Peter McGraw speaks to Mary Delia Allen about her book Enjoy Your Solo.
Listen to Episode #169 here
Enjoy Your Solo
Welcome, Mary Delia Allen.
It’s good to be here.
We’re going to play Truth or Truth.
I am ready.
You’re more ready than I am. We’ve prepared questions for each other. We’ve shared two in advance. The third is going to be a surprise. Before we get into this, I want the Solo readers to learn a little bit about you. I suspect some of them already know you, not because you were a vacation tour leader for singles for ten years, but rather in 2021, you published Enjoy Your Solo: How to Be Great at Being Single. This is your book that inspires singles and educates non-singles on what it’s like to be single nowadays.
I agree with you. There’s a solo revolution coming. I felt that we needed a handbook on how to be great at being single. I took people who were single on vacation for ten years. I was raised very traditionally where you have to get married, have a husband, and have children. It is very traditional, which is what you refer to as the relationship escalator. Here I was, living on vacation in exotic lands with people who were single for all kinds of reasons, having an extraordinarily good time. I thought to myself, “Something’s happening here.” This is not talked about. This is coming. People are having a good time being single. It is that idea that all the singles table at the wedding, that’s the people who aren’t chosen.
I saw it clearly. People are having a great time. They are single for all kinds of reasons, divorced, widowed, never got married, but thriving.
I have to ask this. Why did you stop?
Taking the singles on vacation? You age out of it a little bit. You see the same things happen. It was fun. I got to go to a lot of different places. Sometimes it was people in their 30s and 40s. My biggest job was to make sure everybody had sunscreen. Other times, I did three weeks through Russia. It was me and seven ladies over 75. They still consider themselves single, and they still came with me. My job was to make the singles group together. Everyone had to come alone. My job was to make us a group by the end. It was great.
I want to ask a question about this before we turn our attention to your book. I have to imagine that there’s at least some portion of this group who’s thinking, “What am I waiting for to go on a vacation? What am I waiting for to go to and see Russia?” I feel like there’s a lot of travel. It’s very romantic. It is the idea of wanting to share it with someone and that person’s not around anymore or that person may not be showing up anytime soon. You may not want that person for the other 51 weeks of the year. Was there some element of that in your conversations with these folks?
There was an element of, “I’m here by myself and I don’t have to answer to anyone else’s wants, energy, or needs, and I can enjoy this myself.” That was a big feeling that people came away with. The other thing is I had people come with me who said, “My dream was to go to Venice with my husband, and he passed away and we missed it.” There was also, “What am I waiting for?” You can romanticize travel any way you wish, but to only romanticize that you can only travel and have fun as someone in a partnership is crazy to me. Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world. That is terrific. I have a hilarious story about how I met a gondola who took me on a gondola ride. Why is that not a romantic, terrific, hilarious single story?
It’s wonderful how Mary got her groove back.
I never lost my groove. To wait, nothing’s ever going to happen. You have to go. You can certainly go by yourself. I understand that it’s hard to go by yourself, but that’s what my book’s about. Let’s make it less hard and have you build up the skills of being solo. They’re only going to serve you your whole life.
There is something about doing some of these things while you’re younger when you have the energy. You can also take the perspective back into your life and be better at living back in your home country.
I would also say there’s something about seeing it on your own and making your own decisions about, “What do I like to do on vacation? What is my rhythm on vacation?” A vacation is one thing that’s lying by the beach and is restorative. To travel comes from the same Latin word as trial. Traveling’s a hassle. It’s effort and money, and you got to get there. Is it worth it to you? Are you doing something fun for you? You have to think about that before you go. If you’re in a partnership, you say, “He wants to see there. She wants to go.” If you go by yourself, you know yourself better.
It’s funny. Occasionally, I’ll open up a dating app. I won’t immediately regret it, but it’s entertaining. As someone so dedicated to supporting singles, I see a lot of struggling people on dating apps. You see they’re so defensive. They’re wanting and hoping, and it’s clearly not going well, and so on. The reason I bring this up is occasionally, there will be someone. I’ll read her profile, and I’ll think, “She’s lovely. She seems like she’s a great person.” I’m already exhausted from reading her profile. It’s too much. We’re going to be going 100 miles an hour. We’re going to be fitting 100 things in. I’m not sure that’s exactly the vibe I need in my life at the moment.
The best thing to know is what your own vibe is before you get involved with somebody else’s vibe. The best way to do that is to enjoy your solo. People forget. I did have one memorable gentleman come with me. We were in Italy and had gone to see the coliseum. We then had gone and had four cheese pizzas. He said, “You want to know what? I’d rather sit at home with my air conditioning and watch something about the coliseum for 90 minutes and then have a one-and-a-half cheese pizza. I didn’t quite need all the coliseum and all the pizza.” I thought, “You know yourself.” I remember he was like, “It was three and a half cheeses too many.”
That is awareness. You need to leave it to understand that it’s a good thing.
Traveling is a wonderful place to practice being by yourself. It makes sense that you’re by yourself. If you go on a plane by yourself, it’s fine. If you’re at a beach bar in a tropical land that caters to tourists, they’re going to say, “Hello, welcome. Maybe you want to meet these other people who are also traveling.” You can practice the skill of going by yourself and enjoying yourself.
It’s easier to meet people when you’re alone than when you’re in a couple. With your book, I like the use of enjoy your solo. It’s a little off enough to catch your attention. Does that make sense?
No. Tell me more.
The fact that it’s you’re solo, rather than enjoy being solo.
I place a great deal of ownership around the individual to enjoy their solo. It is your moral imperative to enjoy your solo. If all of your lifetime movie dreams come true and the perfect partner comes, you will miss things about your solo. You will regret that you did not do it. That’s rarely how I back into this topic because I don’t believe that getting married is what we’re supposed to do and the solo is extra. I believe that the solo is as valid as a partnership.
I believe that the solo is a similar amount of work as a partnership. As you would say, “I’m going to put effort into being with this person. I’m going to put effort into our time together,” that’s how you should be with your time with yourself. Just as you would romanticize the time with the other person, that’s how you should be with your time with yourself. Just like you and another person have to get together and say, “How are we going to use our resources and our time?” you have to have that conversation with yourself. A solo is a built time of life. It’s not something that happens to you.
That’s wonderful. That’s going to resonate with people, this notion of being intentional and recognizing that you are important enough to dedicate time, energy, and intentionality to getting your life right. There’s no, “I’ve met someone. Time to hit the switch and start being a good person.”
This is for the reader. If I said to you, “Your perfect partner’s showing up in 365 days. They’re going to be there forever,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? “I’ll have to go to his family’s Christmas instead of my family’s Christmas. Maybe he’ll pay my debt. Maybe I won’t have to cook. Maybe I’ll get healthy when that person comes along.”
“Maybe I’ll plan that trip to Venice.”
When I say that to you, take note of those things because they’re incredibly important. That’s where your focus should be.
If anyone’s reading, if they take anything away, that is a big idea because what it does is it reveals what you’re waiting for. If, a year from now, my person, the one, whatever you want that person to be is going to come along and it’s going to change your life, in what ways should you be changing your life anyways?
You have to banish this idea of, “It’s just me. It’s not important. I can’t make a big deal. I can’t hang the art on the wall. I can’t buy a house.” My most aggravating example is I know a high-powered woman who remained single. She’s aware of her choice and she is happy with it. Her washing machine didn’t work. She was like, “It’s just me.” I said, “No. We have a household that functions despite the fact that we live alone.” One of the things I talk about in my book is what your standards are for yourself. That doesn’t have anything to do with how society views you, if you’ve had a successful relationship, or when you’re going to get married. What are your standards for yourself? It’s hugely important.
That’s wonderful. I talk about the value of tidying up. I admit that I’m overly tidy, and so I’m putting my values on other people. My argument is twofold. To have a tidy house is a welcoming house. When people come to visit you, to stay with you, if you entertain, whatever it may be, they feel like, “This person has prepared for me.” They can feel comfortable in your space, but that’s not the full reason you tidy up. You may not have guests this week. You may not be dating. You may not be hosting. You tidy up because you want your house to be welcoming to you.
There’s the idea of making your future self your friend. I’m going to make my bed so my future self, who’s going into the bed, is going to be comfortable.
It’s going to be excited to get in that bed.
It is the way you clean your house before you go on vacation so you can come into a clean house. Your future self is someone that you should care about and be doing things for.
You should love that person. What prompted you to write this book?
I had to. They say, “What are your 10,000 hours?” I’m a long devoted personal development reader and there are a million books on finding love, keeping love, losing, and finding love again. There are less than twenty books on being single. It’s not that many.
It’s shocking how few there are.
Does nobody care? What I think is going to happen is, in several years, I’m going to say, “I wrote a book on being single.” People are going to go, “Why? Everybody’s already doing that.” It’s going to happen in a flash.
Do you think it’s going to be this non-linear thing?
I’m heartened to hear that. I’ve had other members of the community say, “It’s coming, and it’s going to be big.” I’m feeling a little close to it now. I’ll tell you my story about this that I’ve told before. One of those books, and I don’t know if you’ve read it, is called The Challenge of Being Single. It was written by a journalist and a professor at USC who had a class, a seminar called The Challenge of Being Single. A friend of mine gave me the book. I was unaware of it. I was maybe a year into the project or so, and I hadn’t come across it.
He gave me this book. I started reading it, and the book starts like, “There are 43 million single adults in the United States.” I thought to myself, “What year is this?” I looked at the publication date of the book. It was published in 1974. Here I am, working on this show. I was working on the book half-heartedly at that time, mostly doing research and getting ready and so on. I immediately thought to myself, “I’m too early.” Imagine being 47 years too early. When I hear people say, “No, we’re so close,” I like that because it makes it more exciting.
We’re so close. I had to announce regularly. “I’m Mary Delia Allen. I’m with the singles.” I saw every reaction that there was to singles. I feel that those reactions are changing.
We’re going to uncover some more of this in our truth or truth questions, so let’s jump into it. This is a perfect segue. I’ll start. First round. Mary, we have similar perspectives but use different terminology. Solo means one thing for me and another thing for you. What is your definition of solo? There’s another term that you use. I also want you to cover this one, which is the term family of one. What does each of those mean?
We already uncovered a little bit that I feel that the solo is an active time of life, and you have a personal responsibility to participate and upgrade your own solo, similar to your responsibility in participating in a relationship. A valid family of one means that it can so often feel that getting to be in a couple is graduating. You don’t need anything. You are valid. Once you hit a certain age and matriculate, and if you didn’t get married, you’re valid. You’re your own household. Thirty percent of US households are one person living alone. They are not more or less than a family of a mom, a dad, and three kids. You’ve chosen to live in a household and you are pursuing your life yourself.
The other way I define it is you’re using your limited resources for your own happiness. This extrapolates out to, “If you don’t have to check with a partner on how you spend your money, where you go on vacation, or where you spend Christmas, you’re in a solo.” That’s a very practical way to put it. You have to participate in the solo and make yourself a family of one. You’re very valid. That’s one of the reasons valid is a word I use a lot because it cuts to the core of what people are missing. You can argue romantic love’s important. No, it’s not. I want to feel that even though I didn’t get married, I am valid. Up until now, in history, that wasn’t necessarily true.
It is this notion of being less than and that this being seen as liminal, as a temporary state, and that you didn’t manage to get out of this temporary state as a failure.
It is like marriage is an achievement and I didn’t achieve it.
I have very little patience for that perspective anymore. There are two reasons for that. Our natural state is that of the individual that we had to invent marriage, but you didn’t have to invent singlehood.
There are people who would argue that point. I’m not one of those people, but there are people who would.
I’m happy to argue with those people. The data are very clear. The first marriage was a few thousand years ago.
I met someone. I was in the South, I met this gentleman and he had young children. We were both on business trips. He said, “What do you do?” I said, “I wrote a book about enjoying your solo.” He was literally like, “Why would anyone need that? Why would anyone pursue happiness without a partner?” He was coming from a place of, “I love my spouse so much. I love my children so much. I’m so lucky I get to be a family man.” I thought, “I hope that is going well in your small town, but there’s a big world out there.”
I would say to him 80% of divorces are initiated by the wife, so get ready. Not, “Get ready, it’s going to happen.” You don’t have a full choice in this matter. He’s like, “This is my natural state.” I’m like, “It’s not your natural state. It’s a made-up state that you two have agreed on until one of you decides, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore.’”
I agree with you 100,000%, but we have to present that message to our readers in a great package so that they can go home to their grandmothers and say, “I know what you think.” One of the things that I talk about in the solo is when someone says, “Why are you still single? Are you dating anyone?” they’re asking, “Are you secure?” That’s what it used to mean. Being married used to mean you had someone to take care of you. I believe that oftentimes, not always, when someone’s saying, “Are you in a partnership,” first of all, they’re not creative enough to ask another question. Second of all, they’re asking, “Are you happy?” That’s what they’re asking.
They have a particular form of happiness that they value.
The times have changed, I believe. We’re in a new era where you could have children by yourself. You can make money for yourself. You can do everything yourself. The marriage is getting a little outdated here. We want to be kind to people because to people who are newly single, it’s hurtful to them. “Who are you dating? What are you doing?” You want to punch them in the face and say, “It’s hard out there.”
What they’re asking is, “I want you to be happy. I want you to be safe. I want you to be cared for.” The news is we need to care for ourselves. It’s super important to remind people who are in a happy marriage that there are a million reasons you could become single. Being single is likely. We’re all living longer. It’s likely you will have a season of being solo. We have to integrate it into society, our own imagination, and our own growth cycle.
The other type of vocabulary I like to use is being single is not a commonality. There are many different types of singles. You use the, “I may just find someone and have romantic love. I’m single now,” and you have the No Way Singles and the New Singles. I feel that we have to talk about singles at different stages. If someone’s 30 years old and single, maybe they’ve never had a relationship and they’re a single on simmer. Maybe they were a 29-year-old divorcee after a terrible marriage. They’re recovering, healing, and coming to being single from such a different place.
Maybe someone had a long and happy marriage and now they’re a widow or a widower. Maybe someone had an unhappy marriage and now they are scot-free, enjoying their solo. Some people are single and ready to mingle. Some people are single and healing. It’s not a commonality to be single. It’s a very different stage depending on what got you to be single. I stayed single my whole life. I do feel that I went through different stages.
I like this idea that it fits being single, not into a developmental trajectory that you’re 18 or you’re 80 or somewhere in between, and that there are certain things you’re supposed to be doing at those ages. You get more or less heat at certain times in life for being single. I talk about what your goals are. What is your goal around relationships, if you have one? The very same person, same age, same job, same city, same lifestyle, one has a goal to not be single. The other has the goal to be single. The other one has the goal to heal from not being single. Those three people, despite all their commonalities, have a very different inner dialogue that’s happening.
One of the phrases I use is always searching, always settling. You won’t be single. You’re going to keep somebody on the line. You’re going to keep somebody cooking. You’re going to keep some kind of partnership happening. You can’t say, “I’m not seeing anybody right now. I’m single.” I feel a great deal of compassion for people like that. I want to encourage them to take some portion of the energy they put towards a relationship and put it towards themselves in a very systematic way that isn’t embraced by our culture that we don’t have words for.
It is a fact that we’re having to invent all these different terms and define them. No one in the escalator ever struggles with any of this stuff because you don’t even have to talk about it. It’s all assumed about how you’re supposed to behave and that this is good and this is the way it’s supposed to be. This is right and even righteous.
You reach a new level when you can say, “This is my girlfriend.” You reach a new level and you say, “This is my partner.” The singles don’t get a lot of established levels.
I also share your empathy toward those folks who are not in the place they want to be. They’re struggling and suffering. They’re lonely. They’re desperate. They desire this. They’re dating, and it’s not working. They’re thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I make this happen?”
I have two solutions to that. My first solution is to question what you believe to be true about a relationship. You cannot compare the worst of being single to the best of being in a couple, which is what people do all the time. You also cannot measure a single life against some perfect couplehood. I met this very beautiful woman of a certain age, very confident. It had a big life, very well-spoken. She said, “I’m happy being single, but when I walk in the door, there’s no one to greet me.”
I thought to myself, “Do you seriously think you’re going to find a partner who leaps up from the hockey playoffs to run to the door upon your arrival?” Let’s talk to 100 couples and ask them the different ways that they avoid going home to give themselves ten more minutes of alone time. We have to be more realistic.
Additionally, if you’re single and you’re waiting where that’s this idea of, “I’m waiting for a couple to happen to me. I’m waiting for a partner to happen to me. That’s when all the good stuff’s going to happen,” I defy that. Start your solo. Your solo’s here, and it’s happening with or without you. If you have some dreams you want to have come true, and you want your life to start, start it, and start it by enjoying your solo.
The thing about this perfect couplehood is while it is socially admissible to complain about being single and how difficult it can be or how it’s lonely and so on, there’s a narrative that you can find about it being less than and bad and all these things. The struggles the couples have, they often hide them away so they project this perfection. That’s unfair to do to the world because it doesn’t give the world a fair assessment of the ups and downs that happen within the escalator. Also, it’s unfair to them because they can’t get the help that they need.
We, as a culture, don’t have that much space for nuance. “Yes, I’m in a happy partnership, but we have some difficult times. Yes, I love my partner, but he is annoying sometimes.” It’s the way we can’t say, “I’m single and sometimes it’s lonely, but sometimes it’s great.” We need to have a more nuanced discussion about it.
I hear all about it because I’m the guy that people tell me about their lives. Whether it’s single life or non-single life, I get to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly, which is very flattering because these folks realize that I’m not going to judge them. I get it. It’s hard on either side.
It’s hard if you’re in a partnership. It’s hard if you’re solo. I believe that the human condition follows us either way. What we’re talking about is questioning this simplistic story we’ve been told, “If you get married, it’s all going to be great.” Get on that escalator. It’s going to be great.
One of the things that come from this narrative, and I know in my 30s that I certainly thought it and realized that it was fallacious, is, “This person is going to solve my problems.” There’s this belief that this person’s going to come along, they’re going to be perfect, and they’re going to solve my problems. They will solve some. For example, they will solve my sex problem, which is I don’t have anyone to have sex with. Now I do, at least temporarily.
Maybe they’re going to solve my loneliness problem or they’re going to solve my whatever problem it is. I’m making stuff up. I can’t recall what I thought my problems were in my mid-30s. That may or may not be the case, but you also have to acknowledge that they’re going to create new problems. It’s one of these things where be careful what you wish for in the sense that’s not always the right motivation.
I would argue what you were looking for was feeling valid because society says couples are valid, and being single isn’t necessarily valid. My suggestion is to declare yourself valid and move forward from there.
Certainly, I’m not expecting anyone to come along and solve my problems. I’m solving my own these days. I had to launch a show to get there.
I would argue people at our stage of the game, we’re getting to be in our 50s, when we come to a partner, we should already feel valid. When we talk about solving problems, we should be intensely aware of our own problems and how we’re coping with them ourselves, and what our expectations should be of a partner for coping with them. That work should be done because you’ve been working on yourself in your solo. If you’ve spent all your time jumping from partner to partner and putting your energy into the other, and then you finally get someone who’s a match for you, but you haven’t done the work to know yourself, you’re not starting from the strongest place.
Let’s move on to the next question.
It’s my turn. When the solar revolution you speak of is thriving, what new rituals and language will we have in a culture that celebrates the solo, destigmatizes, or shows acceptance of the solo? What’s coming?
This was a tough question. It’s good to be challenged on something that I’m obsessing over. I feel like it’s going to be a bunch of little things. That is my best guess here. First of all, there’s going to be things like self-marriage. You can see more people doing things like that. Now, it happens. It’s pretty rare and people look at it sideways. There’s something wonderful about someone declaring their love for themselves and having a ceremony that celebrates themselves in part because it says, “I’m no longer waiting for this thing to happen.”
There’s something wonderful and delightful about that. I also think that it will be a lot easier to get people to come to your self-marriage. It’s like, “Mary’s going to marry herself this week and Joe’s going to marry Joanne next week. We’re going to a different celebration.” I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but you’ll see a little bit more of that.
The rituals are woefully missing from the solo. We got to figure something out.
There’s also going to be a lot of language stuff that happens. There will be little things like politicians will talk about people rather than families. Instead of defaulting to, “Working families need our support,” it’s going to be, “Working individuals or working people need our support.” The smart politicians are going to figure that out with half of the American adults being single and more and more of them remaining. If you want to be inclusive and you want to speak to your entire constituency, then you might want to start using the word people rather than family.
I do public speaking and a keynote called Do You Speak Solo? I talk to people like mental health professionals and real estate professionals. Do not be walking into the second bedroom and call it a nursery. What are you going to do to live here? We have 45% of the population who are living alone, and we need more language to support them.
The Church of England published a report in which they said that being single is not less than. It’s a 280-page report. One of the things that came out of the report was, “After all, Jesus was single.”
That’s going to the top.
I do think also some of that is a reaction to the demographics. If you have priests, rabbis, and pastors talking about family all the time, and assuming that’s going to happen, you have single people sitting in your pews, in your chapel, in your synagogue, who then suddenly go, “This place is not for me.” Having inclusive language like that, that will be a no-brainer in a sense. They’re little tweaks and little changes that there’s no downside to doing them.
I was talking to a religious leader person. We talked about my book briefly. He said, “This makes me think of all the single people who are serving in the community and serving in the church.” If you’re single, you have this extra time. That’s one of the differences. You don’t have to put some time into the issue of extra time. Where are you putting it? Are you putting it in your family relationships, your friendship, relationships, and your community relationships? We as a group, the singles, certainly have a valuable force to give to the betterment of the whole. That’s not talked about very much either.
There’s a little bit of evidence for this, but scientific contributions, entrepreneurship, and art. It’s mathematically the case that if you’re on your own, you can dedicate more time, effort, and energy to these things. Moreover, you have a different perspective to bring to the world as a single person. Singles contribute to culture. They contribute to society, and they are a form of diversity.
In the time that we’ve had a marriage, we’ve had this idea of the single sister or the single auntie or the extra woman in the household because baby humans take so much effort to become big humans that you need that extra woman power. You can see that a lot throughout history and in stories. That’s celebrated. I hope it continues to be.
There’s this notion of the aunt. I had Melanie Notkin on and about the value of the aunt. This idea of the nuclear family is a relatively new invention. Prior to that, first of all, we had these corporate families. We had these big extended families and there were lots of single people around. They contributed to raising kids and making the farm work and so on. If someone died or if someone took off, there was an aunt, an uncle, or a cousin. There was someone there to step in to help.
There was an extra.
We have short memories in part. We have Leave It To Beaver, but we don’t have the Leave It To Beaver version of the corporate family from 1820.
If we looked into popular culture, we could find some. There was the maid on The Brady Bunch. If we looked into some popular culture, we could see the auntie lurking. When we talk about the auntie, I want to be sure that we talk to the reader who is yearning to be a parent like, “I wish I could have children. I have to have a partner to have children,” which we cannot argue with. What I can say is if you are a person who wants children in your life, that could happen tomorrow.
You can foster if you don’t want to be that dramatic. You can find some people in your life with some children and they will happily bring you into their fold to bring in another adult. It’s certainly easy for me to say, and I would argue it’s easy to do if you are a person who yearns for parenthood, as so many people are who are single.
That’s part of their problem with being single. “I wish I could be a parent. I have to find someone.” I would encourage you not to wait one more minute and get some children in your life. There are plenty of children that need all kinds of help. Fostering is extreme. You can volunteer at the school. You can get involved with your neighbors. You can get involved with something locally. Thirty-five people call me aunt. I fostered that. I wanted that in my life. I took significant steps to make it happen.
Melanie calls this otherhood rather than motherhood.
I want to talk to the person who’s yearning. I sincerely encourage them. Don’t waste that want that is your life asking you to participate. It might not look like finding a partner and becoming a mother and doing it to Leave It To Beaver way. There are plenty of ways to do it.
I feel bad for these folks, too, because they want to be a parent, but they need to find a partner first because that’s the way it’s supposed to be done. There’s this high-value family, and then every other family is a little lower value because you’re not doing it the way that you’re supposed to do it. People are holding out for this one way, and it doesn’t always work out.
You could certainly be a single mom by choice. There are tons of people out there talking about that. We could find plenty of people raised by single mothers who would have wonderful things to say about their situation. We’ll see how that turns out in culture.
I’m going to add one more. I got this from the Solo community, which you can sign up for at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. This is something I’ve talked about and written about. Jordan, a member of the community, wrote, “Social media bios, interviews, intros, and obituaries will say solo entrepreneur, writer, or relevant equivalent, where some say wife, mother, entrepreneur, writer, etc.” Even having people note in their bios that they are singles, they’re solos.
I put bachelor in my bio, for example. I remember feeling intellectually and cognitively comfortable with the decision. If Barack Obama can put husband, father, and president in his bio, why can’t I say Behavioral Economist, Business School Professor, and Bachelor in my bio? That felt risky years ago. You’re going to have people announcing who they are.
I say I’m single and I wrote the book on it. I had to write the book to get that line, but I like it.
Let’s go to the second round. I’ll go. Words matter. You know this because you wrote a book about this topic. You give a lot of advice to singles who are looking to live better. I want to talk a little bit more about some of that language and advice. You have these three phrases that I like. Party for one, party of one, and party beyond one. Tell me more.
I’m an event planner in my other life, so I love a party. This is positive language to talk about these three segments of your life. The one segment is going out by yourself, which is party of one. The other one is your time alone with yourself. That’s a party for one. The third category is going with the intention to be with other people, which is party beyond one.
I have very practical advice. You and I are two people who are incredibly comfortable going around in the world by ourselves, but not everyone is. We want to cover how to do it. Party of one is going out in the world by yourself, and that’s going to the movies, going to dinner, which is so scary for people. The first thing I like to point out is you go to work by yourself. You go to the dentist by yourself. You go to Target by yourself. You’re already doing things by yourself. Why aren’t you adding things that you enjoy by yourself? You should be very clear that the secret sauce to going out by yourself is to do something you love to do. When I took the singles on vacation, when we had a secondary interest that everyone had in common, the trip was much better.
What do you mean?
If we were on a golf trip, you had been single in common and you had golf in common. Golf became more important. I did a bird-watching trip, and those people thought it was all great. The big thing with going out by yourself is not, “I should go out by myself.” You should go and do something you love. The two things that are important are to plan how you’re going to feel. In that planning design, do whatever you want. Whatever you desire to do by yourself, do it in a way that you’re comfortable. Do not go to the romantic restaurant on February 13th and sit alone in a corner. Don’t do that.
“Let me do that. Let me sit. Let me get one table right in the middle.”
I’ve done it by accident. I travel a lot. I was like, “What’s the date?” I like the Weekend Wall Street Journal. I would go to breakfast and I would be more interested in reading the Weekend Wall Street Journal than who’s looking at me in the restaurant. If you want to go to a concert, think to yourself. For a concert, I say wait until the day off and decide if you want to go and then focus on the music. No one’s looking at you. You’ve been at a concert where all your friends have gone to the bathroom and you’ve been by yourself and you haven’t thought, “I’m here and I’m sticking out like a sore thumb. “There’s 50,000 people.
The secret sauce is doing something you love. That is more of a pull than, “I have to go out by myself.” My other trick is to go to the same place. I used to travel for a living and I would be stationed somewhere for a month and you’re in a random hotel. Go to the same place for coffee every day, tip a little bit extra, and introduce yourself. You’re the insider even if you’re by yourself. That’s true for every restaurant.
I know it’s scary for people. Find a way that it won’t be scary for you and think about it. How are you getting there? How are you getting home? If you don’t like it, you can leave. That’s all doable. If you have to take baby steps and start by going to Target by yourself, move up to the movies, and then move up to something else. Do not sit at home and miss something because you can’t go out by yourself. Enjoying your own company is a skill that will serve you forever.
I did an episode on How to Do Things Alone and I have a little bit of data. One of the exciting things about singles is they do things alone in public more so than non-singles. That study made me both happy and sad. It made me happy to see that there are a lot of single people who take your advice. They go to concerts alone. They go to the movies alone. They go to museums alone. They go to cafes alone. They’re not sitting around waiting for someone else to join them and do things that they would like to do.
As a quick aside about Rome, I was traveling on what I call a group solo trip. I put together a group of people and we have 1 or 2 things that we do together during the day or night. Otherwise, you’re on your own. You can do whatever you want. Some people go to museums, some people flaneur, and some people like me go to cafes and read and write. I found a cafe and I went to that cafe every single day in the morning first thing to get a cappuccino. The Italians are so warm, fun, and funny. By day two, it was like I was part of a gang.
Italy isn’t the standard for everywhere because I’ve been a woman alone in Italy plenty. It’s a blast. Everywhere can be like that.
I was heartened by the number of people who do that. The sad thing is there are still a lot who don’t. I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for married people because of the very low rates at which they do things alone. What ends up happening is if my spouse doesn’t want to go see that band, I may not see that band. If my spouse doesn’t like to sit in coffee shops and read The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, I may not do that.
What if your spouse is a pilot, a surgeon, or they have to travel? What’s your plan?
You’re going to wait around for them. The advice you’re giving is universal. I can tell you this about human psychology. Almost no one is judging you for being alone because do you know what they’re worried about? Themselves. They’re thinking about themselves all the time. It’s very liberating advice to give people. By the way, it’s a skill. As with any other skill, you need some practice.
There’s a restaurant in Chicago that is very swanky, delicious, and seen and be seen. I would never dream of going by myself at 8:00 on a Friday night. I go at 5:00 and I sit at the bar by myself. I watch it open up, watch the cool people coming in, and then I leave. Don’t say, “I could never do that.” Figure out a way to do it that works for you.
Certainly, bar culture lends itself to a meal alone. That’s a nice and easy way to work into solo dining, for example.
Whereas there are women of a certain age who would never dream of going to a bar by themselves. You can go to a ballgame. The big thing is what is interesting to you? What would you be so absorbed with that it doesn’t matter who you’re with and just go by yourself?
Before we get to your question, talk a little bit more about party beyond one.
I also want to talk about party for one. Party for one is romanticizing the time that you spend with yourself. Put in as much time and energy in the time that you spend with yourself as you would with a partner. Don’t fritter away the time. That’s just me-itis. “It doesn’t matter. It’s just me. I don’t count.” You should look forward to that time as much as you would look forward to time with a partner.
Sara Blakely, who began Spanx and is beyond successful in every category there is, for her 50th birthday, asked for a week alone at a hotel from her husband. Alone time is prized. Ask any new mother, ask any busy executive, “If I could give you 24 hours yourself, how happy would you be?” Keep that in mind when you’re struggling against, “I’m all by myself this weekend,” romanticize it, do what you want, and know what makes you happy and you’re going to be in much better shape.
I said this on an episode. Even I can get better at this. You would think, “Peter’s got to be the best at this,” but there’s a little bit of this. You can do anything you want as a solo. I sometimes think I don’t take enough advantage of the freedom and the opportunities I have.
Make a list. You don’t have to do it every single second of the day. It’s just like you would have a special time with a partner. You should have a special time in your life as a soloist.
This is something I need to do at some point because I can. That is I want to pack an overnight bag. I want to go to the airport, and then I want to pick a flight. That’s something I feel like I ought to do because I’m one of the few people on the planet who can do something like that.
I like the twist on you should tell your four closest friends, “Call me. At 24 hours’ notice, I’ll be with you, whatever you’re doing. Whatever you want, I’m coming.”
That’s more fun. That’s a party beyond one.
It is. A party beyond one is we don’t want to forget in building our solo that we need to have interactions with other people. You certainly have your inner circle and you want to keep those relationships fresh and thriving and that’s great, but you also want to go out into the world. Community and fellowship are good for all of us, but when you are going in by yourself, you have to manage your expectations a little bit.
When you live on your own, sometimes you can become a clanging bell a little bit and forget to bring your pleasantries and say, “Right this way. No, you first. Thank you.” You want to pack your best interaction politeness, to say it in a clunky way. You want to manage your expectations. The example I use is you go play some tennis, you don’t want to say, “I’m going to make new tennis friends, we’re going to have a tennis club, and I’m going to have a tennis jacket. There’s going to be a tennis birthday cake next year.”
Simmer down. You’re going to play some tennis, you’re going to have some interaction, you’re going to make some connections, and then leave it. You have a full life. You’re coming from a full-life place and you’re bringing yourself to interact with other people. Maybe it will grow and maybe it won’t. Manage your expectations because sometimes we can become all or nothing about it a little bit. That isn’t very healthy for the singles.
It’s my question. Revolutions start with the youth. What kind of language and rituals should we develop around the period of time from leaving your family of origin’s house to deciding to have a partner or deciding not to have a partner? We have this new time in history where you’re a young adult and you don’t have to get married. What are we calling that? What are the rituals? What are the benchmarks? I thought, as a college professor, I was very interested to hear what you’d have to say.
I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you, but it’s a provocative question, so I’m thankful for the question, even if I’m not fully prepared to answer it. I do have an answer, though. This is an interesting thing. The teen culture got invented in the ‘50s, and that mattered a lot in part because people were getting married at 21. You were suddenly, now you’re an adult. Twenty-one, you’re an adult. Kids are coming pretty quickly, and now you’re in it. Now you’re reaching and striving for this golden anniversary 50 years later. Rinse and repeat. Now we have this late adolescent phase that’s been extended a bit. The average age of first marriage is approaching 30 now.
That’s a big change in 60 to 70 years. Even more so, the data are clear that a non-trivial number of folks, folks like us, are never going to marry. It’s the younger generations that are showing those demographic shifts the most. They’re the ones who are trying unconventional relationships. They’re the ones who are saying, “I’m not going to have kids.”
They’re the ones who are seeing this more balanced view because they’re on Instagram Reels and TikTok, and they’re seeing a much broader array of ways to live than we did when we were that age and even that we are at this age. I don’t know what to call a different phase in life if your entire life might be this phase. I have a different way to answer the question, and I’m going to ask you a question first because you’re an aunt to 35.
Only ten are my actual nieces and nephews.
What are the basic responsibilities of a parent? This is what makes you not a bad parent, taking care of what? What would you say those things are?
You have to house and feed them for twenty years and teach them how to do those things themselves.
You provide for their basic needs.
I would say there’s a moral example that you need to set.
You will help them develop, you support them emotionally, and you help them develop a moral compass. Anything else?
It’s not fair for me to say this, but the point of parenting is to make them self-reliant.
This is so obvious. I would add you keep your kids safe and secure. That’s number one, basic needs. You help them become adults. That’s the idea behind it. If you fail at any of those things, you have failed as a parent. There’s a whole bunch of other things you can do. That’s fine. That’s all bonus gravy, cherry on top, whatever it is.
Here’s what I believe should be the standard, and it should be the benchmark for the success of an adult. You can parent yourself. That ideally happens sooner than later, but what is going to be the case is for you to be good on your own as a single or as a non-single. You can keep yourself safe and secure. You can provide for your basic needs, you know how to support yourself emotionally, and you’ve developed a moral compass.
If you can’t do those things, then you are not an adult, in my opinion. Too often, what ends up happening is that someone trades their parent for a spouse, and the spouse serves the role of a parent. I would say this. It’s fine if you and your partner decide that someone’s going to have some of those roles, but I believe you ought to be able to do it regardless. You should be able to feed yourself. You should be able to make your own money. You should be able to clothe yourself.
That doesn’t mean that you have to do those things. Two people can decide. One’s going to be the breadwinner and one’s going to stay home and take care of the household. That’s fine. If your partner gets sick, becomes disabled, or divorces you, you should be able to work a stove or you should be able to have a skill that allows you to enter the workforce.
The reason for that is we talked about how tenuous partnerships can be. Moreover, it restores balance within a relationship. One of the things that’s terrible about being a child is when mom or dad says, “Because I’m the parent.” “Why do I have to do this?” “Because I said so.” You have no recourse as a child because you’re reliant on them to feed you, clothe you, and house you. You can symbolically run away, but you’re going to be back for dinner.
What would be a great benchmark for success is that we recognize that an ability to parent yourself, whether you’re 15 or 25, whenever that happens, is when you become an adult. We can recognize that you could be married with kids and not an adult. I hate to say that. That is a powerful goal to have regardless of whether you stay single your entire life or you decide to partner up.
I love this answer. What I want to respond with is part of the solo is interacting with yourself. You call it parenting yourself, but let’s break it down specifically for people. If something hurts your feelings and it’s bothering you, you are able to soothe yourself.
You should be able to soothe yourself emotionally on your own. It’s great if you have other people that you can rely on to do that, like a partner, a friend, a family member, a therapist, an emotional support animal, whatever that else is.
I would say those are tools for soothing yourself. There’s not this expectation of there’s this other who’s going to be present with my interaction with myself and better it. My responsibility for my best interaction in the world and with myself is on myself. That’s a lofty goal. To say you’re parenting yourself is the same. When you’re a child and you have a problem, you go to your parent.
When you’re an adult, you have to be able to solve your own problems. I’m not saying you have to do all the solutions yourself. You know how to say, “I recognize I’m having this problem and I’m going to use all my resources to find the solution.” Whereas we imagine that married people always turn to their partner. Every problem is solved.
My encouragement is to use the time when you’re not in a relationship to strengthen your problem-solving skills with yourself, to strengthen how you interact with yourself, and how you speak to yourself. You’re better going to be able to interact in a partnership. You’re better going to be able to say, “I’m upset, and I used this coping mechanism and that wasn’t so smart, but it’s 24 hours later and now I want to try another coping mechanism.” You have to do that work yourself as opposed to saying, “This happened. Soothe me.”
The lofty goal is that we start to create a conversation about getting married doesn’t make you an adult. Being able to parent yourself makes you an adult.
I like that that definition doesn’t require anybody but yourself.
I want to give credit where credit’s due. This came up in a wonderful episode called Waiting. My guest cohost, Iris Schneider, was the one who introduced this concept to me. I’ve been running with this baton ever since she said it. The third round is a surprise round. Mary, I’m going to have you surprise me with your question, and we’ll finish with mine.
When the solo becomes as relevant as being married, how will our ideal single person change in popular culture or the movies? That’s a tough one.
It is interesting the role that media plays in this whole conversation. In some ways, the media will lead the way. First of all, almost all superheroes are single.
Yes. They don’t have time for a partnership. They’re busy saving the world.
Some of that’s true. It’s inconvenient to have a wife or a husband when you’re a superhero. You are dedicated to a meaningful existence helping humanity. Having that person at home waiting and worrying about you does not make you better at your job. This superhero metaphor is very interesting and useful in the ways that you don’t need this thing to contribute to the world. In some ways, having this thing makes contributing to the world a little bit difficult because you’re turning your attention away from 8 billion people to 1, 2, 3, or 4.
That doesn’t happen as often as it should in other forms of media. That is, we don’t have enough solos being portrayed in happy, healthy ways in the media. It’s going to start to happen more often because it won’t be a default thinking. You’re going to say, “There are lots of people who are living lots of different lives. Let’s have characters who represent that diversity and lifestyle.” I was watching Top Gun: Maverick and Pete Maverick is a solo.
He’s never married, no kids. He’s had love interests, but it never works out because he is married to the Air Force, to the Navy. He’s married to the plane. There’s even a line in there about not having a wife or kid thing. Pete Maverick is an unconventional guy. That story works best with him unmarried. It works best with him without kids. He has a higher calling to be the best. What I think will end up happening is we’ll start seeing more of this. We already have this a little bit. The new girl is a solo. She has relationships and stuff, but we’ve had this happen throughout time. Ally McBeal was this quirky alone character in Sex and the City where she was celebrating.
There was so much pursuit.
There was, but even still getting that conversation going, tackling the topics around singlehood. The example with regard to LGBTQ is like will and grace. What ends up happening is you end up having these shows, movies, and even songs that cast single people in a different light. What it is doing is it’s reflecting the few that are out there who are doing it and doing it well, and it’s giving people permission to do it and do it well. I write about the idea that singles beget singles.
There are many reasons for the rise of single living, but one is simply this. Mary, you know people who know you, and they’re like, “If she can do it, I can do it.” You mentioned this gentleman who I made fun of in Alabama or Arkansas or wherever he’s from. I bet you he knows no one like me. If you know someone like me, then you go, “There’s my role model.” This is where the revolution begins. Mary begets two more solos.
My goddaughter said, “It’s going to be me and the horses. I’m going to enjoy my solo.” Let’s see how it works out, girl.
It might, but the issue is this is never before where girls had an aunt like you who thought, “I don’t have to do what my parents have done.” Many people will want to. Many people will think that way, but now at least, there’s an alternative path. Once that alternative path starts showing up more and more in television, film, novels, and music, it creates this flywheel effect. What ends up happening is what ends up better sorting ourselves into the right relationship status rather than everybody defaulting into one.
If getting into a relationship stays this hard with the dating apps and the divorce rate, then there must be an alternative, and let’s make it a great one, the solo.
Last question. Mary, I’m going to use your experience. Your book came out in November 2021. What did writing it do for you? How was it received? What advice do you have for me as I work online?
The number one piece of feedback that I received from Enjoy Your Solo is this is a skill everybody should have. This is advice for everybody. Being able to, like we discussed, parent yourself, build your own life, and choose to enjoy your life, no matter the status of your partner is a superpower, and people are hungry to learn how to do it. You’re writing for the singles, but you’re writing for everyone to appreciate. Being single is going to happen to everybody.
It’s the natural state. It’s the default.
I have a hard time saying that because I know so many people who are pro-marriage and traditional. I am pro-marriage and traditional too. If that’s your calling, that is wonderful. Let’s make room in this modern culture when we can have so many options. Let’s make room for those solos. The way you spoke was so inspiring and uplifting. The person who’s single has time to be a superhero and save the world. Why are we wasting time belittling and criticizing the single? “You haven’t made it and you haven’t married someone.” Instead, why are we not encouraging them to shine and bring their resources? It’s a huge missed opportunity.
I have a scene that I wrote in the book about Thelma. Thelma has a crisscross country battle, bad weather or traffic, and airport delays to be back home for the holidays. She starts her annual dance with Aunt Sally. Aunt Sally’s like, “Dear, how are you doing? How’s life?” Thelma says, “It’s never been better. I got a raise at work. I got promoted. I closed on a new condo. I did the trek to Machu Picchu, and I rescued a little puppy named Levi. Life’s good.” Sally says, “That’s sweet, dear, but is there anybody special in your life?” I want to do away with that conversation.
“What are you talking about?” This woman has a career. She’s good at it. She’s creating a home. She’s not only able to take an adventure like going to Peru, but she’s physically able to do the trek to Machu Picchu. She’s found a little companion who loves her. She loves Levi. She’s very clearly happy with her life now. Thelma may go on to do other great things with her life, be a wonderful aunt, build a business like Sara Blakely did, and so on. You’re right that when we can get to that place, we’re going to have been successful in our endeavor.
To defend the elderly aunt, they’re asking, “Are you happy?” You have to explain it to them. They’re asking, “Are you happy? Are you secured? Do you have a community?” We, as people who are single, have to own it and say, “Yes, I’m single and I’m happy.” Broadcast it. We have to know that we’re valid as a family of one, and we have to act like it. I’m just as equal to the families.
How has it changed your life, Mary? I agree with you. It is this idea that this is advice for anyone. I’ve heard this too with this show. What about you? The act of writing this book, the act of publishing this book, what has it done for your life?
I’m very proud of it. I’m very proud of how positive it is. I’m not one million followers on Instagram. Someone said to me, “That’s because you’re asking people to look at something nuanced and maybe difficult.” We’re trying to change some mindsets. Someone else said to me, another singles expert said, “I think we’re the new mommy bloggers. I’m going to keep going, and you should keep going. Our day is coming and there’s going to be a renewed interest.”
There’s going to be a built-up interest, but the number one piece of feedback that I received was, “The skills that you talk about enjoying your solo, being happy with yourself, and you being by yourself as being perfectly valid,” is advice for all. People in relationships were like this. You should have written this for everybody. The more you have these skills, the better you’re going to be in a relationship.
I alluded to this, so I’m going to put on my marketing professor hat for a moment. There is what’s called the adoption curve. We became very familiar with the adoption curve because they’re epidemiological model. Remember, we used to see the COVID spikes. There would be almost no COVID and then it would shoot up very fast.
What happens with the adoption of new technology or ideas is that it oftentimes simmers for a long time and then there’s a big jump, this hockey stick action. This happens in various ways. I was alluding to this earlier when I talked about the book, The Challenge of Being Single. If those women wrote that book expecting a hockey stick, they were disappointed because it didn’t happen and it still hasn’t happened. You and I are guessing, betting, and hoping it happens in our lifetime and not 47 years from now. The point where I’ve come to with this is, chances are, my book is not going to sell well. That’s the statistics of books.
Most books don’t sell very well. I have already had two non-bestsellers and chances are the third is also going to be a non-bestseller. It’s okay to hope. It’s okay to desire this, want to see this change happen and to be a force in encouraging it to happen. I still think that it matters for ourselves. We are changed individuals having decided to tackle this topic. We’re better at our own lives as a result. For me, to be honest, if nothing else changes about the world, I’ve been changed.
I feel more comfortable. I’m happier and less apologetic. My friendships and my dating relationships are better than they ever have before. In that way, it’s good. There are people who are helped by this. It may not be millions and billions, but if it’s dozens and hundreds and thousands, that’s still people who are living better lives.
I have received incredibly personal, detailed thank yous for putting this message into the world. That keeps me committed to talking about it and educating people about it. No question. I have had wonderful feedback. We had all a bestseller of a book, but I’m much more interested in the language changing like Enjoy Your Solo, EYS. Can we give the girl who’s single at the best wrap party something to say? “I’m going to go enjoy my solo.” Do you know how many times I’ve been somewhere and all the couples go to bed and I go, “I’m going to go enjoy my solo. I got to go.” This is coming.
Any advice for me?
I’m excited for you. I have done a deep dive into your show in preparation for this time together. The breadth of topics and how interesting they are is awesome. It was great. It’s bigger than my messages. “Being happy means being single. Let me tell you how to do it.” I’m very practical and let’s have a party and let’s have a good time. What you’re talking about in a very entertaining, approachable way is how big this is. You go up to 10,000 feet and then 50,000 feet and let us know why this is changing and we should be paying attention more. I love how interested you are in how it’s going to turn out. “Where is the hockey stick?” I am like, “The hockey stick’s coming.” It’s coming. No question.
I’m an optimistic person and you’re putting me to shame. I love it. It’s great.
Especially young people are not going to go for this, “Get married and it’s all going to be great.” It is getting everyone to parent themselves and take ownership of their solo. For so long, I thought marriage was some graduation or some growth. In the publishing of the book, I put a punctuation point on a certain time in my life and said, “No, I did grow and I did come along the path. I did learn all these things. I am passionate.” Please don’t be home alone sad because you’re single. You don’t need one thing except your own actions to make that different, I promise you. It feels like you got to have a man and you got to have granite countertops and a bridal shower. You don’t. It can start now and you can change the narrative. It’s about joy, but it’s your solo and you’re responsible for it.
We’ll end there. That’s wonderful. Thank you, Mary. Cheers.
- Mary Delia Allen
- Enjoy Your Solo: How to Be Great at Being Single
- About Mary Delia
- The Challenge of Being Single
- Melanie Notkin – Past Episode
- Doing Things Alone – Past Episode
- Waiting – Past Episode
About Mary Delia Allen
Mary Delia Allen evangelizes a new era of being single known as the solo. This is time for unmarried individuals to build a one size fits one life they love. After ten years as a vacation tour leader dedicated to singles Mary Delia Allen wrote Enjoy Your Solo; How to Be Great at Being Single to inspire singles and to educate non-singles on what solo life is today.
So much energy is spent on attracting/keeping/losing love it’s time to flip the script and celebrate the solo!