Michele Keegan gets it.
The awkward conversations at work, weddings or holidays.
The expectant questions: “Are you dating anyone?” Or, “how come you are still single?” Or cheery encouragements such as, “Don’t worry, you’re awesome” … despite not giving such reassurance to the non-single people attending.
These usually come from “concerned” family members, or enthusiastically coupled-up peers.
Then there’s the other stereotypes, in media and culture: that being single equates to being younger, less responsible, and less mature.
“They just don’t get it,” Keegan says. Ditto for friends who tell her she doesn’t understand how busy marriage and kids make them. “I find that being a one woman show with no dedicated helpers, financially or otherwise, can also be pretty hectic and hard!”
Now Keegan hopes a new platform will help bring together a community that can shift the conversation: a panel discussion podcast called “You’re Single, We Get It” (YSGWI.) Its episodes feature fellow singles from many perspectives talking about various aspects of their experience. She says this is vital – both for singles and society at large - to support the singles community, which is now a majority in this country.
Yes, that’s right: there are now more singles than married people in America. Record numbers of people live alone and have never been married. People who do couple up do so later and later – leaving a longer, wider swath of singlesomethings. Keegan understands that singles come in all stripes, and YSWGI is geared to include all of them. People are single by choice or by circumstance. Some have never been married, or are divorced. Some are single parents, some don’t want children, some are yearning for children and some don’t want children just yet. Some date, and some don’t. Some live alone, and some live in group housing.
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if you never again had to hear someone tell you not to worry that you’ll find the right person or ask you ‘why are you still single’ or suggest strategies for how to improve your dating game? If you asked people ‘why is marriage something everyone should do’ or ‘why is being single seen as a deficit or out-of-the-norm,’ I suspect many wouldn’t have an answer for you. It is just a deeply embedded perspective in our culture,” Keegan said.
It was conversations in her personal life that led Keegan to question these inquiries from friends and society, and the feelings they triggered, many of which she hopes to address on the podcast: Why do I feel shame? Why are singles judged? Where’s the rebuttal when friends, family, and the media gets it wrong? Why aren’t we speaking up?
“Society’s focus on singles largely revolves around dating, marriage, and kids. But there is so much more to our lives that being single affects. For instance cooking for one is a challenge, as is trying to move a large piece of furniture without a second pair of hands.”
Then there’s the fact that nobody, by default, can make medical decisions for single people if they are incapacitated - which isn’t true for marrieds - or that they rarely have celebrations in their honor, but are expected to spend vacation time and money celebrating friends’ engagements, weddings, and baby showers.
In a changing landscape where there are now more single than married people, Keegan sees the vital need for a community where people who understand the solo experience can come together, to share resources, support, and help shift the conversation.
“I want to build community among singles that challenges outdated societal perspectives and assumptions. I hope that it will help singles who are feeling stuck, unconnected, or unhappy because of their single status to encourage and empower them.”
Keegan knows what it was like to feel disempowered by a “single” status. She used to be an “avid dater,” she said. “I thought it was all just part of the story of getting to Mr. Right.” But then, that changed.
As she got into her late 30s, “bad or kooky dates got less amusing and more depressing.”
Self-doubt and pity started to creep in.
“I am a successful lawyer at a prestigious firm, a homeowner and house rehabber, Super Aunt to five amazing kids, with a strong social network and creative outlets like rhythm tap dance and the circus arts. Yet, the pleasure, contentment and happiness I got from all that somehow felt diminished because I hadn’t found ‘The One.’”
Keegan decided to take a hard look at each and every aspect of her life. Her focus shifted to what would make her happy, regardless of whether or not she found the right partner. Her moment of truth occurred during a conversation with a friend when she admitted both that she may never find the “Right One,” and that it was hard to imagine feeling completely happy without him.
“That really hit me hard, the fact that my happiness was so dependent upon my relationship status,” Keegan said.
Now, more than a year later, she has made a lot of changes and says she is happier than she has been in recent memory. “I changed the questions from “why not me?” and “when?” to “what makes me happy now? What is gratifying to me and what changes to I need to make to experience this fullness?”
“My journey has been freeing. It is easy to get lulled into thinking one missing puzzle piece is the golden ticket. We get fooled into thinking that emotional intimacy, connection, and validation can only come from a romantic partner; I learned that simply isn’t true,” she said.
Moreover, her journey has also led to interesting conversations with non-singles. In some ways it feels like the freedom and confidence I’ve found has stirred something in others. People are less judgey and more supportive than I expected. I just don’t think they’ve really considered it. It has led to conversations where people realize they don’t need to pity me or worry about me or feel tongue-tied about how to talk to me about being single.”
Once she experienced this newfound freedom, she started brainstorming ways to gather other singles to share their experiences, and get the word out. She knew it had to involve some sort of social interaction.
“We’re glued to our screens all day,” she said. “I want to find real-world, in-person ways to connect our community.”
She first thought of bringing together singles in a happy hour network, which proved to be a bit of a bust. Then, Keegan started inviting friends over to her Northeast DC home and recording the conversations they had around her dining room table. Hence, the podcast was born. She recognized the strength of it in their “real talk.”
“Each episode is meant to be like the chats you have with your single friends. Those conversations are often in hushed tones, but with YSGWI it’s an open and unapologetic one,” she said.
“It’s really refreshing to connect with other singles who are not afraid of their status – in fact, they embrace it. It’s not that we’ve all sworn off dating. It’s just that there are a lot of realities about living as a single that society seems to ignore but we have to deal with daily. This forum is a safe and understating place to discuss those things” says Holly Gerberich, one of the panelists.
The results are unvarnished, lightly edited episodes of 30 minutes to one hour that end at their natural conclusion point.
Some episodes, just like topics in real life, become too valuable and chock full of information to cut short, such as the episode on buying property which runs close to two hours.
YSGWI’s panels rotate to include a range of participants and perspectives. Keegan’s aim is to ensure its inclusiveness, so it lives up to the “we get it” name. Future episodes will include, among others, ones that focus on the African-American experience, the LGBTQ experience, the single male experience, and the over-50 experience, though anyone from any of these groups could be represented on the panels of any other episode.
“Michele’s idea made so much sense - these are such important conversations. I was a panelist for an episode and was so impressed and inspired by the people I met. There was an instant sense of community - we literally laughed and cried - that left me wanting more,” said panelist Sarah Hluchan, who added that learning from others while sharing her own experiences was invaluable in feeling connected in a category that can leave people feeling, well, solo.
There is also a category of singles who shy away from being labeled as such, and Keegan understands that as well. One woman declined to join YSWGI as a panelist because she “’doesn’t want to stand on that platform,’ as if her single status is something she wants to play down as much as possible,” Keegan said. She hopes that YSWGI can help singles eventually ditch shame and find contentment with any status.
Ideas for podcast episodes were initially generated from Keegan’s personal experience, but are more and more being suggested by community members who visit the YSWGI Facebook page, Tweet, or email possible themes for discussion. These topics run the gamut: everything from solo travel tips, to making friends as a single adult, to estate planning to what the single experience looks like through different cultural lenses. They hit the positive aspects, such as the freedom to travel at will, the special privilege of being a Super Aunt or Uncle, and the general freedom to do what you want when you want to. They also address hard topics, such as the shame so frequently run into but usually silently suffered; including the idea of “not being anyone’s number one,” “unintentional acts of exclusion” from non-singles, and the experience and options around wanting children.
And just how does Keegan define “single”? This question comes up a lot when she approaches potential panelists. Her reply: “I don't have a definite definition of ‘single.’ It is an opt-in community. That said, I can't imagine someone who is married or in a multi-year, healthy relationship opting-in. For many, dating is part of the single experience.”
The community is growing – online and in person. Some of her past panelists have started hosting potlucks just to keep the conversation going. And that’s just what Keegan hopes for: more engagement and broader community.
Still, like the woman that declined to participate in the podcast, Keegan suspects shame is what’s keeping singles from harnessing their strength, power and identity – individually and collectively. So she’s thinking of ways to expand the YSWGI community to help singles shed that skin.
Their Facebook group is active, with nearly 400 participants, and she expects that to grow as the podcast grows. Keegan's website also is a hub for connecting people; through things like connecting single travel buddies organizing retreats, hosting a storytelling boot camp and organizing small group activities like kayaking or volunteering.
“Being single affects so much more than just dating and kids. And there isn’t a coordinated place to connect us or where we can share tips, tricks, ideas, and strategies on things like finances, living situations, or handling difficult conversations with non-singles who unintentionally say or do exclusionary acts.”
She intends to create additional avenues to connect the singles community, harness its power, and help singles make positive changes in their lives and in the way society views and reacts to them.
“Listen up, media and corporate America - we’ve got some useful insights for you!” she said. Singles want fairly priced food, travel, and insurance alternatives tailored to their lives.
“Why should we have to buy a full loaf of bread and let half of it go bad or pay twice as much for a ’small loaf,’ if it’s even an option at all? And why should singles have to tag along on travel experiences with other couples? Nobody wants to be the third wheel. Can we do away with the ‘singles’ tax’ on car insurance, gym memberships, and social security benefits?”
Legally enshrined discrimination against singles is little known, yet real, as well. Indeed, in many municipalities, landlords can still refuse to rent to single tenants, thanks to a federal housing policy that doesn’t prohibit marital-status discrimination.
“We are a large and growing demographic and we can use our numbers to influence social policy in ways that include our lifestyles, start getting our voices in the media more to represent our community, and get corporate America to respond more to our needs.”
And, of course, there’s the question of change within the community. What if she or a participant starts dating? Keegan again points to its inclusiveness.
She herself is open to dating, and is not bitter or averse to being in a relationship. “I’d love to meet Mr. Right,” she said, adding she would be transparent with future dates about YSWGI.
If she did couple up, would the podcast change? As with most things in life, Keegan said she can’t predict the future. But she thinks that this community, something she’s found incredibly valuable and thrived in, will be a vital resource for any single out there, whether they are single by choice, always, or after a few years.
“I think what might change the most is what a future relationship looks like to me. I have such a full life and so many people are important to me and I play a role in so many other people’s lives. I think that any future partner would have to be comfortable with a lifestyle that allowed me to continue honoring those relationships,” she said.
Most importantly, Keegan hopes the freedom and confidence she’s found will inspire other singles, especially through YSGWI’s podcast and community.
“I hope to see singles better harness our collective power and embrace their status. I would like to see society not view singles as ‘less than,’ or pity us, or think that we are overgrown kids who refuse to mature and grow up. I would love to see our lives and the commitments in our lives respected, including in the workplace. I want to see more discussion and support systems for the single lifestyle - beyond a focus just on dating and marriage. I also believe singles hold the key to a creativity explosion. We are uniquely situated in some ways to pursue creative dreams with a fair amount of life experience. If I’m right, I’m excited to see how we, the singles, transform our society,” Keegan said.