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Smile and nod, smile and nod, I repeat to myself silently—but I know what’s coming.
My friend’s mother looks at me with her piercing blue eyes, her gaze sad, and thoughtful. I brace myself for the incoming “wisdom.” My knuckles whiten as I grip tighter onto the arms of the garden bench that I am uneasily positioned on.
My nervous system is responding internally to the annoyance I can feel building in my body, and I am pleading silently with my facial expressions not to give me away—because her question was one I have heard a zillion times in the last few years.
I also know what the follow up advice will be, and I know the primary emotion that will be carried in her response pity.
When the f*ck did being single become such a worry for others?
“Single,” she exclaims in horror. “A nice girl like you shouldn’t be single, don’t worry, you’ll meet someone soon I am sure, you need someone to look after you. He will be along soon no doubt.”
And there it was.
I wince, which I hope in this crowded, yet intimate garden party comes across as a smile. I have been invited to this family BBQ. The sun is shining, and I am surrounded by couples and families. It’s noisy but it feels as if an instant silence drifts across the fauna as she says those words aloud. My face reddens and I feel flushed with embarrassment—as if all eyes have turned on me, the spectators gawping at the single girl as a Mexican wave of pity makes its way through the party.
I don’t need a f*cking partner or your pity, you interfering crow…I say in my head. My lips don’t mirror my mind (thankfully) and I simply return her gaze and mutter a sweet “yeah, maybe” in response. My blood is boiling.
This sadly is not an isolated incident. It also has a name: single-shaming.
Over the last few years of being single, I have had so many conversations like this that I have lost count. They all go the same way. Enquiry into my marital status, followed by a sympathetic pitiful acknowledgement of my singleness, and then usually followed up with some unsolicited bullsh*t advice on how I can “improve” this unfortunate predicament I find myself in.
And it is not just well-meaning (ahem) women I hear this from; male friends, male colleagues, and even relatives have transcribed this tired time-served narrative back to me—over and over. “It will happen when you least expect it,” “When you stop looking, he will appear,” “You’ll be okay once you meet the right man.” Rinse and repeat.
I have been told finding a partner will solve all my problems in one conversation or another—from childcare to financial restraints; damn, even my DIY woes. I mean seriously—what century are we in again?
Let me be clear, in the (tweaked) words of Jay-Z: I got 99 problems but being single ain’t one!
I am not an 18th century maiden in distress desperately requiring ownership to access my dowry. I am not watching my biological clock intently. I am not in need of salvation, rescuing, drowning in a sea of cat litter, or crying rivers of tears into my pillow every night because I don’t have a bedfellow.
Nope. None of these things apply. In fact, the only issue I have with being single currently—is the issue that so many people have with the fact that I am single.
And I am not alone.
According to Statistica.com, in the United States, there were 36.5 million single-people households in 2020. In fact, this demographic is one of the most rapidly growing in the world—most notably in industrialized countries.
So, what is with people and their judgement of us folks who choose to fly solo?
Bella DePaulo (PhD, Harvard, 1979) is a social psychologist and the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, and her take on this is that these single shamers generally fit into four categories:
>> When people insist that married people, or people in committed romantic relationships, are “better” than single people, that belief sometimes comes from a place of insecurity.
>> For some people, valuing committed romantic relationships is part of their self-concept.
>> The myths about marriage offer predictability and control.
>> Belief in the superiority of married people is a way of defending the status quo.
Whilst each of these categories could all have an article of their own, the key defining point for me is that people who choose to be single and live that life authentically are threatening a long-established worldview. They are testing the status quo and delivering a new view on a way of life that is so deeply etched in our society and consciousness that it makes people deeply uncomfortable and secretly insecure.
People talk to us like we are a vessel of pity when we say we are single because it makes them feel better! And I am just touching the tip of a large and pretty jagged iceberg here, as engrained in all this societal expectation is the deep and undeniable scar of patriarchy that binds these perceptions of acceptable norms together and makes us singletons social outcasts.
Ay me! It’s a long and winding road to living authentically, isn’t it?!
However, thankfully, these times they are a-changin’!
In Japan, a huge shift in its demographic toward singledom has led to the emergence of a new “single culture” translated in Japanese as the ohitorisama movement. This movement is loosely translated in the English language to “party of one” and is not only being embraced, but also actively being promoted in Japanese culture.
Check out the hashtag ohitorisama on any social media channel and you will see a ton of posts from people celebrating all that they do—solo. It’s such a refreshing take on embracing being alone and empowering people to go out and dine, drink, visit museums, and partake in all that life has to offer proudly and defiantly alone.
I am not saying that everyone who is single wants to be. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being married, in a relationship, or whatever the hell you want to be.
But for pity’s sake, can we lay off the single-shaming? Because this is not a problem for some, and not all single people are looking to be fixed.
Those who do want a fix can choose to be one of the millions of people who join Tinder (other varieties available) daily, or actively try the dating scene (whatever that is nowadays).
But those who are single and happy?
Let’s leave them the f*ck alone to enjoy their “party for one.”
And in full control of the TV remote, eh?
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