Research by social scientists paints a very different picture. Most singles, studies show, are more like Dan Scheffey than their miserable or narcissistic caricatures. They host salons, take classes, go to rallies, organize unions, care for aging friends and relatives, help raise kids, and cultivate large, diverse social networks – often with more zeal and commitment than the married demographic they’re displacing.
Humans may not be the only social creatures on the planet, but it is our ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers that gives us the edge, or dominance, over other lifeforms, including the likes of ants and bees who also organise themselves to varying degrees.
The real difference between us and other animals is on the collective level. Humans control the world because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Ants and bees can also work together in large numbers, but they do so in a very rigid way. If a beehive is facing a new threat or a new opportunity, the bees cannot reinvent their social system overnight in order to cope better. They cannot, for example, execute the queen and establish a republic. Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of intimately known individuals. Among wolves and chimps, cooperation is based on personal acquaintance. If I am a chimp and I want to cooperate with you, I must know you personally: What kind of chimp are you? Are you a nice chimp? Are you an evil chimp? How can I cooperate with you if I don’t know you?
Let’s talk about tact: a noble virtue, a lost virtue, a very necessary virtue. Long gone, it seems, are the days when tact was common, or in which people behaved with thoughtfulness, discretion, and sensitivity. Long gone is the era wherein people generally minded their own goddamn business.
I sometimes find people who are tactless attempt to warn others of this by stating they are “opinionated”. They speak their mind, fair enough. Try giving an opinionated person a taste of their own medicine though. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?
Don’t be so sure.
On the other hand, there are one or two people who struggle, or are, for whatever reasons reluctant, to express themselves in a direct fashion. Theirs is a world of silence and involuntary agreement. There has to be a happy balance between the two, right?
Throughout human history, note Northwestern University psychologists Elaine Cheung and Wendi Gardner, ostracization has been personally painful, and sometimes life-threatening. Finding a way back into the safety of one’s tribe (or, perhaps, a way to attach yourself to a different social unit) is imperative. Their research, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggests this desperate need somehow activates our latent ability to display a key component of emotional intelligence. In short, it enhances our ability to make people like us.
Back in the day when I used to write far more film reviews than I do now, I’d often be going along to the movies by myself. Often these would be morning, mid week screenings, and numerous times I’d just about be the only person in the auditorium, but I’d still make sure my notepad and pen were prominently visible.
After a time though, I became less concerned by the apparent stigma of being alone at the movies, even it were for work purposes. Even so, it’s still unlikely that you’d see me at the movies on Friday or Saturday nights, alone. Any other day, any other time, no problem.
But that’s where I might be letting the team down. You see, if more people did more things by themselves, such as going to a film solo, the easier it becomes for everyone else to do likewise. Put another way, it’s better to go and do something, even if that means doing so alone, rather than staying home potentially doing nothing.
But the best way to get rid of the stigma of doing things in public alone is probably for people to just start doing it more. “We need the norms to shift a little. We need for people to think it’s a gutsy cool thing to have fun on our own,” said Ratner. “Someone needs to start the new trend.”
And regarding film screenings in empty auditoriums, and why bother showing them if no one’s there, the cinemas are obliged to feature a movie as advertised, regardless of how many people are, or aren’t, seeing it. I have it on good authority that film distributors actually go around at random to make sure that’s happening.
Perhaps most remarkably, Britain’s notoriously surly youths are getting more polite: according to one government survey, those born in the early 1990s are less rude and noisy in public places than previous cohorts were at the same age. “People are still being young, but they’re recognising there are boundaries,” says one youth worker in Hackney, a borough of London long known for its high crime rate.
When I’m able to sufficiently organise myself, I like to, now and again, go along to a cafe first thing in the morning. Not only am I able set up for the work day ahead, and bring myself up to speed with the latest news, there’s of course the opportunity to down a couple of coffees while also taking in a little people watching.
“Sometimes being a barista is like being an underpaid therapist,” says Roth. “I find what people will tell you just because you’re behind the counter to be strange. I know how many kids people have, what their grades are, where they go to school, I know about people getting divorced and people going on dates. People will pretty much tell you anything – especially if you ask.”
Although marriage is in many ways fairer and more pleasurable for both men and women than it once was, it hasn’t entirely thrown off old notions and habits. As a result, many men and women enter into it burdened with assumptions and stereotypes that create stress and resentment. Others, confronted with these increasingly anachronistic expectations – expectations at odds with the economic and practical realities of their own lives don’t enter into it at all.
When more than half of the Earth’s population live in cities, that, by the way, occupy just three percent of the world’s land surface, changes, be they genetic or cultural, are bound to take place:
It is having an effect not just culturally, but biologically: urban melting pots are genetically altering humans. The spread of genetic diversity can be traced back to the invention of the bicycle, according to geneticist Steve Jones, which encouraged the intermarriage of people between villages and towns. But the urbanisation occurring now is generating unprecedented mixing. As a result, humans are now more genetically similar than at any time in the last 100,000 years, Jones says.
The genetic and cultural melange does a lot to erode the barriers between races, as well as leading to novel works of art, science and music that draw on many perspectives. And the tight concentration of people in a city also leads to other tolerances and practices, many of which are less common in other human habitats (like the village) or in other species. For example, people in a metropolis are generally freer to practice different religions or none, to be openly gay, for women to work and to voluntarily limit their family size despite – or indeed because of – access to greater resources.
Unless you live in Japan, you may not have encountered a removal service as attentive as that offered by Japanese home moving companies. I expect you’d pay a premium for such treatment, but it would surely reduce – considerably – the stress and hassles associated with moving.