In this episode, Peter McGraw and his guest co-host talks to a singles advocate about the differential benefits that married people receive over single people. They discuss common anti-singles rhetoric and how the questions that singles are asked typically fail simple tests of logic. Recognizing the prejudice against singles is largely overlooked or even accepted, they also talk about ways that non-singles can support their single friends and family members. This week’s bonus material reveals a remarkable single from the 1800s–which highlights how far solos have come.
Today’s episode of Solo is sponsored by Wrapture Masks. Since Peter recommends wearing protection during sex, he also recommends wrapping your face when you go out into the wild. And Wrapture has made the best non-medical grade mask money can buy. It’s antimicrobial, breathable & most importantly FULLY MACHINE WASHABLE, so you aren’t one and done. One mask lasts over 50 washes and I’ve been using for more than a month and it’s my go to mask. You can find them at wrapturemasks.com. Use promocode WRAPTURESOLO at checkout for a discount.
Listen to Episode #45 here:
Not Lonely. Onely.
In this episode, Lily Rains returns as a guest co-host and we talked to a single’s advocate, Christina Diane Campbell, about the historical and present-day differential benefit that married people receive over single people. We discussed common anti-singles rhetoric, for example, “You’re great. Why are you still single,” and how this type of rhetoric fails simple tests of logic? We talk about how singlism fails to reach the type of oppression that other isms do, such as racism, sexism, or heterosexism. If the conversation reveals how oppression, whatever its form, occurs for similar reasons and should be resisted as a whole. Recognizing the prejudice against singles is largely overlooked or even commonly accepted. We talk about some of the ways that non-singles can support their single friends and family members. If you stick around to the bonus material, you’ll learn about a remarkable single from the 1800s, a conversation that highlights how far we solos have advanced. I hope you enjoy the episode.
Christina Diane Campbell is the Cofounder of the singles advocacy blog, Onely.org. She has written about marital status discrimination for Atlantic.com and PsychologyToday.com. Her extended essay, And Sarah His Wife, about mental health, misogyny and colonial America, won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press Chapbook Contest, which might be the longest award-winning name I’ve ever heard. Her interests also include disability rights, sailing, yoga, linguistics, and true ghost stories. She lives in Northern Virginia with her infrared sauna and three semi geriatric cats. Welcome, Christina.
Thanks, Peter. It’s good to be here.
I’m thrilled to have you. We’re joined by a guest cohost, Lily Rains. She is a storyteller, arts educator, crafter of needlework, and maker of homemade ice cream. Though solo, Lily loves to be part of an ensemble with a shared goal, be it on a softball field, in an escape room, or getting a play movie or TV show made. She made her first appearance on Solo episode eight, which is one of my favorites, Dating Friends and Sleeping with Strangers — A Valentine’s Day Episode. Christina, I want you to talk about how you came to cohost a blog on singles advocacy? Why do Lily and I need an advocate such as you?
I give most of the credit to my co-blogger, Lisa Arnold, because it started years ago. We were both coming out of bad breakups. We were talking on the phone. Lisa said to me, “I’ve noticed when I read articles about being happy as a single person, they always have the ultimate point that you should be happy as a single person so that your happiness will bleed out of you and attract people to you so you can become unsingle. That feels wrong to me.” We started talking about it and she said, “We should have a blog where we can sort out our thoughts on this.” That’s how when we started. It was a lot to do with her insight. We were already in our 30s at that point and we had a lot of internalized singlism. It boggles my mind. I got to that age and I was still thinking, “I love being single.” I must be a complete weirdo because I love it so much. I thought, “I’m going to accept this deep psychological issue that I have. I’m okay with having it. I don’t know what it is or how I got it, but that’s the way I am.”
I like this idea of, “I’m not crazy. The world is crazy.”
It took me into my 30s before I realized I wasn’t crazy, but the world was crazy. I credit Lisa and Bella DePaulo with that as well. She’s very well-known in this community.
She was super early to this, not only as an advocate, but also as a researcher, to spelling a lot of the mythology. She shows up in episode two of Solo where I’m sure we’ll revisit some of the topics. You’ve moved it from working through yourself to an advocacy issue.
Back in the day when we read Bella’s book, Singled Out, she was flagging issues like Social Security and inheritance taxes. Those institutionalized, those laws and those regulations that are written into law that say single people are less than married people. They can’t have this right. They can’t have that right. When I started reading Bella’s work and I started thinking, “My Social Security is going to go back into the system. If I die, I can’t leave it to my close friend or to Lisa or anybody.” I started thinking about those things. I leaped from doing socio-cultural critiques of singlism right into, “We’ve got to change these laws.”
The first step into changing them is to have a dialogue about them. When I started trying to talk to my friends about it, not even talking about state codes and I say, “There are over 1,000 laws and federal code that are related to your marital status and privileged people who are married.” People didn’t engage with me on that. I struggled to have that dialogue with people because institutionalized singlism like the discrimination in Social Security and tax law is insidious. People take it for granted. When you try to say, “This is unfair,” they come up with all arguments about why it should be married people and they should get all these privileges.
The average reader is comfortable with their singleness or seeking to be comfortable with their singleness, but they’re not as aware of the marital privilege that exists. Give us some of your greatest hits of singlism that you have encountered and researched.
I want to give credit to Bella for starting me on this path. One thing Lisa and I did do was we thought, “How much money are we losing because of these discriminatory laws and the tax code in Social Security, housing discrimination. How much money do we lose?” We did some informal math. We tried to look at a couple of hypothetical characters who earn a little bit high average amount of income in Virginia. We looked at examples in the federal code of discriminatory laws and crunched the numbers to figure out how much these hypothetical people would be losing compared to their married counterparts. The higher of the two incomes, which is still a very moderate income for the state of Virginia, that hypothetical person lost at least $ 1 million based on the handful of laws that Lisa and I chose to crunch the numbers on.
That might be something like if one of the partners dies, the other gets their Social Security benefit?
I’m leaping ahead a little bit. Of those 1,000-plus laws, the main ones are Social Security, inheritance taxes, all tax laws that benefit married people. Lisa and my math calculations, we also looked at housing discrimination and accounted for that.
What do you mean by housing discrimination? How does that work?
I don’t have the numbers here in front of me, but we had read there was a certain figure that single women spend a certain amount more on housing because they can’t share rental costs or share mortgages. We took that number that we got out of this article and extrapolated from there. I can’t remember what the number was. To random example in my own life, a relative of mine died and left me some money out of his IRA and because I was not his spouse, I did not have the option of leaving it in the account and letting it accrue until my retirement. I had to take it out within ten years, which is okay. If I had been his wife, I would have gotten that little bit more time for the money to accrue.
Some of these things are big. I was looking through your blog and I came across this through Bella’s work and elsewhere like, “If you’re in the military and you get married, you get a raise.”
The military is extraordinarily problematic on marital status discrimination and I am not in the military, I can’t speak to it too much. There are other people who are more familiar, but my understanding is it’s a big issue.
They’re very minor, but they’re illustrative. Spotify came out with a special called Spotify’s Premium Duo. “Spotify Premium Duo is designed for audio loving pairs living at the same address. Each individual gets their premium account under one plan in addition to unique benefits for couples for $12.99 or the market equivalent per month.” If you’re a single person, that account costs $9.99 a month.
I want to point out that there are a lot of people who have roommates and Spotify is a Millennial’s platform. I read that very much as young people living together get to save money.
It says, “Unique benefit for couples.”
I did wonder when I was reading that email that at some point, somebody did a search for a couple and then replaced it with duo. It read to me initially as very much speaking to the Millennial generation, that is a lot of roommates.
I don’t buy that because they don’t give you an option for three people to sign up.
They do make it a duo, but they don’t talk about marriage. This probably to them is speaking more to people who are cohabitating and don’t want to put labels on it or don’t believe in marriage. I do think it’s speaking to a younger generation that don’t necessarily have the same awareness of the jabs that they’re getting for not being married yet.
What are some of the lesser known ones besides Spotify?
I’m at IKEA filling up my basket, proud to be a solo and going to decorate my new space, and I’m overflowing my cart. Now, it’s time for me to check out and the woman who’s checking us out is already moving slowly and I’m the solo taking every little item out on the conveyor belt and nobody helps you bag at IKEA. Everybody behind me is coupled up. Eventually, all million things that I’m purchasing are paid for and I’m completely alone trying to figure out how to get all the things back into my cart and people are frustrated because I’m clearly in their way. Everybody else in line has two people to hold their stuff. I’m paying, even if it’s $0.05 for an extra bag so that I can carry my shit back to my car and continue living my solo life. It might only be $0.05 or $0.10 or $2 for one of those huge IKEA bags. It’s still more expense on the solo and I’m going to a house that’s going to have the same amount of space or whatever it might be, it doesn’t matter, but you’re already being discriminated against.
If I may, I would pitch that per person, a solo put more into the economy in the first place. The fact that there is not an equivalent of a tax write off at the end that solo people can own a house, which means they’re paying the property taxes. They can have kids. You’re paying all the same things. For the most part, the solo person might be going out a little bit more stimulating the economy in a different way. The solo women who are looking for places to live are paying more because, “I need a safe space. I moved into a new city that has completely different weather. Part of my budget had to include secured parking, which is $100-plus a month in this city, especially when you’re dealing with winter and subzero.”
All of these are very real differential benefits. They don’t tend to bother me that much, but there’s one that does. The reason it doesn’t bother me is because solos tend not to have children. That’s not always the case. Any benefit that married people have, they give up the moment they start to have children because children are damn expensive. The cost benefit analysis helps even it out a little bit. The one that bothers me is obviously property tax. The idea is if you own a home, you pay property tax.
Much of the property tax goes to supporting school systems. You realize that in an abstract way that educating young people is good for society and good for the city and good for the world. I’m happy to help in that way, but it’s a differential benefit. Married people don’t pay additional property tax when they have children. We’re realizing this in a COVID world and no one wanted to admit it, but now they’re starting to admit it is that schools don’t just educate children, it’s childcare. Now, you have children and you get free childcare for those kids. Frankly, I feel bad for parents who are having to homeschool. That’s hard to do. Christina, what is your reaction as you hear us talking about these things, as someone who has thought about this one million times more than I have?
They’re very valid concerns. Like Lily’s example of the bag cost and the couples lining up behind her, it seems like a small thing, but those small things add up. My example is when Lisa and I were looking at the federal code, I’m looking at all of the laws that mentioned spouse or marital status. One of the laws that we flagged was the stalker law where taxpayer money goes toward protection for someone if they’re being stalked. They can have a squad car outside.
The stalkee gets protection, so do the people in their nuclear family or a romantic partner, but anyone outside of the nuclear family or this romantic partner seems like they don’t get the stalker protection. They aren’t in that little circle of people who get protected against the stalker, which I thought if there’s another random example now, hopefully, I’m never going to be stalked, not ever going to impact me, but it is illustrative. When you add up all these little random things, you begin to get a disheartening picture. These are stupid people who’ve never watched one movie in the ‘90s where the bad guy follows the roommate every time. I don’t know how to fix these laws. I would like the dialogue to get big enough so that people who are in a position to fix them, like lawmakers, people who are smarter than I am on these topics. People who are smart in tax law, people who are smarter in lawmaking in general, could maybe engage on giving some ideas of how to fix these mandatory issues.
How dare to make a prediction? This focus on family has the potential to change with the change that’ll happen in demographics. 28% of households in the United States have a single person in them. That number is projected to grow for a variety of reasons. In particular, delaying marriage and younger peoples are losing faith in marriage. There are predictions. Pew Center has a research project that suggests the percentage. Twenty five percent, up from 10% or 14% historically of Millennials are never expected to marry. What’ll happen is there is votes in single people. There is money to be made from single people. Ellen Byron is a writer for the Wall Street Journal. She’s written a few articles about how corporations are starting to wake up and recognize that people like Lily have special considerations in the marketplace.
Even some things like sizing of eggs, bread, and the big toilet paper roll that came out are bought more often by single people because they have smaller spaces and they don’t have as much storage. Even smart churches are recognizing that they’ve been alienating single people for a long time. The smart ones will welcome them into the flock. The demographic changes are going to help nudge some of this along. Obviously, there are people like us who are unapologetic about being unattached, are being vocal about it, are building community, and a conversation around something that otherwise you would think, “Am I crazy for thinking the way I do versus the world is crazy for thinking the way it does?”
I’ve got another expense to add for women specifically. Fertility, freezing your eggs because that is also ingrained in the female experience. I made the choice not to pursue, although I do have a family that was like, “You don’t know. You never know. You got to do it.” I’m exposing my body to that unbelievable number of hormones. I’m paying how much money for all of that, the storage and this, all for a maybe. There are other women who at 40 are like, “I spent so much money doing that. I could have owned a house by now.”
Do you have a sense of the price to do that? If you’re a man who’s thinking about getting a vasectomy or to freeze your sperm, it’s $750 to $1,000 a year give or take because I did a bunch of research for this for. I have a prostate episode on Solo and I looked into what the cost of that would be because I was curious about it. In part, because my guest, who’s a urologist, had an interesting take on vasectomies, which is if you’re thinking about freezing your sperm, don’t get the vasectomy and he had a whole bunch of reasons. One, in which was the incredible expense that comes from and the limited amount that you can store. My guess is it has to be at least the same amount of money.
It’s ten times as much starting. In order to do a round of hormones and the surgery to remove the eggs at the exact right time, it starts around $10,000 and then you are housing your eggs.
Let’s get into this anti-singles rhetoric. That’s something that you’ve thought a lot about. There are the written laws and tax codes, but then there’s also the conversations that people have with singles and the language they use and the assumptions that they make and so on. I always talk about this, as we live in a world where at every Thanksgiving dinner, there’s one of us and that person is subjected to this rhetoric and they feel alone because they’re the only person at the dinner. If there’s one person at every dinner, there’s a big community and that’s part of this show and your blog is to talk to those folks. What are the devices that anti-solo people use?
A super common example we’ve all heard is, “You’re so amazing, smart and funny. Why are you still single?” It’s very common to hear that. That’s one of many super common statements that might feel bad to a single person, but they don’t necessarily know why it feels bad or can’t articulate in the moment why it feels bad and why the other person shouldn’t have said it necessarily. Lisa and I were talking about this phenomenon and as single people, sometimes we feel put on the spot, we don’t know exactly what to say, or we don’t know exactly how to articulate that singlism exists. We were going through these little microaggressions, like, “You’re great. Why are you still single? Don’t worry, you’ll find someone one day.”
We were thinking, each of these is an example of a logical fallacy. Bella gave us a venue and let us write on her in her Psychology Today column, we wrote about these microaggressions and for each microaggression, we gave an example of a specific logical fallacy that was tied to that microaggression, as a way to give people something hard to hold onto when they are being bombarded with these microaggressions. The example I gave is the appeal to flattery fallacy. That’s the literal name of that logical fallacy. What it means is that the argument assumes that because the person has said one flattering thing, the rest of their argument must also have a degree of truthiness to it. These are rhetorical devices that go back to the days of the Greek philosophers.
When someone tells you that, what do each of us respond with that?
That would be the appeal to flattery fallacy that you are using. I’m never that fast though. Even though, I wrote this article and Lisa and I went through all the fallacies and articulated all the fallacies in relation to these random microaggressions we were getting, I still can never remember when someone hits me up at the dinner table. To use Peter’s example, I freeze.
Part of the reason I’m amazing is because I’m single. I got all this time, energy, and freedom to do all these great things. Why would I want to ruin this by partnering up?
“You are great. Why are you still single?” I said, “I am great, aren’t I?” I should have a little note card that I carry around with you guys as responses on it so I can refer to it in the moment.
“If I were married,” I go, “You’d what? Put your order in and see if I take it? It’s because you’d be single, doesn’t mean I’d be interested. Also, thanks for flirting with me, you crossed many boundaries.”
I do think that these things are insidious. One thing that I have launched on the Solo page of PeterMcGraw.org is a new message board. What I invite readers to do is to share some of the anti-single rhetoric that they’ve experienced and especially share their comebacks to those. The one I haven’t nailed yet is, “When you go up to a restaurant and it’s you being seated.” I still haven’t nailed the perfect response to that, but I’m working on it.
I usually say, “I’m going to be plenty.” I’m quick. I feel the world is trying to make me smaller than I am, and I’ve got 5, 2, and 3 quarters on me. I’m going to take up as much space as I pay for. I pay my taxes.
Do you have any others that bother you, Christina, in terms of the anti-single rhetoric or is that the big one?
“You’re going to grow old alone and you’re going to be bitter.” That’s ad hominem attack, name calling, substitutes abuse for evidence and, “You’re in denial. You’re defensive.” That’s hasty generalization fallacy where they assume something about you that no one can tell whether I’m in denial or I’m happy single or not, except for me. “How come you hate men? How come you don’t like gay marriage?” People leap to these conclusions. If I say, “I have some issues with the way marriage is privileged in our society.” They’re like, “Why don’t you like gay marriage?” I’m like, “How did you get there?” That’s called a complex question fallacy where the definition of that is it forces the recipient of the statement to make a choice that either way puts me in an uncomfortable position. I’m not against gay marriage because marriage is over privileged in our society, but it puts me in an uncomfortable position to have to answer that kind of a statement.
There are some gender differences with some of these. Women get a lot more of these than men do. There are different assumptions also about when a man versus a woman traditional stereotypes chooses to be single. Some of it is for a woman who is bitter, angry, and the man is not willing to grow up and a womanizer. These things split in different ways. They don’t always have mean intention. One of them I get is, “Pete, I worry that you’re going to grow old, alone, and you’re going to have anyone there.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? I have so many friends. I have rich connections. I worry about you. You’ve put all your cards in one other person. What if they die first? You’re going to be in the same boat as me, except you’re not going to have the friends. I’m not sure if you should be worried about me. Let’s worry about you.”
In my opinion, that’s the appeal to fear of fallacy where it gets truthiness by adding sheer scariness, “I’m worried about you. You never know what could happen.” That’s where it gets its truthiness from an appeal to fear.
The other one is it usually happens if I meet someone and I tell them that I’m not interested in having a family. I’m not interested in getting married and it goes something like this, “I want to understand why you don’t want to get married. Will you explain this to me? This is puzzling to me.” I always say, “I’m happy to talk it through, but I want to point out, imagine that you said to me, ‘I want to get married,’ and I said, ‘I’m so puzzled by this decision. Will you please explain to me why you would want to get married because I don’t understand it?’” It feels like a one-way conversation where the person who doesn’t want to get married has to explain it and the person who does want to get married, what’s there to explain in that.
I have only quippy retorts to all of these, “You’re going to grow old and bitter.” I’m like, “I’d much rather be solo and bitter for my choices throughout my life than married and bitter because of one choice I made.” The other thing is, “I don’t understand. How could you not want to have children? How could you not want to be married?” I say, “Of the people that I’ve met, I would not want to spend the rest of my life with any of them, that’s number one. Number two, explain to me why you would want to have children and please give examples.”
In the time of COVID and quarantines, some of this rhetoric is going to go down. There are a lot of people who have been forced to reckon with the quality of their relationship and the decisions they have made. In some ways they’re like, “I don’t envy solos because they don’t have someone to lean on.” Other’s like, “I would like to be on my own.” Some of this may go down because people are forced to reckon with the gravity of some of their life choices because of the situation.
100%-plus people are getting divorced after this.
In the past, people have given me pity in comments and pitying looks when I said I live alone. I’m struggling because every day, I feel bad for my couple friends and my friends with kids. I don’t want to be that person who is pitying someone else for their situation or their life choices, but yet I am that person. I feel a little conflicted about that. Living alone is such a privilege for me.
That’s a thoughtful way to think about it. These are important topics to talk about because it’s illustrative. It points out the saying about the fish who says to the other fish, “The water’s nice today,” and the other fish goes, “What’s water?” We live in a world where a lot of people don’t realize that we’re surrounded by this particular type of water. Pointing out the differential benefits and the annoying anti-singles rhetoric and so on is important to do. I have to admit that me will only take that so far because I also enjoy the saying about the best revenge is living well.
One of the best ways to help reduce the stigma that single people feel in the world is to elevate singleness. That is to bring it on par with marriage. I’m not anti-marriage, I’m pro-single in the sense that I think some people absolutely should be married, should have children and it’s the best path that they could ever walk in the world. The marriage happens to be overprescribed. There’s a group of people who would be better living a life like the three of us than they would have trying to fit in this other world. For me, solo is designed to be uplifting. It’s a focus on the positive in a way that is inspirational to people that they feel willing to deviate.
This is a good segue into our previous episode that Christina wrote an article about are single people cool. I had Caleb Warren, who’s my co-creator of The Benign Violation Theory and my fellow co-author of almost all the academic work that I’ve done on humor. He has this whole other area of expertise on coolness. He has the Theory of Coolness and we had this incredible conversation in which we try to answer the question are single people cool in some circumstances and it’s this idea of you make the choice to be single. Losers who want to be partnered and can’t be partnered aren’t cool singles. It’s the folks who decide this is the path that they want to walk. They’re going to go against the grain. As a result, they get to, they get opportunities and, in my vernacular, to live a remarkable life. Christina, I enjoyed and I appreciated your thoughtful response to this episode. Do you want to talk about it?
First off, one of my issues, when people talk about being a positive single and living a remarkable life, is it seems there’s a certain pressure on single people to be super remarkable in order to compensate for their “deviant lifestyle” or compensate for not having a partner. That bothers me a little bit. When I was listening to Are Single People Cool episode, it got me thinking because you or Caleb made a comment like, “Single sitting alone on the couch doing nothing that’s not necessarily cool.” I don’t think it’s that cool either, but then I started thinking, “I sit on the couch a lot.” I have certain physical issues where I am required to sit on the couch a lot. I would like to think about a way to make sitting on the couch, doing nothing cool even if you are unpartnered. How can you create that cool aura around someone who doesn’t necessarily go out, travel, volunteer, and do a bunch of fabulous stuff, but is single?
I don’t think we should conflate coolness with living a good life. Sitting on the couch can be a good life. It’s about matching your behaviors and your preferences.
You did talk about things that do make a remarkable life, like being true to yourself and in your values. You guys went through a whole list of those, which I also mentioned in the post.
I do think that people should be motivated not by impressing the world with how great they are, but rather living the life that makes them great. I have a colleague back at the University of Colorado. He he’s a solo and doesn’t travel. He’s like, “I’ve traveled enough in my life. I don’t like planes. I like to be home with my dogs. I like my walks. I like my football. I like my wine.” In some ways, that makes him cool in the sense that he doesn’t care what the world thinks is the way he should be taking advantage of his resources. He owns his life in a way that makes him happy. If I lived his life, it wouldn’t work for me, but that’s the beauty of all of this is that none of this stuff is a one size fits all model that someone else can tell you what the best approach is.
It would be nice if we could have a world where single people didn’t need so much self-confidence in order to accept their personal life choices. Where we didn’t have to say, “I don’t care what anybody thinks because I’m awesome.” That takes a certain amount of emotional energy to have that self-confidence to say, “I don’t care what the world thinks.”
Just because you’re not married or you’re solo, doesn’t mean you don’t have a community of people around you that reflect back all the wonderful things that you have going for you. That coolness factor transcends marital status. Someone who is courageous, authentic, that greatness shows up in people who are married, people who are single, people who are solo, whatever you want to call them. The cool factor transcends, it’s a matter of society instinctively feeling bad for you because nobody else wanted to marry you, which is privilege, “If you didn’t even know this was water, you don’t even know you’re privileged.” How do you engage in the dialogue to introduce water to the very fish who’s breathing in?
You have a series on your blog about remarkable singles. We’re going to cover one of those remarkable singles. Someone I guarantee you don’t know, Lily is not going to be the usual suspects. This hearkens back to the beginning of this when you’re at Thanksgiving dinner and you start to point out the prejudice and even discrimination that single people have. The more woke members of the table might say to you, “I buy it, but it doesn’t compare to the other isms. It doesn’t compare to the sexism you face or the racism that you face, Joe, or heterosexism.” It’s closer to the bottom than it is to the top thing. I like your response to that. When people make that argument, how do you react to that?
In an ideal world, I would probably say Martin Luther King’s quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When singles advocates are talking about the discrimination based on marital status or romantic status, we’re never saying that singlism is as bad as racism or sexism or heterosexism. A lot of times, we get accused of saying that and that’s one of those complex questions, logical fallacies and where we’re like, “How did you make that logical leap?” I do feel that singlism leads over and creates an environment where sexism can be worse, where racism can be worse than you were.
Kris Marsh has written about people of color, specifically women, who live alone. She could talk more about how singlism bleeds into racism. I’m not qualified to speak about that. I do know it bleeds into sexism because single women have historically been punished for being single much more vehemently than men have. Singlism bleeds into ableism also because people who live alone don’t all have all the resources. If you have a disabled person, there’s pressure on them to couple up, there are also problems where disabled people can gain or lose health insurance if their marital status changes, they can gain or lose their disability privileges. It bleeds over into all of the other isms.
In my pre-academic life, I worked in student affairs. I was a resident advisor for a dormitory, taking care of a floor, and then I became a hall director as a grad assistant. I used that career path to move to UC Santa Barbara in 1994 and to be a professional hall director at age 24. One of the great experiences that I had was the housing program there, even though most of the students were white and largely upper middle class, the program was very focused on diversity and inclusion. This is 1994. It was a central tenet of this program.
That was reflected in the hiring practices. It was reflected in the programming. One of those years of the six professional hall directors, I was the only straight white man of those six. I remember a very uncomfortable staff meeting in which the gay hall directors, which there were two and the black hall directors, which there were three, had a debate about who has it worse in terms of the isms. This was a spirited conversation and a passionate one, given people’s experiences both personal and professional. To the credit of the housing department, they brought in a speaker to talk to everyone, not the hall directors and the assistants, but also all of the resident assistants. I wish I could remember the person’s name. She spoke about this idea. She spoke about oppression and about the mechanisms of oppression. She said, “If you buy into one form of oppression, you need to buy into all forms of oppression because they all have the same roots in ignorance and in power.”
What I like about that idea is that this is not scorekeeping, this is oppression and maybe it’s more mild and more major, but it still holds people back from recognizing their complete and full potential. It hurts them emotionally, sometimes physically, and it disadvantages people. Anytime that there’s something that is systematic that disadvantages people, we should be fighting it as people who care about hegemony. That was a nice reminder, that quote about the importance of this. Especially nowadays as we’re seeing the issues and people becoming more active politically. I appreciate your perspective on that, reminding me of that powerful idea that sits with me many years later.
It comes to a place of there are a million ways to be not white. There are a million ways to be not cisgender, not heterosexual.
There are more ways to be not than there are could be.
The thing that we cannot argue is that people aren’t getting killed in the street because they’re known to be single. That’s where there is a bit of a stratification, like which house is on fire, let’s put that one out. It is interesting that when you talk about the human experience of it, that is what connects all of us.
I did an analysis in a previous episode about divorce. The probability that you get divorced, that you become solo is affected by a host of variables, your socioeconomic status, most notably, but another one is race because those tend to correlate. With this idea of you then have multiple forms of oppression that start to build on each other, they contend to intersect. You not only are fighting oppression because of your race, but now you’re fighting it because you’ve lost a bunch of benefits that you would have had otherwise. You probably need those benefits more than anyone if you’re in a low-income person of color household.
Without getting anyone in trouble, are there any blog topics that you have wanted to write about, but have not either because of timing with politics or the global pandemic or, “I don’t have enough evidence to prove one point or the other.” Anything taboo, something that you were afraid to talk about because maybe you had a friend that you knew would read it and this was totally inspired by them?
I ended up writing about a friend who told me I was going to be bitter. I had tried to point out an instance of singlism to her. She told me I was going to grow old, bitter, and alone. She was worried about me. I ended up cutting her out of my life not solely because of that, but that was one of the instigating factors. I wrote about it on the blog, but at that point we were no longer friends and she didn’t read Onely anyway because she wasn’t into the topic.
You’re like, “I’m cutting you out and I’m writing about you.”
That was not the only reason, but it opened my eyes to the way she was and how we saw too many things differently.
I’m going to compliment Onely because it’s a nice resource and I do feel like it doesn’t hold back. I feel it doesn’t pull punches. Onely and a show like this are nice compliments. It has a nice 1, 2 punch that goes along with it. I’m going to end with a question that my married readers ask me and that is, “I’m happily married, but you’ve changed my perspective. I want to be more supportive of my single friends, my single family members, and my single coworkers. How do I do that?”
Educate yourself on how to recognize these common microaggressions that are levied against single people. When you see people doing them to other people or talking about mutual, single friends of yours, flag it and say, “That’s not the most supportive thing to say about this friend of ours.” Being an ally to anybody that you want to do your reading, your research, and find out what the problematic behaviors are and call them out when you see them in a gentle and supportive way to the perpetrators, so you don’t alienate the perpetrator of the singlism.
This is similar to a white person chastising another white person for being bigoted.
I don’t want to say that fighting singlism has anything near to the degree that is required for fighting racism. It is similar to that dynamic where one white person might tell the other white person, “That’s not the way you should be thinking. You shouldn’t say that.”
This one particular friend used the term ally, which we use for gay, lesbian, transsexual, queer populations where heterosexual people are an ally and then behave in ways that an ally would.
I feel more conversations are always more helpful. You plant seeds, you get a chance to experiment with language and witnessing the way that you’re received and you never know what seeds you planted and what got watered and who planted something before. There’s a rule in improv, which is only speak to the people that are right here. It’s not about gossiping. It’s about you never know other people’s circumstances and you can only deal with the people who are making decisions in this room. Let’s assume that you’re opening your awareness, that there are a million ways to be in or out of relationship. It means you have roommates and you can’t be on the phone late at night, you live in an old building, you have kids, you have a commute, you have a partner, you’re getting divorced, or someone passed away.
There are many different factors at play in any given room with people. Trust that everyone’s making the best decisions for themselves and their circumstances and afford them the opportunity to make those choices. Don’t just assume that it’s Thanksgiving and everyone’s going to be with family. Even mental health and suicide awareness around the holidays has started happening more prominently in the last many years. Suicide affects people who are married and people who are solo. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re happily married and because you’re solo doesn’t mean you’re unhappily solo. Asking more questions, going with curiosity, and speaking to the people that are in front of you.
Lily, thank you for coming back. Christina, thank you for all the work that you do.
We’re going to talk about a remarkable single. As part of the Onely blog, Onely.org, you have this series of remarkable singles and one of them stood out to me and her name is Ume Tsuda. I’d like you to tell us a about this amazing solo.
I want to caveat this with everything I’m telling you now, I’m getting from this amazing book that I read, Daughters Of The Samurai, by Janice P. Nimura. I was reading this book. It’s about these three Japanese girls in the late 1800s Japan, who are told by their families and the government that they were going to go, be educated in the US. Come back to Japan as young adults and impart whatever knowledge they gained in their Western education to Japan. I’m putting aside the possible problematic nature of this importing colonialist attitudes and the idea that these women had to go to the US to acquire some knowledge that they needed to bring back to Japan.
At that time, both governments agreed, they were going to have this one-way exchange and the three women would return to Japan and share their Western knowledge. It was five girls initially, but only three ended up staying. Of the three girls, the youngest was Ume. She was so young that when they grew up in the States, she lost her Japanese language. The other two remembered how to speak Japanese. The three of them, when they were very young adults went back to Japan and the two older ones still remembered how to speak Japanese. They had that advantage. Ume did not remember how to speak Japanese. She was also different from the two other women at this point and when she went back to Japan, she did not want to get married. She wanted to stay single, be a teacher, and share her Western education with young Japanese students and teach them English.
The book was about these three women’s stories when they were growing up in the States and this is in the 1800s in the US and late 1800s when they went back to Japan. Throughout the book, you can see Ume’s struggle as she tries to accomplish this dream that she set for herself, which is to return to Japan and teach and share the things she’s learned in her education as an American in Japan, which is what she was meant to do from a very young age. She wanted to accomplish this by not getting married and starting her own school. Throughout the book, you can see her writing letters back to her friends in the States and saying, “I had no idea it was going to be so difficult to stay single over here in Japan.”
She gives examples of different discriminatory attitudes that she faces. Even her two friends who were raised in the States with her ended up getting married because they were financially and socioculturally, it was their only option. She stuck it out and stayed single her entire life and she ended up establishing a school and becoming very well-renowned, having meetings with the Empress or audiences with the Empress, and ended up being successful, but it was a struggle for her. I felt strange writing this post about Ume Tsuda because I’m writing from the perspective as an American in the 21st century. I don’t know what it was like to be an American in the 1800s or to be a Japanese woman. I can only take what I know about singlism here and now and apply it to Ume’s life back in Japan, in those days. I wanted to put that caveat out there that talking about singlism in 1800s in the US and Japan is very different from what I do on Onely. I was impressed with the tenacity of Ume and how she kept going.
Tenacity is a good word choice for this because to counter. There’s an episode about People Who Shouldn’t Have Married. The criteria that we used was if they were alive now, would they have not married? What’s striking about that premise is that the pressure to do it was strong that nearly everyone did it, even though it wasn’t in their best interest. People sacrifice what was in their best interest because of the pressure. When a woman in the 1800s was able to resist this pressure, that’s incredible to me. It’s worthwhile highlighting this. In some ways, it’s also heartening. It shows how far we’ve come. The hope is that many years from now, people will make fun of this show in the sense of like, “They needed a show like this? It seems so out of date.” Thank you to Lily and Christina for sharing your time. This is a nice tight bonus material.
- And Sarah His Wife
- Bella DePaulo — Previous episode
- Ume Tsuda
- Christina Diane Campbell
- Lily Rains
- Singled Out
- Episode — Vasectomies, Prostates, And Crooked Penises
- Caleb Warren — Previous episode
- Daughters Of The Samurai
- Dating Friends and Sleeping with Strangers — A Valentine’s Day Episode — Previous episode
- Singled Out
- People Who Shouldn’t Have Married — Previous episode
About Lily Rains
Lily Rains is a storyteller, arts educator, crafter of needlework, and maker of homemade ice cream. Though solo, Lily loves to be part of an ensemble with a shared goal: be it on a softball field, in an escape room, or getting a play, movie, or tv show made. Lily made her first appearance on Solo in Episode 8? Dating friends and sleeping with strangers.
About Christina Diane Campbell
Christina Diane Campbell.is co-founder of the singles’ advocacy blog Onely.org. She has written about marital status discrimination for Atlantic.com and Psychology Today.com. Her extended essay And Sarah His Wife, about mental health, misogyny, and colonial America, won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press Chapbook Contest. Her interests also include disability rights, sailing, yoga, linguistics, and true ghost stories. She lives in Northern Virginia with her infrared sauna and three semi-geriatric cats.
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