Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

‘Why Are You Single?’ Meets ‘Why Are You Married?’

The question married people are never asked

Yeah, I've seen it. The picture of the oh-so-sad single woman splayed across Yahoo, next to the story titled, "Why are you single?" This story line is, of course, utterly predictable. People who are single have some explaining to do. In this particular iteration, the condescending author tells singles that they are not even getting their explanations right. She pats them on the head and tell them to perk up - then their dreamboat will come.

Do you think I'm already exaggerating? Then go straight to the author's bottom line. After schooling singles on their overly pessimistic ways of thinking, she ends on this note about how to find a relationship (and of course, to her, 'relationship' has only one narrow meaning):

"...decide right now that you're meant to be in one and watch the dating world flock to you and your aura of optimism."

The opening line is just as bad:

"If you're single, I'm sure you've asked yourself more than once: 'Why me?'"

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No, I haven't.

Stories like this always tempt me to rewrite the examples of faulty thinking that singles engage in as examples of faulty thinking that married people engage in. A funny thing happened this time, though: I found that the 'lessons' needed hardly any repackaging.

Take, for example, this line of thinking that the author ascribes to single people. She believes (not on the basis of any evidence, as far as I can tell) that what single people offer as an explanation for why they are not married is:

"I'm not attractive/smart/rich/young/hot enough."

See how easy this is? With no evidence needed, I can just make stuff up. So, what might a married person offer as an explanation as to why they are not single?

"I'm not attractive/smart/rich/young/hot enough."

Or how about this one? The author thinks that singles also use another explanation as to why they are single:

"I'm better at being single. I guess I'm just supposed to stay single forever."

Here, we can turn this into a married person's explanation for why they are married by searching for and replacing just one word:

"I'm better at being married. I guess I'm just supposed to stay married forever."

The other examples work, too. From the article about faulty explanations for staying single:

"I'm cursed. I'll never meet anyone."

My parallel explanation for staying married:

"I'm cursed. I'll never meet anyone."

While the author was making up explanations that singles offer for why they are single, she missed out on the one documented repeatedly by actual data (here and here and here):

I'm single because I want to be. I chose this life.

The whole story was based on the premise that no one would actually want to be single. You never see stories about the kinds of married-person explanations I posited in my parody because married people are not asked to defend their marital status. They have no explaining to do.

[Thanks to Molli and David for the heads-up about this story.]

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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