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Single-minded? You aren't alone

Move over metrosexuals, make room for the quirkyalones.

For those keeping track, metrosexual was last year's "it" label. The word, which originated in England and then gained popularity in the United States, describes a straight man, usually a city guy, who seems stereotypically gay because he spends more time than his fellow Joe on grooming. Think British soccer star David Beckham in a sarong or hip-hop bigwig P. Diddy in dandy suits and diamond studs.

So yesterday.

This year, it appears we'll be talking about singletons, not the lovelorn kind that Bridget Jones wrote about in her diary but singles who live full and fun lives. Like Oprah and Cher, or George Clooney and Steve Martin. Maybe even like you.

Author Sasha Cagen, 30, calls these happy, solitary people "quirkyalones," a word she coined on New Year's Day 2000 to describe herself and some friends who'd rather be single than date for the sake of being in a couple. That particular New Year's Day followed a kissless New Year's Eve.

The idea spawned an essay in the alternative magazine Utne Reader that caused an avalanche of mail, electronic and snail, from people who connected with Cagen's quirky view of single life and the pressures to couple-up.

"It wasn't just people in their 20s, but in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Both men and women," says Cagen by phone from San Francisco, where she lives. "They had never seen themselves described like that before."

Described like what? As single and fulfilled, she says.

Weirder still, Cagen found, was that many of the people who contacted her had eschewed labels all their lives and were stunned to find one that applied to them.

Cagen's Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperSan Francisco; $19.95) hit bookstores this month, and already the word and concept has gone from Utne to CNN to USA Today. In the spring, the book will be published in Great Britain.

"I've already had tremendous response from U.K. quirkyalones who are really over Bridget Jones's Diary," she says. The Web site, www.quirkyalone.net, is drawing plenty of hits, and there's even an International Quirkyalone Day. Surprise, it's Feb. 14.

The growing awareness of the word is novel in that it's not fueled by the celebrity culture that spawned "metrosexual" or the political jousting that gave birth to "soccer mom." Yes, Ally McBeal and Carrie Bradshaw could be described as quirkyalones, but single, interesting people were around long before those characters popped up on TV.

We just called them old maids and spinsters, or if they were male, we used the more charming term confirmed bachelors.

"Studies show we spend about half of our lives single, so it's kind of absurd to make people feel weird or bad because they are not in a relationship," Cagen says.

Indeed, some single women do seem to be celebrating their status. Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma report that more singles are registering for housewarming and birthday gifts rather than waiting for a wedding to get 200-thread count sheets or an All-Clad roaster.

Even the diamond is marking freedom, along with matrimony, thanks to the lovely rock on the right hand of Today's Katie Couric.

"A lot of women have disposable income," Couric said recently after showing viewers her right-hander. "Why wait for a man to give her a diamond ring?"

A marketing campaign by the Diamond Information Center helped the right-hand diamond take hold. "Your left hand says "we,' " the ads claim. "Your right hand says "me.' " Wal-Mart's right-hand offerings include the Keepsake Independence, which is "a shining symbol of your feminine spirit."

But the quirkyalone movement is about more than owning the stuff of wedded bliss. It's about owning yourself, Cagen says.

"It's the celebration of individuality," she says. "We are whole and complete by ourselves."

That's where the quirky part comes in. Cagen likes the human quality of the word quirky.

"It's real. It's unintentional difference, being distinctive without artifice," Cagen writes. "Quirky is the cowlick in your hair that won't lie flat; the nail polish that remains chipped."

And though some people might feel "alone" is too depressing, Cagen views it as a "declaration of independence, a willingness to step out from the crowd to follow one's own instincts."

Well, okay. But aren't all these quirkyalones just being too picky and wouldn't they jump at the chance to get married? Both the men and women?

Cagen scoffs.

"You know, some of us are actually attractive," she says, laughing. "I know one person who's turned down six marriage proposals."

Plus, quirkyalones always have their friends, who are as important, sometimes more so, than their families. Quirkyalones, Cagen says, follow in the steps of the gay community, which has done much to introduce the idea of friends as family.

"Gays have more freedom to create relationships from scratch," she says. "Because they have been excluded from legal marriage, they've not had the sort of pressures single people have to be in couples."

All this talk of being alone and satisfied makes one wonder why so many desperate men and women turned to TV for hookups and why millions of us watch the shenanigans of reality shows.

"I think it feels very schizophrenic," Cagen says. "You've got single women out there who are very sexy, powerful and choosy, and then they are bombarded with these catfighting, desperate women. It's not reality."

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

ARE YOU A QUIRKYALONE?

(Or do you know someone who is?)

Examine the following statements and indicate whether each one applies to you. You:

1. Display a talent for self-reflection. T F

2. Believe that life can be prosperous and great with or without a mate. T F

3. Create and maintain chosen families of friends. T F

4. Treat life as one big choose-your-own adventure; there is no single road map for adulthood. T F

5. Are not opposed to dating but prefer not to date for social convention. T F

6. Would rather be alone than be in a relationship in which you have to hold back an essential part of yourself. T F

7. Generally feel a sense of compulsion to make a mark in culture and society, to express yourself, whether through art, writing, a small business or activism. T F

8. Recognize the ways in which society prescribes happiness primarily through romantic love and understand the failings of such an approach. T F

9. Have had a taste or a glimpse of a great love relationship (or encounter), which intensifies your desire to remain open to the possibility of finding a similar experience. T F

10. Possess a talent at deconstructing love songs equal only to your vulnerability to them. T F

Determine your degree of quirkyaloneness.

0 to 3 true answers: Sorry, you are not quirkyalone. But chances are good you may be dating one, working with one, related to one or living with one and wanting to know that person better. You also may be harboring closet quirkyalone tendencies. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to a movie alone? Maybe you should try it.

4 to 6 true answers: Somewhat quirkyalone. There are elements of the quirkyalone in almost all of us: the iconoclast, the adventurer, the romantic, the romantic obsessive. You embody one-third to two-thirds of these qualities. You probably need "a room of your own" while you are in a relationship, but you manage to find yourself, on a regular basis, in a coupled situation. Fascinating. If you are involved in a long-term relationship, chances are good that you are living a quirkytogether lifestyle. Alternatively, you may be someone who is completely comfortable being single and has no desire to find a romantic relationship.

7 to 10 true answers: Very quirkyalone. At long last. You have found your tribe, a brave breed to resist the tyranny of coupledom in favor of independent self-expression. Relatives may give you quizzical looks, and so may co-workers, but in your heart of hearts you know that you are following your inner voice. You may or may not be participating in a conventional romance, but always you are romancing the world. But you have struggled on your own long enough. Now there is a word for this mind-set, a way to put our souls in communication with each other.

From Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics by Sasha Cagen (HarperSan Francisco; $19.95).

In good company

Notable quirkyalones include, from left, Hugh Grant, Cher (post-Sonny), George Clooney and Janet Reno plus Queen Elizabeth I, Bessie and Sadie Delaney, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, Kramer and rest of Seinfeld gang, Ralph Nader, Renee Zellweger and Salma Hayek

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