As part of Singles Week, Your Tango asked me to write about singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people. I began my essay (which you can read here) with a description of an experience I had in which a married woman started planning a couples-only event right there in front of me.
Have you ever had that experience, as a single person, in which a coupled person planned a couples-only event, totally unselfconscious about the fact that she or he was excluding you? I have been surprised (though maybe I should not have been) at how many other single people have told me that they have had similar experiences.
In the essay, I mentioned that other people often pooh-pooh singlism, saying that it is just not a big deal and we singles should not whine about it. I think a lot about how to deal with that criticism, but one of my favorite approaches is still the one I used in the opening pages of Singled Out – turning the tables. If married people were the targets of such prejudices and discrimination, do you think they would consider it no big deal?
Here is the very beginning of Singled Out:
I think married people should be treated fairly. They should not be stereotyped, stigmatized, discriminated against, or ignored. They deserve every bit as much respect as single people do.
I can imagine a world in which married people were not treated appropriately, and if that world ever materialized, I would protest. Here are a few examples of what I would find offensive:
• When you tell people you are married, they tilt their heads and say things like “aaaawww” or “don’t worry honey, your turn to divorce will come.”
• When you browse the bookstores, you see shelves bursting with titles such as If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Married and How to Ditch Your Husband After Age 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School.
• Every time you get married, you feel obligated to give expensive presents to single people.
• When you travel with your spouse, you each have to pay more than when you travel alone.
• At work, the single people just assume that you can cover the holidays and all of the other inconvenient assignments; they figure that as a married person, you don’t have anything better to do.
• Single employees can add another adult to their health care plan; you can’t.
• When your single co-workers die, they can leave their Social Security benefits to the person who is most important to them; you are not allowed to leave yours to anyone – they just go back into the system.
• Candidates for public office boast about how much they value single people. Some even propose spending more than a billion dollars in federal funding to convince people to stay single, or to get divorced if they already made the mistake of marrying.
• Moreover, no one thinks there is anything wrong with any of this.
Married people do not have any of these experiences, of course, but single people do. People who do not have a serious coupled relationship (my definition – for now – of single people) are stereotyped, discriminated against, and treated dismissively. This stigmatizing of people who are single – whether divorced, widowed, or ever-single — is the 21st century problem that has no name. I’ll call it singlism.
[End of excerpt. For more on singlism, see the book on that topic.]
Annoyed woman image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 21 Sep 2013