Friday, August 28, 2009

Matrimonially Challenged

Another month lurks just the other side of this weekend. September has its share of annual events: Labor Day, the new school year, the autumnal equinox, and the start of the new auto model year, to name a few. One of the less well-known, but one that appeals to singular me, is National Unmarried and Single Americans Week, this year September 20-26 (see, "celebrating the lives and contributions of unmarried and single Americans."

You see, we are an oppressed minority. Sort of. At 92 million adults singles are a majority of households. So, by that method of counting we are a majority. Well, we feel oppressed anyway. According to Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, there are 1,138 federal provisions in which marital status affects benefits and privileges, always in favor of marrieds – such as social security benefits to a surviving spouse. Singles, having paid just as much into the system, cannot leave them to anyone. State-level rules are on top of that, plus private benefits such as health insurance with lower rates for spouses. Then there are simple social presumptions. For example, how many “happy endings” in movies consist of the leading characters getting married? How many consist of them getting or staying single? The prickly movie Love Stinks comes to mind, but few others.

Despite our numbers, we are still waiting for a single President. I know some of the historians out there are shouting “James Buchanan!” Our 15th president (by most reckonings the worst – no mean achievement considering the competition – because he could have prevented the Civil War but didn't) never married, so haven’t we been there and done that? Well, I don’t think Jim really counts. Given his fifteen year live-in relationship with Senator William Rufus King, which prompted Andrew Jackson nastily to refer to them as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy,” and Aaron Brown (Postmaster in Buchanan’s Administration) to call them “Buchanan and his wife,” his “first” seems to belong to another category. True, he did court an heiress to an exceptionally large fortune in his youth, but it was a courtship notable for his inattention to it, and the young lady died of a laudanum (alcohol and opium) overdose before anything came of it. He then attained financial security on his own in short order and never pursued another woman, whether or not those two facts are connected.

Anyway, the role of true singles (of whatever orientation) in politics no doubt will increase. As our share of the population continues to grow, so will our political clout. As mentioned, we are already a majority of households, so traditional families should be regarded as the ones pursuing an “alternate lifestyle.” The rest of us should strive to be to be tolerant of them.

So, in late September, spend a week giving thought to single people, or celebrate being one. Actually, we prefer to be called “matrimonially challenged.” Just kidding.


  1. Enjoyed your post. I just listed it in a post to my Living Single blog under "some promising new discoveries":

    --Bella DePaulo

  2. Thanks. (I didn't notice your comment until today.) I always enjoy your rather more widely followed posts on Psychology Today.