I never buy e-books. Well, I never bought e-books until I read Sara Eckel’s New York Times article “The Hard-Won Lessons of the Solitary Years.” I normally avoid reading pieces that address adult singledom; most of them end up being fodder for a self-flagellation fest over some unknown collection of traits I must have that make me destined to die alone. Fortunately, Eckel’s piece provided a refreshing, honest view of some struggles of being a single woman for most of her life.
Despite framing the piece through her experience as a woman in her 40s who moved in with her boyfriend of six months–something that I could absolutely not relate to in any way–I was surprised to find that Eckel’s piece really resonated with me as a woman in my late 20s who has been single for 99.99% of my life. After finishing the NYT piece, I read that her new book, It’s Not you: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, was coming out, and I knew I had to buy it immediately. If I could find myself relating to the words of a married woman twenty years my senior on the issue of being a single adult woman, I knew that I had stumbled upon something rare. I had to read more.
At first glance, the concept of a now-married woman writing a book geared towards single women sounds absolutely awful. The idea of a married person saying, “Look! I did it! So obviously you can, too!” in an attempt to be an inspiring “success” story to all the miserable singles in the world makes me want to gag. However, Eckel–a journalist based in Kingston, NY–breaks the norm in the self-help-for-singles genre and provides a feminist answer (or rather, 27 feminist answers) to all the bullshit “advice” and analyses that friends, family, and “experts” alike love to give to single people (especially women) to help them cure the disease of singledom. Rather than using her past as woman who married in her 40s after being single for most of her 20s and 30s to put single people down, Eckel provides a compassionate take on both the external and internal pressures that they face in a society structured around couples and families.
While her book isn’t explicitly marketed as feminist, she doesn’t hesitate to say that, no, feminism is not ruining your love life. What does ruin one’s relationship to their love life is the barrage of messages single women receive that suggest that their relationship status is a reflection of who they are as a person. While many of the 27 “this is why you’re single” statements often come from a place of genuine love or concern, Eckel tackles how all of them work together to undermine what a woman thinks about herself and the world. Instead of treating single status as simply the absence of being in a committed relationship, it is used to assume that there is something wrong with the person that is keeping them from being attached. Rather than trusting single women to know whether someone is a good partner, they are told that they’re too picky and need to rush and settle down. And if a single woman dares to share her very valid feelings of frustration about dating or being single, she is diagnosed as too sad/negative/annoying (“No wonder you’re single!”) and is basically told to shut up.
What I loved about this book is that Eckel does not just use her personal experience to debunk the stereotypical reasons given as to why someone is single. She backs up her conclusions by citing social scientific research and quoting experts, many of whom have their own published content that the reader can check out for a more in-depth view of the particular related topic. Throughout the book, the citations are powerful tools used to debunk the pervasive notion that single people are inherently broken and highlight the contradicting (and sometimes hypocritical) advice offered to them throughout their single tenure. In one chapter, she covers studies showing the positive contributions single people offer to their communities to debunk the “selfish single” stereotype. In a segment about self-esteem and dating, she references a psychology study that showed people with high self-esteem were no more well-liked than those with low self-esteem to encourage self-compassion rather than self-hate when you may feel down about yourself when you’re struggling as the only single person at a dinner party.
It’s Not You isn’t one of those books that aims to help you self-diagnose all the problems that make you undesirable and therefore single. Rather, it’s an actually helpful self-help dating book; Eckel reminds us that it’s okay to be single and to not be happy about it. This no-nonsense take down of harmful assumptions and stereotypes about single people offers tools to effectively counter them–whether to loved ones or internally. It also provides a guide to handle the self-doubt that many single people struggle with by encouraging trusting one’s own instincts in love and dating. One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Here’s a thought: Maybe you’ve remained single well into adulthood because…you know what you’re doing. Because there is something right with you.”
Here’s to a book that finally tells us singles that maybe we are doing something right.