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Singles are Islanders too
Mercer Island is not only a city but also a community. When we think of community, we often think of children and families. However, when we do so, we might leave out other groups that share our neighborhoods, parks and businesses. The singles population is one of the groups we need to think about as we continue to establish an inclusive environment on the Island.
The 2000 Census indicates that on Mercer Island, more than one-fourth of men and women 18 years or older are living as single adults. These individuals include people who have never married, are separated or divorced from their spouses, or are widowed. Many singles, while appreciating the benefits of living on the Island, also report feeling isolated, without strong social networks or a sense of belonging.
At Youth & Family Services we hear many stories from single adults, single parents, and widows and widowers who would like to feel more included in their community. They talk about being left out of social gatherings they had been invited to previously when they were married. They say showing up alone to events can be awkward. We might hear that they go off the Island to gather and socialize.
This is not to say that singles are necessarily unhappy. According to Bella DePaulo, author of “Singled Out,” many singles today live rich, fulfilling lives; and in fact, they are happier, have more friends, and are better off financially than in the past.
Marriage, however, continues to be the preferred life choice in our culture. We are told in many ways that only marriage promises happiness and self-fulfillment and that there is something wrong with us if we are not married. Married couples receive many benefits in this country that singles do not receive; for example, Social Security benefits and income tax returns. Married couples also get discounted rates on auto insurance and travel packages.
In her book, DePaulo addresses our culture’s stereotypes of single people, stereotypes that might promote exclusion from the community. For example, we often assume singles are lonely and unhappy. We might believe that children of single parents are unfortunate and will struggle while growing up. We might think that singles are self-centered or have no life. We might be afraid of inviting a single friend for dinner because they might flirt with our spouse. In truth, married individuals can also feel lonely, struggle to raise their children or look for affirmation outside of their family.
Mercer Island is known to be a family-friendly environment. Even our department’s name, Mercer Island Youth & Family Services, might communicate to people that we serve only kids and families, while in reality we serve all ages and groups in the community, including singles. Given that more than a quarter of our residents are single, let’s think about how to join with them in building our community, not only for their well-being but for our own. After all, a healthy community is more than just a group of people living in one place. A healthy community is about all of us coming together to support each other, maximize our potential and enhance our lives.
Gayle Erickson, M.C., LMHC is the Clinical Supervisor at Mercer Island Youth & Family Services www.mercergov.org/yfs
For more information about counseling services at MIYFS, contact Gayle at 206-236-3525.