It must be something to do with the sheer proliferation of stories out there on the net — this can be the only explanation as to why I seem to keep reading news items telling me that, for the first time ever, more people are living alone than in traditional family units. How many times can something be “for the first time ever”? I’m sure that I’ve been reading about the rise of the “adult singleton” for three or four years. (Oh, and someone should go and shoot the person who thought of the term “adult singleton.” It sounds like some sort of quaint name for members of a social club. “Are you an adult singleton?” “No, not me — I’m with the junior singletons, who are meeting in the club house shortly for tea and cucumber sandwiches. Care to join us?”)
In a long article entitled Singleton society, Frank Furedi looks at this phenomenon in frighteningly academic detail, under such intriguing titles as:
• People fear pain and disappointment
• Cultivation of the self has a destructive impact on commitment
(Marvellous, more please!)
• Today, the story of love is about ‘me’
(I’ll give you that one — because you’ve got a cheeky smile!)
• The relationship industry is devoted to cooling passions
(Oh, stop it! You’re spoiling us!)
I trust that you’re getting the tone of this by now. Mr Furedi is a professor of sociology, and although it doesn’t necessarily follow that he would therefore possess a bleak outlook on this particular social change, it has to be said that he doesn’t see much that’s positive. Everything he writes seems to be about difficulties forming intimate relationships, lack of commitment, the desire for independence above all else — and very little about people making their own lifestyle choices for the changed world of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. I don’t completely disagree with what he says, but I do think that it’s probably an inadvisable article to read if you’re spending the evening alone with nothing but a gas oven and ITV’s Monday evening schedule for company. If you, er, get my drift.
Console yourself with this thought, instead. The writer of this article is a professor, wrapped up in the stuffy world of academia. What does he know, eh? Don’t forget that his chosen specialism is sociology, which means that he probably examines his theme far too deeply and doesn’t allow for simple facts like … well, like living life without considering the sociological implications, for instance. It’s just possible — perish the thought — that not everything in the world can be analysed sociologically. I know, I know — crazy heretical idea. So kill me.
A quick digression. For those who aren’t aware of Spiked, it’s a website full of very sound journalism and provocative thinking. There’s no argument about that. However, it rose from the ashes of the magazine LM; those two letters stood for Living Marxism. Have you noticed the way in which they have carefully moved away from the dreaded “M” word? Clever, isn’t it? It almost mirrors the way that the Labour Party has gradually moved from the word “Socialist” to the far more cuddly “New” (or even, if you’re utterly contemporary, “Blairite”). It’s almost uncanny.
Now, Marxism’s good for a lot of things, but insights into the sociology of relationships versus solitude? I think not. How many couples do you know who have based their loving partnership upon a thorough knowledge of the writings of Karl Marx? Exactly.
Right, so that’s society, relationships, academia and Marxism dealt with, all within the space of a few short paragraphs. I’ll probably retract all this tomorrow. Unfortunately, this particular article just happened to catch me in an irritable mood this evening. Don’t take it personally, Professor Furedi.