People Get All Weird If You Tell Them You Chose to Be Single: Why?
Tell people how you feel and they will believe you — unless you are happily single
In 2002, Time magazine published a cover story about women who were choosing to stay single and not have kids. I had not yet written my first book about single people, and I was still trying to understand the psychology of how single people are viewed. I was baffled by this letter to the editor that was written in response to the cover story:
“As long as women bounce around kidding themselves that life is full when alone, they are putting their hedonistic, selfish desires ahead of what’s best for children and society.”
The reader did not know the women in the Time story. He had no personal investment in them. What’s more, the women were not complaining about being single. They chose that! If they are happy with their life choices, then why was this random reader unhappy? So unhappy that he would sign his name to a letter in a magazine that, at the time, had a readership of about 4 million.
When I did write that book, Singled Out, I included an entire chapter about that matter, “To be or not to be single: Why does anyone care?”. Since then, science has marched on. Systematic research has shown that it is true — people will vilify and belittle you, and deny your own experiences, if you are single and want to stay that way. They are much nicer about single people who wish they weren’t single.
Here’s the Evidence
In two studies, one from Israel and the other from the U.S., participants were shown brief biographical sketches of people who were single and wanted to stay single and people who were single but wanted to be married or coupled. (Sketches of married or coupled people were included, too.) The single people who were single because they wanted to be single were judged more harshly than the single people who wished they were not single.
Remarkably, the single people who wanted to be single, probably because they were happy with their single lives, were judged as less happy than the single people who wanted to be coupled! They were also judged as less secure, less warm and sociable, more self-centered, and as…