When I first focused on the study of singles and singlism, I was a tenured full professor at a major university and I thought I would continue to be a full-time academic until the day I retired — which I assumed would be decades into the future. That was in the late 1990s. I never would have guessed that by the year 2000, my planned one-year sabbatical would turn into something else entirely.
During the 1990s, I approached the study of singles in the way that was most familiar to me at the time – by designing rigorous sets of studies and collecting lots of data. A number of publications resulted from those efforts. I could have continued down the data-collection road for many years to come, and never run out of ideas or enthusiasm.
There’s something about doing original research, though, that may not be so obvious if you are not in the practice yourself – it can take a tremendous amount of time. From the days when you are just batting around an idea to the time when your study (or series of studies) is published can easily be years. I don’t shy away from intensive, long-term, research projects. Some of my publications were the culmination of efforts that spanned a decade.
There’s a lot to the research process if you take it seriously. You need to develop your idea, write up your plan to get it approved by the Internal Review Board (once called the Human Subjects Committee), create a research protocol, train everyone who will be running the study, pilot test the research, refine the procedures, run the actual study, and analyze the data. Then you will probably realize that you need a second study, and sometimes a third and a fourth or even more. Each time, you begin the entire process again. When (and if) your results add up to what you think will be a publishable paper, you write your draft, refine it, and send it out for review (one journal at a time). It is usually months before you hear back from the journal. At best, you will be asked to make revisions. (That can take a lot of time; then you resubmit the revised version of your paper and again wait for months to hear back from the journal.) More often, you will have to do more studies. Most often, in the very best journals, your paper will be rejected and you need to restart the submission process with another journal. It is not unusual to be asked for more than one round of revisions (usually with no guarantee that your paper ultimately will be accepted for publication at that journal). If and when your paper finally is accepted for publication, it can easily be another year before it appears in print. Meanwhile, your work is still not quite finished. You will have proofs to read and editorial queries to which you will need to respond.
I did that for decades, and I’m not entirely finished. However, in my study of singles, I was also doing other scholarly work that would be unnecessary if I were studying something that had already been researched to within an inch of its life – marriage, for example. I hope I am not claiming too much credit by saying that when Wendy Morris and I wrote our lengthy target article, “Singles in society and in science,” we were putting the scholarly study of singles on the social psychological map. And drawing that map along the way. That paper was an invited article for the journal Psychological Inquiry. Ten scholars (or sets of scholars) from different disciplines were invited to comment on our work, then Wendy and I wrote a response to all of the commentaries. Except for my Singled Out book, I have never been prouder of any work I’ve ever done, and I have well over 100 scholarly publications.
When Wendy Morris and I were working on that paper, the closest thing we had to a guide to the area of singles studies was a book called Singles published by Peter J. Stein in 1976. Seriously. So we had to ask, almost for the first time: What are the most important questions and issues? What is the best way to think about and research singles? What has the study of marriage (with its hundreds of studies in which singles were essentially the comparison group) told us about single people? What theoretical perspectives are relevant and useful?
Actually, what I just described are the questions and issues we should have faced in our efforts to lay out a whole new area of study. There was something else I hadn’t anticipated: The claims about single people that were being made on the basis of the studies of marital status were massively flawed. The methodologies simply did not support the sweeping (often causal) statements that appeared in the press and sometimes even in the journals.
I also did not fully anticipate the extent to which singlism would be rampant even among scholars. That was stunning. I was also taken aback by the frequency with which my work on singles was treated as insignificant and in need of defending. (I don’t know of any scholar who has been asked to defend their decision to study marriage or coupling, and there are hundreds of them.)
I gradually came to realize that my special strength (if it is fair to call it that) is in critiquing the singlism that is so rampant in scholarship, in the media, in politics and policy, in the marketplace, and in just about every nook and cranny of everyday life. I think that one of the things I do best is explaining what is wrong with the prevailing views of single people and articulating more accurate takes on what it means to be single. It is true that I can do original research and I enjoy it – but lots of other people can do really good research, too. My sense is that there are fewer people who can (or who can dedicate the time to) work toward a whole new sensibility about single life.
When I first came out to the West Coast and realized I wanted to stay, I passionately wanted a full-time academic job with tenure at a terrific university, just as I had back East. Now I hope I will continue to be able to support myself without committing to a full-time academic job. The requirements of the professorial life – like those of conducting research – are probably not totally apparent to people who have never been a university professor. Teaching, if you are conscientious about it (as I always am), can take a tremendous amount of time. The job also involves advising, mentoring, committee work (often at the level of your area group, your department, and your university), writing letters of recommendation, attending faculty meetings, preparing grant proposals, and attending conferences, as well as conducting and publishing research.
I liked most of those components of the job, but they left little time for other pursuits. What I most appreciate about my current schedule is that when some salient item of singlism begins to circulate, often I can jump on it immediately. There are exceptions, of course (I do have other projects and deadlines) but life outside of a full-time university position is generally more flexible.
Also important to me are the opportunities to read voraciously and write at length – including book length. I think that the time I spend thinking and reading and (especially) writing is the time that results in the greatest benefits in terms of consciousness-raising and changing the conversations around single life. Singled Out was first published in 2006 (with the paperback following in 2007) and in all of the intervening time, I don’t think a week has gone by when I have not received a word of thanks from a reader of either that book or Single with Attitude or my blog posts. Maybe all authors experience that – I don’t know. I do know, though, that the time I used to spend on original research, and in fulfilling all of the other obligations of a full-time university job, never seemed to touch people the way my writings on single life have. (And I say that even though not all readers are appreciative, as evidenced by the flaming that some of my posts have attracted.)
I am so deeply grateful to the readers who have offered to help me to land a university professorship. That means so much to me. I hope you will instead do what you can, in whatever ways suit your particular strengths and preferences and sensibilities, to contribute to consciousness-raising. Support authors, bloggers, activists, and organizations who are taking on singlism. Write letters to editors and post comments when you see examples of singlism – and send notes of appreciation to people in the media and elsewhere who are getting it right.
I’m still working on the follow-up to the Living Single post, “Where’s our singles movement?” so I hope to have more suggestions when I finish that. Thanks again, everyone.