single and sad?Readers of this blog know that I was delighted by the recent Atlantic article meticulously documenting economic discrimination against people who are single. I even called it the best article ever about the costs of single life. So imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discovered that Helena Andrews at XOJane had written a post calling the article another example of “sad single lady headlines”!

Just about every point that Helena Andrews made in her essay had me shouting “No, no, no – that’s not what this is about!”

Here are some excerpts:

“The tragic unmarried is quickly becoming the mascot of my generation. She (or he) will earn less, die young and will probably be depressed during his or her short and sucktastic single life. Whenever a new study comes out bemoaning the sad state of those among us who are unhitched, I pore over the doomsday data and waste hours of my life, but …I mean where am I supposed to go from there? Straight to the altar?”

“…maybe all these stories are part of a larger conspiracy to get me to buy Steve Harvey’s entire literary canon?”

First, a point of agreement. I share Helena’s exasperation with the stories claiming that single people are doomed to despair and an early death – not because they make me feel badly about myself, though, but because they are scientifically suspect or just plain wrong.

I have taught graduate courses in research methods for more than two decades. Many of these studies about the supposedly tragic fate of single people do not even meet the most minimal scientific standards. Others are more rigorous, but still not strong enough to support the dire implications that are drawn from them.

In Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, I debunked the myths that single people are miserable and lonely and unhealthy and will become transformed into joyful couples with long lives if only they marry.

The studies of supposed doom just kept coming even after Singled Out was published, so I have continued to take them apart in my other writings, including academic articles and blog posts. Because Helena specifically mentioned the scare story about how single people supposedly die young, let me point to two very recent posts I wrote tearing down that very myth:

Singles doomed to an early grave? Oh, please

How many lives do single people have? Bogus mortality claims, over the years

I agree that the horror stories based on dubious scientific evidence count as “sad single lady” (and guy) narratives, and I hate them, too. But the articles carefully documenting the ways in which single people are targets of singlism – stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination – are a whole different thing.

They are not written to shame or discourage single people. They are consciousness-raising essays and calls to action. They counter the ridiculous claims that single people are awash in money that they get to spend only on themselves, and that married people are the poor struggling, sacrificing masses.

All of the scholars and activists and just plain smart people who have done the research to expose singlism’s ugly face are doing all single people (and coupled ones with a sense of justice) a service. They are giving us the data to use to talk back to politicians and pundits who want to offer ever more perks and privileges to married people (all of which are subsidized by single people). They nudge us to wake up when we hear paeans to “working families.” Hey, when was the last time you saw a 2-year old on a construction crew or doing investigative journalism? Families don’t work, individuals do, and about half of those working people are single!

Among the 100 million-plus Americans who are not married are untold numbers who are single-at-heart. They are not headed down the aisle and probably never will be. They are not single because they have “issues” or just have not yet found The One. No, they are single because single life is, for them, the most authentic and meaningful life. They are single, they are staying that way, and they want to be treated fairly.

As for Steve Harvey, there is no need to run to his unfortunate writings. Nightline may embrace him, but I think he deserves to be mocked:

Nightline hosts pity party for successful black women

In response to shaming of singles, cacophony of voices says ‘not this time’

I want to end on a more hopeful note because I think there are indications that the tide of singles-bashing may be turning. Recently, I was poring through a stack of singles-relevant articles I had been collecting as potential topics of blog posts. I discovered that many of them were quite positive statements about single life. Check out Top 10 odes to single people. And if you, too, are single at heart, stay away from that altar!

Sad woman photo available from Shutterstock