When I was writing Singled Out, I came up with an acronym that seemed to capture common misperceptions of people who are single: B. L. A. M. E.-Worthy. Once people learn that you are single, they jump to the conclusion that you must also be:
Envious of couples
Here’s how I described the matter on pp. 94-95 of Singled Out:
During the summer when Coldwell Banker seemed to have the Sylvia Maxwell television ad on an endless loop, I happened into a Coldwell Banker home. (The ad is the one I vented about in the last chapter, about the woman who went to a realtor to find a home, but the realtor just knew that what she really wanted was a husband.) For the moment, there was no one else looking at the home, so I figured it was my chance to tell the realtor that I liked the house she was showing, and I liked being single, and that if I came to Coldwell Banker, I would like to be sold a house and not a husband. First I asked if she had seen the ad. Her face brightened as she told me how much she loved it.
Undeterred, I started in on my take on the ad: “Well, I’m single…”
That’s as far as I got. She interrupted, tilting her head and assuming the tone of a grown up consoling a small child. “Aaaawwww,” she cooed.
Once the realtor learned that I was single, she knew all that she needed to know. As a singleton, my life was tragic. So pity was, of course, the appropriate response. Moreover, it was probably my own fault that I was leading such a sad single life. I was BLAME-worthy: Bitter, Loveless, Alone, Miserable, and Envious of couples. That much the realtor had already established. All that was left to discern was the specific reason for my lamentable life. What was my tragic flaw? Was I too neurotic? Too picky? Those are the hackneyed attributes mindlessly ascribed to single women. If I were a single man, I’d probably be considered a commitment phobe. Or, if it seemed from my age that I had “waited too long,” I might be said to be “set in my ways.”
I think that BLAME is an apt acronym because it suggests that something unwanted is being pinned on a person who may not deserve it. To pin BLAME on singles is to suggest that there are big differences between single people, who are pitiful, and married people, who are not. In fact, just knowing that a person is single at an age when many others are married is reason enough to summon a full measure of pity.
That assumption is, of course, nonsense. As I showed in Chapter 2, differences between single people and married people on psychological and emotional characteristics are often small, inconsistent, unreliable, and do not always favor married people. [End of excerpt]
Singled Out was first published in hardcover in 2006. My question now is, has any of this changed? Since that time (actually, for many decades), the number and percentage of single people has continued to grow. Now that single people comprise nearly half of all Americans 18 and older, can the myth of the BLAME-worthy single person survive? Can people persist in believing that close to half of all American adults are bitter and miserable?
If perceptions of single people had been assessed in the same way every year, among a representative sample of adults, then we could know whether stereotypes have softened. That hasn’t happened so we are left to guess.
My guess is that perceptions are becoming a bit less negative, but that the bigger difference is in reactions to prejudicial statements and assumptions. There has been a lot of consciousness-raising about single people since the mid-2000s. Take that real estate agent who cooed “aaaawwww” at me when I said I was single, turn her into a presidential candidate, and put her on TV. Now imagine the twitter-feed. It would not be pretty, but it would be hilarious.
Single woman photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 27 Sep 2012