Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg
hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 2012 by Penguin
Read: March 2012
Back in January, I read an article on Fortune's website about the economic impact of single adults. The article was based on a book and I knew I had to read it. As a singleton, I'm interested in the socioeconomics of my demographic.
I really didn't match the singles he used as case studies. I live in a tiny town - population 1,080. Dr. Klinenberg's subjects lived in major cities. I live in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath single family detached home (which I own) on an acre of land. Most of Klinenberg's subjects lived in 1 bedroom apartments. Because of the differences in living arrangements, I felt that there are struggles singles face that were not addressed. Also shared housing arrangements mentioned did not appeal to me at all. It sounded a lot like a college residence hall. I lived in a dorm all four years of college. As an adult, I have no desire to live in that kind of situation again. It did remind me, though, of the findings in After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings are Shaping the Future of American Religion. It said that age group was extending adolescence.
I read several articles related to Going Solo over the last month. One I remember mentioned that Going Solo was promoting a more selfish society. As a singleton, I know we are not any more selfish than married people. However, from the examples in the book I did feel like we were awfully selfish. The typical answer to "why do you like living alone" is "because I can do what I want, when I want." At face value that is a very selfish statement. But what is really meant is we can devote time to volunteer projects or we can help a friend out when they ask at the last minute. It also means that if I don't feel like eating dinner tonight I don't have to cook. I'm not sure if that was very clear from the younger singletons he interviewed.
Another interesting fact that I noticed in the book that lines up with my own experience is organizing singles. There were a few examples of single organizations that were speared headed by a singleton because they were/are passionate about singlehood. I have done this (granted on a much smaller scale than those he interviewed). And like some of them I have wondered if I was so for the "cause" that I wasn't able to focus on me. And it seemed like they had to continue in the leadership role or the "movement" died. It would have been interesting if there had been a bit of follow up to Quirky Alone mentioned in the book to see if the movement continued or not.
I also identified with the interviewees who were in their late 30s and up. My biological clock is ticking loudly and I often wonder if I just didn't try hard enough when I was in my 20s to find a guy.
He drew attention to some very real problems singles face as they get older. There was an absolutely heartbreaking story of a woman who dies alone. The only connection to a family member was a 30 year old Christmas card. Right now I have my parents, but they will not always be here. What will I do then? Will I be the elderly spinster my niece and nephew will have to take care of one day? The fact that my neighbor (who was maybe 10 years older than me) died at home and wasn't discovered for a week weighs heavily on my mind and is the reason that I call my mother every day. Hopefully if I have a home accident, I'll be discovered within a day or two. As someone who struggles with isolation at 35, what will it be like when I'm 65?
While elderly care is an important subject, I felt the book lost its focus a bit with this topic. It seemed to become more about advocating for elderly care and less focused on singletons (there was even a reference to "your partner").
Politically, I disagreed with some of the things Klinenberg advocated for. I do not think more government involvement will solve the problems. I strongly believe individuals within a community should provide "welfare" to their neighbors. If a neighbor needs meals delivered because they no longer can cook for themselves, then those in the community should pitch in to help and not expect the government to provide a program to take care of it. If we would once again practice compassion for our fellow man instead of saying "that's what my tax dollars are for", we would see a brighter society.
Overall, there was some interesting information. If you are looking to better understand the singleton demographic then Going Solo would be a good book to read.