Making Singlehood Acceptable

The consequences are numerous: being single might result in funny looks at restaurants, hints of disappointment from family members, or second-class seating at weddings and holiday meals. Whether someone is happy being single or not, we’ve created some rather hostile environments for those not coupled up. Something about being single begs to be picked on within our society for better or for worse.

What we want is for our loved ones to be happy. Our fear is that their singlehood means loneliness, a psychological state which might threaten their health or longevity. And while relationship status can be related to lower satisfaction, higher self-consciousness, and lower self-schemas, this might come from the social pressures that promote pair-bonding. Too often we want someone there for ourselves or a loved one in the Disney movie schemas our culture is built upon. Yet our ubiquitous push to achieve joy though romantic relationships may not be the healthiest way to express such a concern. If we want to support the people we care about, why can’t we do so when they’re not dating someone else?

In his new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg explores the swelling masses of those who choose to live alone and the myriad benefits resulting from such a decision. They have more time to socialize with friends and have spaces more accommodating for productive solitary time spent bolstering mental health. This means going it alone is a different thing from being isolated or feeling lonely.

In some instances, being removed from the dating world means sex with fewer partners. While some might shudder at such a prospect, such a behavior change reduces risk for sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancy. And anyone with a hand, a vibrator, or a powerful showerhead knows that masturbation can be a perfectly satisfying form of sexual release.

So if we understand that not being with someone is okay, how do we push ourselves (and each other) to be encouraging of those who aren’t shacked up? Maybe small steps in our own behavior can move us towards that direction.

When catching up, don’t ask, “Are you seeing someone?” If they are, you’ll know. You’ll probably have to beg them to shut up about it. Normalizing this sort of question makes it seem like a significant other is as necessary for biological functioning as breathing or bowel movements.

Compliment them for who they are. It’s easy to fall into the habit of expressing pride and praise based on the partner someone’s landed. But this places value on them as an entity orbiting an other rather than as a stand-alone star. The people close to you have earned that place on their own and should be celebrated as such rather than for who their partner is.

Don’t push. Blind date set ups are too often a favor or feel-good maneuver for the matchmaker rather than an actual path to romantic potential. If they’re looking for ways to meet people, they’ll ask. Otherwise you’re pressuring them to fit a mold they’re not made for at this time.

In the midst of such a historic era, when we as a society are opening our minds to so many different types of relationships, we ought to allow non-romantic partnering be an acceptable option. We can make this choice just as appealing as any other, whether it’s a choice we make ourselves or not. But it’s up to all of us to support those around us, single or otherwise.