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Living the Academic Life by Going Solo (a Book Review)

March 10, 2013

Great minds obviously think alike. I figured that one out for sure when my friend of the ding-dong-ditch silver fame sent me a text about a book she’d heard about via the Savage Love podcast, Going Solo. As it happened, I’d happened upon the same book at my favorite bookstore shortly prior and immediately put it down on my library list. Support your local businesses better than I do, folks!

We both thought it would be a great book for me to read and, to take a page from another friend and fellow blogger, review. And once I finally got my grubby little hands on the last unclaimed copy floating around the Denver Public Library system, it was well worth the read.

For starters, author Eric Klinenberg doesn’t have an agenda to push. He’s neither singles advocate Bella DePaulo, whose cause I obviously agree with but who definitely has a message to send, nor the authors of such titles as Marry Him or The Case for Marriagewhose positions are fairly straightforward and antithetical to my own. Klinenberg, however, has been both a solo dweller and a happily married man, and got interested in this project when he wrote an article about the troubling deaths that struck isolated singles during the Chicago heat wave. Seeking a fuller picture of single living, Klinenberg set out to interview the members of one-person homes to get their perspective on their living situation.

The conversational tone of the book also makes for good reading, whether you’re living alone and loving it or hating it. But the evidence isn’t purely qualitative, although the range and depth of interviews shine all the way through. Klinenberg, successful academic that he is, drops in a full armory of peer-reviewed statistics for both the happily married and happily single alike to reassure themselves that they’re doing just fine in life.

It’s also refreshing that the book presents both sides of the single living equation: yes, there are plenty of people like me who value our independence and feel like we have a supportive set of friends and family, but there are also those who are elderly, impoverished, or mentally unwell and have no one to turn to. It’s even more refreshing that Klinenberg interviews people who are reaching out to disadvantaged solo dwellers and presenting them as a model for change, rather than simply presenting the issue without addressing ways to rectify it.

Perhaps the one issue I have is similar to other singles’ advocates like DePaulo. While Klinenberg does an exceptional job interviewing single-home occupants from all walks of life, he draws the conclusion from his sample set that most young people see living alone as a phase and that women invariably have to contend with their biological clocks. Even though it’s indirectly stated that a few of his interviewees were too fiercely independent to let children or spouses ever bog them down, more voices representing at least the childfree community–especially the female members of said community–would have been gratifying.

Of course, a good sociologist has to get a good representation of the majority of the population. I suspect that that majority of the population does, indeed, want to get married and have kids “someday,” even if someday isn’t for another ten or twenty years. Hell, even my proudly single cousin seems to feeling a bit of pressure. He’s past thirty, and all his friends are settling down. Wouldn’t it be sad and pathetic to still be on your own at fifty or sixty?

Personally, I think it’d be sadder and more pathetic to give in to societal pressure simply because you’re afraid to come home to an empty house every night for the rest of your life. To start a family because you love the other person and want to share your life is a noble goal. To start one primarily because you’re afraid you’ll wind up dead in a heat wave with no immediate family members to claim your body is depressing for all kinds of reasons.

Much of which highlights the need for DePaulo’s advocacy. But if you are enjoying the single life only temporarily, Going Solo is a great place to start for an insight into how astonishingly normal and pleasant solo living is.

 

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3 Comments
  1. Hello!

    I am so glad I found your blog! It is so refreshing to find someone who has a similar outlook to me. I’m 27, very happily single and have no desire to meet ‘the one’ (urgh). I have also recently embraced the fact that I want to be childfree. Its quite a liberating decision- as I’m sure you can relate!

    Such a shame you live on the other side of the world! It’s hard to find people locally who share my views.

    • Don’t get me started on that business about “the one”–urgh indeed! It is a pity that there seem to be so few of us scattered throughout the world. If you ever make your way to Ski Country, USA, we should find a bar and shake our heads at the surrounding couples with their PDA!

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