By Amey Stone
I received a huge volume of e-mail from readers responding to a recent story I wrote that pointed out the many ways in which single people are slighted, ignored, and -- most important -- end up getting the short end financially simply because of their marital status (see BW Online, 2/25/04, "The High Cost of Not Marrying").
About half of my e-mail was from single people who liked the story and had an inequity or two of their own to add to the list -- like the best housing on military bases going to married couples or that, in many offices, single people are expected to work longer hours since they presumably don't have anyone to rush home to.
FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY.
Whether they had gripes or not, most of the singles who wrote were grateful for the smidgen of attention the story granted them and seemed to understand that it wasn't meant to change the world order. One reader called it "entertaining" and said, "I just loved your article! It hit home. I am single and I couldn't agree more." Another wrote, "One day I hope to be in a wonderful marriage, but if that doesn't happen it won't be the end of the world. I will just enjoy my life on my own terms!"
In marked contrast to those letters were the ones I got from married folks -- mostly, it seems, with children. One reader called my article "a joke. It really says nothing. It's like a conversation two drunks might have in a bar." Another speculated: "You may have a problem with relationships." And another: "I have never read a more ridiculous article. What do single people have to complain about? Because a business offers family discounts?"
It seems I tapped into an undercurrent of frustration among some married people with children. Many of these readers are making great personal sacrifices in time and money on behalf of the next generation. They not only believe they deserve a few breaks for their efforts but they're outraged to think that single people would begrudge them their few perks. "The reality is if you are a couple trying to balance career and family, you have your work cut out for you, and that makes a hell of a lot more interesting story," one reader wrote.
FIRST PERSON, NOT SINGLE.
And, perhaps to a lesser degree, I tapped into an undercurrent of anger: "My heart bleeds for singles who don't have a care in the world other than themselves," one reader wrote sarcastically.
However, my article was about marital status, which, like it or not, has less and less to do with whether or not someone has children. The demographic with the toughest time -- as I pointed out in the story -- are single parents. "Struggling in Detroit" wrote with some sympathy, "The government should do whatever in can to strengthen the family because it is by no means a walk in the park.... I can only imagine what the single parents are doing."
Journalists often write about inequities that they may be fortunate enough to have little experience with themselves. That's what the singles story was for me. The struggles of working parents? Now there's a topic I can write about in the first person.
That's because I'm married and have two young children myself. I bring this up mainly because so many readers assumed I was single, and -- many of them wished upon me a long, lonely life as a spinster. One person wrote, "When it comes time to take all the 'extra' money couples get for committing to a relationship and the future of a family away from us, you will still be left out in the cold by not having a spouse and children for your future. Good luck in your quest for the dollar."
WELLSPRING OF BITTERNESS.
Another reader with a real flair for writing deserves to be quoted at length: "Have you ever stayed up all night afraid your spouse or child might die? Would you have any idea what toll that might take out of your heart? Have you had to sacrifice something you want desperately so your spouse or child might have better medical care or just an extra blanket? Have you ever had to put your 'I want it now' singles' attitude aside for another human being that means more to you than life itself?"
Every night I experience the joy of holding an infant in my arms
My answer is, yes, I have. In fact, nearly every night at some point between the hours of 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., I put my "I want sleep now" attitude aside to experience the joys of holding a precious, needy infant in my arms. Which is another way of saying that I know personally wherefrom all this bitterness on the part of married readers springs.
It's physically and emotionally exhausting to raise children today. It's also a blessing and privilege. But woe to the person -- or writer -- who catches a parent on an off day.
A RICH LIFE.
One reader chastised me: "This article just seems alive with whining and 'Me, Me, Me.' Shame on you." To that reader I respond: "You think that was complaining? Talk to me at about 10 p.m. most days, bone-tired and stressed out about all I didn't accomplish that day, and I'll be happy to deliver an earful."
Almost any other time of day, however, I know I'm lucky to have my husband and kids and the rich, full, hectic life they afford. And I suspect even the most disgruntled readers of my story on singles would agree with me on that point.
Stone is a senior writer at BusinessWeek Online