I love the story of the singles’ cooking club that has lasted 39 years and counting. That’s the one that was told by the distinguished historian Mary Beth Norton, that I posted on Living Single here, here, and here. I like the idea of a group of singles coming together, fairly routinely, in a social gathering that feels familiar and comfortable and is not about coupling. I was in a cooking club for 10 years when I lived in Charlottesville, but for most of those years, I was the only single person in groups that typically included three or four couples.
The Pew and Time magazine report generating all those headlines (mostly about how 39% of Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete) set out to look beyond just married people to other family members and family forms. One question participants were asked was this:
If you’ve read Singled Out, you know my take on the so-called marriage penalty in taxes – it is actually a bonus. Single people are the one who get penalized. A law review article comes to the same conclusion.
There’s a different sense of the marriage penalty that actually is real, according to sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian. They talk about marriage as a greedy institution, because it wants all of the interpersonal time and attention for itself. As I’ve been discussing at Living Single, people who are married pay less attention to other people in their lives than do people who are single. They are less likely to stay in close touch with their siblings, friends, parents, or neighbors, or to support them in emotional or practical ways.
Knowing my interest in different kinds of personal communities, a friend recently gave me a copy of Isabel Allende’s 2008 memoir, The Sum of Our Days. She thought I would appreciate what Allende calls her “tribe.” She was right about that. Allende has all manner of important people in her life, including her grown children and the people dear to them, her spouse (the second one, Willie), her grandchildren, a pair of lesbian Buddists who become parents to one of her granddaughters, a stranger she meets in a bookstore, people who work for her and the people around her, a circle of close friends she calls her “sisters of disorder,” and many more. She doesn’t just keep in touch with those people – she wants as many of them as possible living in her own home or nearby.