Contrivance #10: Single Adults

Have you noticed that all single adults–especially those 30 and over–are portrayed as unsuccessful?

I started thinking about this while watching that terrible movie Young Adult. In the movie, Charlize Theron is a successful writer (albeit a ghost writer, but successful nonetheless). But the movie portrays the successful people as those who had settled down and had kids. Their jobs weren’t important. The focus was on family.

So I started thinking about other movies with single adults. Pretty much every Seth Rogen movie portrays him as man-boy. In fact, there’s at least one grownup in every Judd Apatow who fits that description (Bridesmaids being the most recent example).

There are a crop of movies with divorced dads as the protagonists. Steve Carrell comes to mind as someone who’s in a bunch of them, but there are other actors who take those roles.

Single adult women in movies usually fall into two categories: Single moms juggling more than they can handle and career-driven women who are “too busy” to focus on family. Why can’t a career-driven woman in a movie be lauded for her achievements, and perhaps written in a more well-rounded way to reflect real-life women? And why can’t a single mom simply have her act together like so many single mothers in real life?

I think my overall concern here is that people–not just movies–equate having a family to happiness and success. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having a family. But in my opinion, there are SO many different ways to define success, and you can achieve many of them as a single person.

Contrary to what the movies will have us believe, being single is inherently not a failure. For all you single people out there, you are not failures due to your relationship status. Choose your own path to success. Choose your own path to happiness.

And if all fails, follow the Seth Rogen formula in Knocked Up and get a stranger pregnant. Then come talk to me about what happiness looks like.


14 Responses to “Contrivance #10: Single Adults”

  1. Lorena says:

    Yeah… I think Seth Rogan just fits the “look” of man-boy.

    Hm. I have many other opinions about this post, well, the concept of man-boys in film, but I will not get into it. Primarily because I’ve been drinking tonight and watching Torchwood and so everything feels fun and fancy-free and I think that it’d be a bad idea to rant.

    Wow, look at me being all in self-control! 😉 I guess I must be married with children!!!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      You must be hugely successful! 🙂

      Well, feel free to tune back in tomorrow after your Torchwood-themed binge has subsided.

  2. Jodie says:

    Couldn’t agree more… I wish more people would think this way, so they could see me for who I am and realize how happy and successful I am.
    Also, if people realized happiness is first and foremost found in themselves, perhaps there would be less divorce.
    I could comment forever on this one, but alas I’m running late…

  3. Christine says:

    I realize this is not at all where you were going, but really, success is having kids—evolutionarily speaking anyway. As a species we are only here because many generations before us have put procreation at the top of their list of important things to do in their lifetimes. Raising kids is a lot of work so I think it inherently has to be considered an important part of life culturally or we start to decline evolutionarily. We’re practically pre-programmed to view propagation as success so it seems pretty natural to me that the idea would manifest itself in our pop culture.

    Oh, and I’ve never met a single mom in real life who actually feels like she’s in control—so I’m not sure that’s really too terrible of a stereotype. Portraying the opposite might actually feel kind of fake.

    Just playing devil’s advocate 😉

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Christine–Okay, I like where you’re going with this. Although if we’re going there, let’s go all the way: Evolutionarily speaking, wouldn’t “success” be if those who have developed traits that make them more likely to survive are the ones who have kids? Evolution is somewhat of a non-factor in today’s world because pretty much anyone can survive–we’re not fighting for the survival of our species on a daily basis. But simply having kids does not meet the requirements of evolution.

      For the single moms, I think being in control is different than what I said (having their act together). Sure, their car might be a mess and their life might be more hectic than those of us who don’t have kids, but does that mean they don’t have their act together?

      My overall point is: Do you look at your single mom friends and think, “They are failures because they aren’t married?” Of course not–at least, I hope not! And yet that’s the message that most movies give us.

      • Red says:

        For a SPECIES to evolve, the strongest of its members adapt to the adversity of the environment, and procreate to pass down those successful adaptations in teh form of genes. Usually, we’re talking about millenia, though we’ve man’s ability to impact it’s environment in the last few thousand tears really throws a wrench in the timeline of evolution. But genetically speaking, people want to pass down their individual genetic traits through offspring.
        I think we often consider success through the legacy we leave. As the only creature who contemplates the idea of a legacy, there are two main ways to do that. If you do something AMAZING that is recorded and referenced as knowledge for future generations, you live on as long as there is some record of the achievement, and a consumer who is willing/able to engage it. The other legacy is a biological legacy. This is less lengthy (at most three or four generations), but more attainable, as not everyone can do amazing things.
        However, I feel that single people have more time to achieve amazing things (because they do not have to care for a family), but I don’t think that means that they are more likely to actually do these things.
        If, instead hedonism (“Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure.” [which I’ll call happiness]) is your goal, then legacy has no part in any of it.

        • Jamey Stegmaier says:

          Red–I like the differentiation between legacies. That makes sense to me.

          Also, that’s a great point that single people aren’t necessarily more likely to achieve amazing things because they’re single. I think that’s true. My overall point wasn’t so much that single people are more successful than people with families; rather, my point was that single people aren’t inherently unsuccessful because they don’t have families.

  4. T-Mac says:

    To diverge from this serious conversation…

    Does anyone ever look at Seth Rogan and think, “How did this guy get so lucky?” He never has to wear anything other than t-shirts and shorts, shave, or work out for a role. The guy looks perennially comfortable…and for a guy who looks like him, he’s featured in a disproportionate number of roles where his character hooks up with attractive women.

  5. Belle says:

    Can you add married adults without kids to this post? I don’t have and I don’t plan on having children although I am married. People make comments and imply that our life isn’t complete and we aren’t successful because we haven’t reproduced. When in actuality we are very happy, very in love and successful as well. I never understood why people equate success and happiness to being married with kids. It’s frustrating if you don’t meet that ideal, either because you can’t or you just don’t want to.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Belle–A great point. I think it’s a slightly different category, but the same idea. Kids don’t equal success. Kids can be a huge, wonderful part of your life, but simply the ability to have them doesn’t equal being successful.

  6. Jill says:

    True. Society does place an inordinate amount of importance on being married and having kids. I’m not married nor do I have kids, but I certainly don’t consider myself a failure.

    However, I do NOT want kids. It really bugs me when people tell me “oh, you’ll change your mind.” NO, I won’t. I’ll be 30 in a few months and if I haven’t changed my mind by now I don’t think it’s going to happen. Nothing about being pregnant or raising kids is appealing to me at all. It just isn’t my ish. And the fact that people seem to think they know me better than I know myself really just baffles me.

    I wouldn’t mind being married at some point, but it isn’t the end of the world if it doesn’t happen. Since I don’t have that biological clock ticking because of the kid thing, I think the importance of getting married has kinda waned on me.

  7. Brad says:

    What about having a girl choose between two guys, both of whom are standing in front of her, waiting for her decision. This is usually preceded by the two guys confronting the girl in unison and one of them saying “You gotta choose. Me or him.” The girl then tells them she needs some time to think it over, and instead of talking to them in private, tells them BOTH to meet her in a certain place to hear her decision. AND THEY DO. Zack/Slater/Kelly, Brandon/Dylan/Kelly, Jackie/Kelso,Hyde, the list goes on. At least Seth Cohen had the decency to do it in private.

    Is there any possible way you would stand beside your romantic adversary as a girl chose between the two of you? This has never happened. It will never happen. Yet, it happens on tv all the time.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      That’s a good one! And you’re right–that would never happen in real life. At least not in those circumstances. I have heard of some possessive people (men and women alike) giving ultimatums to the person they’re dating, usually in the context of, “You can either be with me or continue to be friends with your ex.”

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