Q & A with Clare Payne – Author of One: Valuing the Single Life
One is about single people and how we value their lives.
Clare Payne shares her explorations and beliefs about the single life and how to live a good adult life – beyond parenthood and marriage.
One is for everyone. Whilst a quarter of adults are already single, really any one of us could end up single. Some by choice, others through life circumstances such as divorce or becoming a widow. Ultimately One leads to more understanding about single people’s lives, and greater respect for their contributions to our society, particularly within communities and families.
Q-Why did you write the book?
There are assumptions about single people and their lives that are negative and unfair. For example, people talk about single people being selfish or ‘not normal.’ These assumptions aren’t right. Single people aren’t selfish, rather they’re great contributors to society and active volunteers in our communities.
Single people also represent a significant part of our population, more than people realise. Already 1 in 4 adults are single. Single parent families are the fastest growing family type in Australia. In less than 5 years there will be more couples without children than with children. As adults, we are likely to spend more of our adult lives single than coupled, and this will be even more likely for our children.
Given this reality, it’s time we had a new dialogue about single people. Instead of asking whether a politician who is single understands families (as was asked of Gladys Berejiklian), we should be asking whether a married politician understands single people – a significant part of the voting public – who are so rarely, if ever, addressed in public policy or commentary.
Q–Does this book come from your own experience?
Yes, One is related to my own experience. As an employment lawyer I observed what I saw as an unconscious bias and even discrimination against single people and I have also experienced it first hand as a single woman, particularly in my 30s when I wasn’t a mother, and then later as a single mother.
Q–Is this a women’s issue?
No, One is about single men as well. The single man doesn’t necessarily have it easy. He is subject to some pretty damning and damaging stereotypes. He’s commonly referred to as a play boy, or a bad boy. These stereotypes paint him as infantile, childish and therefore not responsible.
On a serious note, he is considered untrustworthy and even feared. For example, he won’t get asked to babysit, or people might feel they should check in on him if he wanders into a kid’s room at a BBQ for example. This is unfair, and actually naïve as we know that most abuse is committed in families by intimate partners of the mother. So, it’s not necessarily the single man that should be feared.
Q-If single life is so good why is there so much online dating?
There are a range of factors at play in understanding the rise of online dating and apps. Fundamentally, there is a human need to connect and feel understood. Apps provide an opportunity for connection.
On the other hand, many people feel a pressure to be coupled or to ‘put themselves out there’ on the internet or apps. So, there’s a certain amount of social pressure. This is the case for heterosexuals as well as gays (LGBTQI). Our society operates according to a general cultural pressure to be coupled that sometimes ignores the quality of the union.
This ‘pressure’, is sometimes applied more intensely by people’s own family and friends, and is a serious issue we should address, particularly if want to address the issue of domestic violence. The fear of the social stigma of being single can contribute to destructive relationship cycles.
Q-In your view, what makes for a good adult life?
While there’s no consensus on what makes for a good life, there are groups of people who share beliefs and form a common view that can become very influential. Through this we have seen the elevation of parenthood and marriage over other ways of living.
No particular view about what makes for a good life is necessarily right and none are wrong either. Each view merely prioritises different aspects of how we might live. The question is really whether being single means you are destined to not live a good life. Outside of the view that a good life is about parenthood, then most other beliefs are open to singles without children. In fact, being single could mean an individual is even more likely to live a good life. However, the sad reality of many negative perceptions of single people is that these may lead them to believe their lives are of less value and that they’re not worthy of having a good life. There is no one definition of a good life. It’s for us to discover and determine for ourselves.
If we’re to move from a singular view of people to a fuller understanding of them, then we need to see that being single or a parent does not have to be the overriding feature of one’s life, and by extension the basis on which to judge success or whether one has a good life.