Bella DePaulo defines singlism in her groundbreaking book Singled Out as

People who do not have a serious coupled relationship are stereotyped, discriminated against, and treated dismissively. This stigmatizing of people who are single – whether divorced, widowed, or ever single – is the twenty-first century problem that has no name. (P. 2)

Singlism is pervasive: it is everywhere in our culture from attitudes toward single people to the tax code. To celebrate Singles Week 2010, Bella DePaulo wrote a post that thoroughly defines and explains singlism.

The flip-side of singlism is the glorification of marriage (or being coupled). DePaulo calls that matrimania (p. 10). Both are very much intertwined, if you are nothing without a partner, you instantly become someone when you are partnered.

As single people, we have to become aware of what I call internalized singlism: Our inner voices that tell us that there is something wrong with us because we are single. Since everybody around us seems to be coupled, since that seems to be the standard for being a mature adult, we must somehow repel potential partners and we certainly are not fully grown up. These are very deep seated myths that are a direct result of singlism and matrimania.

To counter these myths, reading DePaulo’s book is a good start. It will arm you with plenty of research that says that you’re not childish and that there’s nothing wrong with you. After that, it is time to move on to the positive. There are an increasing number of books available now that talk about how to live a single and happy life. Kay Trimberger presents stories of several single women in her book The New Single Woman. The book goes far beyond story-telling, though. She uses the experiences of these women and her own to distill six supports that lead to a satisfying single life:

  1. Fulfilling work,
  2. Connections to the next generation,
  3. A home (though we don’t have to own a house)
  4. Intimate relationships with a network of friends and extended family,
  5. A community, and
  6. Acceptance of our sexuality whether we have an active sex life or are celibate. (P. 65)

Using Trimberger’s research to craft supports for our single lives goes a long way toward overcoming internalized singlism. Finally, though, we will need to embrace the fact that there are (at least) two valid life paths: the Single Adulthood path and the Married Adulthood path, as Karen Gail Lewis suggests in With or Without a Man as I have already mentioned.

Armed with these three things – research refuting the myths, research showing how to build the supports, and a new life stage model – we can overcome internalized singlism and then fight singlism in the rest of society.

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Singlism — 4 Comments

  1. Of course, there’s nothing wrong about being single. By single, I hope, what’s meant is “un-married”, or in “not-permanent” relationship. Neither is there anything wrong with coupling. Coupling happening as a result of natural forces (sexual attraction) has certain purpose and is perfectly alright. Coupling happening as a social outcome is a problematic thing, and that makes it “wrong”. Impositions like “faithfulness”, “life-long commitment” etc which invariably come with “marriage” make marriage un-natural, thus, wrong.

    However, being single is not a rule that has to be followed. If one really understands what “marriage” is and why being single is a better way and all that, only then one should follow it. Understanding automatically brings contentment (happiness, if we may call it so). UNDERSTANDING is the only way. As it is, neither being single, nor being married is a “sin”, as long as one’s content with the state.

  2. Pingback: Rachel’s Musings » Marital Happiness Myth

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