I love living single. I never whine about not having a romantic partner. So why do so many people find my life choices to be unsettling? I’m not just talking about me. Other single people have the same experiences and research supports their impressions about how people react to them.
There are many reasons why couples can feel threatened by single people. Here I’ll mention just two of them. The first is especially interesting because it is about the kinds of single people who make others most uncomfortable – the single people who are happily single! The other reason people sometimes feel threatened is that single people are choosing a different path through life than the one that they are supposed to want.
This blog post is part of my series, “Questions I’ve been asked.” Here are my answers to two of those questions.
Why do coupled people feel so threatened by dedicated singletons?
Single people who are happily single, who embrace their single lives, are threatening the mythology and the ideology of marriage and romantic coupling. If people really can live full and happy and meaningful lives as single people (which they can and do), then that brass ring being held out is a counterfeit. It is not really true after all that getting married makes people happier and healthier and just better people.
People can be very invested in that ideology, and not just coupled people. The set of beliefs about the superiority of married people is not just any old set of beliefs; it is a worldview, and worldviews can be very powerful things.
When I first started studying singles, the special hostility toward single people who wanted to be single and were not complaining about their single lives, was baffling. Now there is research documenting what I was sensing – people really do react much more harshly to single people who want to be single than to those who wish they were coupled. They even express more anger toward them. Research also suggests that it is people’s ideologies, their worldviews, that are at stake.
In Singled Out you wrote: “The freedom to be single, to create a path through life that does not look like everyone else’s, can be unsettling to people who feel more secure with fewer choices.” Can you say more? Why do people feel this way?
For some people, there’s something very seductive, very soothing, about the notion that if you just find The One, the whole rest of your life is set. You know just what to do. You commit to The One, you get married, you have kids, you stay married, you become grandparents. There is no uncertainty, no trying to figure out what counts as a good life and how you should live.
Plus, that path comes packaged with approval and respect. People who get married aren’t just led to believe that they will be happier and healthier and all the rest (they are wrong, as I’ve already explained); I think they also get to claim the moral high ground. Just because they got married, somehow they are better people than anyone else who stayed single. That’s a heady and enticing promise.