There is no way around the following truth: The world expects all adults to be in a relationship. Actually, I must clarify that: The world expects all “normal” people to couple up, while simultaneously sending the message that something is wrong with you if you are single. Self-disclosure alert: This type of thinking disgusts me, and I know it engenders a similar reaction in many others.
Single-shaming is an epidemic, and even these modern social times haven’t stopped it. Can we all agree that single-shaming is wrong – if not shameful – and that we should take a stand against it when we witness it? I will address five of the most common things people say that single-shame men and women.
“Why are you single?” When someone inappropriately asks you this question, they always ask it so incredulously, as if to say, “No really, I don’t get it! You’re so great, why hasn’t someone snapped you up yet? How could you possibly remain on the market?” This is a ridiculous question that no one should ever ask anyone.
“I need to set you up.” Um, actually, no you don’t. Again, people want people to be in a relationship. People want people to settle down and have the white picket fence lifestyle. If you’re single and over the age of 25 — heaven forbid you’re 35 or older — family, friends, coworkers, and strangers may try to set you up. This unwarranted charity isn’t evil or vicious because many of the people who say this kind of thing to you actually say it lovingly. They have the best intentions, even though the behavior is frustrating and pressure-inducing.
“Aren’t you lonely?” I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a relationship in the past where I felt lonelier in it than I did when I was single! In other words, just being in a relationship says nothing about how lonely or not lonely a person feels. (Think for a moment about a past relationship and how much longer you stayed than you should have.) When people in relationships ask you if you’re lonely being single, they are denying a really sad but real fact of life: Life can be lonely sometimes for everyone. Sure, being in a relationship means that someone is always physically there, but millions of couples go to bed every night and don’t touch or cuddle or say “I love you.” They must feel kind of lonely, too, right?
“When are you going to settle down?” First, is it really anyone’s business but yours? It’s always amazing to me the liberties people take in inserting themselves into your private life and judging it. People – especially those who are coupled up – seem to love to pressure singles to find a partner and settle down. The reality is that everyone lives their romantic life on their own schedule, so that people find what they need when they are ready for it. If you are single, the reality is clear-cut: You either aren’t ready for a serious, long-term relationship; you haven’t met someone who is a good fit; or both. The problem starts when people overstep your boundaries and ask questions that make you feel that you should be doing something differently than what you’re doing right now.
“Don’t you want to be in a relationship?” Again, this single-shaming statement indicates judgment of your decisions, as well as adds pressure by suggesting that you are abnormal if you don’t want a relationship at this point in time. For many men and women, being single is the best thing they could do for themselves. After all, you can’t jump right from a failed relationship into a great one immediately; you must take time on your own to figure out what you did wrong in the last one in order to set yourself up for a better one. Many people who have been in a relationship for a long time forget this point, and the ridiculous part of all this is that many of the people who ask singles this question are unhappy in their own relationships!
The takeaway message: Single-shaming is wrong because it’s judgmental and anxiety-provoking, and it suggests that every adult should want the same thing and be on the same timeline in terms of settling down. If anyone asks you any of these questions, the easiest thing you can do is to smile warmly and not answer the question. Your pause will send the clearest message of all.
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve