Weighing the balance – busyness vs. reflection

Great place to sit and read in Chicago – Brauer Cafe in Lincoln Park

This is a little rant about growing older.

You retire. You’re okay as far as money goes – between Social Security and whatever savings or retirement plans you have. Now you face the big challenge – how to allocate your most precious possession: your time. As a single person – whether divorced, always single or widowed – you have sole control of that treasured resource.

Did you ever wish you could just sit and read for hours every day? All my life that was a frequent dream of mine. Did you imagine how great it would be to stop having to earn a living? I’m guessing most of us did at some point…even those who loved their careers surely got tired at times. Did you dream of traveling? If you did and you’ve got the money, this must be heaven for you.

But reading all the time – much as I love doing it – sometimes feels like an escape. From what, though? Working on my cookbook/memoir, for one thing. Seems every time I turn my mind to it, determined to get moving forward, I run smack into another obstacle. The most recent was the Adobe software program I bought specifically to help me sort through the hundreds of photos I need to go through to choose the right ones for the book.

One day, finally, I went to open the program and got – “Please provide us with a serial number and blah, blah, blah.” Of course, it’s been a couple of months since I bought the thing and I have no idea where the serial number is or how to go about doing blah, blah, blah. So then I put on the calendar, “phone Adobe support for help” and have to keep moving it and moving it because other things come up that take priority. So, once again, no progress.

Reading fun mysteries and crime novels certainly occupies the mind. And I feel virtuous that often I stand on the matt in front of the kitchen counter and work towards my “250 steps every hour” goal while I read. So, really, I’m not wasting the time. Ever try that – 250 steps every hour? Seems like you can never focus on anything long enough because you have to keep getting up.

But I remember often saying to my former husband – who seemed never, even for one minute, to stop reading: books, magazines, newspapers, legal journals, instruction manuals for cameras and other electronic gadgets, and ad infinitum – “When do you have time to process all the stuff you read?” But oh, well, we never know how another person’s mind works.

How do you allocate your time? Got guilt about reading or doing other “just entertainment” activities? Wonder if by the time you get in your 70s, you just realize it’s almost all over and who’s going to care what you do anyway? Maybe the trick is to just trust and respect your own feelings. That’s what counts. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, follow your heart.

 

 

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Can You Be Single and Have it All? Guest Post by Bella DePaulo

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If you want to learn about all the ways our society discriminates against single people, read Bella DePaulo’s work. She’s a Harvard PhD who pulls no punches calling out even high-flying groups like the American Psychological Association for their subtle “singlism” in language and attitude. She serves as a beacon for helping us do the consciousness-raising we all have to do before we get to the point where, as Morgan Freeman says “no need to say you’re proud to be black” and Dr. Karen Gail says in the previous post “no need to be proud you’re single,” we don’t have to say anything or prove anything to anybody about our life position.

With that, have at it, Bella…


When Barbara Payne asked me if I had a favorite life-changing moment as a single person, I immediately knew the story I wanted to tell. In fact, I had already written about it in my book, Singled Out. It was  the opening to the chapter in which I make fun of the stereotype that people who are single don’t have a life. Here it is (from p. 185):

After I moved from the East Coast to the West, there was a time when I knew I wanted to stay out West, but was not yet sure whether I could make that happen. Would I be able to sell my home in Virginia? Would anyone hire me for only as many hours as it took to pay my bills, so I could devote the rest of my time, and all of my heart and soul, to the study of singles? What about all the rest of it – would it all work out? Then one day, I got a phone call, and I knew that it had happened. I hung up and sat in quiet stunned amazement for a moment. Then I thought to myself, “I can have it all.”

It took a second for me to realize just how bizarre that thought was – at least by the prevailing standards. Here I was, stepping into a life in which I had no husband, no children, no full-time job, and for the first time in more than a decade, no home that I owned. Yet to me, I was about to have it all.

I doubt that I would have thought of my life that way many years before. I loved my friends, my family, my job, and my home, but I would not have spontaneously appropriated a cultural catch-phrase, nor refashioned it so thoroughly.

Years have passed since I wrote those words. I still have no husband, no children, no full-time job, and no home that I own. I could hardly be happier. I’ve made new friends and kept the old. I work as many hours as it takes to pay the bills (plus the time it takes to find the next opportunity that pays), then I passionately pursue my thinking and research and writing about single life.

I used to save up my money every year to spend a week or so at the beach. Now I live at the beach. Yes, I’m renting, but I can walk out my front door and have my toes in the Pacific Ocean in ten minutes. Or I can walk the many and varied trails. Or I can drive a few miles and pick up fruits and vegetables at the farmers market; my favorites sit colorfully and boastfully next to a hand-written sign that says “picked this morning.” I’d still love to see more of the friends and family who remain out East, but it is not hard to persuade people to visit me in the tiny town that is so aptly named Summerland.

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard) is the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After and of Single with Attitude: Not Your Typical Take on Health and Happiness, Love and Money, Marriage and Friendship. She writes the “Living Single” blog for Psychology Today and also blogs at Bella DePaulo’s blog. Visit her website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.

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Ever “defend yourself” for being single? Listen to Dr. KGL

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis is a great supporter of SWWAN. She’s been working with us for the past 3 years in many ways. We are thrilled to have her share one of her articles as our first Single Working Women’s Week guest blogger. Love to hear your thoughts on this tell-it-like-it-is post.

“Single Women, Stop Defending Yourself!”

“Proud to be single.” “Single by choice.”

Why do people who have not signed a legal document of marriage need to proclaim their feelings about their life position?

It is a shame women have to take a stance one way or another on their feelings about being single. Wouldn’t it be great if there were no more value judgment about being single than about the length of your fingernails? Sometimes they’re long and sometimes they’re short. But you aren’t treated differently because of their length. You don’t have to sing to the world that you like short nails or you’re proud of your long nails. Unfortunately, that non-judgmental thing is not the case in our society.

People who have signed the legal document of marriage don’t say they are proud to be married or married by choice. People in a majority (whether this is economics, racial, gender, or life position) take their place of privilege for granted. It’s only the minority [note from BP: Society’s conventions and rewards are designed mainly for marrieds and thus tend to make singles feel like a minority even though single women are now actually a 51% majority in America!] who may feel the need to sing out the praises for “not being married.” It sounds like what it probably is: a defense against others’ expectations – that everyone should be married. Too bad others often hear it as “Me thinks thou doth protest too much.”

Think about this: why do you need to laud your life position? If it weren’t that you are fighting off what others think you should do, would you need to?

I understand, though, I write as a woman who just turned 64. I write as a family therapist who specializes in singles (always single and single again). I also write as someone who has researched and published a lot about singles (see With or Without A Man: Single Women Taking Control of Their Lives). One of the many things I’ve learned is that singles of different decades view their life position differently.

Prior to age 30 people feel free not to have to follow society’s traditional rules. Women and men no longer feel compelled to find a mate in their 20s, get married, and start a family. There is more freedom to explore their social world, focus on career, hang around with the opposite sex, have sex – all without expectations that you must “settle down.”

“Settle down.” What a stifling phrase. It sounds like you can be yourself up until the time you “settle down” and have to stop being yourself. Settle down to what?

After age 30, though, women are continually warned about the “ticking clock.” While they may not feel pressured about having children at this point, others certainly are wanting to pressure them. And, by the end of their 30s, most women have given in; that ticking becomes deafeningly loud.

Once women enter their 40s, they either have to change their song or they have to put on a good front. It’s hard to sound proud of something that you don’t feel you have any choice about—the fact is, you can’t make an appropriate man appear in life. Or, you can put on a good front while you sing the old song, knowing it may no longer be in tune.

Women in their late thirties and older need support for not falling into the trap of having to take a stand on how they feel about being single. They need support for the variety of feelings they have—sometimes it’s great and freeing being single, sometimes it can feel sad or lonely [BP note: just like being married!]. And sometimes it’s not an issue at all. Women need support to avoid the self-blame for why they don’t have a man. Mostly, they need support to push back against our culture that pressures women into how they should be feeling as a single woman.

If you want information about a source of great support, check out my Unique Retreats for Women weekend. And, be sure to get your 15 Golden Rules For Being An Emotionally Healthy Single Woman.

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis, author of With or Without A Man: Single Women Taking Control of Their Lives, and other books for singles, is a marriage and family therapist (39 years). Her most recent book is Why Don’t You Understand? A Gender Relationship Dictionary She has a practice in Cincinnati and in Washington, DC. She is available for phone consultations, 513-542-0646.

Singlism in college textbooks? Yep – read our guest blogger

textbooksDiscovered a cool Twitterer the other day, Jeanine, who writes about SinglePhobia. Having become a college student later in life—going for a second degree—she was surprised to find how negatively single people were presented in her university textbook. Happily, she agreed to contribute to our SWWAN blog…

“I recently took a social psychology course as an elective toward an undergraduate degree in sociology.  Our assigned textbook was Social Psychology by David G. Myers (ninth edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2008).  Myers is a prolific author of college textbooks, and I’d read another of his books for an introductory psychology class.  As I read more of Social Psychology, I began to notice that Myers seems to have a negative opinion of single people.

“Throughout the book Myers correlates being married with higher levels of health, happiness, success, and social status than for single people.  But rather than offer readers a range of views about marital status that supports critical thinking, Myers promotes one viewpoint and seems to denigrate single people.

“In the first chapter, Myers describes a correlation between obesity in young women and discrimination, and states that obese women’s unmarried status at the conclusion of the study – at age 31 – suggests that the women were discriminated against.  But does being unmarried at age 31 – or age 41 or 51 – necessarily indicate discrimination?  Is being single a negative indicator?

“There are volumes of scholarly research on happiness, life satisfaction, and loneliness in married, single, divorced, and widowed people, from many points of view.  But throughout the textbook, Myers only mentions research that supports his beliefs about marriage, and seems to find opposing views trivial.  Myers writes “the myth that single women are happier than married women can be laid to rest” without citing proof.  At times he sounds contemptuous, referring to unmarried people as “pleasure-seeking” and assuming that single people view marriage as being in “bondage,” “chains,” or a “yoke.”

“Myers also states that married people are more complex than single people, explaining that if a married person has a bad day at work, he needn’t fall apart, because his work self is only a small part of his identity.  According to Myers, “when our personal identity stands on several legs, it, too, holds up under the loss of any one.”   He concludes that a married person’s identity “stands on several legs” but that a single person’s identity stands only on one leg – his work life.  It is as if Myers assumes that single people have no other pursuits outside of work – nothing but four walls and the pursuit of mindless pleasure!

“Ironically, a chapter in which Myers disparages single people features a photo of the Delaney sisters, a pair of sisters who never married, and who each lived beyond the age of 100.  The text offers, “The Delaney sisters, both over 100, attributed their longevity to a positive outlook on life.”

“A social psychology textbook should encourage critical thinking about cultural beliefs, not reinforce stereotypes and suppress dissenting views.  College professors who assign this textbook should be aware of Myers’ biases and also assign texts that offer a range of representations of the lives of single people.

“In class we discussed the widely held belief that married people were better off in terms of happiness, health, and life satisfaction.  One student mentioned Jennifer Senior’s article about urban loneliness in New York Magazine.  I read the article and that led me to discover the Singles Studies web site at Berkeley, which led me to books that challenge anti-singles bias in academic research and popular culture.  Through further reading, I learned that certain studies that support Myers’ negative view of single people are flawed in terms of data, design, or interpretation, and that some of our culture’s assumptions about single people are based on flawed research.

Myers, David G.  2008.  Social Psychology (9th edition) http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0073531898/information_center_view0

David G. Myers’ web site http://www.davidmyers.org

Alone Together, by Jennifer Senior http://nymag.com/news/features/52450

What a shame the textbook author has such a limited view of singles–I bet he doesn’t know any single women who are SWWANs! Like Jeanine’s writing? Follow her on Twitter

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Science supports the SWWAN mission

Just finished a brilliant book, “Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After,” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). Author Bella DePaulo, a Harvard-educated PhD who happens to be an ever-single, brings to light all the subtle, hidden, insidious ways in which American society discriminates against singles.

If you thought it was just you, or you thought it was just a few people around you with whom you sometimes feel less-than, you’ll be very pleased to know that, in fact, not only are you not alone, but it’s pervasive. Getting married in America gets you all kinds of perks and privileges you are pointedly–and often smugly–denied because you’re single. And that includes a not-insignificant number of government-issued free passes and discounts. We’ll talk more about that another time.

And today, when 51% of women in this country are single, these truths become not just appalling but incredible. I love how she says about certain facts, try saying this with the word “married” instead of single and see what kind of hell you’d raise. DePaulo calls this discriminatory pattern–and it is a pattern, not a few isolated incidents–singlism. She compares it–quite aptly and with scientific proof–to sexism, racism and every other case of widespread discrimination still practiced (with varying degrees of subterfuge) today.

Fifty-one percent? And listen to how arch-conservative Time magazine “yes, buts…” its way through an analysis of the book’s carefully researched statistics.

“The Times got to 51% only[emphasis added] by including 2.4 million American females over 15 (of the 117 million total) who are married but aren’t living with their husbands–but not because the marriage is troubled, according to Robert Bernstein, a press officer with the Census Bureau. Instead, they live in different places because of, say, a temporary work assignment such as military deployment. The paper also counts widows as women living without their husbands. Right. They’re dead. Except for the infinitesimal number who killed their spouses, these women didn’t give up on matrimony.”

And there’s more. How about this: “…it’s true that Americans wait longer than ever to wed. But the rise in marrying age almost exactly mirrors the rise in life expectancy.” What does maybe-living til 80 have to do with refusing to give up your freedom to be uniquely yourself when you’re 22, 23, 24 and 25? Methinks though dost protest too much, Time.

But in the end, they can’t nay-say the truths laid bare in this scholarly but very passionately written book about singles in America. They end with this: “There’s good evidence that it is freedom that makes us healthy and happy, not the bonds of marriage.”

We’ve invited Bella DePaulo to talk with us on the SWWAN Dive radio show. Stay tuned and we’ll let you know when she’ll be appearing.

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