Is This a Relationship, or a ‘Situationship?’ Making Sense of the Search for Sex, Love, and Intimacy at Mid-Life

Spencer Garrison

PhD ’19, Sociology

Making sense of relationship status is critically important not only to the organization of one’s intimate relationships, but also to the organization of general social life. Within the contemporary U.S., singlehood has been presented as a dysfunctional, socially undesirable alternative to long-term partnership; this tendency to stigmatize singles makes singlehood a source of social risk. To further complicate the issue, the deinstitutionalization of marriage and the diffusion of relationship forms historically associated with younger adults (such as polyamory and “living apart together” relationships) into older age cohorts have afforded adult women new opportunities to choose among relationship configurations other than marriage or singlehood: opportunities that introduce as many new constraints as they do possibilities. Today’s aging singles must navigate a matrix of intimate alternatives, each with their own promises and dangers. We conducted a total of 56 in-depth interviews with Black and white women between the ages of 35 and 55, hoping to explore how differing interpretations of the disadvantages and opportunities associated with singlehood may work to shape women’s pursuit of new romantic and sexual partners. We argue that different women arrive at different understandings of what it means to be “single” at mid-adulthood, and that these understandings work to influence long-term ideals and aspirations.

Library Mentor: Hailey Mooney