Archives for singlism
On the day my father died very suddenly, many years ago, my mother called two of my close friends before she called me. She wanted me to have someone with me after I heard the news. Eventually, I would very much appreciate the company and comfort of my friends. But I did not want to see them right after hearing such devastating news. I just wanted to be alone.
[Bella’s intro: As an American, I’m used to hearing lots of family talk, especially from political candidates. One after another, they promise to help families. But when their focus is so much on families, what does that mean for people who are single and living alone? I learned recently from Louise Harper that there is similar family talk in Australia. She, too, wonders about the dark side and sent a letter to an Australian newspaper about that. I asked if I could publish it here and she said yes. Thank-you, Louise Harper, for sharing these important observations with us.]
[Bella’s intro: There are so many things wrong with the scare story served up to single people about how they will die alone. But that particular threat seems to have some real staying power, so it needs to be challenged over and over again. Someone I have long admired wrote a particularly insightful challenge and gave me permission to share it with you here. She does not want me to use her name, so I’m going to refer to her as ‘Think Again.” Today marks the beginning of Unmarried and Single Americans Week, and this thoughtful essay is a great way to get it started.]
The third full week of September, September 18-24, is National Singles Week (more formally known as Unmarried and Single Americans Week). In some ways, this has been a good year for insightful and enlightening stories about single people. In fact, just yesterday (September 17, 2016), Fusion published “Meet the people who want to be single forever.” Earlier, New York magazine gave us “The new science of single people” and a story in the Huffington Post, “Research says single people – wait for it – live rich, meaningful lives,” was shared on Facebook more than 50,000 times. Over at the TED blog, readers learned about “The price of being single.”
Americans share many beliefs about single people, and just about all of the negative ones turn out to be wrong. They are stereotypes, not facts. So sure are we about our disparagement of single people that we actually use the negative words and phrases as synonyms for single people, as if they were neutral and factual. People describe single people as “alone” and “unattached.” They say that single people “don’t have anyone,” as if the only kind of person who counts as someone is a spouse. In fact, though, the evidence shows that single people are more connected to others than married people are. They maintain their ties with friends, siblings, parents, and neighbors. It is the people who get married who become more insular. In a comment on an article I wrote debunking stereotypes of single people, a reader said he thought that lots of single people actually did have attachment issues – that wasn’t just a stereotype. He said that many of his single friends had avoidant attachment styles.
A professor of philosophy looked into the lives of the most influential philosophers in history, and found that many of them had something in common. He sees their commonality as a problem that cries out for a solution.
I wish I could say that it is hard to find examples of singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people. Unfortunately, singlism is relentless. It ranges from the subtle to the shocking. And it is often practiced unselfconsciously even by respected intellectuals and ordinary people who pride themselves on being open-minded and totally untainted by prejudice.
People who are “single at heart” live their best, most authentic, most fulfilling and meaningful lives by living single. The concept is not well-known, so few people spontaneously say that they are single at heart. When I listen to what they say about themselves, though, sometimes I think I can tell if they are.
Shortly after the publication of a new and much-acclaimed book about single women, an article in the Washington Post led with the headline, “Finally, a book that says single ladies are doing just fine.” The Week magazine, a publication that compiles in its book review section excerpts from a variety of writings, began its commentary on that book with a quote from the same article: “Finally—finally!” someone has written a big book about single women that “doesn’t tell us we’re doing it all wrong.”
Many single people feel good about their single lives. That’s true even for plenty of single people who do not want to stay single; they, too, often feel proud of how they are living their single years fully, rather than just marking time until they find The One. In the popular culture, though, and in everyday life, much of what gets reflected back to single people is damning. They are told, falsely, that they need to marry if they want to live a happy, healthy, and long life. They are mocked as selfish and lonely and desperate to escape single life. Other people try to fix them up, as if they were broken. After a while, it can be a bit much.