Single women, watch out! If there is a study that seems to make you look bad, there is a good chance that the media will be all over it. That includes some media sources that should know better.
An example of that from last year is a study that seemed to show that highly accomplished single women at an elite MBA program deny their ambitions so they can get more dates. NPR was all over it, and they weren’t the only ones.
The evidence was this: When the single women filled out a questionnaire about summer internships, they claimed they wanted a smaller salary when they thought their classmates would see their questionnaires than when they thought only a career counselor would see them. Married women did not do that, and neither did the single or married men.
As I noted in an earlier critique, the social scientists had no direct evidence that single women said something different in the two situations because they wanted to appear to their classmates to be a more desirable person to date. That was just the researchers’ interpretation. It is possible, for example, that single women believe that other people in non-professional roles – and not just potential dates – will judge them more harshly if they seem to care about money than if they don’t. Single people are routinely judged more severely than married people, so this is not an unreasonable concern. And it would not be surprising if single women got more grief than single men for caring about financial success.
Perhaps, though, the interpretation that made a splash in the media is true of some single women. I’m mostly interested in single people who embrace their single lives and are not looking to become unsingle (hence, the name of this blog – Single at Heart), but some single women are interested in dating, and maybe some of them who are heterosexual believe that men will be more interested in them if they do not seem too ambitious.
Match.com recently did a very interesting study to see if such a concern is warranted. They created two profiles of a single woman that were the same in every way except for one thing – in one version, the woman’s title as a CEO was included, and in the other, it wasn’t.
Did the men shun the accomplished single woman? Exactly the opposite! Then men who saw the profile that included the mention of the CEO title, compared to those who saw the same profile without the CEO title, were twice as likely to view the single woman’s full profile, they were twice as likely to “like” her profile, and they were 90% more likely to send her an email.
So single women, if you’ve got it, maybe you should flaunt it. I don’t just mean accomplishments such as job titles. Whatever it is about yourself that you are proud of is perhaps something that you should own instead of hide.
I’m using hedge words such as “maybe” and “perhaps” because there are always risks. A few decades ago, when I was first trying to understand the place of single people in society and how other people judged them, I wondered if there were ways single people could act or beliefs they could espouse that would protect them from the harsh judgments of other people. I wasn’t interested in this because I thought single people should try to adapt themselves to please others. I just wanted to understand the psychological dynamics.
What I discovered was both disheartening and liberating. No matter what single people do or say, other people can find a way to put them down. I had some fun with that realization when writing the chapter titles for Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. For example, in the chapter on single women, I mocked the myths about them by saying this: “Attention, single women: Your work won’t love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don’t get any and you’re promiscuous.” For single men, the myths I mocked were captured in the title: “Attention, single men: You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay.” The point is, if you are single, no matter what you do, other people can find a way to put you down.
How is that liberating? I think it means that you should be yourself. If you run the risk of getting criticized no matter what, you may as well be the person you really are. That way, when relationships develop, you get to be your true self, instead of doing the annoying and soul-sucking work of faking it. Long-time readers of this blog know that when I say “relationships,” I don’t just mean romantic ones. Relationships with friends, relatives, mentors, neighbors, and anyone else who matters to you will be more fulfilling and less exhausting if you are not always trying to figure out what other people want you to be, and just be yourself.