University of Sussex
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Unsettled scripts: intimacy narratives of heterosexual single mothers

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:34 authored by Charlotte Morris
Drawing on contemporary theories of intimacy, this study explores the intimacy narratives and practices of single mothers at a time of, it is argued, social and cultural change in terms of intimacy. Narrative interviews of twenty-four single mothers draw out layers of personal, social and cultural complexity in terms of understanding, experiencing and making choices about intimacy in their everyday lives. The concept of ‘intimacy scripts’ (developed from Simon and Gagnon, 1973) is deployed to explore how single mothers develop blueprints for their intimate lives, drawing on a range of cultural, social and personal possibilities for intimate practices. This process is viewed within a wider context of gendered power relations and material constraints. Participants were often affected by stigmatizing depictions of single mothers and resisted these through their narratives which tended to emphasize how they had not chosen single motherhood. Indeed the transition to single motherhood was often experienced as traumatic, marked by shame, disappointment and loss. Perceptions of increased fluidity and the possibility for experimentation around intimacy are discernible, chiming with individualisation theorists (Bauman, 2003; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 1995; Giddens, 1992). However, basic economic survival often took precedence over the reflexive organisation of intimate lives (Jamieson, 1998). Intimacy narratives were unsettled, in turn depicting opportunities for intimate experimentations and invoking nostalgia for more traditional intimate forms, demonstrating ambivalence and liminality. Heteronormative ideals of coupledom, romance and traditional family remained aspirational for many, although the importance of equality in relationships was also highlighted. Yet many participants struggled to find suitable male partners and were aware of inequalities and the risks associated with re-partnering, often based on negative experiences. Intimate choices were shaped and constrained by socio-economic positioning; the protection of dependents; maintenance of their family unit; continuing gendered expectations and the ongoing centrality of heteronormative romantic couple-centred intimate practices.


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