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  Driving Me Mad
 
 
The Boston Globe Magazine, April 13, 2008
   
If you're single, you're probably accustomed to a little nagging from your friends and family. Maybe you've also got a concerned therapist, boss, or mailman who can't understand why someone as fabulous as you isn't paired up. Now here comes someone else to drive you crazy: those folks at your auto insurance company.

Since April 1, insurers have been competing for our business and offering discounts to nab the customers they want most. And, according to a report by two consumer groups, they want married people. The report says (though the insurance industry denies) that with competition, singles will see their premiums rise and married couples will see theirs fall - driving records notwithstanding. So, if you're single, slowing down and perfecting your parallel parking will not earn you a rate break. You'll need to get married for that.

You might ask why car insurers would care about the marital status of their customers. Do they imagine singles all speeding recklessly to our Match.com dates or that wedding rings contain special powers that ward off accidents? I was all set to tell the story of the married woman in an SUV who cruised through a stop sign and broadsided my Civic, but it turns out one's driving record isn't part of the equation here. According to the consumer groups, insurers believe that married customers - because many are richer and considered more stable - are less likely to engage in fraud.

The good news about this: I finally understand where all the single men my age are. They aren't trapped inside the high-tech firms of Kendall Square, as I'd previously believed. They're all out committing insurance fraud. So I just have to find them and persuade them that going out with me would be more fun than doctoring digital photos to suggest accidents that never happened.

Even if we didn't end up dating, we could join together to fight singles discrimination. We would start with the auto insurers, and then go after the travel industry for its "single supplements." (Why not just one rate if you share a room and another if you don't? Why must it always be phrased as a tax against the unmarried?) Then we could tackle the safety net afforded to the married who, if they lose a job, can hop onto their spouse's medical plans. We could change the culture that encourages newlyweds to upgrade their kitchenware at the expense of their friends. The list of marriage perks is long; we'll fight them all!

Of course, there are lots of good reasons for policy makers (and the rest of us) to encourage couples to commit to each other and care for each other. But it sometimes seems like a blurry line between encouraging matrimony and penalizing the single. Often, when politicians wax philosophic on this topic, they paint the unmarried as leading dysfunctional lives - ones filled with neglected children and fraudulent insurance claims.

For most of the singles I know, the opposite of marriage isn't dysfunction. Some have chosen singlehood over an unhappy relationship. Some truly are happier solo. Others just have found it difficult to meet each other amid the demands of work, answering e-mails, and picking up the dry cleaning. And for the last group, the many social and financial perks given the married can feel like one frustration added onto another.

It's hard to base a vibrant movement around something as changeable and impermanent as relationship status. Yet, singles are now the majority in the United States, and we face the same challenges of legal un-attachment that were highlighted during the fight for gay marriage, like what to do if we get laid off and can't piggyback onto a spouse's health plan. We could, I suppose, just pick each other at random and get hitched. Or we could push for a reconsideration of the way benefits and perks are distributed.

So let's thank the auto industry for the impetus and start taking some action. We could hold our first meeting in a local junkyard, with digital cameras optional. If nothing else, it could be a great place to meet someone.

 
 

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Copyright 2009 by Alison Lobron