Is one really such a lonely number?

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First aired on Q (13/07/12)

Mainstream popular culture isn't always kind to singles: after all, when was the last time you saw a movie with a happy ending that didn't involve the hero (or heroine) getting the girl (or guy)? Author Michael Cobb argues that mainstream society shuns single folks just as much as Hollywood does. But it shouldn't, especially since recent studies show that single people now outnumber married people, and that more people are choosing to live alone than ever before. In Cobb's new book, Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, he questions the prevailing belief that "two is better than one."

"It dawned on me that there really is no way to talk about what it meant to be single, except defensively — 'no, really, honestly, I'm happy,'" Cobb told Jian Ghomeshi on Q in a recent interview. In his book, Cobb writes about how nobody is considered "legitimately" single: people are either pre- or post-coupledom. "And as Jack Donaghy says to Liz Lemon [in the 30 Rock clip featured at the beginning of this interview], 'you're just pretending to be happy,'" said Cobb. "So you really don't have a space to even think about being single."

Cobb also argues that singlehood has no official language, culture or history. "You're not a legitimate person in the world right now unless you have that person who's helping you through the world," he said. He cites Beyonce's All the Single Ladies as an example. "It's addressing single ladies, but really it's all about 'get married — why haven't you put a ring on it?'"

Cobb argues that even when pop culture does consider singles, they are discussed negatively, as though their failure to pair off with someone is a deep personal flaw. "They're the ones without love, they're the ones who must not be having the full kinds of experiences," said Cobb. In his book, Cobb examines a number of examples in philosophy, literature and pop culture in which coupledom is favoured over singledom. Both Bridget Jones' Diary and Sex and the City are full of anxious worry as to how one becomes happy as an adult if you don't have a partner. "Unfortunately, all those pop culture examples, which are supposed to be about single life, turn out to be about eventually finding that special someone. That's the story," said Cobb. "Why do we immediately assume loneliness and sadness when you don't have a partner?"

But does the pair-up-or-shut-up message of romantic comedies really translate to single people being "despised" by the rest of society, as Cobb claims? "The reason [being single] feels despised is that there's inducement after inducement to change that, to be something else," he said. "So I started attaching it to the LGBTQ acronym because I wanted people to start thinking about how this is another way you can live a life. You do not have to be associated in any long term way with another person."

Cobb's retort to the obvious question of "What's so good about being single?" is "What's so good about being in a couple?"

"I've been single for long periods of time, and I've been in a couple for long periods of time, and I'm equally unhappy in both."