Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Value of Independence

I was watching something where a child was transitioning from baby to toddler, and her mother cooed that her baby was walking "all by yourself!" We praise these literal and figurative baby steps in life. Some mothers fret that their child isn't keeping up with the Joneses, while the Jones mother brags constantly about her advanced child that can read all by herself.

Fast forward 20 years, and that mother that bragged about her child's independence is now fretting: "when are you going to get married? How come you're all by yourself?"

It may not always be that obvious, but if there's one thing that Eric Klinenberg's interviewees have in common, they've all had to answer at one time or another some form of that question. Those answers, and much more, are addressed in Klinenberg's book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.

What I found most surprising was how this book came about. Klinenberg is married. He previously wrote about the alarming number of Chicago residents that died alone during a heat wave. He ended up writing Going Solo about the variety of ways that singletons (his term for those that live alone) live...and some who die alone. He surprised himself by how many singletons are content with their lives just as they are; some who see themselves as singletons for the long term, and some who are open to changing that status.

Klinenberg addresses the issue of how our culture has progressed into this life of independence that really, we've been trained for...from those first words of praise of standing and walking all by ourselves.

Parents spend all their focus on their children's education, getting them into a good college, have a fabulous career, and then, as their grown children become a certain age, the message changes.  "All By Myself" is the title of a sad, lonely song instead of an accomplishment to be cherished.

That valued independence becomes dubious. If you're attuned to it, as I am, you can see the messages everywhere. The harmless jokes that "no wonder so-and-so's not married," the complete frenzy over a royal wedding, the urging from some authors to just settle already.

We bemoan the rate of divorce, yet still try to rush couples down the aisle. If they're really not ready or willing to make that commitment, they most likely will end up divorced. 

Singletons and single parents are not going away. The numbers are clear. Nuclear families are no longer the majority of American households.  One in seven American adults live alone. Approximately 13 million households are single parent families. And most Americans these days have lived alone at some point in their lives.

When we value independence, we should not be surprised when individuals value going solo.

I am proud to be participating in TLC's Book Tour on Going Solo. I was given a complimentary copy of the book, and all opinions expressed in this post are my own. 


BigLittleWolf said...

I couldn't agree more. We really do need to STOP rushing people down the aisle.

People at every age. It's fine for some, and not so fine for others. And the rush?

Utterly unnecessary.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for being on the tour!

trish said...

You make some really great points. When I was 23, I was asked by an 18 year old in my church what it was like to be single at my age. And it wasn't asked in a, wow-that's-really-cool way, but in a how-could-you-possibly-still-be-single way. The message is definitely there: anything is better than being alone.

One of the things I want to teach my kids is how to eat alone. I think that's a particularly hard thing to do!

Thanks for being on the tour! You bring a great perspective.