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Unpartnered By Design: Reframing How We Think About Singleness

 An illustration split into four separate illustrations. In the top-left corner is a woman sitting alone on a park bench, reading serenely. She has long red hair and her legs and feet are resting on the park bench. On the top right is a co-ed group of folks with their arms around one another facing three crosses. The red-haired woman is among them, and we can only see their backs. In the lower left-hand corner is three people playing mini-golf, with the red-haired woman in the middle. In the lower righthand corner, a group of people featuring the red-haired woman are eating at a restaurant.
Charnel Hunter

Nearly 40% of U.S. adults are single, and some choose not to look for a relationship or date. If singleness is common, why are single people treated unfairly?

“Why are you still single?” It’s a question that seems inescapable at family dinner tables and holiday parties for many single folks. But why don’t married or partnered people get asked about their life choices in the same way?

Host Anita Rao talks with sociologist and associate professor at the University of Maryland Dr. Kris Marsh, who pushes to normalize singlehood in her research examining Black American singles and their lifestyles. She points to structural forces like racism that constrain the dating pool and encourages single people to establish friendships that are non-romantic and nurturing in her book, “The Love Jones Cohort: Single and Living Alone in the Black Middle Class.”

Anita also talks with Aisha Jenkins, a single mother by choice and the founder and creator of “Start to Finish Motherhood,” a podcast that helps women navigate fertility and motherhood without a partner. Aisha shares her personal journey that inspired the podcast, how she navigates judgment from others and what she teaches her two young daughters about singlehood.

And writer Lucas Bradley joins the conversation to offer his perspective on singlehood as a man. Lucas knew that singleness was his natural orientation since he was a young adult, but outside messages caused inner turmoil. Over time, he discovered empowering ways to cultivate a life with purpose, which he writes about in his Substack newsletter, “A Single Point of Light.”

Thank you to Carla, Christina, Justin, Mel and Michele for sharing stories with us for this episode!

Three Tips To Embrace Being Single (from our guests)

1. Assert your choice — don’t ask.

“If you ask the Black community for permission to have a baby on your own, you set yourself up for certain conversations that can be really uncomfortable. And so my approach to letting people know is I state it as a fact, and I move on. I don't stay around for your judgment.”
- Aisha Jenkins, Founder/Creator of “Start to Finish Motherhood” podcast

2. Create a strong network of non-romantic relationships.

“I have a different set of friends for many different reasons, some that I go golfing with, some that I go to church with, some that I go to brunch with. I appreciate my friends. And it's really important for me to have a network of friends.”
- Dr. Kris Marsh, Author of “The Love Jones Cohort: Single and Living Alone in the Black Middle Class.”

3. Building the life you want takes time.

“It could look like remembering to send birthday cards to people. It could look like learning how to cook something new. And just doing a lot of trial by error when it comes to building the skills that it takes to really live a single life with a lot of depth and passion, because if you think it's going to happen overnight, you're probably going to get down on yourself pretty quick.”
- Lucas Bradley, writer of “A Single Point of Light” Substack newsletter

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Paige Perez (she/her) is a Caribbean-American audio and photojournalist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Her work covering sexual and reproductive health, the climate crisis, and racial inequity is published in The Guardian, HuffPost Voices, and Bronx Times. Paige is a recent graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she concentrated in health/science reporting and specialized in audio and video. When she is not reporting and producing, she is probably visiting local art spaces or making images.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.