Are You Guilty of Singlism?

Hey coupled-up friends: We need to do better

Updated 10/31/18


According to a recent survey from Tinder, most young millennials are cool with being single for a while. Of a sample of 1,036 single adults, ages 18-25, 72 percent said they had "made a conscious decision" to do life unattached for a period of time, while 81 percent said that being on their own benefits them in other parts of their lives, such as work and personal wellness.

These findings fly in the face of everything society has ever taught us. As Darcy Sterling, a licensed clinical social worker, told USA TODAY recently: "Historically, people blindly set out to cross off items on their young-adult-to-do list: Go to school. Work hard. Find a partner. Get married. Have children. Encourage your children to do the same. Rinse and repeat.”

Women no longer need a partner to help them build an enjoyable and sustainable life. We don’t even need them to have children. We can do all that on our own, thank you very much.

Yet for all the progress we’ve made around gender equality, society still pushes the narrative that we need to get married to really have a happily ever after. And you, sorry to say, may be perpetuating those unfair expectations without even realizing it.

Think about it. As a recently engaged or married person, have you suddenly made it your mission to hook up your single cousin with one of your partner's friends? Have you clucked a sympathetic tongue and attempted to comfort your unattached co-workers by telling them, “Don’t worry—your time will come”?

That’s singlism, my friend.

According to Bella DePaulo, an author and scholar who’s made it her life’s work to practice and study single life, singlism is “the stigmatizing of adults who are single.” That, she writes, can include “negative stereotyping of singles and discrimination against singles.”

In a recent post for Psychology Today, DePaulo talks about how singlism needs to be taken more seriously. For example, she writes, singlism typically leaves people less financially secure. It’s no secret that our country’s laws are set up to bolster married couples—we talk about the tax benefits of getting married all the time. Single people also often pay more for housing, and when it comes to health care, they don’t have the option to be added to another person’s workplace insurance plan like many married employees do.

Also, single people are often asked unfairly to stay late at work while their married colleagues get to go home, and research has shown that they experience sexual harassment in the workplace more.

DePaulo also shares stories of uncoupled people being denied important health care because they’re not married: One single woman told her that she was denied a hysterectomy, even though she suffered from severe menstrual issues, because she “might want to have kids someday."

Marriage is a beautiful thing; we love love. But singlism is alive and well in America, and we can begin to address it by not being dismissive of our single friends. They don’t necessarily need a lifetime partner to be happy with their lives.

That’s why that recent Tinder survey is so newsworthy. As DePaulo writes: “After generations of single people feeling bad about being single – or at least thinking they should feel bad, here are new generations of young people who do not seem the least bit shamed about their single lives.”

She adds: “I’m tempted to say: This changes everything.”

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