Now, it’s time for Words and Their Stories — our weekly program about common, everyday expressions in American English.
This month, a lot of Americans are talking about pairs or doubles – words relating to the number two. That is because February 14 is Valentine’s Day. It is a celebration of romantic love, usually between two people.
But being part of a couple is not as common as it used to be: More than one in four Americans lives alone. The number of unmarried adults around the world is also higher than it has ever been, says social scientist Bella DePaulo.
And so today we are going to honor the word “single.” If someone is single, she or he is not involved in a serious romantic relationship with someone else.
The word “single” can suggest a feeling of fun. One image of a single person is of a carefree man or woman who has many friends and is happy to be independent. The findings of researcher Bella DePaulo support this idea. She finds that, in general, singles in the U.S. socialize with friends and neighbors, take classes and do volunteer work more than married couples.
But perhaps you are single and you are not so happy. Maybe you would like to meet someone – someone else who is not in a serious romantic relationship right now, either. You’re in luck. You can go to a singles party, a singles club, or a singles dance. Singles events are designed to introduce solo adults to each other.
And who knows? You might see someone there who looks very interesting and appealing to you. You ignore the rest of the crowd and single out this one person as someone you want to get to know. You take quick, decisive action. In a single stroke, you put down your glass, cross the room, and introduce yourself.
Luckily, the person is as wonderful as you had imagined. You exchange stories. You discuss politics and religion. The two of you agree on everything. You are of a single mind!
Then, suddenly, a loud sound fills the room. It’s a fire alarm! The guests walk through the door in an orderly way, one behind the other. They leave the building single file.
You now find yourself outside with your new love interest. The two of you watch as firefighters investigate the building. There does not seem to be a real emergency. But the firefighters must look in all the rooms. They have to search every single one for signs of fire.
Slowly, the other singles begin to leave. You are not ready to say goodbye to the person who is pulling at your heart. But you also feel uneasy about suggesting you meet again soon.
The person waves and turns to go. Your stomach jumps. Your heart beats faster. You open your mouth to ask for a telephone number.
But then you stop. What if you are rejected?
Or, what if you are not rejected? You might fall in love and become part of a couple. You could lose your alone time, your freedom, your dream to travel the world by yourself.
You take a deep breath and remind yourself that every journey begins with a single step.
On your way home, you call your favorite restaurant and tell the person who answers you are planning to eat dinner there on Valentine’s Day.
“Table for two?” the person on the phone asks.
“No,” you answer happily. “I am dining alone.”
And that’s Words and Their Stories.
I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.
Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English (while Anna Mateo is away). Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
pair – n. two animals that mate together
couple – n. two people who are married or who have a romantic or sexual relationship
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