The science of single life has demonstrated numerous ways single people are doing better than married people. There are some laudable behaviors they engage in more often, and some good deeds they are more likely to perform. For example, single people exercise more than married people do. They also volunteer for most kinds of organizations more often than married people do. (An exception is religious organizations – married people volunteer more often for those.)
When you think about those kinds of ways that single people are doing well and doing good, is there a particular explanation that comes to mind? I’ve seen these kinds of findings discussed in the media, and more informally in blog posts and everyday life conversations. There seems to be a favorite explanation: Single people are just doing these things so they will not be single any longer. By exercising, they are making themselves more attractive to potential romantic partners. By volunteering, they are increasing their chances of meeting a romantic partner.
For some single people, these explanations may be accurate. But as sweeping explanations applied to all or even most single people, I object. These ways of thinking discount the good things that single people do. They are a way of saying: Single people don’t really care about their health. They have no genuine interest in exercise or sports. All they care about is finding a mate. They are a way of saying: Single people are not generous. They don’t care about helping other people or contributing to worthy causes. All they really care about is finding a way to escape single life and join the couples club.
I object for another reason, too. I have never heard anyone use comparable reasoning when thinking about the same behaviors as performed by married people. If these dismissive ways of thinking were even-handedly applied to married people as well as single people, then we might hear explanations like this: When married people exercise, they don’t really care about their health. They have no genuine interest in exercise or sports. Instead, they are trying to make themselves attractive to potential romantic partners. They are looking to have affairs, or maybe working up to divorcing. Or maybe they are using exercise as an excuse to have some time to themselves, away from their partner.
Same for volunteering. When married people volunteer, why is it that no one suggests that they are only doing it to get away from their spouse? Or that they are scouting out potential lovers or even someone to replace their current spouse?
I’m not saying that the kinds of explanations that discount or devalue married people’s good behaviors and good deeds are the most accurate ones, or the ones that apply most often. I’m just saying that we should be fair in the ways we evaluate everyone’s behaviors and motives. Let’s challenge the prevailing assumption that when single people do good things, it’s just to become unsingle and when married people do good things, it is because they are good people.