If you never heard of National Singles Week, you have missed out on something that has been celebrated since the 1980s. The Census Bureau caught up with this Week that was created “to celebrate single life and recognize singles and their contributions to society” in 2006. That’s when they began issuing an annual press release, “Facts for Features: Unmarried and Single Americans Week,” chock full of fascinating statistics about single people – who they are, how many there are, how they are living, how many have children, how many vote, and much more.
This year, though, the 110 million unmarried Americans got shafted. The Census Bureau only offered a paltry one-paragraph “Stats for Stories,” with none of those telling statistics I have been monitoring for more than a decade (see, for example, here and here). Adding insult to injury, they illustrated their announcement with a stereotype – a photo of a man and woman on a date. Singles Week is not a celebration of dating or other attempts to escape single life. It is a celebration of living single and all that single people contribute.
The official date of Unmarried and Single Americans Week is the third full week of September. This year, 2018, that’s September 16-22. In the past, I have sometimes marked the Week by listing the reasons why we need it. Those posts have always been popular. With the recent Census Bureau slight, it seems especially important to underscore once again why we need our National Singles Week.
Here are 20 of the reasons why we need Unmarried and Single Americans Week. (For a version of this list that includes links to relevant references, click here.)
- We need it because living single is how we spend the better part of our adult lives. Americans now spend more years unmarried than married. But even if we spent only a sliver of our lives single, we should be able to use that sliver to pick any door or puncture any myth.
- We need it because what it means to live single has changed dramatically over the past half-century, but our perceptions have not caught up. Bogus stereotypes rule, and they need to be dethroned.
- We need it because fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you are a plastic Barbie or Ken doll or you play one on TV. If you are a real person, you are no more likely to live happily ever after if you get married than you were when you were single. We need to know that.
- We need Singles Week to underscore another message: Single life is not just a “good enough” life. In more than 20 scientifically established ways, single life can be even better than married life.
- We need it because the media has grabbed onto the Marriage Myth Express and taken it for a long and silly ride. I don’t just mean the dopey shows like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. The press does us wrong even in reporting the news. As I’ve been documenting for more than a decade, media descriptions of the latest scientific studies consistently add a little glitter to the any results that look good for married people, while batting away any promising findings about single people. (Check out Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong.)
- We need it because our educational institutions – those colleges and universities that should be at the leading edge of scholarship and critical thinking – have been just as smitten by the marital mythology as the rest of society. Those bastions of higher learning are filled with courses, degree programs, textbooks, journals, endowed chairs, research funding and all the other components of the intellectual industry that is the study of marriage. As for the other 45% of the adult population, we’re still waiting for the scholarly spotlight to shine as brightly on us.
- We need it because we are shorted on the 1,136 federal benefits, protections, and privileges that are available only to people who are legally married. We need it because there is housing discrimination and there are tax penalties, pay disparities, and other high and discriminatory costs to living single.
- We need it not just for the privileges and protections but also for the opportunities to give and to care. Because I am single and don’t have any children, no one can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for me if I fall ill. That’s a missing protection. But I also can’t take time off under the same Act to care for a person who is important to me, such as a sibling, a nephew, or a close friend.
- We need it because there are now 110 million of us, and even without any of the opportunities offered to married people by policies such as FMLA, we are doing more than our share. In some significant ways, more of the work of holding together our networks, families, and communities, sustaining intergenerational ties, and caring for people who cannot care for themselves is done by single people than by married people.
- We need it because we have untapped political potential. For too many years, single people have been voting at lower rates than married people. If that changed, so would some of the most regressive policies in the nation.
- We need it because if single life were taken more seriously, then the relationship life of all people, single and married and everyone in between or on the side or undecided, would be expanded and enriched. Follow the finger of married people as they point to an important person in their life and you will end up staring at a spouse. Follow the finger of a single person and you may find yourself gazing at a close friend or a sibling or cousin or a mentor or a neighbor. Look more closely at that person and maybe you will newly appreciate the importance of the entire category that person represents. Friendship, not marriage, is the key relationship of the 21st century.
- We need it because single people who live solo can show us that living alone is not the same as feeling alone. They remind us of something that is too seldom acknowledged in a society that so celebrates the buzz of social life, something that people of all marital statuses can appreciate – that solitude can be sweet.
- We need it because the de-stigmatizing of single life does not undermine marriage, it strengthens it. When single people can live their lives with all of the same respect, benefits, protections, and opportunities as people who are married, then those who want to marry are free. They can pursue marriage for the right reasons – not to run away from the stigma of being single, but to embrace the attractions of being married.
- We need it because, when it comes to kids, love is the answer. As I show in Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells You, single parents can give quite a lot of that. Add all the other important people in the lives of single parents and their kids, and then you truly have a whole lot of love.
- We need National Singles Week to change the default setting for the meaning of the word “single,” so that the next time you type it into your search engine, the first result to appear on your screen is not “Top 10 Dating Sites.”
- We need Singles Week to urge people not to use “alone” and “unattached” as synonyms for single – those words are demeaning and untrue.
- We need National Singles Week to spread the word that living single is no longer a default status or a way of marking time until the right one comes along. For some people, especially those who are single-at-heart, it is the way they live their best, most meaningful, and most authentic lives. (See, for example, The Best of Single Life.)
- We need this week of celebration of living single as a counterpoint to all the celebrations of marriage and weddings and romantic coupling. Matrimania is not innocuous. Research shows that young women who are shown romantic images instead of images of learning (books, libraries) express less interest in science and technology. The same happens when they overhear conversations about dates instead of courses. A national study of more than 8,000 adolescents showed that those who became romantically involved became more depressed – even if they were still with the same romantic partner a year after the study started.
- We need it because the rise of single people, and of people living alone, is an unprecedented demographic revolution that is changing the way we live, the way we love, the way we vote, the way we do business, the way we age, and the way we think about what constitutes a meaningful life. A week for taking these trends seriously hardly seems like enough.
- We need to value single people because that’s what progressive nations do. They look for the people who have been marginalized and diminished, and invite them into the center of society. That way, we can all live happily ever after.
Happy Singles Week.