Today’s episode is a special treat as our host Dr. McGraw meets Ariana Dunne on her new podcast, Solo Powered. In this captivating episode, Ariana and Dr. McGraw discuss their passion for solo living and share stories from their own lives. Ariana’s Solo Powered podcast embraces everything from solo travel to parenthood, solo entrepreneurship, and even some daring solo adventures like rowing solo across the Atlantic or embarking on Antarctic expeditions. Being single doesn’t mean leading a lonely life; it’s all about crafting a fulfilling, extraordinary, and fabulous life on your own terms. Tune in now!
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Solo Meets Solo Powered
There are not nearly enough resources for proud singles. Fortunately, there’s a new show to choose from. In this episode, I joined Ariana Dunne of the Solo Powered podcast to talk about single living. Ariana’s show is one that celebrates doing things solo, whether that be solo travel, a solo journey to parenthood, setting up your own business, making your own movies, one-person plays, Antarctic adventures, or even rowing solo across the Atlantic. I hope you enjoy the conversation. I certainly enjoyed it. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
When I had the idea for this show, I started doing some research thinking that there must already be a show out there talking about and celebrating the solo life. Surely, I wasn’t unique in my thinking that this was something that was needed. I went in search of solo, and the first show that I came across was a US-based podcast called Solo: A Single Person’s Guide to Living a Remarkable Life, and that show was hosted by Dr. Peter McGraw.
He is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is a behavioral scientist and economist. He created this movement, which is spreading across the US and the world celebrating soloism and celebrating the idea that being single can be an extraordinary way of living. It doesn’t have to be something that is pitied or a second best, but in fact, we as single people can live remarkable, extraordinary, very full, and fabulous lives.
On my very first episode of this show, I talked to Dr. Peter McGraw about the Relationship Escalator and the Four Ways of Being Single, which I learned from him from tuning into his show. He has been very much a guest that I have been very excited to welcome. He’s been in the diary for a few months now, as he has been very busy writing his book, which I’m sure he’s going to tell us all about, which also celebrates solo life. Without further ado, Dr. Peter McGraw, thank you so much for being on the show.
Ariana, I have so many things to say. It’s a pleasure. I’m flattered to be on Solo Powered. I’m flattered that my contributions have been useful. I would say I didn’t start the movement. I’m trying to amplify a movement that has been burgeoning for many years now. We needed people’s voices like ours to step up and talk about this thing, which I started talking about with a lot of trepidation.
I have to make a comment. I bet you there are a bunch of shows that celebrate being married, and none of those shows does the person have to say, “It’s you and your partner, but that doesn’t mean you’re isolated. It means that you’re together, but part of a community. Yet, we have to add this single, but not alone, single but connected tag to any celebratory talk around singlehood.” The good news is it’s a true statement.
You had a segment on the Today Show where Maria Shriver called this a movement. The host of the Today Show talked about how this was a great conversation that was happening and that needed to happen. For me, being a very happy single person, living a fabulous life, and have been doing so for a while and creating this show, I’m almost gone to the other side now where I’m thinking it’s absolutely crazy that people think that this needs to be a conversation.
I’m going to the other side. I was telling you I’m going to be featured on a TV show here in Ireland, and I had a call with the researcher. I was talking to her about my solo travel and my own solo experiences, and she was saying, “I’ve never eaten in a restaurant on my own. I don’t like to go for a walk on my own. I always have to go with my boyfriend. I’ve never been to the cinema on my own. I couldn’t even imagine traveling on my own. You’re crazy.”
I’m thinking the opposite going, “How can you possibly live your life without doing things on your own?” Talk to me about your experiences. I know you celebrated 150 episodes. You must have so much insight now into this whole world of psychology. I’d love for you to talk about the relationship escalator. You mentioned you have some new data that’s come out around the forays of being single. I want you to talk a lot here, Peter, and share with my readers all of your insights, if you may.
I agree with you. Now, I’m 170-plus episodes in, and I’m completely converted. I’m living in this world where I’m worried I’m starting to fall a little out of touch with the traditional thinking folks because I’m now surrounded by this community, by guests, friends, colleagues, and new peers. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber, but the way I feel about it is I like to say that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed queen is king. The one-eyed woman is queen or the one-eyed man is king or however you want to say this.
It’s because there’s so much to understand and there’s so much to do around this topic that putting a voice out there into the world qualifies you as an expert, whether it be about doing things alone as the primary focus of your show. Me, I’m all over the place. I am scattershot with regard to this. I’d say my overarching goal is to celebrate single living for people to see the opportunities and feel the goodness in their singularity. I’m a behavioral scientist. I collect data on occasion. I have some data that I’d be happy to share. One of the fun places we could start is I have data on who does what alone that is relevant to your producer or a member of your community.
I surveyed a couple hundred plus single and married folks. I asked them whether they do a variety of 28 activities alone or not. As you might imagine, single people do things alone in a public way more than married people. Let’s talk about those married people for a moment. I feel bad for those married people, and here’s why. I’ll give you one example of data.
One of the biggest differences between single and married people was that 42% of single people go to concerts alone. These are Americans. However, I don’t have any reason to believe that it would be much different. It’s probably even higher in the UK. Only six 16% of married people do that. The data are similar for things like going to a museum. It’s 58% of single people versus 31% of married people.
You mentioned the movie. It’s 58% of single people go to movies alone and 25% of married people do. What this says to me is for those poor married people, those people who have their life partner, have the one but are chained to that person because here’s what ends up happening. I want to go see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I wanted to see them my entire life. I remember listening to them in college. They came to Denver.
I decided to go to the show two hours beforehand. I bought a ticket. I took the train over and I enjoyed an incredible show. I’ll never forget it. If I was married, it would be great if my partner loved the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Maybe, but probably not. Now, what ends up happening? Either that Friday night, I drag her along to this show. I spent an extra $120, and she suffers through the show, or I don’t go because it’s Friday night. It is a bad look to go without your partner and so on.
In that way, I like to talk about the freedom of single living. I get to go to the movies that I want to go to when I want to go to them and watch the ones that I want to watch. I get to go to the concerts that I want to go to, sometimes with a date, sometimes with friends, and sometimes alone, depending on coordination rather than compromise.
The rest of the data made me mixed about single living. I was excited that 58% of single people go to the movies alone but I want that number to be 98%. I want people to know that it’s not just okay to do it, it’s fabulous to do it. Also, there is no downside to it. There are no costs to going to a movie alone, because A) No one cares and notices, and B) Who cares what these other people think about what you’re doing? Why put their happiness ahead of yours?
I did a single insight blog post about this. One of the things that I talked about is there are these researchers. I call them the Rebeccas who did this research where they ask people about doing things alone in public. People think that it’s going to be uncomfortable. They think they’re not going to like it that much because they’re going to be solo. As part of the experiment, they send people to a museum alone or with someone else and they then surveyed how was the experience.
This won’t be any surprise to you or the people who follow your show. The people who go alone had a great time because they get to stay as long as they want. They get to look at this piece of art for as long as they want. They get to skip this section if they want. They get to go to the cafe as they like. They get to sit and journal. They get to customize their museum experience in a way that is not superior but good in a different way.
I went to the cinema on my own, and I’ve been going to the cinema on my own for many years. The first movie I went to see on my own was Bend It Like Beckham. That’s how long ago it is that I was going to see movies on my own. I don’t like going to the cinema with other people. I was out with some friends and they were like, “Do you want to go see the Barbie movie together?” My initial thought was, “Not really because I want to go see that on my own, but okay. We’ll make an event of it and we’re going to go to a special cinema that serves alcohol and all this kind of thing.”
As I said, I’ve gone over to that other side. It’s super strange that people think going into a dark room to watch a movie and not speaking to another person for two and a half hours is a weird thing to do. I feel like that’s a sad reflection on society, which is so geared towards coupledom and this idea that being alone or on your own is somehow inherently bad or wrong.
I completely understand from a human perspective that we, as Homo sapiens, come from a tribe mentality. With animal nature, the majority of animals are solo. They don’t mate for life. There was always this idea of there being a lone wolf in society or people who are quite content with being alone. Now, and I’m sure you can verify this in terms of data, I know in the US, 50% of people are single.
I’m in Ireland in Dublin. Not in the UK but in Dublin in the last census in 2016, 41% of people were single in this country. We did another census and I imagine those numbers will go up. From a societal perspective, there are huge amounts of single people. I would worry based on the data that you mentioned of 58% going to the cinema on their own. Those 42% are living less happy lives because they feel that society is not wanting them to do things on their own. Not wanting them to go to the cinema during the month. They have to hide away or not enjoyed themselves as much because they are single.
I want to try and quash that idea with this show and to get people who are feeling single or feeling sad about being single to change that mindset and embrace being single and not feel like it’s something that is negative. Is that your experience in terms of what you’ve learned from the different people that you might have had on your show as well?
Yes, 100%. I think there’s a lot of mythology around coupledom or the relationship escalator. Let’s step back for a moment because the relationship escalator had to be invented. It’s a rather new invention in human history. I start my book with a chapter on what I call human domestication. What is it that makes Homo sapiens so special and humans in general so special? There are no other humans besides Homo sapiens at the moment.
I started with Lucy. She was a predecessor of humans somewhere around three million years ago. She lived in a hunter-gatherer tribe and her descendants also. Homo sapiens evolved many years ago. We’ve spent most of our existence in hunter-gatherer tribes, small groups of kin and friends, essentially in which pair bonding happened. People fell in love. People had sex. People had children together, but those bonds weren’t forever.
A pair bond or this close emotional attachment is about 1 to 2 years. It’s the honeymoon phase, so to speak, and that worked well enough because the community or the tribe was highly involved in the raising of children and so on. By the way, those tribal members still had time to themselves as they hunted and foraged. These were not big communities so you could go to the outskirts and have alone time.
The hunter-gatherer times were not a constant rave that was happening but because of survival, people had to stay close, and to go it alone during those days was certain death. You needed the community. Many years ago, someone got the bright idea to start to farm, during the agrarian age. Rather than moving around, we’re going to stay in one place, raise our crops, solve some problems, create a whole bunch of new problems, and create a bunch of new inventions to solve those problems.
One of which was the invention of marriage. Marriage is only about 4,500 years old or so and it looks a lot like the one that we have now, except for the case that it was an arranged marriage. It was a business partnership. It was about alliances. As a woman in an arranged marriage, you hope that your husband would be kind to you. You hope he wouldn’t beat you, and perhaps some sort of affection or love would emerge. It’s hardly the romantic type of stuff that people think about as you walk down the aisle and your father gives you away as a woman.
That hearkens all the way back to these alliances where you were the property of your father and then you became the property of your husband. The nature of the escalator, as Amy Gahran calls it in her wonderful book, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life, has this now. It’s because we live in this love marriage, growth marriage world. Also, because we live in this urbanized world where, thankfully, women and husbands or men have a choice too to choose their partner and to try to make it lifelong and not have their in-laws live with them perhaps.
We know what this looks like. You meet someone, you flirt, you go out on some dates, you bump uglies, and feelings develop. You define the relationship. You meet their friends and family, you move in, you merge your finances, identity, and your lifestyle. I call it you create a Benifer out of Ben and Jennifer. Ideally, in the United States, especially, you get married, have kids, and buy a house. It’s the American Dream. Even if you’re comfortable not doing that, the community, your friends, and your family think there’s something wrong if you don’t take those final steps. This escalator ride is only successful when someone dies within the relationship. Any termination of the relationship earlier than death is something to be commiserated.
No one ever teaches you the exact steps, but they model it. Your friends have ridden the escalator. You may have ridden it partially or all the way. Your parents probably did. It’s shown in movies. It’s sung about in love songs. It’s the featured narrative within television, and so on. That escalator has a set of rules. I mentioned one which is merging. Number two, it’s a high-status relationship. It becomes the most important adult-to-adult relationship in your life. It crowds out other relationships.
That other person often has veto power over your behavior and then the 800-pound gorilla, which wasn’t present in our hunter-gatherer days and isn’t present in the animal kingdom. It’s not even present in the March of the Penguins, the movie that celebrated it. It is consistent with sexual and romantic monogamy. This is a closed exclusive relationship, which does not allow romance or sex outside of the relationship.
As Amy Gahran likes to remind people, it doesn’t guarantee that those things exist within the relationship. We’re living in the vestiges of the world where nearly everybody did that. In 1960, 72% of adults were married, and 90% would go on to get married at age 21. As you mentioned, those numbers have been dropping steadily since then with no end in sight.
I love hearing you talk about it and explain it in that way. I’m conscious of a White man and a White woman as we are. I am presuming Christian. I’m coming from a Catholic Irish background. We are conscious of that relationship escalator existing in that way but also, up to now, there are arranged marriages in lots of cultures around the world like in the Asian and Middle Eastern countries.
There are still lots of factors that get added to that. Let’s say, for example, maybe the Jewish community, which is very much about keeping in interfaith religions, marriages, and part of those kinds of things within that relationship escalator. This adds a whole load of other issues, problems, and restrictions, I suppose for people who are finding themselves on that escalator and not able to get off it.
I’m conscious of that. I’m conscious as well of what you talked about. I’ve been preaching the invention of this idea of marriage coming from agriculture and coming from the idea that people needed to find their heir and know who to pass the land to, etc. I’ve also been thinking about a new way of being single. I live by myself. I have a super king bed. I love sleeping on my own. I was thinking, “If I fall in love and meet someone, I don’t want to sleep in the same bed with them every night.” I was thinking about that and it comes from being poor.
That comes from people being poor, being cold, and living in tenement buildings where there wasn’t an awful lot of space or room. People had lots of big families in medieval times. Whereas, kings and queens always lived in separate suites or bedrooms. There wasn’t necessarily any particular reason why two people should sleep in bed together other than to keep warm. Conjugal visits, sex, and all of those kinds of things are important as well but sometimes, when people are sleeping separately, there’s something wrong with their marriage or they don’t love each other if they don’t sleep in the same bed every night, which again, is this crazy idea.
To mention to you as well before we go on. I know that you’re a professor and a scholar. I don’t know if you know much about the Brehon Law, which is the old traditional way of how people lived in Ireland thousands of years ago. I’m a celebrant. It’s where we get the term tying the knot. Handfasting ceremonies were very commonplace during the Brehon times in Ireland where when you got married, your hands were fasted together but it was a very just and fair society. Women were equal in society back then.
You could decide to be married for one year and one day, and then you would come back together and decide whether you wanted to continue your marriage. If you did, you would handfast your hands again. If you wanted to get divorced, you would take eleven steps away from each other. You were no longer together, but a woman was still entitled to 50% of everything that the couple had. It was a very interesting and different society.
Christianity came into Ireland and took all of that away. I think sometimes people aren’t curious enough about the past and why we are doing things that we’re doing. Why are we sleeping in bed with each other? Why are we getting marriage? What is all of this for? People only think it’s the done thing without thinking about all of that past or where it all comes from. This is why I find this conversation so fascinating, and hopefully, the readers will as well. Are you familiar with the Brehon Law at all?
I’m not. I find it quite fascinating and exciting. The thing about it is this is a cultural invention. Human superpower is our ability to cooperate or to domesticate and be domesticated to create rules or things that are made up that govern behavior that is enforced by other people. As a result, the rules change, thankfully. As we progress, we have scientific insights, etc., but they don’t always improve as you mentioned.
You described a society where women had more equality and then that was overtaken by a society where we women had left. You mentioned places that have arranged marriages like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, to name a few. All of these are places where the patriarchy is alive and well.
People also forget that marriage was invented by men and that women were possessions. One of the wonderful things that has happened, the rise of singles has coincided with the rise of women. You give women freedom, access to economic, and educational opportunities and some of them decide that they don’t need a man or a marriage.
The rise of economic opportunities more generally and the inventions that have allowed people to live on their own are a great luxury and privilege to have. Again, when someone doesn’t have to couple up to survive, a certain portion of us decide not to do that. To me, the rise of singles is about the rise of humanity. It’s an exciting love story of sorts where people get to choose the path that is right for them. I’m sorry that it happened to your culture. I think that it was a great step back in most ways, in a sense. Now, I suspect that it was the case that there was a tremendous amount of pressure to partner up at that time. You had more say.
We didn’t have a choice in that matter. I think we were invaded by first the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, religion, and the Romans. Everybody came into our beautiful little land and changed everything to coincide with what the rest of the world was doing, which I suppose goes to our point. There is this sweeping idea that there is a right or wrong way to be and there is a right or wrong way to live your life.
I think it’s very exciting to be clenching at the forefront of these conversations. As I said, in doing my research for this show, I came across yours. I came across Lucy Meggeson, who was on your show, and her Spinsterhood Reimagined, who I’ve had here on as a guest. The list starts to get smaller. Bella DePaulo and Shani Silver are names that keep coming up. There are books, research papers, and things like that, but it’s still very much a small sector of people.
Now it’s so crazy to me that it is the case. As you said, you talked about the rise of humanity and about women becoming more free in their ability to make their own choices and humans too. I think it’s men and women. Social media has broken down a huge amount of dictatorships and restrictions that people may have had on their lives and on their thinking.
Religion has dissipated a lot over the years and religion was dictating how people should live their lives. Coming from Ireland, we went from being a country that was ruled by Britain to becoming an independent country in 1922 but all that meant was that we were then governed by Rome and the Pope.
We were a very religious country up until the last many years when a lot of very big scandals and traumas were unearthed as a result of that ownership over our way of living and thinking. We have broken out from that as well. The point is that people in Ireland have probably only had about a good 30 or 40 years of freedom and feeling this idea of like, “What’s this free-thinking about? How am I going to live my life when I’m not being ruled or governed by rulership, a monarchy, or a religion? I think that can be a very scary place to be.
Certainly, from a governmental perspective, that can lead to all kinds of anarchy. It could lead to a free way of thinking. I’ve talked about this before about how the government does still try to create a way of thinking that being in a family and a couple is the best way to be. They offer tax breaks for being a married couple. There isn’t an awful lot of support for single people, which was evident to me during COVID when as single people, we were overlooked as a society.
No one was checking in on us single people who were not able to go out, date, meet people, and have sex outside of the home. It was illegal to have sex outside of the home. If you’re a single person, what does that mean for you? People weren’t talking about women like me whose biological clock was ticking away. There was an illegality to me being able to go out and choose life and live the life that I wanted to have. It’s quite shocking when we look at those kinds of things and realize that there is a huge amount of waking up that society needs to have when it comes to this rise in humanity, as you call it.
I’m still waiting for my apology from the government. It hasn’t come yet. I concur. One thing that I like to point out is marriage was an invention to solve a set of problems created by an agrarian age and it spread through the world because it’s a good enough solution. It’s not ideal, but it’s a good enough solution for society. What’s often good for society is not often good for the individual.
Society through written laws or social norms tries to push people into the behavior that is good for society, which is seen as partnering up, settling down, and having children. I think what’s going to happen is this is going to become impossible to ignore. There’s going to be a lot of hand-wringing and pearl-clutching about the rise of singles and concerns that it means the demise of society.
The religious types like to say that this is a symptom of a declining society. I think that is the opposite of the case. The most progressive society and the best place to live in the world is seeing the biggest rise of singles. I did a trip to Sweden. I went to Stockholm. I call it the singles capital of the world. Nearly 60% of Stockholm residents live alone.
Sweden happens to be top ten perennially of the best places to live in the world and the happiest people in the world. The reason for that, besides a good economy, is that Swedes prioritize the individual. Benefits come at the individual level, not at the couple level. What it allows people to do is choose the path rather than default to a coupled path. You don’t need to marry to get health insurance, which some people in America have to do.
You have generous unemployment benefits so that you can take a chance on a job. You can become an entrepreneur. You have free education so you don’t need someone else to help support you while you go to university, and so on. The singles capital of Asia, I say, is South Korea, Seoul. This is not just about individualistic cultures. This is happening in collectivistic cultures.
South Korea is the eleventh most collectivistic country in the world, and they’re seeing a rise in single living. Some of that is because people don’t want to be locked step into this very rigid conforming South Korean model of going to university, working hard, getting a job at Samsung, getting married, buying a house, and having kids, all of which is very expensive and difficult to do.
You have what’s called the Honjok. It’s this group of young people who are rebelling against that. That’s the first critique, which is, “The world is going to hell in a handbasket,” and that’s not the case. The places that treat women the best have the highest rates of singlehood. I don’t believe that argument. The other argument is depopulation. “We’re putting humanity at stake.” I give talks and people point out, “Elon Musk is concerned about depopulation. We don’t have a replacement and fertility rates that are high enough, etc.”
That one is a lot squishier and my reaction to that is, “I think we’ll figure it out. I’m not going to get in the business of telling an individual that they ought to have babies for the sake of humanity.” I intend to be pro-individual here. As long as they’re not harming society, this concern is about depopulation. Let’s see how that plays out before we get too open arms about it.
I’ve had a guest on my show talking about having a baby on her own. I’ve talked about that idea myself. I’m revealing on this show that I am in discussions with a friend of mine and his husband about us having a baby together and us creating a platonic co-parenting situation that works for all of us. That to me is an exciting move because I know a lot of people are having babies on their own. A lot of single women are choosing to have babies through sperm donation. I think there are a lot of gay couples out there who may be finding it difficult to have children.
There is an opportunity to create a new way of being. Again, we’ll touch on the four ways of being single. For me, I fall into that new way category of being able to live an extraordinary life. Also, to be able to live my life on my terms without having to sacrifice the things that come with being a woman or being human, such as maternal instinct, a desire to be part of a community or a partnership of some kind.
As I say on my show, it’s not about living a lonely life, but about living the most full life. When we start to think differently about how we can live our lives, a lot more opportunities open up to us. It’s not about creating this idea of there being less, but it’s about there being more and ways in which we as a human society can come together even more so to the benefit of everyone, and not just a traditional couple family situation.
As I’ve been having these conversations, I’ve been trying to Google and research it as well. I’m finding very little on it. Again, I’m shocked. I’m like, “Am I this progressive of a person?” However, there seems to be not an awful lot even of information out there. I’m having to navigate this from a legal perspective and different things to think about when entering into this kind of arrangement. As I think about it and the more I talk about it to friends and things like that, I start to see that this is exactly the perfect arrangement for me.
It’s not that I’m missing out or I feel sad that I’m not in a couple or I’m not having it in a traditional way. I’m like, “I get to have a child with two awesome people, and that child gets to have an even greater and bigger family of people to love with. I get to have a night or two off or a week or a weekend a month off while the child goes and spends time with their dads.”
This is wonderful in so many ways. It’s not about, “Poor me that I didn’t meet someone and have a child in a traditional way.” It’s because in the majority of cases, as we know with divorce levels and single-parent families and things like that, a lot of the time, it doesn’t work out. Love doesn’t last forever. We, as a society, are putting too much on this thing called love and when love doesn’t happen anymore, we’re broken. People talk about broken homes, relationships, and marriages. I think that we can enter into a new society, which is fixed from the outset.
I think that’s very exciting. Congratulations on entertaining and pursuing something that’s going to solve your problems. The existing structure is not well-suited for you so you’re looking for a way to relax or remove some of the rules in order to create a family of choice, which I think is wonderful and exciting. It’s interesting that society is very eager to celebrate diversity and recognize the value that diversity has.
To have different perspectives, lifestyles, and values that the sum of those things is greater than the sum of a singular society, in a sense. It’s a society that is more interesting. It’s more creative. It’s a more robust society. It’s a society that people feel more accepted in and so on. Singlehood is only a different form of diversity. You had mentioned this. There’s research on the role of lone wolves.
The hermits of the world are going to help us come back from the nuclear holocaust. There’s an evolutionary benefit of loners that’s there. If we had a society in which everybody coupled up, we’d be a weaker species than one in which we allow people to not couple up. I think it’s very exciting to allow people to do this. It can be freeing that the nuclear family is conforming. It’s hard on both men and women. Women as homemakers, their work wasn’t as valued. Their work wasn’t as interesting as being in the workforce or doing these other things.
There’s a whole variety of reasons why men live six years less on average. One of them is they take more dangerous jobs. They live more stressful lives. They work themselves to death in order to support the family. Allowing degrees of freedom for people to do this is good for humanity. This is part of general development. In those early hunter-gatherer days, there were 1 of 2 roles. You either hunted or foraged.
Men tended to hunt. Women tended to forage. That wasn’t always the case but those were the general rules. However, what if you weren’t good at those things, or what if you didn’t like doing those things but you were stuck doing them? What happens is we started to develop culture and language. Now you could become a storyteller or an artist.
I don’t want my standup comedian friends to get married and have kids. I want them to make comedy. I want them married to comedy and on the road to making the world a more delightful place. I think that the more people who can hear this, and be inspired by it, the better off they’re going to be but I also believe that the world is going to be better off for it.
I do have a resource for you that you should check out. I had a guest named Diana Adams. The episode is called Supporting Non-Nuclear Families. She is a lawyer and practitioner in New York City, and she has a nonprofit. I think you should reach out to them. I’m sure they have connections in Europe for how to navigate this because the government is not well-suited for this. You’re going to need contracts, a lawyer, or maybe an accountant, and so on to manage this new form of family. Good luck.
Thank you. I appreciate that. Any and all resources are gratefully received. To go back on what you were talking about there, the reason why I’m doing this show is I suppose this progressive way of thinking about roles. When you talk about there were two roles of being. There was the hunter or there was the forager.
For me, I have eleven different sources of income. I do lots of different things. I am a life coach and a celebrant. I am a consultant. I work for a magazine and in sales. I create podcasts. I do all of these different things. I know we are similar creatures, Peter, because on your website, you have this constantly changing thing that says Peter is a professor, a lecturer, a podcast host, an author, a bachelor, and all of these kinds of things.
I was on a radio show at the beginning of 2023 and a listener called in and called me a Renaissance woman. I had been referring to myself up to that point as a multi-hyphenate and a Renaissance man. There weren’t that many Renaissance women because, in the 16th Century, there was that whole kind of way of being in terms of women being possessions and things like that.
When there were Renaissance women back then, they were ugly women who maybe were seen as not being able to maybe find a mate so they busy themselves with other things like literature or music, point needlework, poetry, and whatnot. A Renaissance man was someone who had lots of different interests, skills, and abilities. As a coach and someone who works with people around the business, I’m working on trying to change the idea and the mindset that you can only be one thing and that you can only be a doctor, a lawyer, or a banker.
You can only sit in a silo, do this one job, and not go outside of that. Whereas for me, I’m trying to push this narrative that we can be many things. We can do many things. We can use our skills in many ways and make money in different ways that don’t fit the normative way of being and thinking as a society. That, as a concept, is still something that I’m having to swim against the tide on.
People don’t get it. They will say to me, “What do you mean, Ariana? How can you do all of these things? It doesn’t make sense to us. You pick one thing. You focus on one thing.” I always say, “I’m focused on making money and being happy doing the things that I love doing.” That’s the purpose of my show but I suppose for you and for your show about living an extraordinary life, it’s very exciting to be preachers of breaking free of the shackles and one way of being when we can be many ways of being and we can be many things.
When you let go of that rigid structure of the relationship escalator, it gives you more optionality and the freedom to choose these other paths. I wrote a book. I did it in 135 days, which took a lot out of me. I joked that if I was on the escalator, I couldn’t have done that. I don’t think I could have done that, or at least, my relationship would’ve suffered greatly.
If I was in a new way relationship, and we can talk about those four categories, I could have negotiated that. I think I would’ve been able to do that, but that would’ve taken a very progressive partner in a sense. I’m with you on that. We’re not insects. We are not meant to do the same thing over and over again. Pursuing a psychologically rich life is one that is challenging, but it’s growth-inducing. It’s one that is an adaptable life for changing times, for aging, for changing development, and for changing circumstances.
If you have a child, now you have different roles and jobs that you can lean into that are going to be more amenable for motherhood than if you had just dedicated your entire life to becoming a partner in a law firm that demands 80-hour weeks. Now you’re a mother, but basically, someone else is raising your child is what often happens in that sense. Some people are comfortable with that, and some people feel the tension between them. I think you’re setting yourself up for a world where you don’t have to make those trade-offs to the same degree.
I saw a funny meme and it was a man who had written a book and he dedicated it to his wife and two children. He said, “Without whom, this book would’ve been written two years earlier.” Let’s crack into the four ways of being single because that’s an interesting one. It allows us to explore the new way, which we’ll talk about because I don’t want this to be an us versus them thing. I don’t want this to be a single versus married.
My point is there is no right way of being. There is no wrong way of being. If you can find a happy relationship and feel fulfilled within that relationship, it is wonderful. A lot of people are in unhappy relationships because they feel that they need to be because of what society dictates. It’s very much a case of, “Yes, I’m living a solo life at the moment, but I’m open to being in a relationship,” as I’m sure maybe you might be. Who knows? It’s not about isolating ourselves. It’s about looking at new ways of living. Let’s crack into the four ways of being single, if we may.
I resonate with this idea. This is not us versus them. What I’m trying to help people do is transition from being single to being solo. I think that is an important distinction because solo is independent of relationship status. Solo is about identity rather than who you’re sleeping with or not. The traditional single, I call a someday single.
If you watch Sex in the City, Charlotte is a someday single. She wants to ride the relationship escalator. She is waiting and hoping, somewhat hopelessly, for that to happen, and she feels less than in until that happens. I feel bad for someday singles because they want this thing, and for some of them, it’s going to be out of reach for a variety of reasons.
They’re not an appealing enough partner. They live in a place where there are not enough appealing partners for them. You have to rely on the cooperation of someone else to complete you and make you feel whole. It’s no good to feel like you’re living in this liminal temporary space that may extend years into a lifetime. That’s the someday, and that’s the traditional model that people are defaulting into.
The solos don’t see themselves as incomplete. They are wholehearted. They’re not waiting around for someone to make them whole. They see themselves as a whole. They are singular. They are whole and unique individuals. They also tend to be self-reliant. They tend to be more autonomous. They seek to solve their own problems. They parent themselves, as I like to say.
What makes someone an adult is to be a good parent to yourself and not have to rely on a partner to do the parenting for you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want a partner. It means you don’t need a partner. We happen to live in a world where that’s increasingly easier to do compared to the worlds that you were describing.
Lastly, they tend to be unconventional thinkers. They don’t default to the norms of the day. They question the norms. They question whether the escalator is the right fit for them. They may decide that it is the right fit for them, but they question it. When you start questioning the norms of the escalator, you have a tendency to question the norms more generally. These are unconventional thinkers.
I like to say that someday thinking is like easy listening. Solo is like punk rock. It’s rebellious. Within the solos, there are three types. There are the “just may” solos. I just may find my person. I just may ride the escalator. Carrie and Miranda of Sex in the City are like this. They date, but they don’t date with this singular focus. They date men that are flawed and that are interesting.
Carrie says at one point, “Going on a date is like trying on an outfit. You don’t know until you try it on.” The “just mays” would like this to happen, but they’re not waiting around. They don’t feel less than, and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. They’re living a remarkable life. The third one is the “no ways.” There is no one in Sex in the City who’s a “no way” single, but the “no ways” are a huge group.
You mentioned that 1 out of 2 adults in the United States are single. One out of two of them is not interested in dating or a relationship at the moment. It’s as normal to want to date as it is to not want to date. These people are being completely ignored because we assume everybody wants this but these people don’t.
The reasons are varied. A small number of them are for negative reasons. They haven’t had luck in the past. They feel like no one would like them. “I feel like I’m too old,” but the majority of reasons why people are “no way” singles are positive. “I have more important priorities at the moment. I just like being single.” It’s what Bella DePaulo who is a giant in this area calls Single at Heart.
There’s the last group, and it’s the smallest group. I believe it’s the fastest-growing group, and it’s certainly the sexiest group in my opinion. These are the “new way singles.” These are the solos that welcome a relationship, but it’s going to be unconventional in some way. What they’re doing is bending or breaking the rules of the escalator as necessary to customize the relationship that they want to be in.
Maybe they want to be in a friends-with-benefits situation. Maybe they’re polyamorous. Maybe they’re solo monogamous, so they want to have an escalator partner in every way except they don’t want to live with that person. Maybe they want a platonic partnership. They want to create a Golden Girls situation where their best friends have the status of a romantic partner and so on.
The permutations of this are infinite in a sense there, and I think that group is exciting because it gives you a chance to rather than have to say, “No, I don’t want this at all. I have to have this one type of relationship I get to choose.” I’ve been keen on talking to and learning from them. Also, presenting this as an alternative path to people because it may work better for them.
I love that and I love hearing it from you. As I said, I touched on it at the beginning of this whole episode and I did have some messages from people saying that hearing about those four ways of thinking opened their eyes and started to get them thinking about what their life was like. I’m most certainly a new way and what I find very exciting about that, in much the same way that I was talking about a rise of humanity and their being greater choices, is that for me now, I’m not restricted by age.
I can date anyone of any age because prior to that, you’re thinking about people having to be in the same age category to be thinking the same things, whether that be with marriage, with kids, or with circumstance, all of those kinds of things. If I choose to have a baby in a platonic partnership situation, then that opens and frees me up to go out dating without that big elephant in the room of a child or a kid being there.
I can go and be with people who also have children. I probably don’t ever have to live with someone. I own an apartment. I want that to be my own apartment that I have ownership of that it’s not a shared equity situation. All that this does for me is open up more and more possibilities. It’s so non-restrictive.
It’s a greater and more exciting way of potentially living life. As you say, it’s a sexier way of being. To that point, again, sex is such a new revolutionary thing. The sex revolution of the ‘60s and the ‘70s was still experiencing a new way of thinking around that. Polyamory and open relationships are still such a new idea, and yet they have been around for centuries.
People have been having group sex for a long time.
This whole idea of society waking up and opening up to this new way of being makes things much more exciting.
Ariana, I want to point out something that I think could matter to your readers. I suspect you had this experience. I certainly had this experience. We have people who are single by choice. These are the “no ways.” We have those unfortunate souls who are single by chance. I was once single by chance. As a young man, I was hapless. I wanted to have sex, a girlfriend, and love. I couldn’t make that happen. It felt outside my control.
I celebrate the single-by-choice people, and I commiserate with the single-by-choice people. As I got into my 30s, I could have girlfriends and did have girlfriends, but I struggled in those relationships. Those relationships often came to an end, not because I didn’t love my partner or we didn’t get along, but because we wanted different things.
If I had gone to a couple’s therapy, the therapist would’ve sided with my girlfriend, which is, “What’s wrong with Peter that he can’t make this happen.” I had this identity. I had this narrative in my head that there was something wrong with me and that I could not ride this escalator. The insight that I had was that I was single by mismatch.
I wanted romance. I wanted sex at various times. Sometimes I was a “no way,” but oftentimes, I wanted it. I just didn’t want all of it. I didn’t want kids and to move in, and because I didn’t want that, I thought there was something wrong with me. I didn’t think there was something wrong with the escalator. What happens is the “new ways” have the insight.
There’s stuff that’s wrong with me. I’ve got lots of issues. We all do but it’s not that. It’s, “The escalator doesn’t work with me.” There is nothing wrong with it for you, for someone else, for the girlfriends who went on and married men, had children, and lived with their husbands happily now. That was so liberating to recognize, “It’s not me. It’s this thing.” Also, there’s this other menu of options that I can choose from where now I go even further and design my own relationship. I practice something called relationship design, where my partner and I co-create our relationship so it is unique to the world. That is incredibly exciting, sexy, and so liberating.
This is what I was saying for people who are questioning maybe how I would make things work with this married couple who I’m potentially having a baby with. What’s so exciting is that you get to design and create from the outset what life looks like, and how to put this child up as the priority within that.
One of the things that I was thinking about was, for example, Christmas. What happens at Christmas time? When you’re in a love relationship and you have a child, and for whatever reason, the relationship breaks down, Christmas becomes that sticking point. It becomes the area where people are like, “I want to spend Christmas with my child this Christmas, and they get to spend it next Christmas.” That becomes an issue.
Whereas if we’re designing this from the outside, we can decide that every year we have two Christmases. There’s going to be Christmas on the 25th of December and there’s also going to be a Christmas on the 1st, and the child gets to benefit from that. As we grow up through life, and we go to school and people start going, “How do you celebrate Christmas in your house? What traditions do you have?”
Everybody has different traditions. There isn’t always the same formula, even from household to household. What’s exciting about that is that you get to, as you said, design what works best for you. That gives people so much more choice even when it comes to relationships. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was a serial monogamist. She was in relationship after relationship. She’s been divorced, but she’s had very little time of being single.
Whereas, I’m the opposite of that. The majority of my time has been single with a handful of relationships in between. She made a comment to me where she said that her relationships defined her. She got to understand a lot about who she was because of the relationships that she was in and she worried for me that I didn’t have that.
What I said to her was, I have had some incredible platonic relationships and friendships with wonderful people who have enriched my life in so many different ways. The friends that I’ve lived with, I’ve journeyed through life with, learned from, grown from, and all of these kinds of things. Yet, those relationships aren’t celebrated in the same way as being married or being in married couples are.
Being a single part of my life has also enriched my life in so many ways like being able to travel and have the freedom to do what I want to do. I know on your website, people who are single get to travel more, exercise more, and experiment more with being creative. They are all things that I’ve been able to do in my life, and yet, people will still say to me, “What’s wrong? Why are you still single? I don’t understand why you’re still single. Why have you not met anybody? You must be too picky. It’s because you’re intimidating. It’s because you have too much going on in your life.”
I have had those conversations multiple times and that’s been a conversation, but this has been happening all of the time that there is this idea that I am in some way at fault, but as you quite rightly said and I think you’re right. It is an important thing for the readers to learn that there is nothing wrong with you or me or any other people living a solo life, but that their escalator is potentially not the right fit for us. Also, we can walk up the stairs or we can go on the lift.
It’s exciting and one of the major steps that helps to go solo as part of that unconventional thinking is to let go about caring what people think about you. It’s because no one knows what’s good for you as well as you do yourself. It’s easy for someone to say, “You should get married,” but they don’t have to walk in your steps. They don’t have to be in your shoes. I think it’s completely inappropriate for people to do this but it’s because we live in a world built for two, and they’re defaulting into a norm.
One of the good news is that people will do this less to you, the more you lean into this. People have stopped doing this to me now in my life because they see my show and they go, “I’m not going to be able to convert him to our way.” My feeling about this, and the data to back this up is that married living is not as good as people think, and single living is not as bad as people think. The data are very clear about that. They don’t even have the science to back up their prescriptions so they don’t have the moral authority and the scientific authority. They just have an opinion and we know the saying about opinions.
It occurred to me what I was thinking now as well about why so many people stay in unhappy relationships and marriages. Again, a lot of that comes from how society is set up and people don’t have the ability often to exit unhappy relationships and things. Often, you hear a phrase when people talk about that. They are afraid to be single again. The word afraid and fear suggests that being single is something to fear, which you don’t often have about being afraid to be in a relationship unless your feelings get hurt.
To me, people getting married should be mildly terrified, to be honest. I’m saying this in a joking way, but the data from the World Health Organization is that 33% of women have experienced violence with a partner, and 25% of men. It’s 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced violence in romantic relationships. Thirty-three percent of marriages in the United States and in divorce, but only 5% to 10% have a prenup.
Divorce is one of the great wealth destroyers in the world. You can go on and on with this kind of risk, but because this is what you’re supposed to do and you’re so optimistic, it’s not going to happen to you. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t do this for these reasons, but they should enter into this with a sense of recognizing the upsides and the potential downsides.
In terms of this new way of living and some of those things that you talked about in terms of the demise of society or depopulation or whatever it might be. Also, as far as I can tell, most catastrophic effects on people who talk about where their life may have gone wrong usually refer back to when my parents got divorced.
It’s some kind of thing as my father left my mother, my father was a cheater, my mother was a cheater, or something like that refers to this monogamous relationship that then has some huge detrimental effect on that human being. Again, when we talk about the demise of society, if we remove those potential risks involved with monogamy like cheating or cheaters being bad, you’d probably have less impact on people’s mental health, which seems to be disproportionately affected by the breakdown of a marriage.
I certainly believe that the escalator riders could benefit from relationship design. I had an episode come out about this, which I think is one of the best episodes that I’ll ever do because it’s so practical. If your parents rather than divorcing, sat down and opened vulnerable conversations about what they wanted and what they didn’t want. Reimagine their relationship so that they could maintain a connection in a way that allowed them to be happier and healthier and thus, better parents, I think that the children would suffer less.
I had that conversation. I went and had lunch with my potential baby daddy, and we talked about what his expectations were, what my expectations were, and where our priorities lay or what we wanted. These are probably conversations that very rarely, if ever happened, between two people. I 100% wish and hope that our mission with what we’re doing, Peter, with regards to the solo life, solopreneurism, and living an extraordinary solo life is something that grows, expands, extend, and continue to rise and that people become less afraid of it, which is absolutely ridiculous. There is nothing to be afraid of.
Again, I talk about this because I have guests who come on talking about solo travel. When I went solo traveling, people are like, “Weren’t you afraid?” I’m like, “Why are we all supposed to be afraid all the time? What’s there to fear in being a person living life, experiencing new cultures, and meeting new people?” That is truly why we were all put on this Earth. It isn’t to meet someone and procreate. It is to experience all that life has to offer and all of the ways in which we can do that.
I’m conscious of time. I think I’d need to have you back on this show at some point because we could certainly talk more and more about so many different things that we haven’t been able to touch upon now. It’s a fascinating conversation and one that I can have for hours with you. Hopefully, this conversation that we are having will spark others to have this conversation, talk about it over dinner with friends, and relay it to as many people as far and wide to spark a conversation about the new way of being. Thank you so much. Where can people find you? I want people to read your blog. It is incredible. There is so much content there to learn from. Talk about your book.
The book launches in January 2024. It’s forthcoming. You can sign up for the Solo Community and you can find the show pretty much anywhere shows can be found.
The Solo Community, as you mentioned, there is this community. This is what I always say. Solo people find their tribe of fellow soloers. This isn’t about being a lone wolf or being lonely but being solo together. There is a rising community. There are places where you can find out more information on it. Read the blog and buy the book. Thank you so much, Peter. I appreciate the chat.
- Solo Powered
- Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life
- Lucy Meggeson – Past Episode of Solo
- Supporting Non-Nuclear Families – Past Episode of Solo
About Ariana Dunne
Ariana Dunne is a journalist, a life coach, celebrant, and an entrepreneur. She has worked for major publications including DMG, Bauer, Telegraph, Dennis, Maximum Media and the IFJ group.