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What Is Singlism? Are Some Singles Exempt?

A recent essay on the Huffington Post is titled, “It’s complicated: The psychology of ‘singlism.’” The Huffington Post attracts about a zillion readers, and unfortunately, author Wray Herbert is adding to the complication he describes by his inaccurate description of what singlism really is.

Herbert begins by saying that he “never felt judged, or discriminated against, for choosing to be single or for choosing a partner.”

Then he continues with this:

“So it came as a surprise to me to read recently about “singlism.” Apparently, some people do feel judged, and unfairly, for their status. And intriguingly, this subtle form of discrimination appears to cut both ways. That is, people who are single by choice claim that they are treated unfairly for not tying some kind of knot, while married people — especially in large urban centers — feel that they are marginalized in a predominantly singles culture.”

The essay ends with one last misleading claim:

“In short, singlism is indeed potent and double-edged. Because most people still do opt for marriage, this bias probably hurts more singles overall. But the intolerance that couple people feel is no less real or harmful.”

Because I coined the term singlism, and published the book by that name (with contributions from 28 others), I can say definitively that singlism does not cut both ways. By definition, singlism is what single people experience. It is the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single. Although people who are married may feel that they are marginalized, that feeling is not an example of singlism.

14 Comments to
What Is Singlism? Are Some Singles Exempt?

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  1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments on my piece. Clearly, some scientists use a broader definition of singlism, which might be more accurate. Or perhaps we should coin the term couplism as well.

    • Thanks for commenting. If some scientists are using a different definition of singlism, they are using an inaccurate definition. I coined the term. Because it is my concept, a link to my work would have added value to your post — that way readers could see the original writings on the concept.

      • Sorry — not the way it works. Anyone can use the term and define it however he or she wishes. Nobody owns the dictionary.

      • OK, I guess in my next post I will declare that “up” means “down” and “right” means “left.” No one owns the dictionary.

    • It would have been better if you’d included some more studies, rather than just the one regarding Valentine’s Day. There are a number of studies showing people view singles negatively. If you wanted to show how this prejudice could cut both ways you really should have presented studies showing the same regarding coupled people.

      It could be that the reason we have singlism is because people view their own relationship status as the best, and in most cultures coupled people dominate. But I can’t say that I’m convinced yet.

  2. It’s Complicated: The Psychology of ‘Singlism’ I’m married, but I have also been single for significant stretches in my life, he wrote. Posted: 01/08/2013 2:14 pm
    Thank you Dr. DePaulo for your fine reply to this essay. Excellent, just excellent – “The essay ends with one last misleading claim:”

    And, I read where the late Terri Shields “said her weakness obsession with her daughter. It’s abnormal, she said. Sometimes I think I should have put more time on myself.” (2012 – NYT – ‘The Lives They Lived’)
    And,in The Christian Science Monitor – — Who’s filling America’s church pews (2012)
    In Puritan New England, Protestant and Catholic churches are declining while evangelical and Pentecostal groups are rising.
    For Phil and Pat Webber of Lisbon, freedom has involved leaving a Jehovah’s Witness community that they say restricted them from talking with family members or socializing with certain friends. Ben Dugas of Auburn, who has a condition diagnosed as cerebral palsy, finds he sleeps better and enjoys more time with his wife, Wendy, since adopting the church’s guidance on vegan eating and Sabbath-keeping.
    Single in America with no regrets!

  3. Dr. DePaulo, thank you for your research and your continued articulate writings on singlism. I must say I am surprised by Mr. Herbert’s response on the term “singlism.” Typically one at least cites or quotes prior work – and if the writer does not know of the prior work, responds with some respect. In any case, re: couplism – perhaps Mr. Herbert simply mistakes lack of interest in couples by some people as maginalization. I don’t want to get into an argument between authors. I do want to say that singles and people who live alone are a distinct and growing group and the media mostly paint us as desperate for a relationship or immature.

    To combat those stereotypes, I’ve launched an online magazine that posts articles about the lives and contributions of singles and solos. I invite also FOS (friends of solos) to read and share our common humanity.

  4. Perhaps one of the most damaging kind of prejudice against singles can come from self-hating singles who can’t accept their situation & project their anger onto others.

    Speaking as a single I find generally if you come across as being confident & comfortable with yourself & your situation others will accept you, and for those who don’t, why care?

    Admittedly it’s probably harder to be single in most rural communities than an urban bohemian one, say. Maybe people who want to be single should show respect for the conservative values of certain communities and live elsewhere, not saying they have to, but I do.

    • I don’t think you have to live separately to show respect for someone’s values.

    • Being confident and positive will help me gain access to health insurance? It will give me better options for buying property with others and arranging inheritance? It will change my employer’s glass ceiling for the single? Who knew!

  5. ‘It is a free country’ so indeed, whoever stays single should be free from any source of stigma or
    unfair attitude or regulation.

    But I do find that before declaring ‘I’m totaly happy with my singlism’ people should try the alternative with some coaching resource.


    Dr. Joe

    • Singlism is the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against singles, so I don’t think that anyone using the word correctly would claim to be happy with it. Second, I greatly object to the suggestion in your last line. I may write a separate post about that.

    • I agree with the first part of your post. The second I’m not so sure about.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “try the alternative”. Do you mean try marriage, even if it’s something you don’t want? Seems fairly direspectful of the institution. And even worse, you’re using your spouse as part of an experiment. You’re doing your partner a grave disservice if you enter marriage with them not committed.

      If you mean try dating, that doesn’t seem like a bad idea, although I’m sure that there are some people who already know that marriage isn’t for them, without the need to date.

      I can’t help but notice that you seem to have an online counseling web site. Are you by any chance a relationship counselor? If so, I would point out that this may be seriously biasing your perceptions and argument.

      Or maybe you’re just using this post as an advertisement, in which case I hope Bella removes it.

  6. I had a great aunt that had never used her car on a major highway; a great uncle of mine never used an airplane. Another family member has never received the MA diploma because could not face the small crowd for the thesis defense.

    We all can always cross country via thousands of main streets, take the love boat to visit London and be very fruitful without a formal graduate degree; but why not trying some sort of help, coaching, guidance or mentoring?

    Between single lifestyle and marriage there is a wide spectrum of choices. So there are ‘alternatives’ to the single lifestyle.


    Dr. Joe

    • Some of us are NOT seeking alternatives to single life, so it is inappropriate to suggest that we should seek help for something we don’t want. The examples you use to make your point are potentially insulting. To be single-at-heart is not the same as being afraid to drive on a highway.

    • Do you realize your construction “alternatives to the ‘single lifestyle'” is insulting? Most of what I assume you mean as “the spectrum” is part of the single lifestyle. Single people date, have sexual friendships, create family groups, etc., etc., etc. Being single does not mean being a recluse.

  7. Sorry to trigger a negative feeling (…The examples you use to make your point are potentially insulting).

    Please allow the dialogue to be continued by providing me ‘a second chance’; so here is another example to make my point: I’m fascinated while watching on History channel those who choose to live in remote mountain areas with no people around.
    While watching I find myself asking: is the mountain person a ‘wilderness lover’ or a ‘people hater’?

    For the former one I have the same positive and admirable attitude as reserved to whoever chooses the single-at-heart lifestyle. It is wonderful.

    For the latter I would recommend to read my short article about developing alternative approaches to life.

    Just Peace,

    Dr. Joe


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