How should one be single today? This question, while arguably as old as marriage, has taken on an added significance since the rise of the internet. GPS-led social media apps, and particularly Tinder and its friends, have dramatically increased the dating activity expected of singletons.
In the West after the 1960s, being single was no longer about chastity or waiting around but the opposite: action, dating, having fun, accumulating experience in the name of self-knowledge and entertainment value. It’s been about getting the balance right between searching and self-containment – being open but not desperate. But with the rise of technologies that amplify and are instrumental in strengthening our capacity for FOMO (fear of missing out), singleness has become more like a full-time job: logistically, sexually and psychologically.
The new comedy film, How to Be Single, appears to tap right into these changes and no doubt appeals to the countless people who, simultaneously obsessed with and disgusted by their Tinder feed, are wondering just that. As a women living in the post-1960s dating age and one who researches just this topic, I dutifully went along.
If you have a burning desire to watch this trite and old-fashioned film spoiler free, then do stop reading now. For everyone else, here’s a guide to the film’s main points – but don’t expect any nuggets of wisdom from it, you’re better off with Tinder.
#1. Sleep around
Curiously, How To Be Single, for all its indulgences in the trademarks of contemporary life – latest iPhone messaging, blow-dry hair bars, craft beer – couldn’t be less interested in modern, technologically-driven singleness on steroids. Instead, it just rehashes some very traditional motifs.
The central characters – all bar Rebel Wilson’s sexually discreditable alcoholic party-girl Robin – doggedly pursue traditional romantic ends, and cope with their singleness in relatively old-fashioned ways. For Tinder is, weirdly, absent. So the singles in their 20s go out and get drunk and shag people they snog on the dance floor, while the two 30-somethings opt for IVF from a sperm bank (the older one) and old-fashioned internet dating (the younger), to which end the film’s only likeable character, Lucy, played by the luminous Alison Brie, has written a site-combing algorithm.
Love and sex news: in pictures
Love and sex news: in pictures
1/20 'Weird' sexual fetishes are actually very normal
A number of sexual fetishes considered anomalous in psychiatry are actually common in the general population, a study has found. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), sexual interests fall into two categories: normal (normophilic) and anomalous (paraphilic). Researchers asked 1,040 Quebec residents, representative of the general population, about their experiences of sexual behaviour considered abnormal by the DSM-5. The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, found that of the eight types of anomalous behaviour listed in the DSM-5, four were found to be neither rare or unusual among the experiences and desires reported by men and women
2/20 Male contraceptive gel that 'blocks sperm' could be available in less than two years
A new injectable contraceptive for men could be on the market as soon as 2018, US researchers hope. Currently, men are limited to options including condoms and a vasectomy if they want to protect their partner from pregnancy. Scientists have said that the new method will be long-lasting and reversible, without the need for men to take hormones to supress fertility. Vasagel works by blocking the duct from which sperm leaves the testes and enters the urethra: the canal where semen and urine leave the penis. The contraceptive is administered by an injection into the vas deferens
3/20 Heartbreak can actually change the rhythm of your heart
Losing a loved one really can break your heart, research suggests, although not for ever. People who lose a partner are at an increased risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the next 12 months, scientists found. The risk seems to be greatest among the under 60s and when the loss of the partner was least expected
4/20 Gym 'used as a hook-up spot'
People who hope to find love and get fit in the New Year may find it surprisingly easy to tick off both goals, as a new survey has revealed that half of adults use the gym as a hook-up venue, while a quarter admit to having sex there. Apparently not put off by the surroundings, a new survey of how Britons behave in the gym has found that 25 per cent claimed to have had sex there at least once in the past 12 months
5/20 Erectile dysfunction 'linked to risk of early death'
Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) are 70 per cent more likely to die early, a new study has found. US scientists believe that the disorder may be linked to poor cardiovascular health, and suggested that men with ED should be screened for health issues that could cut their lives short
6/20 39 per cent of workers have sex at Christmas parties
The festive season may be a time for good will and sharing – but it’s also apparently the perfect excuse to hook-up with the cute person from accounts, according to a survey which has revealed that 39 per cent of people have had sex at their work Christmas party. Even more people admitted that the annual knees-up offered the chance to kiss a co-worker, with over locking lips at the event. A survey of 2,000 UK adults by high-street lingerie retailer Ann Summers revealed that IT and HR are the professions most likely to snog or have sex with a colleague or get incredibly drunk at the Christmas party, at 63 per cent and 56 per cent respectively.This was compared with 27 per cent of those in education and 29 per cent in health
7/20 Durex calls for a condom emoji
Emojis have come a long way in recent years - since they were first integrated into Unicode in 2010, we've gained emojis of all different ethnicities, emojis for every flag in the world, and even the middle finger emoji. However, we're still missing a condom emoji. Durex wants to change that. It's easy to suggest sex with emojis (think aubergine, peach, the 'OK' sign), but there's nothing that shows safe sex. So, to coincide with World AIDS Day on 1 December, Durex is encouraging its customers to call upon the Unicode Consortium, who oversee the introduction of new emoji, to give the world a condom emoji in their next update
8/20 Spliting the housework equally is the secret to a better sex life
Better communication, getting more exercise, oysters, more date nights, time away from the kids – these are just a few common theories for how couples can improve their sex life. But now, a new study has offered up a different one, suggesting that the key to being more satisfied between the sheets could in part be down to taking it in turns to wash them. According to the study from the University of Alberta, couples enjoyed more frequent and satisfying sex for both partners when the housework is split equally across men and women
9/20 Arguing with a partner is beneficial
Arguing in a relationship is not often seen as having a positive impact on both partners. But a new study from US psychologists suggests that if each party feels understood, falling out does not have a detrimental impact on their satisfaction in the relationship. Researchers at the University of California said feeling understood appeared to improve a relationship on its own, regardless of any practical consequence of that understanding. And when people felt their partners understood them, the conflict was not only not harmful but actually good for the relationship
10/20 Ireland gay marriage
Same-sex couples in the Republic of Ireland can officially get married after the country voted overwhelmingly for the change in a referendum in May. Legislation legalising gay civil marriage, passed following the vote, came into effect on 16 November 2015. The first couples to be affected will be gay couples who married legally abroad – whose unions will now automatically be recognised by the Irish state. But the race is now on to see who which couple will become the first gay newlyweds to legally marry in Eire itself
11/20 'Female Viagra' approved
A drug dubbed the ‘female Viagra’ has finally been approved by the US Food and Drug administration but concerns have been raised over the drug’s possible side effects. Flibanserin, produced by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, was approved by the FDA on the third application in five years – after twice failing over concerns regarding possible side-effects.
12/20 Grindr users surveyed on sexual preferences
Grindr users are not that gay, at least according to a new survey. More than 300 users on the gay dating app, contacted by Pink News as part of an informal study, did not identifying as exclusively attracted to men. The study used the Kinsey scale, based on the work of sexologist Alfred Kinsey, which ranges from 0 (exclusively straight) to 6 (exclusively gay) and also allows identification as asexual (X). Pink News found that the average answer was around five, with the most frequent answer being five, followed by six and then four when they contacted users from their office in central London.
13/20 Watching porn does not cause negative attitudes to women
The average porn user may have more egalitarian views towards women than non-users, a contentious new study has suggested. Researchers at Western University in Canada have even argued that many pornography fans might be “useful allies” in women’s struggles for equality in the workplace and in public office. They reported in the Journal of Sex Research that the 23 per cent of people who said they had watched an “X-rated” film during the previous year were no more or less likely to identify as feminists than those who did not watch porn.
14/20 The characteristics of men who pay for sex
Men who pay for sex share similar traits to rapists and sex offenders, according to new research. A study from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), claims that men who have sex with female sex workers feel less empathy for them than men who do not buy sex. Part of this reason is due to the fact that they view them as "intrinsically different from other women,” according to the authors.
15/20 How much sex we have (and how much we'd like)
As a nation, we don’t have as much sex as we would like, a survey has (somewhat unsurprisingly) confirmed. In a poll of 1523 people by YouGov, 64 per cent of Britons said they would wish to have sex at least a few times a month. The same sample said that only 38 per cent had sex at least a few times a month. In addition, 10 per cent said they wished to have sex every day, a goal which only 1 per cent admitted reaching.
16/20 One per cent of Britons 'have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all'
An estimated 1% of Britons have almost no interest in sexual activity, according to researchers. The identity, which describes rarely or never experiencing sexual attraction, has moved from a diagnosis of mental disorder in the past to a sexual orientation in its own right today. As public interest in “asexuality” grows, researchers at Glasgow University have found that romance and intimacy is still very much on the cards for those who take the label.
17/20 Women really are more attracted to men who make them laugh
Researchers at an American university have claimed that humour is a key factor in human “sexual selection”, with women appearing to be more attracted to men who make them laugh. Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, found that when two strangers meet, the more times a man tries to be funny and a woman laughs, the more likely she is to be interested in dating. The reverse was not true for women who attempted humour, according to his study “Sexual Selection and Humour in Courtship: A Case for Warmth and Extroversion,” which has been published in the Evolutionary Psychology journal.
18/20 What makes a perfect penis?
Scientists have now answered one of these great unknowns. According to a new study, “general cosmetic appearance” is the most important penile aspect when it comes to what women value down there. This is swiftly followed by the appearance of pubic hair, penile skin, and girth. Length comes in at number six, with the look of the scrotum trailing closely behind. The least important facet of the phallus, say the scientists, is the “position and shape of meatus”, the vertical slit at the opening of the urethra.
19/20 Students who marry after studying the same subject
Picking a university subject is already difficult enough for young people. But here’s an extra piece of data to weigh on your decision: you may be picking a life partner as well. Dan Kopf of the blog, Priceonomics, analysed US Census data and found that the percentage of Americans who marry someone within their own major is actually fairly high. About half of Americans are married, according to the 2012 American Community Survey (part of the Census). And about 28 per cent of married couples over the age of 22 both graduated from college. (The survey didn’t recognise same-sex marriages for the 2012 data, but it will for 2013 onwards, says Kopf)
20/20 Half of divorcees had doubts on their wedding day
Over half of divorcees considered abandoning their husband or wife-to-be at the altar on their wedding day, a new study has revealed. On top of likely worrying about wedding favours and making sure guests behave on their big day, 49 per cent of divorcees admitted they were unsure before the ceremony that their marriage would last. Some 15 per cent of divorcees polled said they were so wracked with doubt that they felt physically sick in the run up to their wedding.
The film starts in a college dorm, with beanpole undergraduate Josh (Nicolas Braun) clutching at Dakota Johnson’s willowy, lip-bitten Alice. Love blossoms: so far so traditional.
But in the next scene, four years later, as they’re packing up their dorms after graduating, Alice explains she wants a relationship break. So off they go to New York where Alice starts work as a paralegal and meets the sex-mad Robin, whose fat – in standard Hollywood logic – acts as her green light to be the only character who is truly “myself”. Robin drags goody-two-shoes Alice out for the first of many nights on the tiles, in which they enact version one of how to be single (read: how not to be single). This involves Alice sleeping with wily, commitment-phobe barman Tom who is so against women sticking around in the morning that he has cut off the water to his kitchen tap so that the hungover damsels must flee.
#2. Have a baby
Other alcohol-soaked adventures ensue, punctuated by the ebb and flow of Alice’s tears about losing Josh, who has decided he doesn’t want her after all, despite a sudden change of heart on her part. Meanwhile, Alice’s older sister Meg (Lesley Mann), an obstetrician who purports to enjoy life single and without a baby, one day delivers a baby too cute to hate. She decides to get IVF with a perfect Swede sperm donor, whose spotless genetic and social record are excitedly reeled off from the catalogue. This jolly choice is creepily announced without irony, and so its proudly eugenic, Aryan-oriented chime rings somewhat painfully.
That said, it fits neatly with the middle-class drive to consolidate resources which informs the film’s wider network of relationships. Alice’s Josh dreamily gets into business school just when she most fancies him; Alice’s short-term boyfriend David (Damon Wyans, Jr), is a property developer who happens to “own” the building next to her office on Wall Street. Anyway, Meg’s pregnancy develops apace, and she happens to meet a devoted would-be house-husband Ken (Jake Lacey) who doesn’t mind that her baby isn’t his – also, he’s a receptionist. This is the film’s progressive blip. Still, progressive as Ken is on baby matters, his first words to her in bed are the rather atavistic: “Your body’s awesome!”
#3. Be yourself
Lucy, meanwhile, has been explaining her OCD approach to dating to him while at the bar eating peanuts. At first he finds her tactics repulsive, but it isn’t long before he warms to her. However – in punishment for his playboy ways – the feeling isn’t reciprocated, and he watches in horror as Lucy falls into the arms of the completely charmless bookstore manager George (Jason Mantzoukas) who – unlike the rest (himself included) – was ready to “put a ring on it”.
But back to Alice. Poor girl; something about her just doesn’t stick. Even men find her forgettable – witness Josh, Tom and David. This, Robin helpfully points out, is because unlike her, Alice constantly falls into men’s “dicksand”, losing herself in the age-old female trance of phallus worship. This is the wake-up call she needs. To be single is to be yourself! Off she goes to the Grand Canyon for a solo dawn hike. Men, shmen.
So why leave out Tinder and the like? My hunch is that any sense of truly modern dating would complicate a film that tracks along two simple lines: one, singleness is alright if you really go single (shun meaningless sex, deceitful ex-boyfriends, the easy path in general) and two, singleness is for achieving your dreams, and finding yourself outside the bedroom.
So this is a curiously staid movie: more traditional even than Sex and the City, some of whose characters ultimately reject traditional roles. Here, there is a pot of romantic gold at the end of the rainbow for the deserving, whether in the form of a husband (Lucy) or the self (Alice). And Alice’s singleness is clearly just a pause before the right relationship comes along. So the film stays firmly within traditional lines, advancing the 1960s idea that to find someone else you must find yourself first. The idea that you might never want to find “the one” is beyond its reach.