advice for singlesAmy Alkon showed why she is called the “Advice Goddess” when she answered a question recently from a reader wanting to pin the neurotic label on all single people based on a one-time experience with one single person.

The reader said that she and her boyfriend had shown up for a dinner party at the home of another couple. An hour after the scheduled time of the dinner, a single friend of the hostess called “with a crisis about what she was bringing, wearing, etc.”  After the hostess hung up, she shared her belief that married people are sane and single people – especially those who live alone for a long time – are neurotic.

You can read the question in the reader’s own words, and all of Amy Alkon’s detailed, nuanced, smart, and funny answer here. In one key paragraph, Alkon said this:

“…no, a wedding isn’t a rose-petal-scattered transporter beam out of neurosis or more serious psych problems, and we shouldn’t be quick to assume people who get married are more well-adjusted than people who don’t. Some states require a blood test before you marry; none tests to make sure you aren’t cuckoo for more than Cocoa Puffs.”

(When you read the entire answer, don’t stop before you get to the very end, where the Advice Goddess destroys the horror story about ‘dying alone’ with an awesome quip.)

Unlike many advice columnists who draw only from their personal experiences and judgments, Amy Alkon also points to relevant research to take down the too-quick condemnation of single people as neurotic and the blithe matrimaniacal equation of married people with models of mental health.

I don’t have a problem with using personal experiences as starting points for formulating questions. As a social scientist, though, I vociferously object to using only those experiences as grounds for drawing conclusions about vast swaths of humanity.

If I were to take the reader’s question and run with it as a basis for generating future research, I might focus in on a potential mechanism by which prejudices and stereotypes get perpetuated. Notice that when the hostess hung up, she initiated a conversation among the four coupled people about the flaws of single people (they are neurotic) and the superior characteristics of married people (they are saner to begin with and stay sane because they are married). The conversation flatters all of the people involved, and takes place outside of the purview of the people being maligned. The couples are creating their own little world, in a context in which their prejudicial worldview is unlikely to be challenged.

Is there some generality to this process or is it specific to the particular instance in question?

Kudos to the reader for allowing herself to hear an opinion different from the hostess’s. How fortunate for singles – and married people – that the advice columnist she approached was the Goddess.

[Note: If you are interested in reading more about the stereotyping and stigmatizing of people who are single, try Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stop It. (Paperback is here; ebook is here.)]

Advice drawer photo available from Shutterstock