Single 101: An Introduction To The Solo Movement

SOLO Lisa Dawn Hamilton | Solo Life


Peter McGraw recently appeared on Lisa Dawn Hamilton’s podcast, Do We Know Things. A member of the Solo community suggested the episode would be a good primer for people new to the Solo movement. Here is that conversation for new listeners to help bring them up to speed on statistics, definitions, and Peter’s perspectives on single living–and going Solo.

Join the movement at: https://petermcgraw.org/solo.

Listen to Episode #204 here


Single 101: An Introduction To The Solo Movement

I appeared on Lisa Dawn Hamilton’s podcast, Do We Know Things? It was an excellent conversation and a member of the Solo community, which you can sign up for at PeterMcGraw.org/solo, suggested the episode would be a good primer for people new to the Solo movement. I’m publishing that conversation here for new readers to help bring them up to speed on statistics, definitions, and my perspectives on single living. I hope you enjoy this special primer episode. Let’s get started.

On this episode, Embracing the Awesomeness of Being Single. Here on the show, I talk a lot about sex and a bit about related topics like relationships and gender. Some episodes talk about your relationship with yourself, like thinking about shame or talking about masturbation, but I haven’t delved into life as a single person. That is until I became single myself.

Dr. Peter McGraw is a bachelor and professor who hosts a fun and educational podcast called Solo: A Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life, and he has challenged so many of the biases about relationships and singleness that I didn’t even know I had. In this episode, we talk about the joys of being single, living remarkably, and the stigma of singleness. Here’s our conversation.

One of the reasons that this is an important topic is the sheer number of singles on the planet. In the United States, nearly one out of every two adults are single. That’s 127 million people. The most common household in the United States is a one-person household. Twenty-eight percent of households are one person. That number is upwards of 40% in Scandinavia. You’re seeing a rise in singles all over the world, even in collectivistic countries like Japan and South Korea.

Even in places like Nigeria, you’re starting to see this gurgling of people going it alone for now or forever. There’s this seismic demographic shift that’s happening and not enough people are paying attention to it, in part because it’s not just demographic, it’s also psychographic. That is half of American single adults are not interested in dating or a relationship at the moment. I’m sure we’ll dive into that some more, but for your readers who are single and not looking for romance or even sex, it’s as normal to want it as it is to not want it yet there’s no conversation around this.

I’m one of these people. I’m a lifelong bachelor. I was never married and I have no kids. I always struggled a little bit in relationships and thought there was something wrong with me. What I realized was that I don’t share this very traditional view of relationships. I don’t have the same goals. I never wanted children. At some point, I recognized how wonderful my single life was and that it was not less than that. It was to be celebrated.

I launched the podcast, not as an expert, to be honest, just as someone who had enough gumption to say, “I’m proud and happy being single,” because when I launched the show, there was no one saying that. There were some books out there. There are a lot of memoirs. There are some academic books, pop science, and books by demographers. Bella DePaulo is the leading force on the research side of these things but I only wanted to share my experiences of doing single life pretty well, so to speak.

As a result of that, I called the show Solo. I have a small community, and one member of the community was like, “What do you mean by solo,” and was pushing me very hard. You’re a fellow academic so there’s this phenomenon when you have a paper under review. I call it the reviewer see phenomenon 0:05:01, which is a review, who’s a real pain in your ass but may actually help the paper because they’re pushing you hard on something. That’s forced me to think hard. “What is it that differentiates a single person, someone who is single by the nature of their relationship status versus someone who psychologically is not quite that traditional person?”

I came up with these three criteria, and honestly, I came up with them like school through qualitative analysis, like reflecting on my guests, my community, myself, my reading, and by paying attention to the world. It hasn’t gone through peer review, forgive me. I like to say that solos have three characteristics. The first one is that they are wholehearted. They see themselves as complete people. I’ll be perfectly honest. I think that the average single person doesn’t see themselves that way. They see themselves as incomplete. That is if there’s someone else out there, their person, their soulmate, or their better half you’ll come together and two will form one. This is in the Bible.

Also, it’s the narrative that we’re told.

Life is less good. You meet your person. Life becomes better. You complete me. As much as I liked the movie, Jerry McGuire, I always wanted to punch Tom Cruise’s face when he said that. The solos, however, don’t see themselves as incomplete. They may welcome a relationship, but it doesn’t have that same form in that sense and I think it’s healthier, frankly.

The second thing is that I like to say solos can parent themselves. That is they can take care of their needs. They skew towards autonomy and self-sufficiency, and as a result, their relationships tend to be more interdependent rather than codependent. You’re not looking for someone to fix your problems, maybe your sex problems but in general your problems. You seek to solve your own problems so that when you enter into that relationship, you’re both choosing it rather than having to have it, in that sense.

The last one is that solos tend to think unconventionally about relationships, especially romantic ones. At least, they’re open to the possibilities of non-traditional. As a result, they tend to be unconventional more generally. I haven’t collected enough data on this, but my hunch is, for example, a solo is more likely to be anti-consumer or maybe not buy completely into the American dream or no post[Ma1] -materialistic. They tend to be more open-minded more generally about things which makes for a very interesting life and a life that you’re open to possibilities. Also, one that you don’t feel less than until that person comes along. That person may not come along. You may not want that person to come along.

There are four types of singles, though. Three of them are solos. I have a hunch I know which one you are but we’ll see if your readers would agree. The first type is a traditional single. I call them the Someday crowd. These are the people who want to ride the relationship escalator and the relationship escalator is the commonly accepted, celebrated romantic and sexual relationship. It’s the one of love songs, of pride and prejudice, of nearly every rom-com.

Even if you’ve never heard it called the relationship escalator, it probably already makes sense to someone reading. You already know the rules of the relationship escalator. You know the stages of the relationship escalator. Even if you haven’t gone through them, your parents have gone through them. Your friends have, and everyone in most dramas that involve romance.

The somedays want that, and they’re waiting and hoping for that to happen. Unfortunately for them, they feel less than. They feel like they’re living in a liminal world, in this world of transition, waiting for their one or for their person to come along. Their ride or die or their LTR. You see it on apps. I would say this, the Solo Podcast is not quite right for them. It’s a little too heretical. It’s probably a little bit too challenging.

Most people, I don’t fault them for this. This is the norm. This is culturally appropriate, and it’s celebrated. Now, there’s good news because the solos that make up the remaining three also can have vibrant relationships and can have romance and sex if they want it, perhaps but they do so differently. Adjacent to the somedays are the just mays in that, “I just may find my person.” They just mays share those characteristics. They’re wholehearted. They tend to be autonomous. They tend to be unconventional thinkers, but they want something that’s like the escalator that works for them.

The major difference is that their life is not incomplete until that happens. That they are typically living a remarkable life. I like to talk about Sex in the City. That may surprise you. The character, Charlotte in Sex in the City is a someday. She won’t date a man if there’s no future there. She’s very clear about that. Carrie and Miranda, I believe are just mays. They date for fun, but they’re open to these possibilities and the excitement of it, but it doesn’t define them.

If a man comes into their life, they don’t disappear from their friends. Carrie doesn’t disappear from their friends when Mr. Big is in her life. The show would go away but no one wants to watch a show about Carrie and Mr. Big. It’s boring, but nonetheless. I’ve already alluded to the third group, and that’s the group that isn’t interested in romance or sex at the moment.

For some of these people forever, they’ve moved on from that. They haven’t been terribly interested in it and so on. I call them no way. I feel like that’s a little strong, but it rhymes. The last group and this is a group of people you study in your work, are people who want a relationship, but they want it to be non-traditional in some way. I call them the new ways. Maybe they’re polyamorous, maybe they want friends with benefits. Maybe they have a platonic partnership so they have a deep, meaningful relationship that is non-romantic and non-sexual, and so on.

That’s the smallest group. It’s the sexiest group. I believe it’s the fastest-growing group in many ways. I think that’s a very exciting group, in part because I think some of my bachelorhood stemmed from the fact that I didn’t want to fully ride the escalator. For example, I don’t want to live with my partner. I don’t have a partner, but if I had a partner, I wouldn’t want to live with her. I don’t always want someone to spend the night even. It depends but in general.

For most people where an important step in riding the escalator is merging your life, that’s a deal breaker for a lot of people. What ends up happening in the new ways is they often think there’s something wrong with them. I have plenty of things wrong with me, but my ability to do relationships, I don’t believe to be one of them anymore. I have very close, healthy friendships, good relationships at work for the most part, strong familial relationships, etc.

I was coding my failures dating as there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t make this work. Many therapists might have agreed. They’d be like, “Peter, you got to work harder. Stop being so selfish,” and so on. The insight I had was, “No, there’s something wrong with me, but I’m not relationship broken. It’s just this particular type of relationship isn’t the right fit for me.” That’s an incredibly liberating thing. I think there are people listening right now who have never considered that their failures within a romantic relationship didn’t have to do with their inadequacies, but rather that maybe they’re pursuing the wrong type of relationship.

That’s very possible because we’re only given one type of relationship and one way of being but here you have defining four different ways of being in a solo and/or single way.

What I’d like to say is that not all singles are solo but not all solos are single. I want to live in a world where people move in and out of relationships, and their status never changes. They never become more than or less than as a result of it. It’s just they have a different way of living, a different being. Hopefully, as a result of that relationship, they are a better person. They’ve grown and so on. I’m very excited.

From that, you clearly identify a new way.

I say I’m 20% no way and 80% new way. These are not heavily fixed. A lot of people say, “I’m a little bit of this.” I would say one of the nice things about being single is it’s very easy to be new way. I just delete an app. In my world, if I stop trying, I don’t have any dates so I just stop trying, and then I have plenty of time and energy for other endeavors. I worked on this book in a very aggressive way.

I joke that if I were in a relationship, I never would’ve been able to do it. Either the relationship would’ve failed, or the book writing process would’ve failed according to the norms and the escalator. I turned the volume down on my dating life so low that I was, for all intents and purposes, a no way for four months or so.

I came to your show as a newly single person. My wonderful therapist recommended it to me. Right away, I connected with this idea of living a remarkable life, living very fully as a single or solo person. I highly recommend anyone for whom this is resonating to check out the Solo podcast.

If you do not like my voice right now and what’s coming out of my mouth, you are going to hate this show.

You have a lot of interesting guests from different backgrounds. Overall, I feel like I’ve learned so much. We recorded an episode in which I was on Peter’s show and one of the things I meant to mention on that episode is I realized in my own research on monogamy and non-monogamy, I’ve completely ignored single people or solos. Now, that’s something I’ve been thinking about. How do I correct that in my future studies? It has resonated with me. I’ve had a strong connection with the idea of being solo and you said you think you could guess what I am. What’s your guess?

I think you’re very likely a new way. You study non-monogamy. Chances are, at least, you’re very open to the possibilities. I would say this. These designations are not prescriptive in any way. They’re a way to let people feel seen. I’ll tell you a quick story. I got an email from this 21-year-old woman in Oklahoma. I get these random emails from people. Many of them are thanking me for this stuff. She had some questions for me. I was on a road trip. I was like, “Here’s my number. Call me anytime between 1:00 and 6:00 PM.

She called me and we were chatting. She’s from Oklahoma. She’s 21 years old, and she found the show somehow googling or whatnot. She said, “I don’t think I ever want to get married.” I said to her, “Do you know anyone who thinks the same way as you?” She’s like, “Besides you?” She said, no. I said to her, “You might need to move. I was like, “Austin’s nice. Portland’s nice. Denver’s great.” It’s because you live in this world where these are well-meaning people. These are people who love you. They want you to be happy, but it can be lonely out there. I like this idea that someone’s like, “I’m a no way and there’s lots of other people like me.” I think that’s exciting and empowering.

I feel like even that young, at 21, I think of myself in high school, when I was very involved in theater. I was a stage manager. I am a background person but I remember my dream was being a stage manager on Broadway. It is like a harem. That was what I joked about all the time, but there were no words for that. I had one friend who was obsessed with weddings and would buy wedding magazines. She was always picking out her best dress. I was like, “That was just not on my radar at all. I envisioned being alone with like, people to choose from, essentially. I didn’t have words for it until I accidentally stumbled across The Ethical Slut. All of a sudden I was like, “This is a thing.”

I think that book is incredible. I love the title too. It’s so provocative. I have a friend, who read it, she said, “I cried,” because it opened up this world of possibilities. It liberated her in a way because not many people are talking about this unapologetically. When I launched my show, no one was even talking unapologetically about single living let alone the freaky stuff like polyamory. The world can’t handle that. I think this is a very exciting time.

There’s absolutely way more attention to diverse relationship styles, and maybe leaning towards more acceptance of non-monogamy but I think the stigma towards being single is still really high.

It is. Bella DePaulo, whom I mentioned, coined the term singlism. How single people are stereotyped and prejudiced against the discrimination they experience. There are over 1,000 federal laws and statutes that benefit married people, for example. By coupling up, not only do people give you lavish gifts and public celebrations, but you also get accepted. You get invitations to dinner parties. People know how to treat you. There’s a lot of pressure to do this. I don’t think singlism rises to the level of sexism, racism, or heterosexism, but all of those things are bad.

No one’s doing any harm by being single, at least at the individual level. I want to create an alternative narrative. I want to point out also that not only is this the right life for a lot of people, but it’s also the right life stage for a lot of people. I have many readers who were once married. They are parents. They’re now widowed or they’re now divorced, and they’ve decided not to go back to the well, so to speak.

That part of their life was good and done. Now, they’re turning their attention to other things. Single people make the world a better place. Now, we’re not repopulating the world necessarily. Me and Elon Musk are going to hopefully have a debate about that someday. I look forward to it but mathematically, there are advantages to being single. That is in a world where your partner is supposed to be your everything, that partner crowds out a lot of other stuff.

Moreover, that partner is based on the rules of the relationship, escalator often has veto power over what you do, where you live, what you do for a living, etc. I’m trying to get the data on this. It’s not easy, but my hunch or my belief is that singles disproportionately contribute to the arts, the sciences, entertainment, and so on in part just because they have more time and energy to do that should they want to do that. Singles fight in our wars more often. They conquer frontiers. We rely on them to care for our parents, because siblings with families don’t have the bandwidth to do it. I want to live in a world where we transcend relationship status. That’s just different. It’s not better or worse.

One of the things that you’ve said is that knowing someone’s relationship status doesn’t tell you anything about them.

Yes, thank you. You care about myths. Let’s talk about some myths. There’s this pro-marriage crowd, these advocates. Let’s set aside potential religious or political motivations that they may have and let’s suppose they just want us to be happy. When I say us, I mean single people. What they will argue is they’ll point to data, and your readers will appreciate this. They point to data that shows the following.

If you ask people on balance how satisfied are you with their life? Married people have the highest satisfaction, slightly below them, are single people, and then noticeably below them are divorced people. Conclusion, Lisa Dawn, get married, stay married, and be happy. At first blush, and for someone who’s not a scientist, it makes a lot of sense but the nerds in the audience are going, “Correlation alert.” Yeah. This is a correlation.

We all know correlation does not equal causation.

It does not. It may, but I don’t believe in this case it does. There are three issues with this argument. The first one is to make the case that being married is better than being single from a happiness standpoint, you have to take the 33% of people from the sample who get divorced and pull them out of the sample. That feels like cheating to me because it works against the prescription that you should get married at least.

I think this idea of staying married, I don’t think that many people divorcing are better off staying married. Some have regrets and so on, but we’ll leave that as an unanswered question. The second thing is that you and I are professors. Our universities have what are called Institutional Review Boards, IRBs, human subjects, and panels. If you’re going to run a study, you need to submit a protocol and have a bunch of other nerds make sure that it’s not too risky.

If I wanted to truly test causality, I would have to submit an IRB that says, “I’m going to randomly assign people to marriages and stay single their whole life. Of the people who get married, I’m going to randomly assign some of them to divorces. After that, I’m going to ask them how happy they are.” It’s impossible. It’s a bad reality TV show. We’ll never truly be sure of any causal relationship is there. However, there is a workaround, and that is a longitudinal study that there are some data sets out there that ask people at various points of time on balance, how happy are you with your life?

What that allows the econometricians and the statisticians to do is to look at the change in someone’s happiness from before and after and they find something fascinating. That is married people who stay married are happier before they get married slightly so than single people and noticeably so than divorced people.

It changes the story completely. That happiness may facilitate relationships, but it’s not an outgrowth of those relationships. There is, however, an effect of getting married. It’s a honeymoon effect. About a year before and up to about a year after, there is a boost in happiness. In America, the average wedding costs about $30,000. If you want to pay $30,000 for a two-year boost in happiness, more power to you. I think that’s fine.

The last thing is these differences on this scale are small. They’re statistically significant because the panels are so big. You ask tens of thousands of people this question and you can detect almost any difference. That gets to the point that you mentioned, which is that knowing whether someone is married, single, or divorced tells you almost nothing about how happy they are. It explains so little variance that there are so many other things that predict people’s happiness. I believe these pro-marriage advocates are making the wrong prescriptions. If they care about happiness, they need to be thinking about what is it that makes people happy.

Clearly, relationship status is not one of them.

However, relationships are. Having a close romantic and sexual healthy connection with someone enhances your happiness in the same way that having an unhealthy one hurts it. This is what these folks are missing is that singles are more connected. They don’t have the one. As Bella says, they have the ones. They have more friendships and they’re more connected to their community. They have connections. They have support. They have people to do things with. They have a shoulder to cry on and so on.

It’s the people who don’t have someone to call in the middle of the night when they’re sick or afraid are the people that we need to help. If that person getting married is the solution to that problem, I’m all for that but if it’s also for them to have a close friend who lives across the hall or will pick up the phone in the middle of the night, I’m also for that. It’s up to the person to decide what’s the right way to connect.

You can foster those helpful and healthy relationships in any format. We’ve touched on a few myths or misconceptions about singles, and I think you’ve done a good job debunking some of them. Is there anything else that you haven’t addressed yet that you think is attached to a negative stereotype about singles?

I’m going to summarize a few. Myth, singles are lonely. The problem with this is that it fails to understand what loneliness is. Now, loneliness is debilitating psychologically, and emotionally. It’s an awful place to be. You need two things to be lonely. You need to want a particular relationship, and you need to fail to make that happen. You can be in a relationship and be lonely because that relationship does not satisfy your needs. Knowing whether someone is single or not tells you very little. Moreover, you have to want something that you can’t have but I mentioned that 50% of singles according to Pew Research are not interested in dating or a relationship at the moment. How can they be lonely for something they don’t want?

The data do support the idea that structural loneliness, like how few connections you have is not as related to your perception of loneliness. I think that speaks to what you’re saying if you want something and you don’t have it, you’re going to feel lonelier than if you don’t want that thing and don’t have it, then there is potentially no loneliness.

Another myth that I think is important is that singles are selfish. My name’s Peter, and then people call me The Selfish Single Peter Pans. That hits a little too close to home. He is not willing to grow up and do the hard work of relationships and so on. First of all, everyone’s selfish to some degree. The people who get married, they’re getting married because this person brings them joy. They have children. They create mini-me. That is on the selfish spectrum a little bit.

I’m not impugning selfishness like there’s something about being human that it’s pretty helpful to have a bit of “selfishness,” but what I won’t tolerate is the idea that singles have some special selfishness. Not only are singles more involved in their community, they donate more of their time and money. As I already mentioned, they’re more likely to care give an elderly parent, and they give to the world in all these other ways. It’s not selfish.

If we take this very narrow view and this idea of getting married makes you a grownup, is there a bigger myth? Across cultures and across history, there have been a variety of different criteria that we use to decide whether someone’s an adult or not. It might be a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah of a certain age, but the most common one is getting married and having a family. That moves you into adulthood. It’s time to put away childish ways, Peter.

In a sense, I use a different standard, and it’s related to the second criterion for being a solo, which is, “Can you parent yourself?” If you think about what a parent’s job is, it’s to provide for the safety and security of their child and to foster their growth. Also, to support them, through them, and so on. If you can do that for yourself if you have a way to make your way in life, have your own means, prepare your own meals, and soothe yourself in times of distress, congratulations. You are an adult.

There are a lot of Instagram accounts of women talking about essentially having to be parents for their male spouses. If they want to go out for a night, they have to write a ten-page list of how to take care of the baby or how to make dinner. Are those married men adults?

No, they’re not. They’re children. I caution men about this. I’m like, “You cannot relinquish your adult responsibilities to your wife. First of all, she may not be around forever.” The nuclear family is rather fragile with death, divorce, and disability. If you can’t be a parent to yourself, how are you going to be a parent to your children and to a spouse who’s disabled or something like that? Moreover, no one wants to have sex with their children.

I’ve seen this happen with women who are like, “I have these two kids. They’re enough. What do I need this third one for? He’s optional. He’s not bringing what he needs to bring to the table.” Good healthy relationships are one that is interdependent. That’s why I like this notion that you can be non-single and solo because it fosters a level of independence. I don’t know how you feel about this, Lisa Dawn, but I think it’s rather sexy. It’s good for relationships.

We started talking at the beginning about how there are a lot of myths, misconceptions, and I would say stigma around being single. How do you think we can combat the stigma of being single?

Simply, you start living unapologetically enjoying your life. You have nothing to defend. If you’re not sitting around waiting, hoping, and you start living the life that you want to be living, a partner may come along. It may not come along, but the evidence is there. How can someone feel bad for you when you’re living your best life?

Thank you so much for being here. Before I sign off with you, can you remind us where we can find your show and your forthcoming book?

The show is wherever shows are found. It’s called Solo: The Single Person’s Guide to A Remarkable Life. Please do me a favor, if you’re going to buy the book, buy it on Amazon[Ma2] . Apologies to all the independent booksellers out there.

Does Amazon count more for book sale things?

Yeah, it’s better.

You got to do what you got to do. The more people who get access to this and the more people who pre-order, the more attention it gets, etc. Thank you so much.


I’m so grateful for the work Peter is doing around living a remarkable solo life. As you heard in our conversation, I came to the Solo Podcast from a recommendation from my therapist when I was in the position of not having a primary relationship for the first time in 22 years. I found it so helpful for navigating this transition in my life. The show approaches the solo lifestyle from a variety of solo perspectives that Peter discussed.

There are episodes that are relevant for the no way, just may, and new way solos. I have considered myself a bit of a relationship anarchist because I do my best not to prioritize romantic and sexual relationships, but that is hard to do in a world that focuses on the couple. Realizing that I’m now a solo and I’ve probably leaned that way for a lot of my life, has been helpful for me.

A recent solo episode on relationship design is my latest favorite, and I even listened to it with a new partner to talk through how we wanted to design our relationship. Overall, if you are single or single curious, I recommend checking out the Solo Podcast and book for a way to push back against the relationship narratives we are fed so constantly. We can all live remarkable lives.


Important Links


About Lisa Dawn Hamilton

SOLO 198 | Non-MonogamyLisa Dawn Hamilton is a sex researcher, sex educator, psychology professor, host of the podcast Do We Know Things, and most importantly a Solo listener.