non-monogamous, seeking friends with benefits or polyamorous. Simply relaxing the one standard of the escalator, which is merging your lives makes you a New Way.
If your relationship was the same in every other way, except you lived in different flats, you’re a New Way. There’s nothing traditional about that. What would happen is if you and your partner, your imaginary Mr. Darcy, go to a dinner party with a bunch of Some Day traditional types and it comes up that you live apart, at best, that gets met with curiosity. At worst, people, talk crappy things to you on the way home like, “Could you believe Lucy and Darcy? What’s wrong with them that they can’t do this?”
When you think about the history of marriage and the invention of marriage, it was about merging two people as one. Some of that was pragmatic. You needed two people to run a household in an agrarian society. The vestiges of that make this a moral issue for people. While you two are content and thriving, your relationship is better. Your sex is better because you don’t live together. That is very threatening to the people who are doing it traditionally, even though for some of them, deep down inside there’s a bit of envy.
Partly why we get those comments like, “What’s wrong with them,” a lot of it comes from the fact that so many couples are not freaking happy but they are staying together because they’re too afraid to leave and be alone. They think being alone is the most terrifying thing on the planet. Not everybody but a lot of people. To make themselves feel better about their relationship, they have to talk about other people’s relationships.
I mentioned this in one of the first interviews I did. I mentioned Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton. When they were married, they lived in next-door London houses that had adjoining doors. That is genius. Going back to the sex being better, if you’re not living together, imagine if you sometimes unlock that door. Sometimes you left it open but some nights you locked it and your partner never quite knew when it was going to be.
That’s fine. You’re like, “Am I going to get some? Not tonight.” That’s great. Some of the threats to these couples are that once you’ve merged and benniferized your relationship, not only is it difficult to get out of it. The world is pressing you into it and keeping you there. I’m sure there’s probably some physics metaphor that I can use about protons and neutrons but it’s been a long time.
What ends up happening is the longer you are in it, the more ill-equipped you become at going solo. This is true for the blokes. What ends up happening is a lot of men surrender their social calendars and emotional connections to their partners. Eighty percent of divorces in the United States are initiated by the wife. What ends up happening is these guys are cut adrift and have no connections. They’re not well suited for being able to take care of themselves. That is very threatening.
Regardless of whether you’re the husband or wife, husband and husband or wife and wife is the shame and guilt. I could be a little cheeky when it comes to divorces. When people get divorced, I’ll often say, “Congratulations.” I’ve learned that I should say, “How do you feel about it,” read the room and either say, “Can I help,” or, “Congratulations.” There’s a lot of counterintuitive stuff about the relationship escalator that people don’t get.
Your story about Burton and Bonham Carter is a good one. Esther Perel talks about the tension in relationships between security and excitement and how security is very important for a good, healthy relationship but it’s terrible for a sex life. I have a friend who had a long-term relationship and had a live-in girlfriend for many years and then has a new girlfriend. One day she said to him, “When we move in together, we’re going to have much more sex.” He goes, “We’re not. If you would think that’s the case, it’s not the case.” The fact that they are apart incentivized and created some eroticism.
I’ve had many long-term relationships over the years. I can remember that there’s more sex before you move in together. The minute you move in together, it dwindles. Is that a time thing?
It’s both. The nature of love, novelty and sexual desire peaks early regardless of your situation. It’s that extra bit of familiarity and predictability that can sap what makes sex. A lot of people want to be married. They’re very good at picking and choosing the data that support that. One piece of data is that married people have more sex than single people. You’re like, “I get that,” but it’s not as simple as that. There’s the quality of sex. It’s not just about frequency. It’s about quality, variety, excitement and all these things.
Anybody who read the show knows that I want people to experience positive emotions and pleasure in their life and sex is a pleasurable positive emotion. You want to try to maximize this. Not everybody does. There are asexual people in the world. At least 1% of the population is not interested in sex. That should preclude them from a traditional relationship. I don’t think that should be the case. They should be able to find partnerships that sex is a minimal part of it. There’s not just one way to do this and one way to do it right.
I interviewed someone for the show who is asexual. It was so interesting talking about it. It’s a conversation that I had not had before. It was very interesting to hear her story realizing. It was relatively late in her life that she came to realize that she was asexual but it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want a romantic relationship. It was so interesting to hear about something that I didn’t know anything about before.
Peter, let me ask you. What is your take on the difference between being a woman of a certain age, she says pointing at herself and a man of a certain age? Let’s face it. Bachelor and spinster do not have the same meaning or interpretation. What would you say about the difference between the experiences of men and women? You are a man, not a woman so you can’t know firsthand but what are your thoughts on that?
Many of my conversations as part of the SOLO community and on the show is with women. I want to have a very big tent. This is not a show for men. I’d say 2/3s of my readers are certainly women. Women are much better at recognizing challenges and seeking out help. I also have a vast array of female friends and we talk about this stuff a lot. Some fairly straightforward data speaks to this question.
The answer to the question is it’s unfortunate but it’s also complex. On one hand, the rise of single living is a story about the rise of women. Most fundamentally, in some countries and cultures, they give women greater access to education and economic opportunities. A non-trivial number of those women decide that they don’t need a man because they certainly don’t need one to survive. I don’t want to step on your toes if you’ve told these stories but the origin of the word spinster is one that is simultaneously sad and exciting. A spinster was a woman who could?
She had a valuable skill. This allowed her to do something largely unheard of in the day, which was to not live with her parents and husband. She could make her way in the world on her salary. To leave the familial home, most women had to find a man and involved in a marriage.
The spinster ended up getting a bad name, even though she managed to forge her way in life. What’s so ironic is that women cope much better on their own than men do. The spinsters of the world are thriving. The bachelor, apart from you, is not so much thriving.
It is frustrating. I like the fact that you’re co-opting this word. You’re trying to make the word as powerful as it should be. It’s a powerful positive word.
That’s why I want to reimagine it because at the moment, what it conjures up are images of the sad, miserable, lonely woman at home with her fifteen cats. I think of that high-collar not particularly attractive, bitter, twisted, miserable, lonely and desperate woman. It’s certainly not me and not any of the other women I’ve come across. I want to make the word spinster Cool so that someone’s like, “I’d love to be a spinster. It sounds awesome,” and it is.
It’s wonderful. You’re right. Men are struggling. No one’s talking about this. Women are outpacing men in undergraduate programs and graduate programs in the United States. Two-thirds of undergraduate college students are women. Men are more likely to be homeless, incarcerated and have addiction problems. The list goes on and on.
Also, men live about 7 to 8 years less than women. That’s a jaw-dropping statistic that no one’s talking about. The problem with that is that’s not just a male problem because there are women who would like to have a relationship and have difficulty finding a suitable partner. I’ll make a case for her to come onto your show. I had Melanie Notkin.
I’ve had her.
You had her. You know her story. Melanie points out that she wanted to have children but she wanted to have a child with a husband. She hadn’t been able to make that happen. Some of that is statistically difficult to do. That’s one of the ways that women have challenges, especially as they get older. The other one is an unfortunate fact of the world. Let me get nerdy for a moment, Lucy. Forgive me. If you imagine a figure, plot age on the X-axis and appeal how appealing or attractive someone is.
I’m relaying the facts. There’s a lot of data whether it be from dating apps or behavioral scientists. Speaking from a heteronormative perspective, this is men’s appeal to women or women’s appeal to men. For women, how appealing they are is a linear, decreasing relationship between age and appeal. Young women are at the peak and older women are at the bottom. It goes straight down. If you asked women about other women in terms of their attractiveness, they would say the same thing but in terms of being interested in dating and those things.
Young women are very attractive and appealing. It decreases with age. Older women are fighting two forces, which are the way the world sees them in terms of aging and also the saying that all the good ones are taken. There is some truth to that. For men, the bachelors, that relationship is much different. When I was in my twenties, no one wanted to have sex with me or at least it didn’t feel that way. I was not an appealing potential partner. I’ll go back to that when I’m an old man.
For men, that relationship is an inverted you. It peaks in middle-aged. Some of that is what makes a man appealing. I’m speaking in very general terms. It is not how he looks but also what he does. It takes some time to accumulate success in the world. This explains why you have this older man, younger woman phenomenon. That seems common. People will often lament that it exists in the world. It’s an unfortunate place to be because the data is super clear about this. There are exceptions to all of these things.
I hear what you’re saying but I would argue. This one thing is infuriating. I’m pushing 50. I feel lucky, excited and positive about my life going forward. I genuinely mean it. That’s off the back of doing a lot of personal growth work. I didn’t always feel this. I used to certainly feel more worried about my age. What I will say is I get those guys in this arc where they become more attractive into middle age and even younger, old age. I do think there’s an argument to say that women too can get better with age.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s so much more about somebody’s energy, vibe and who they are. Frankly, what it’s largely about is how much they love themselves. If you are walking around as a 55-year-old or 60-year-old woman going, “I’m 55. I’m 60. No one’s ever going to like me anymore,” you feel crap. If you’re walking around as a 55 or 60-year-old woman who is owning her life and herself, then that is extremely attractive. There’s a lot more nuance going on. I get what you’re saying about the facts and figures. The sad truth is there’s a reason why many older men are with younger women but it’s so boring. I can’t imagine you going for a 23-year-old.
It’s the truth. I appreciate you saying that because there are the facts and figures and the generalities here but then there’s also the individual. My goal is to help people live a remarkable life but there’s no one remarkable life. There are remarkable lives. What any one person does is they have a choice to make the life that they want for themselves, given their limitations and opportunities. You’re delightful. I love your energy and look.
What I love is good reinvention. Someone looks at their life and goals and decides, ‘I’ve got one shot at this. What do I want to make this? Do I want to find a partner? Do I want to date? Do I want to be a No Way?” That’s up to you. You get to decide that in this world. You couldn’t in 1960 when 90% of people married and did so by age 21 in the United States. You can at this age, especially if you’re a woman. It’s the rise of women.
If you’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Let’s clean up your eating. Let’s start working out again. How about a little bit of a makeover? Maybe that haircut is from 1992. Jennifer Aniston is still a good-looking woman but she changes her hair. She doesn’t have her friend’s hair anymore. What are the hobbies and the things that you’re doing? I talk about this with men all the time.
Can we please clarify that this conversation is about men and women? This is not specifically towards women needing to change up their lives.
Talking to men, you’re like, “Do you wonder why you don’t have a girlfriend? You need to put away video games, stop watching sports all the time, rely on pornography for gratification and start living an interesting life.” What’s sexy is living an interesting life. Nothing is interesting about YouTube. The reinventions happen regardless of someone’s gender. Also, the other thing is this is so predictable. It’s lazy for that guy to not try, just sitting and watching football, playing video games, doing all this stuff and saying, “It doesn’t matter how I dress.”
It does. Get out there and try. The beautiful thing about it is your life is going to be more interesting and vibrant. It’s going to be on a growth path. You might have a chance to meet someone interesting. At the very least, you’re going to make some friends, have some adventures and have an engaged existence rather than a passive one.
This is leading nicely to something that I wanted to ask you about. You used the word growth. My readers will be rolling their eyes because I’m constantly banging on about personal growth and how important it is. To me, it’s everything. It’s something that I’ve embraced in the last few years and it’s changed my life working on myself. Ultimately, we all want to feel good. The way to feel good is to work on yourself. It is that simple.
Forget the partner, whether or not you get together with someone down the line. We should be looking inwards and doing the inner work on ourselves. I truly believe that. What I was going to ask you is one of the best things about being single and not having kids is the opportunity that it affords us and the time that makes the freaking most of our lives and does that growth work. Think about the guy on the sofa, watching porn and playing video games. It’s so frustrating. I get why somebody can be in that situation and frame of mind.
On my down days, I’ve had many of them. I’ve been the person who’s lying on the sofa, watching friends feeling depressed and eating chocolate. I still love eating chocolate and watching friends. We all have a choice. For all of those singles out there who are feeling crap and perhaps aren’t making the most of the time that they are, they’ve been gifted by virtue of the fact that they are on their own. I feel passionate about this. What would you say about this, Peter?
I’m happy you brought this up because I talk and write about this a lot. There’s a term in economics called Opportunity Costs. People are keenly aware of costs. The cost of a latte is absurd. You’re paying £4 for a latte or £5. What is the latte cost in London?
I have to pick up on the fact that you’ve managed to say pounds because I’m British. Also, earlier on you twice said flat instead of an apartment. I thought to myself, “I’m quite impressed by that.” You’ve bothered to flip the language to the Brit version. I work part-time in a coffee shop so I am the person to ask. It’s an independent coffee shop. It’s a nice coffee shop. It’s not like a Costa or Starbucks, no offense to Costa and Starbucks. We charge £3.10 for a flat white and £3.20 for a latte. Oat milk is pretty much overtaking regular milk. Let’s say £3.60 for an oak flat white.
People are keenly aware of the cost of a flat white, especially when it goes up. What they’re not aware of is the opportunity cost of your flat white. That £3.10 that you’re spending on it is £3.10 you’re not spending on something else. What happens is with the relationship escalator, there are a lot of costs to time, energy and finances, especially if you have children. When you can strip those things away, you can use that time, energy and money to do other remarkable things.
I have a friend who’s a fellow professor and we joke that we have spent our imaginary children’s tuition dollars several times over traveling the world, doing exciting things, having fun and so on. The challenge is to bring this back to the start of our conversation. In a world built for married and partnered people, single people don’t think big or broadly enough about what they can do, given they’re not doing that.
People are simply not either realizing or acknowledging the benefits of being single so it doesn’t occur. The thing that I find frustrating is the benefits don’t occur to people. The benefits happen to be huge. Not just like we can lie in a big deal. I hate lying. It’s not the little things. It’s huge things like freedom. Freedom is one of my top values. That is what I want. I want time freedom, money freedom and general freedom. These huge benefits, not just the millions of small ones, seem to get overlooked. It’s so frustrating.
Lucy, you’re turning me on seriously.
This is the first time I’ve turned a guy on for a long time.
I share your love of freedom. There’s also this notion in economics, excuse me for nerding out, called Optionality, which is your ability but not a requirement to make a choice. Single people have more optionality than partner people do. Small optionality is to go to a big supermarket and have 37 different types of cereal to choose from. The big optionality is, “Do I want to move to another country? Do I want to start a new career?” The list goes on and on.
I’ll give you an example of this. One of the reasons I was able to kickstart the SOLO project so much was I’m a professor. I’m fortunate enough to go on a sabbatical. I had a one-year sabbatical. I went half-pay for a year. The average person married with kids cannot do that. They can only do a half-year sabbatical at full pay or they have to find some other means to do this. That opened me up. What I did was a mini-retirement.
I had saved a bunch of money and tacked on another year to my sabbatical to not be a professor for a year and try out what that felt like. I poured my energy into the SOLO project while I was doing that time. That is the optionality and freedom that is exciting. The average single person doesn’t think in those terms because the world doesn’t suggest they should.
What would you say to single women out there who are reading this blog who are not in a good place and not perhaps doing the things that they could be doing? They’re feeling down about being single and generally low about their relationship status. What would you say to them? What can they do to start taking steps to live a more remarkable life as you say in your show?
First of all, I would say you’re not alone. This is not uncommon to feel this way. The world wants you to feel this way because the world wants you to believe that the solution to all of your problems is to find a partner. That’s fine to look to find a partner. Romance and sex are good and enjoyable when it’s good and healthy and happy. To think about that person as the solution to your problem is felicitous. It’s a mistake.
What do you have to do instead? The next thing is to realize that it’s going to take some time. We watch these makeover shows. You can solve a problem on a weekend but this is going to take living a healthier life, improving your eating, exercising and things like that. There’s an immediate return on investment but it takes some time to transform yourself, have more energy, be more alive and feel better about yourself. Have some patience with regard to those changes.
The other one is important. Being single or solo is not about solitude and aloneness per se as much as having solitude is important for spiritual pursuits, reflection, recovery and creative pursuits. Single people need a community and a team if they’re going to want to thrive. What does that look like? That’s about finding people who are going to support your endeavors.
People like you, Lucy, who are going to lift you when you say, “I’m thinking about going on a solo trip. I’m thinking of going to Southeast Asia on my own.” Rather than going, “That sounds dangerous. You’re going to be bored and lonely,” the person will go, “That sounds cool and great.” Find people who are going to inspire you, encourage you and validate what you want rather than what the world wants you to want.
It’s funny that you mentioned finding people because one of my mini-shows I did was about the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people. I believe so much in making sure we are surrounding ourselves with the right people. Many of us need to have a cull of the people we’re spending time with. We don’t realize how much of an effect those people are having on how our lives look and how we feel about ourselves. We all need to be finding people who inspire us, who have our back, who make us feel good and who lift us.
We’re all guilty of this. There are people that we’ve known for years or people that we work with, family members or whomever it may be that isn’t necessarily a positive voice in our ear. They’re doing the opposite. We continue to spend time with them and then they continue to affect the way that we feel. In some ways, you need to go out and find new friends. That is possible.
There’s an in-between step. The challenge is some of these people who aren’t being supportive aren’t recognizing that they’re not helping and they’re good in other ways. I’ve had her as a guest co-host several times on my show. Her name is Chris Marsh and she’s a sociologist. She writes about The Black middle class and how being single and living alone is this alternative path to thriving for this community.
She’s a proud SOLO and she’s unapologetic about it. She lives in a world in which people say, “Chris, you’re so great. Why are you single?” These are well-meaning but harmful things. This is a tip for your readers as a way to help adjust people in a kind way. Chris says, “What do you mean by that?” The person goes, “I don’t know.” It switches the person out of this default mindset, which is like, “What do I mean by that?” It points out very friendly, not in any mean way like, “You’re not being very thoughtful. I’m asking you to be more thoughtful.” It’s such a powerful phrase.
It’s the same if somebody says, “How come you are single?” What if we were to say, “How come you are married?” We would be justified in asking that question given the statistics on divorce. Let’s not even go there. People don’t think that they are well-meaning but they need a nudge in the right direction as to how perhaps to deal with someone single. They’re not thinking from their perspective because that’s not the lens that they’re looking through.
It could be threatening for them.
We’ve got to wrap this up because you’re a busy man. Can I ask you one final question? What would you say is the most fabulous thing about being a Solo?
I’m going to answer that generally. What it allows someone to do is to have the freedom to explore various ways to live and select the one that’s right for them at the moment. We live long enough lives that we get to reinvent ourselves. We get to try new things. Just because we make a decision at age 25, age 30 or age 35 doesn’t mean that we have to continue that forever. One of the nice things about being single and Solo is you can move in and out of relationships without the highs and lows being so different. It is a change of status.
It allows you to take chances to go to Southeast Asia, try to travel alone and see how that feels. It provides people with opportunities to play with ideas, careers and hobbies. It gives you a chance to cast a very wide net in terms of connections with others. It allows you to be friends with people older than you and younger than you in different genders, sexual orientations and backgrounds because you have the time, energy and opportunity to live broadly.
Thank you so much. We need to do part two because there’s so much more that I want to ask you and talk to you about. Thank you so much for doing this. Before we wrap up, tell our readers how they can find you and follow you. Remind them of the name of the show and all of those things.
The show is called SOLO, the Single Person’s Guide to A Remarkable Life. You can find it anywhere a show can be found. If you want to find out more about my project, go to PeterMcGraw.org/SOLO. You can see everything that’s going on there.
Thank you, Lucy. Cheers.
- Spinsterhood Reimagined Podcast
- Single Insights
- The Solo Salon
- Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator
- Melanie Notkin – Past Episode
- First Guest Bloke
About Lucy Meggesson
Lucy Meggesson is a single, childfree, music-obsessed, river-loving, personal growth crazy, autumn and winter-loving, unapologetically passionate, over-enthusiastic, slightly bonkers, recovering perfectionist, daughter, sister, niece, auntie and friend. She is also the host of the Spinsterhood Reimagined podcast.