It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single
by Sara Eckel
“Why does singleness require an explanation?” she asked, after I told her what a good book this was. I can imagine other single people out there exchanging knowing glances with one another in answer to this question—because people do expect there to be a reason that you are single, preferably one in which you are at fault in some way. But my interlocutor is right: there does not have to be a reason that you are single; you just are. And that’s what this book is about.
Sara Eckel wrote a column about her experience as a thirty-something single woman in the New York Times and it hit a nerve; the response was immediate and strong, from people who felt the same way as she did. This book is an expansion on those points. It is a breath of fresh air and a sanity-check for single people. It’s Not You was recommended to me by another thirtyish Catholic single woman who said that it was the only one she’d ever found that resonated with her experience. The book is from an entirely secular perspective, with some references to Buddhist beliefs and practices, (just FYI) but Eckel validates common feelings of single people, affirms our “worthiness” of love, and addresses head-on the voices that we hear (from others, but also ourselves).
It’s Not You has a straightforward structure; after an introduction, each of the 27 chapters is one of the “reasons” that people explain away their own or another’s single state. Everyone has their own story, so some chapters will resonate and others will not. Here are a few of my personal favorites.
In the chapter entitled, “You need to grow up,” Eckel writes, “One day I was talking to a friend about my IRA. I was thinking I needed to diversify more and find a good bond index. She shrugged and said she didn’t know much about that: her husband handled the retirement stuff. That’s when it hit me: I do everything. I do the cooking, the cleaning, the retirement planning, the tax filing. I got the mortgage and handled the refinance and filled the apartment with furniture and the cupboards with food. By myself. When the pipes break, I call the plumber. When it’s time to book a flight, I search for the best fare. When the smoke detector needs a new battery, I haul out the ladder and replace it… [in marriage] you can remain completely innocent of some of the basic facts of your existence and still get full credit for being an adult—more credit than if you were handling everything on your own” (p.66-67, 71, emphasis original). Having bought a house myself a year ago, this resonated with me. In the same chapter, Eckel writes, “If a childless single person falls ill, only her parents have the legal right to take off work to care for her” (p. 69). This struck me a few years ago when a housemate of mine had surgery. I took a vacation day to help her when she got home since I had no “right” to use a sick day to help a friend—but then, neither did anyone else that she lived with. This is one of those things that married people just don’t have to think about—like if their car breaks down somewhere, or if their plane is canceled. They don’t scroll through their contacts wondering who they should call.
Another chapter, “You need to be happy alone,” is a dim, nonreligious version of the theme that all Catholic single people (women, especially) know quite well. It is the theme of “You must be fully content with Jesus before you can find a spouse.” This is a lot of rubbish (to use a British phrase)—not only are counter-examples rampant, but all it does is make the single person feel worse and chalk their singleness up to a lack of a prayer life. A woman doesn’t “deserve” to get married because she was holier than the other girl. God doesn’t withhold good gifts from his children out of some sort of plan to starve them into His arms (thank God!).
Finally, a chapter—that can be proven false most effectively by the Catholic Church—is the one entitled, “You don’t know love.” Too often, American culture reduces love to romance, disregarding the many other types of love that bring joy and fulfillment. First, of course, the love of God himself (which is not touched on in the book) but also the love of others in the varied human relationships that we all have: extended families, friendships, godparents, the repeat customer who knows the barista’s names, the neighbor who helps shovel you out, etc. Eckel writes that marriage, “can also be a fairly closed loop of me-you-me-you… sure, couples are capable of popping out of their domestic bubbles. The difference is, when you’re single there’s no bubble to pop—or not one that nearly as solid. It’s just you and the vast open space” (p. 150). This is one of the gifts that being single brings—an openness to others and availability for service.
I recommend It’s Not You to all single people, but I also recommend it to those who love them—both so that they will never say any of these 27 things, but also because it may help them understand our situation better.
About the reviewer
Sara Perla is the Program Specialist for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She attended the Catholic University of America and received her Master’s degree in Theological Studies at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. She is also a baker, a ballet dancer, and an avid listener of NPR podcasts.
Disclaimer: Book reviews do not imply and are not to be used as official endorsement by the USCCB of the work or those associated with the work. Book reviews are solely intended as a resource regarding publications that might be of interest to For Your Marriage visitors.