Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Can Your Expectations Shape My Behavior?

Suppose I meet someone for the first time, let's say a man, who believes that single people are miserable and lonely and want nothing more than to become unsingle. He has no particular animus toward me or toward single people in general - he just expects single people to have certain emotions and motivations. Would he behave toward me any differently than if he did not have those beliefs? Specifically, might he somehow get me to behave in ways that are in keeping with his false expectations about what I'm really like?

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I did some work about

I did some work about stereotypes and labelling approach in criminology and four years of voluntary work in jails. I can say that expectations, stereotypes and "labels" do have a fundamental role in shaping someone behavior.

When i said in a previous post that my country (Venezuela) doesn´t have discrimination based on marital status is because we have a severe case of "labelling" based on economic conditions.

If you are poor then you can´t stand your ground and be the person you really want to be because you are the target of constant policial harassment (they expect you to be a criminal, thus treating you like one and eventually making the switch to a criminal life easier).

Middle and high class workers are harassed by the goverment because they are "capitalist" and don´t share their money with the comunity, thus creating a circle of resentment and tearing the country apart.

Getting a pity-look because you are not seeing someone is far from the worst type of label that you can get, but i understand how it can make someone feel sad and affect his/her behavior dramatically.

interesting post, cheers!

Geez, this seems like a no-brainer

Get better friends and acquaintances!

But what do I know? Maybe it's just a girl thing to be all concerned first and foremost about everyone's relationship status, so the only way to avoid the predicament which is the topic of this week's episode would be to avoid being emotionally promiscuous with women who display this very typical trait. Works for me, on lots of levels. No one has the obligation to divulge personal info just because someone is rude enough to ask.

Family you can't necessarily do so much about except avoid the unpleasant ones or shrug them off if that's not possible, but I noticed the expectation studies didn't seem to delve into the much more complex area of family dynamics. Classrooms and workplaces may sorta fall in the same realm, though typically you're only stuck with the people in those places for a limited term and don't have the same sort of history you do with family members.

Men also display that

Men also display that "typical" trait of asking if you're seeing someone. Been there.

Christina

I've noticed that this

I've noticed that this projection of emotion/opinion is not limited to just the single status. I'm encountering this prejudice in conversations about having kids, or rather Not having them. Now that my husband and I "settled down" and bought a home, people seem to think that we're going to / should have kids. Like not having kids in this "ideal" child rearing situation is unnatural and selfish. I noticed that I'm beginning to feel more and more ashamed about our decision not to procreate. The decision isn't set in stone, but I have doubts about things changing. Instead of trying to explain it to people, which never seems to result in an understanding, I catch myself saying things like "we don't have kids YET." I hate that I put on this charade, as if the plan is to have them down the road, or that we're trying and its just not happening. It makes me feel like a sham, like there's something wrong with me, like I need to hide my true feelings because they're unpalatable to the general public.

I went through the same thing!

I chose not to have children and got all kinds of negative attitude from my family, even my mom, who is very into zero population growth! As I passed 40, people stopped expecting it. Lots of people still ask me if I regret not having kids. I always want to ask a rude question back, like "do you regret not going to college?" but that wouldn't help anything. I just answer honestly and try not to feel violated when they twist my words as they process how they feel about what I said.
I like what Bella said about when friends find your relationship status to be the most interesting thing about you. I've had an amazing life and I suppose there's a reason why those old friends have fallen by the wayside. I've found a cause to get behind, and the friendships I've made in the process are just wonderful. I've never been in a group of people who respect one another so much. Many of those friends have partners and families; one lives with her elderly mother and she's grateful to be able to care for her mother at the end of her life, the way her mother cared for her at the beginning of hers (and some poeple waste their time pitying her!). There are so many ways to walk the path of life. I guess the people who expect you to fit a cultural mold are the ones who never considered all the possibities themselves. Perhaps they were grateful to have a mold to fall back on. People who looked at all the choices and chose to marry or have kids are the ones who don't ask you if you're seeing someone, they ask what you're up to these days and listen with interest to your response, and chances are their lives are pretty interesting too.
Looping back to whether or not you can induce behavior with your own expectations, I absolutely believe you can. When I have to write a peer review for a coworker, and it's one I'm uncomfortable writing, I always pick out one or two things to praise, however thin, and dang if that person doesn't start modeling that behavior more and more.

You go girl!

People start treating you like, "okay, now you have to get married". Once you're married it's nothing but, "okay, now you have to have kids". I think it's awesome that you and your partner are doing what feels right for you. Someone once emailed me a set of cheeky but true (and clever) responses to the question "Why don't you have kids yet?" Unfortunately, I can't find it, but one of my favorites was, "Once I know that all the children already living on earth are loved and cared for, then I'll feel better about adding more."

For the past couple years,

For the past couple years, really since I've read Singled Out and some other materials, I've been more cognoscente of how I react to these types of situations, but yes I definitely think other singles who may not be as aware could easily be affected. And even though I'm aware, it still happens to me. It is really funny that I read this blog entry today, because I sort of had this experience just last night, and I noticed it right after it happened. I was out with a group of women who have never really had a personal discussion before. One of the (younger) women actually went around the table and asked all of us if we had a boyfriend. The first woman she asked looked a little sad when she answer no, so the "asker" moved on to the next woman, who also said no, and again go no reaction from the person who wanted to know in the first place, except to move to the next woman. This woman said "husband." And the "asker" replied with a big smile and said, "oh wow that's great!" I was next, and honestly, I have to say, my negative response was definitely lacking the confidence I usually deliver it with! I said it almost in a whisper, and kind of frowned when I said it. Immediately I realized what had just happened. Why did I say it like that? I usually respond with an upbeat, "nope!"

Similarly, a few weeks ago a close friend of mine and I were talking to some people we went to high school with and hadn't seen in years. One of the old friends asked her what she had been up to, and the very first thing she said was, "well I'm married now." She added a few more details and the old friend then turned and asked me. The result was bizarre! I couldn't think of "what I'd been up to" because I was thinking about how my friend answered "I'm married now." Since I couldn't give that answer, I honestly didn't know what to say. I didn't know what people would find interesting other than marriage! This happens to me a lot too when I'm filling out alumni letters and things like that. I know I have accomplishments or activities to update classmates on, but given that almost all of the other letters start with, "my husband Joe were married last year and are expecting our first child in July," I can't think of anything to write because it seems like this is the only thing people really find interesting. The fact that so many of the alumni updates start with marriages and children makes me feel that people care to hear that, while they don't care to hear about completed graduate degrees or job changes.

Don't forget the impact on employment and other areas

If an employer has a stereotypical view of singles it may lead to the loss of a promotion or raise. And think of businesses, and how they might treat a customer perceived as single, if they have a stereotypical view.

But I agree, on a personal level it can make things uncomfortable. I don't like discussing my marital status, but fortunately I haven't had too many questions like that.

While Martian may be right...that finding friends who accept your single status is important...I think it also indicates another hurdle singles may face: Finding friends who are accepting.

I like Psyngle's comment, about how many people are glad to have a cultural mold to fall into, and how they probably never seriously considered other paths in life

comment

Procreation is necessary for the continuation of the species. It makes sense to me that there is social pressure to pair up and reproduce.

primeval

The survival of the human race used to depend on it. Living in the world we live in now, however, it has become a choice. Just like the choice of marraige has been emphasized in recent posts, having children can be a choice too. There will always be people who choose to have kids. Those who choose not too should have that choice respected.

But single people do have kids

In fact there are 11 million single parents in the U.S. So the procreation argument doesn't really apply to singles...it's a common misperception.

Also, while the human race does have to reproduce that doesn't mean everyone has to have kids. The ones who don't will balance out those who have more than average.

Reaction

Could acquaintances, relatives, and others who believe that singles are miserable, lonely, and desperate to find The One get you to doubt yourself?
I spent most of my high school and college years doubting myself, wondering what was wrong with me that I didn't have the same goals and dreams as 'everyone else'. I heard 'my turn' coming up as my cousins were married off; even my brother (4 years younger) began dating before I did. Then I read Singled Out. WOW!

Could you end up feeling a bit sad and lonely, even if you did not feel that way before the conversation began?
Absolutely, but now I have ammunition. I feel the conversation turning that way and anger and annoyance are beginning to quickly take the place of sadness and lonliness. How can people still be so ignorant?

If you don't think you would be affected by other people's stereotypes and expectations, what about other singles - could they be affected?
Absolutely. I teach at a high school and the pressure on those kids, especially the girls, is insane. They talk about the expectations of getting married and having kids, and how will they ever find time for a career? and will they still be able to play basketball, which they love? It's so sad. I try to advocate singles as much as I can. I try to be a role model. They've asked if I'm married and I always respond negatively and truthfully, and I explain to them that it's okay to have other priorities and other things to fill their lives. But mine is only one voice.

I guess an even bigger question is how you can stand your ground and be the person you really want to be, even if others don't get it about the life you prefer.
I've had to sit myself down and ask really tough questions about what I really want out of life. I simply can't say I want to get married and have kids. There are other, more important things I want right now, things that would make me happy, enrich my life, and bring me joy in ways a spouse and kids just couldn't. I'd be a terrible wife and mother if I tried that at this point. That knowledge, that I know I'm doing what's right for me, what will make me happy, helps me stand my ground. Those that don't get it don't matter.

Glad it's not just me!

In a way, I'm thankful to read that others have felt pressured to play into stereotypes because I was beginning to think it was just me! Sometimes when people ask me if I'm seeing anyone, I find myself automatically adopting this somewhat wistful tone even though that's not the way I feel because that's the socially approved response. How crazy is that? It's like it's easier just to give them the answer they want instead of an answer that might provoke them to ask questions or draw me into a deeper discussion. I hate this laziness on my part! Sometimes I even find myself feeling embarrassed to say that I'm a singles blogger because I can anticipate those polite looks and the thoughts they mask: "Oh, a bitter Bridget Jones," "Poor thing, guess she was unlucky in love," "It must make her feel better to tell herself that," and so on.

In short, YES, interactions definitely can shape how you respond and how you feel about it. When I feel bad about being single, it's never because I don't have a husband but because of feeling left out, pitied, disadvantaged, etc. In defense of the marrieds, I don't think this is usually intentional on their part. A lot of the time, I think these are people who don't know what else to say, so they fall back on a subject they think everyone can relate to. But it really is quite a personal one and really not something that should be discussed with strangers or more distant acquaintances. Friends and family should already know if you're seeing someone and shouldn't have to ask!

I'm not sure what the solution is here other than to be armed with some clever quips for times when you don't want to go into detail and maybe the equivalent of an elevator pitch for singleness when you do!

Everyday

I'm dealing with this on a daily basis now. I have two older siblings who have gone down the marriage/procreation route and my parents are now pressuring me to do the same. They do it have out of concern for me (how happy can you be single?) and half out of their own feeling of obligation (how can I let my child down by not doing everything in my power to get them married?)

It's a cultural thing for us; where they grew up there was no other option if you wanted to be a viable member of society. I get it. And I'm fighting the good fight.

I have a question for the Single Life readers though... I find myself struggling because I am not so far into the single life ideal to believe that I will be happy in this status for the rest of my life. And yet, I don't want to be forced into the ideology that I CANNOT be happy until I am coupled.

I'd like to live in that grey area in between where it doesn't matter. Where I don't have to defend my singleness or my coupleness...

Martian--I LOVE that phrase

Martian--I LOVE that phrase "emotionally promiscuous!" That just sums it up so nicely!!!

Also, so happy to have found this board after participating in some blogs that are very clearly (to me now) preying on people's insecurities and fears under the guise of "helping."

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Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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