The number of singles is growing, but people still insist on telling them that they will find a partner soon. Why so much concern?
Asking why someone is “still” single and reassuring them that they “will meet someone soon” may seem like a thoughtful and even sensitive way of asking how your single friends are doing. But these simple phrases are part of the “embarrassment of being single” and probably do more harm than good.
The embarrassment of being single is the result of prejudice against unmarried people: that they must be sad and lonely for not having partners; who are actively looking for someone but haven’t found a match yet; and that there must be something wrong with them that is causing them to live alone.
All these stereotypes are caused by the pressures to conform to defined social standards: meet your partner, get married, have two or three kids and a dog—and presto, you’ve gathered all the ingredients you need for a happy life.
While people have been constantly reevaluating these social norms for decades, recent research indicates that the embarrassment of being single is still high. Data from a survey by the dating site Match, analyzed by the BBC, shows that, among 1,000 British single adults surveyed, 52% reported experiencing embarrassment for being single “since the beginning of the pandemic”, probably due to the greater weight of knowing who we can talk to. count during lockdowns.
And even though 59% said they were “satisfied with their relationship status,” they were still the target of nagging questions.
The persistence of these prejudices against singles is not only embarrassing but also outdated in many countries.
“Single life was considered a period of transition, when people passed the time until they got married, or remarried,” according to Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After (published in Portuguese with the title “Segregated: how singles are stereotyped, stigmatized and ignored and live happily”). But now, DePaulo says Americans spend more of their adult lives single than married.
It indicates that in 1970, according to US census data, 40% of American households consisted of married couples and their children, while 17% lived alone as singles. And in 2012, 27% of American households consisted of singles and only 20% were parents and children.
But even with these changes in statistics, it is still clear from both surveys and isolated episodes that people who are not in romantic relationships continue to struggle with their married friends and relatives — as well as with themselves. While singles seem to increasingly choose and embrace their relationship status, the pressure to find matches isn’t necessarily going away.
But there may at least be some progress, as the growing percentage of single people in the population may come to prevail over stigmatization.
The damage caused by embarrassment made to singles
According to psychotherapist Allison Abrams, from New York, United States, the embarrassment of being single consists of “condemning someone for not having a partner and not meeting society’s expectations… of getting married at a certain age.” That’s why other people treat singles “differently,” she says.
“People tend to think you’re lonely and bored when you’re single,” according to Ipek Kucuk, a dating expert at the Happn app.
The study presented by Match asked the most common “embarrassing phrases” heard by singles. And, of the participants, 35% responded “you will soon find someone”, while 29% were told “you must be so lonely” and 38% reported that people generally feel sorry for their situation.
DePaulo argues that myths surrounding singles include the notion that married couples have a special realm of life that singles do not; that singles’ lives are “tragic”; and that being single means being selfish. And, in fact, there is research that supports these are myths, including a 2018 German study that indicates that stereotypes about unhappy singles and accomplished couples are not correct.
But stereotypes about singles aren’t just a mistake — they can have harmful consequences.
Psychotherapist Abrams says the embarrassment internalized by social behavior toward singles can damage their self-image. Even when the single person is not constrained by their friends and relatives, failing to achieve major life goals like marriage and children can be damaging—especially for those who are actively looking for a partner—because that’s what society often expects from people. .
“I’ve often seen this situation as one of the causes of depression,” says Abrams. A normalized “roadmap” to successful living can even force people who are happy as singles to reconsider that stance and pursue something they’re reasonably sure they don’t want, just to fit in with cultural norms.
The embarrassment of being single comes from many sources besides our nosy friends and relatives. Governments also play their part, offering a number of benefits to legally married people that singles cannot benefit from.
Some people believe this sends a message about the “right way” to behave in life, serving as positive reinforcement for married people and making it easier for singles to internalize the idea that they are living their adult lives the wrong way.
DePaulo points out, for example, that in the United States, an employee can add his or her spouse to health insurance, but singles cannot do the same for important people, such as their siblings or close friends. Couples and families also get privileges not available to singles in other fields, ranging from vacation discounts to workplaces that grant special benefits to people living in nuclear families.
Like all cultural stigma, the embarrassment of being single is not evenly distributed. Women tend to suffer more, and some cultures emphasize marriage and children more than others.
Take, first of all, how people refer to single women compared to men. In Portuguese, for example, the term “spinster” has a much more pejorative meaning than its masculine form, “bachelor”.
In the English language, the word “spinster” (equivalent to “spinster”) appeared in the late Middle Ages to designate women who weaved wool as a profession. Most of them were not married. It was easier for them to get this so-called inferior work, as the most sought-after jobs were usually reserved for married women—who, with their husbands, were able to buy the materials needed for more respected jobs.
Single men, on the other hand, are referred to in English as “bachelors”, often portrayed as funny, potentially charming (if not disreputable), carefree and living the best of their lives – positive traits that can be traced back to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, of the late 14th century.
“Spinster” has gained negative connotations over time, disparaging single (and young) women in popular culture, such as in the film and book Bridget Jones’s Diary (the title character is in her early 30s and has a job. stable in London, but worries about her spinster status).
“According to conventional wisdom—which is neither wise nor accurate—women worry more about marriage than men,” says DePaulo. “That’s why I think single women are more often subjected to annoying questions like ‘are you dating?'”
Abrams recalls that more female customers share experiences that caused embarrassment for being single than her male customers, but she points out that most of her customers are women.
“Single men can also be treated in a derogatory and arrogant way,” adds DePaulo, in which people see them as childish, incapable of taking care of themselves, or “obsessed with sex.”
Cultural variations can also influence the embarrassment of singles. Professionally, Abrams has met clients with certain backgrounds, such as families from Korea, China and India, who tend to be more constrained by family members for being single, as well as some of her clients who have moved from the central United States to New York.
These cultures tend to place more importance on more traditional gender roles around marriage and not complying with these traditions can seem very unconventional. “I heard from a [cliente] something like [sua] family is ashamed because they didn’t have a child at the age of 30 or even younger,” recalls Abrams.
The ‘power of numbers’
The meaning of being single is changing. Some experts believe that these behavioral and cultural changes could help normalize singles — and perhaps reduce the urge to judge the unmarried.
In recent years, influential social media personalities and mainstream celebrities have been talking proudly about being single. Actress Emma Watson, for example, described her status in public as a “partner with herself”, encouraging others to regard the absence of a romantic partner as a positive rather than a negative.
“As more people come to terms with their singleness, I think more people will feel liberated to do the same,” says Abrams.
The October 2021 survey, conducted by the app Bumble and analyzed by the BBC, showed that 53% of the more than 8,500 users of the app surveyed in Canada, France, Germany, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Australia, the UK and the US “realized that it’s okay to be single for a while,” thanks to Covid-19.
Also, since the start of the pandemic, many singles have reported positive feelings and developments about their relationship status. According to a survey by dating site Match, 42% say they “enjoyed” being single during the pandemic.
But this statistic indicates that the other 58% surveyed did not like this situation. In fact, the lockdown forced by the pandemic has hurt many singles and added to the embarrassment for some. Match indicated that 37% of singles surveyed said they were asked more questions about their love life by “concerned friends and relatives.”
Indeed, Abrams suggests that the embarrassment of being single “is still quite rampant,” even as the increasing numbers of singles in countries like the United States indicate a possible reduction in this behavior.
But experts still expect these cultural shifts to continue to evolve judgments about singles. DePaulo calls this process “the power of numbers.” According to her, “almost every time the Census Bureau [dos Estados Unidos] publishes its latest statistics, the findings indicate a greater number and proportion of single people”.
“When a large portion of the population is not married — in the United States, close to half — it becomes harder to insist that there is something wrong with all of them,” she concludes.
Read the entirety of this report (in English) on the BBC Worklife website.
This text was originally published here.