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Going Solo

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Despite their ubiquity, Mr. Klinenberg argues that singletons comprise a kind of shadow population that’s misunderstood by policymakers and our culture writ large. "Going Solo" is an attempt to fill in the blanks – to explain the causes and consequences of living alone, and to describe what it looks in everyday life.

The first thing that should be said about living alone is that it doesn’t look like any one thing. The singleton lifestyle varies considerably with age, as Klinenberg discovered while interviewing more than 300 singletons whom he divides roughly into three categories: Young urban professionals; middle-aged people who divorced or never married; and older people, generally women and often widows, living in their own homes or in nursing or assisted living facilities. 

Klinenberg renders their stories vividly but also with nuance. He shows that for many singletons, living alone wasn’t their first choice but given how their lives have unfolded, it’s ended up being the best option available. He also notes that ambivalence about one’s life circumstances is hardly unique to people who live by themselves.

Consider Mark, a Manhattan investment banker in his early-forties. Mark stayed single through his thirties and valued the extra space and time he had to devote to travel, adventure, dating, and building his career. But as he got older he began to have doubts about his single lifestyle. 

“I look at my friends who are married and have these adorable children,” Klinenberg quotes Mark as saying, “and I worry that I made a mistake.  My life feels pretty empty sometimes, and I’d like to be part of something more meaningful than what I do at work.”  Mark wants to get married and start a family but he’s afraid that he won’t be able to convince his girlfriend that after two decades of working hard and staying out late, he’s really ready to commit himself to family.

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