Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Is This the Myth About Singles That Single People Are Most Likely to Believe?

Do singles and couples stereotype singles in different ways?

I've always thought that the most intractable myth about single people is that what they want, more than anything else, is to become unsingle. Now I have a new hypothesis. The myth of the allure of becoming unsingle is the one that unsingle people cling to most adamantly.

It is different for people who are single and have chosen that status - people, perhaps, who are single at heart. They know that that the supposedly all-consuming desire to become unsingle is a myth, or is at least vastly overstated, because they don't experience that craving themselves. But there may be another myth about singles that some of them have accepted uncritically - that's the one that says that single people are selfish.

In the past few days, I've heard two stories about singles - one told by a relative, and the other by the single person herself. In the first, a woman told me about a middle-aged relative of hers who has always been single and who wants to stay that way. He has a job he loves, and he adores his nieces and nephews. In fact, he has already put two of them through college. In discussions of his status as a lifelong single person, he has told this relative that he knows he is selfish, because he likes to buy expensive clothes.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

I heard the other story during a long conversation with a person I had just met in a professional setting. We talked shop for a while ("shop" this time was research on deception, not singles), then talked a bit about ourselves. She told me about a contact she has with a leader of a charitable organization. She asks him about what is needed that she might be able to help with, then sets out to do so. Sometimes she buys things, such as notebooks and other classroom materials. Other times she uses her ingenuity to gather coveted products that she can get for free. For example, she travels a lot for her job, and collects the soaps and shampoos from her hotel rooms. I did not learn until later in the conversation that she has always been single, or that she likes it that way. When she mentioned her single status, she soon added that she is selfish, because after a long day at work, interacting with other people, she likes to come home and have her time and space to herself.

I find these two stories stunning. Uncles have no obligation to provide for nieces or nephews, and they surely have no obligation to provide something so costly as a college education. Here was a single man who had already done so twice, yet thought of himself as selfish because he liked to buy nice clothes. The single woman was providing for strangers, typically in places recently shattered by natural disasters. She is a wonderfully generous person. But she, too, sees herself as a selfish single person, because she values her own place and the opportunities to pursue her own interests, on her own.

Single and selfish. The two seem so melded in our minds that even single people - including tremendously generous single people - assume that because they are single, they must also be selfish. They then set out to find the evidence for that.

We need to stop this.

[Note: Thanks to everyone who responded to the request for suggestions that I made at the end of this post. I used them in my workshop and it was such fun to have them.]

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.

more...

Subscribe to Living Single

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?