By now, you have probably seen far too many of those “why are you single” articles. Way too often, the authors treat singlehood as a disease that needs to be cured, and they tell you what you did wrong that led you to get (or stay) sick. I’ve made fun of those singles-bashing lists and also offered some more positive takes on single life in The Real Reasons for Living Single.
In addition to the disease-mentality, there is something else that is troubling about those articles – they are almost always just the opinions of some outside observer. They rarely ask single people what they think about their single lives.
Happily, that has changed with a new typology offered by the Polish sociologist Julita Czernecka, author of Single and the City. She asked a select group of Polish single people – 30 men and 30 women – to talk about their single lives. The people she interviewed are not a representative sample of Polish singles, so her results are more suggestive than definitive. I think they provide a good alternative, though, to people who offer nothing but their own opinion as to why other people are single.
The 60 singles Czernecka interviewed fit the profile of people she was most interested in learning about. They were financially stable college graduates between the ages of 27 and 41 who had not been in a serious romantic relationship for at least two years. None had ever been married and none had children, but they were all still old enough to have children if they ever wanted to.
Here are the 5 types of single people she found. (She did not say how many were in each category.)
- Happy singles: These are single people who “fully accept their lifestyle.” They “do not feel the need to be in a relationship.” In fact, they say that they are happy not to be in a serious romantic relationship. They are probably the people I would call single at heart.
- Accustomed singles: They are similar in many ways to the happy singles, but instead of saying that they are happy with their single lives, they say, “I’m used to being single.” They don’t mean that in any resigned or negative sense. As Czernecka explains, “They have been alone for a while and treat it as their natural state – they do not want to destroy the harmony of their life, or give up their rituals and everyday pleasures for a partner. All emotional needs, the sense of being accepted and of help in everyday life are provided by their family and friends, which is why they say that they ‘do not need anyone else.'”
- Hurt singles: They have had bad experiences with romantic relationships in the past and do not want to be hurt again. (The Carly Simon lyrics, “haven’t got time for the pain,” sound relevant here.)
- All–or-nothing singles: They only want to be with a romantic partner if they can find someone great. They are not going to be in a romantic relationship just to be in a romantic relationship.
- Romantics: These people are a lot like the all-or-nothings, only with a much more romantic bent. They seem to believe in the fairy tales and the myths. They are sure that their “soul mate” is out there somewhere. Some have broken off decent relationships because their partner did not make them swoon the way they expect to when they finally find their true Princess or Prince Charming.
It is an interesting typology because it acknowledges the many ways that single people think about their single lives. The author does not just assume that all single people want to become unsingle and are trying to figure out what problems they have that might need to be fixed. It would be useful to see this typology tested with bigger and more representative samples.
There is lots more to Julita Czernecka’s book and what she has to say about single people in Poland. I’ll probably write more in another post or two.