Highs and lows in our struggle for acceptance
4 Billion Years Ago: First life on Earth
3.6 to 3 million years ago: First human being (First quirkyalone? Probably not. Propagating species would have been main concern, and brain perhaps not developed enough for subtleties required of QA living.)
4,000 B.C.E.: Eve bites apple. Kind of quirkyalone—sabotaging what everyone else would see as a perfect relationship.
624-560 B.C.E.: Siddhartha Gautama (first Buddha) born. At age 29, he leaves home to search for answers to the mysteries of life (around same age that many come to terms with QA identity).
399 B.C.E.: Unjustly condemned to death by an Athenian court, Socrates nonetheless faces his final days with serene philosophical wisdom: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
13th century: Persian mystic poet Rumi composes over 70,000 verses of poetry of divine love, mystic passion and ecstatic illumination. His poetry celebrates the sacred in the everyday and the power of yearning.
1558: Elizabeth I becomes queen of England. Though she was the greatest catch in all of Christendom, she refused marriage many times; she knew a husband would undermine her. She did fall madly in love, however, often with dashing young men. According to Elizabeth Abbott’s History of Celibacy, her pattern was to encourage suitors, waste their time in protracted talks, and then discard them.
16th century: Valentine’s Day not commercialized yet—on this holiday, European country folk engage in all manner of quaint courtship rites involving herbs, rocks and secret messages.
1794: John Chapman (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed) dreams of a land where blossoming apple trees are everywhere and no one goes hungry. Walks barefoot over 100,000 miles planting apple seeds.
1797-1801: First quirkytogether couple in the White House: John and Abigail Adams
1820: According to Bachelor Girl: A Secret History of Women in the Twentieth Century, frustrated woman writes letter to her friend: “[Rather than] endure the unhappiness that exists where minds are fettered to a different mold and rather [than] be subject to the eternal strife which . . . prevails [I prefer] ever to remain in ‘single blessedness’ and deem it thus felicity to live.”
1840s: Esther Howland, a student at Mt. Holyoke College, sells first commercial valentine. Over next twenty years, reliable postal system emerges: Valentine’s Day reinvented as an orgy of sentimental consumerism.
1855: Lucy Stone becomes first woman on record to keep her own name after marriage, women who follow the trend later known as “Lucy Stoners.”
1862: Thoreau delivers lecture, “Walking.” Nature-loving quirkyalones gather to listen.
Circa 1870: Radical stirrings in Ohio. At Oberlin, female students take part in debates, “Is Married Life More Conducive to a Woman’s Happiness than Single?” and “Is the Marriage Relation Essential to the Happiness of Mankind?”
Late 19th century: Cheap printing, consolidation of the publishing industry (from a scattering of small local printing shops to a nationwide industry) and rise in literacy rates result in widespread fashion of reading dime novels. Romantic love becomes a popular expectation (not just for the elite).
1880s: Women’s access to higher education expands; by 1880 one of every three students enrolled at institutions of higher learning is a woman; many remain single. (See page TK for more on the awakenings of a quirkyalone consciousness among this group.)
1890s: Urban bachelor subculture takes shape, as significant numbers of single men migrate to American cities. Bachelors find sustenance and camaraderie in male-only boarding houses, saloons, pool halls, cafés (NOTE ACCENT OVER E IN CAFÉ) and clubs.
1903: Wright brothers take first flight. (Thinking outside the box = very quirkyalone)
1910: Postcard peddler Joyce C. Hall moves into the greeting-card business; founds Hallmark greeting company; takes the business of Valentine’s Day over the top.
1912 First American group of Girl Guides, in Atlanta, Georgia. Later renamed the Girl Scouts, the organization brings girls into the outdoors, encourages self-reliance and resourcefulness.
1920s: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas: Quirkytogethers who created cultural salons for artists to get together, precursors of the urban tribe.
1922: Fear of a quirkyalone planet: increased access to higher education and new career opportunities for unmarried women lead to fears about declining fertility: “A woman alone is an atrocity! An act against nature. Unmarried women pose a grave danger . . . Our great civilization could decline. . . The larger health of the nation is at stake.” –-British MP
1929: Virginia Woolf publishes A Room of One’s Own. She articulates the need for space to be creative and develop as an individual.
1929-1934: Golden age of Hollywood. Female characters of this period are often tough, sexually aggressive, and independent, and they even engage in dalliances with other women—all in movies the general public loved!
1934: Joe Breen, a strict Catholic moralist from Philadelphia, is hired to run Hollywood’s Production Code Administration. He strictly enforces the rules that prohibit nudity, suggestive dances, the ridicule of religion, depiction of illegal drug use, venereal disease, and childbirth. The sexual innuendo of Mae West is out; Shirley Temple is in.
1930: Nancy Drew debuts. A plucky, level-headed teenager dedicated to truth and justice.
1942: Wartime brings more than six million women into the workforce in shipyards, steel mills, foundries, lumber mills, warehouses, offices, hospitals and day care centers. “Rosie the Riveter” provides nickname for all women who worked in wartime industries (icon of the born-again—or situational—quirkyalone).
1950s: Time warp. After World War II, social trends reverse: women exit the workplace, people get married earlier, and fertility rates are way up. Other than in bohemian capitals such as San Francisco and New York, quirkyalones go into hiding. According to Margaret Mead, there are no unmarried women in the 1950s. Heterosexual tyranny reigns, and men as well as women are targeted. Bachelors are called immature, infantile, narcissistic, deviant and pathological.
1955: Rosa Parks refuses to let a white bus rider take her seat. Her act of defiance sparks a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system—and galvanizes the civil rights movement: equal rights and respect for all.
1960: FDA approves the pill.
1962: Marriage mania hits its peak: by 1962, over one-third of all brides in the U.S. are nineteen years old or younger.
1962: Helen Gurley Brown busts out with Sex and the Single Girl, a revolutionary advice book that acknowledges unmarried women enjoy sex.
1963: Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique details the problem that has no name (depressed housewives with no sense of personal identity). Five million copies sell by 1970, laying the groundwork for the modern feminist movement.
1960s and ’70s: Black freedom movement a source of inspiration and a model for social change for second-wave feminists. Consciousness-raising groups take root coast to coast. Critique of the nuclear family eliminates some of the stigma attached to remaining single.
1969: Stonewall riot: official beginning of gay liberation movement and a new era of carving out public space for stigmatized sexual identities. Police raids on gay clubs long had been routine, but this time the crowd fights back. New York Daily News reports on July 6, 1969, “Homo Nest Raided: Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad”: “‘We’ve had all we can take from the Gestapo,’ the spokesman, or spokeswoman, continued. ‘We’re putting our foot down once and for all.’ The foot wore a spiked heel.”
1973: Roe v. Wade establishes right to abortion in all fifty states.
1974: Free to Be . . . You and Me
1976: Laverne and Shirley join cast of Happy Days (another Boston-marriage-style arrangement).
1977: Three’s Company: Jack, Janet, and Chrissy are a ’70s-style urban tribe.
1977: Joani Blank opens Good Vibrations, what will become the nation’s premier clean well-lighted place for sex toys.
1986: Notorious Newsweek article: “Single women over 40 have less chance to marry than to be killed by a terrorist.” Shock waves of anger, despair and disillusionment sweep across the country.
1986: Whitney Houston “The Greatest Love of All”
1980s-90s: Quirkytogether explosion. Strong, independent couples in the limelight: Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins; Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, etc.
1988: Sassy magazine hits newsstands (the most real teen magazine ever); empowers a generation of young women to create their own magazines in the ’90s: Bust, Bitch, HUES, Hip Mama, and To-Do List.
1992: Susan Faludi publishes Backlash, debunks methodology in Newsweek’s preposterous 1986 article. Still, the factoid about single women lives on.
1993: Bessie and Sadie Delany publish Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years. Two African-American women who lived beyond the age of 100 and remained single the whole time. In addition to practicing yoga every morning except Sunday, they jokingly credit their single status as the key to their longevity: “We never had husbands to worry us to death.” In the first decades of the 20th century, Bessie broke racial barriers by becoming a dentist; Sadie quietly integrated the New York City system as a schoolteacher. Their best-selling memoir, later adapted into a Broadway play and a CBS movie, tells stories and impressions of the post-Reconstruction South, Booker T. Washington, Harlem’s Golden Age, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. DuBois, and Paul Robeson. “I don’t see why everybody’s making such a fuss about us,” Sarah (Sadie) Delany tells the New York Times. “We’re not anything special. We’re just two old maids.”
1998: Will and Grace and Sex and the City debut.
2000: Gloria Steinem weds at age 66.
2000: Finland elects single mother (and former radical) as the first woman President.
2003: Newsweek publishes trend story on epidemic of sexless marriages. This time, at least single quirkyalones can feel pretty good about their choices.
2004: Quirkyalone consciousness continues to spread. A thousand conversations a day about what it means to be single or in a relationship.
2010: Webster’s adds “quirkyalone” to the dictionary. Lexicographers, if you are reading this, call me!