Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Getting Called “Mrs.” How Do You Feel and How Should You Respond?

What is your preferred term of address?

How do you feel when someone calls you "Mrs." Although this is a singles blog, and the question came from a reader who is single (and whose story is below), I'm also interested in how married and cohabiting women feel about this.

I like to write this blog for men and women, especially since so much writing by and about singles is by and about single women. But of course, men do not have the same dilemma. If a term of address is to be used (rather than a first name or a gender-neutral term such as Dr.), it does not matter if the man is single or married - he's "Mr." either way.

I got the question about this issue at the same time I was reading Anne Fadiman's book, Ex Libris. Describing the time when the term "Ms." was first introduced, Fadiman said, "From the beginning, I saw its logic and fairness. Why should people instantly know if a woman, but not a man, was married?"

Here's the story from Alison Cotter, who gave me permission to share her experiences and use her name:

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I recently had to spend time with a number of different doctors. I had an infected leg that sent me to the hospital emergency room, then was followed by treatment at an emergency center for a couple of days, in which I kept seeing different doctors. Not my own. I was then referred to a health agency for treatment and then a clinic. In all cases when meeting me the medical professions walked into the room and addressed me as Mrs. even though it was clear from the file if they had looked that I was single.

Why is it that people assume that because I am a 50-something year-old woman I am married and therefore a MRS.?

When I made a joke to one nurse about where was the husband she was giving me, she looked at me like I was crazy. When I pointed out that she called me MRS she took offense to my pointing it out. There is nothing that puts me in a worse mood than being referred to as Mrs. Especially when I am already not feeling great. I consider it incredibly rude and yet I have been made to feel like I am the one being rude for not liking being called Mrs.

Just wondering if you or any of your readers have similar problems and how they handled it.

There is something that may not be obvious that I really appreciate about Alison's question. If single people really did fit the stereotype that insists that they all really wish they were married, then there would be no "problem" in the situation Alison described. She would be delighted to pass as married! I like it when single people want to be recognized for who they really are.

So what do you think of the "Mrs." issue? Personally, I always correct people when they call me Mrs.

For those of you who enjoy these questions-from-readers posts, there is another question over at my latest post to my personal blog.

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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