What Does Single Mean?

In June, I treated myself to a visit to Chapters book store. I call this a treat because I was in the middle of summer school, and I had no business reading anything that was not mentioned on my class syllabus.

Maclean's June 2012On my way out the door, a magazine caught my attention. “The majority of us are singles. So why do we still live in a couples world?”  I had a wisp of realization. The article was talking about me! Okay, maybe it was not talking ABOUT me, but it was definitely FOR me. I snatched the magazine from the stack and flipped it open.

The entire article is an interview with Brian Bethune, a university professor, as he shares his thoughts and opinions on the stigma of being single. He points out some concerning issues about how society reacts to single people:

“I’m not against couples – I’m against the fact that in our society it’s the way people become legitimate.”

What does that mean?

It means that your identity as a person is only understood in ways which ties you to other people; whether your past relationship, present relationship, or future plans to be in a relationship. Would we as a country understand a man running for prime minister who was not married? People would say…

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Why isn’t he married?”

“…Is he gay?”

This is what Brian is talking about. Being single is not treated as a legitimate identity. It’s like the waiting room at a doctor’s office. No one expects you to want to stay in the waiting room. Everyone expects you to either leave the office, or see the doctor. Being single is more than just being in between relationship statuses.

Brian also touches on some assumptions that are made about single people:

“When people are single they’re either lonely or they can’t be committed, they’re too interested in their libido.”

There is an uneven treatment of single men and single women. Somehow it is more acceptable to be single and male, than to be single and female. Single males get the stigma that they are ‘playing the field’ or ‘keeping their options open’. Society believes women remain single because ‘they’re probably clingy’ or ‘they are desperate’ or ‘they have baggage’. Single women entice more negative connotations than men do. It’s unfair, and slightly sexist. It may not be the case every time, but probably most often.

On the weekend I heard a joke about single men vs. single women. When a single man walks into a book store, all the women flock to him. When a single woman walks into a book store, all the men clear out of the store. What does this joke tell you? That again, women are portrayed as desperate, and should be avoided.

For all men reading this I would like to make an announcement: NOT ALL SINGLE WOMEN ARE DESPERATE. Some women are comfortable being single. The struggle comes from everyone else. Society creates these pressures that make it awkward and uncomfortable for a woman or man to stay single for long periods of time. We judge single people without meaning to judge them. Instead of caving into these societal pressures, let’s change them.

If you get a chance to read the Maclean’s article, I highly recommend it.

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