On March 25, 2017, I gave a TEDx talk in Belgium, “What no one ever told you about people who are single.” Here I’ll tell you about it, give you a link to the talk, and also provide some references and bonus materials that were not included in my talk.
According to the prevailing cultural narratives, single people in later life have two big things going against them: They are single and they are old. Now focus on the older single women and you have the trifecta: They are single, they are old, and they are women! If conventional wisdom got its way, they would be doing terribly. But guess what? They are not. There are real challenges, for women and men, to aging in an ageist and singlist society. Considering what they are up against, it is remarkable how well older single people are doing.
The number of single people has been growing for more than a half-century. Of all Americans who are unmarried, the biggest proportion of them, by far, are people who have never been married. Yet not much research has focused specifically on this group. Maybe that’s in part because the percentage of people who stayed single all their life has, in the past, been fairly small. But that may be changing.
Relationships, love, family – these are all concepts that should be far-reaching and open-armed. Instead, they have been squeezed into narrow, stifling boxes. ‘Relationship’ is too often a shorthand for romantic relationship – what a shame! Same for love. ‘Family,’ too, has such great potential.
A reporter just asked me about celebrities and other people in the news. Do they have anything important to tell us about single life? I realized that over the years, I have often used the words and deeds of public figures as jumping-off points for analyses of the place of marriage and single life in contemporary society.