Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

An App That Feels Sorry for You

Time magazine gives us a smug, regressive, singles-shaming app

Time magazine—by way of one of its writers and app developers—feels sorry for me. Their new app has determined that I am 15 years, 5 months, and 24 days late to my own wedding. It figured that out by looking at the age and relationship status of my Facebook friends, and comparing me to them. Time seems to think this information will make me feel envious and lonely.

The story of the new app opens by noting that our social networks influence our attitudes about marriage, and that one of the reasons Facebook makes some people sad is that “watching the parade of our friends’ major life events makes us both envious and lonely.”

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Therefore, in time for Valentine’s Day, “TIME presents an app that analyzes your Facebook feed to see exactly when your friends are tying the knot—and when it might be time for you to take the plunge.”

In just two short paragraphs, Time has shown itself to be egregiously unimaginative, presumptuous, regressive, and of course, matrimaniacal. Here are a few of its assumptions:

  • If my Facebook friends are married and I am not, that will make me envious.
  • If my Facebook friends are married and I am not, that will make me feel lonely.
  • I want to know when exactly my Facebook friends got married.
  • I want to base my life decisions on what my Facebook friends are doing.
  • If my Facebook friends got married, then I want to get married.
  • Oops—skip that last one. Time seems to believe that everyone, everywhere wants to get married.
  • If the date at which my Facebook friends got married is soon approaching, or if it is in the rearview mirror, then “it might be time for [me] to take the plunge.” Because, again, this is how Time seems to think I should plan my life.

Maybe this app would have been just swell in 1956:

  • when almost everyone really did get married (never mind your sexual orientation, your values, or what you might actually want from your life)
  • when the age at which people first married was the lowest it has ever been before or since (22.5 for men, 20.1 for women), and
  • when conformity was all the rage.

Time magazine, it is not 1956 anymore. Americans now spend more years of their adult lives unmarried than married—and that’s been true for years. The age at which people first marry has now hit an all-time high (29 for men and 26.6 for women) and plenty of people stay single all their lives—probably record numbers, though the data are less plentiful compared to data on age at first marriage.

Moreover, many lifelong singles are not envious or lonely. Those are just two of the many myths about single people that have been critiqued and debunked (here, here, here, and here; also, for good measure, here).

Do you know how I felt when the Time app told me that I was 15 years late to my own wedding party? I felt proud. There is so much matrimania, singlism, and singles-shaming—including from this sorry app—that it would have been easy to give in to that, and just look for a spouse because that’s what the cultural consensus and the fairy tales told me I should do. I could have been as shallow and conventional as Time wants me to be, and tried to get married because that’s what my friends were doing.

I am proud of myself for leading the life that is best for me. I’m single at heart. Single life is the most meaningful life for me. It is who I really am. So to Time magazine, consider taking a peek at 21st century life. Learn a little about people who are not thinking the same thoughts as everyone else or leading the same cookie-cutter life that conventional media writers think they should be leading. We don’t know nearly as much about the single-at-heart as we should, but you can begin reading here.

With such backward, singlist content in its pages, is it any wonder that Time and its parent company are shrinking in readership and laying off people by the hundreds? When I think Time, I think stodgy and behind the times. Happily, when something this offensive hits the pages of the dinosaur, the sleeker, more creative types are there to make fun of it. L.V. Anderson at Slate, for example, actually worked her way through the app. (I just got the instant feedback that I had passed my expiration date, without downloading the actual app.) She found that the smug, condescension continued, as when the app told her, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone!” Because, of course, everyone wants to “find someone.” Read her piece. It is a lot more fun than the article in Time, and unlike the Time one, not the least bit embarrassing.

Readers, if you find any other great critiques mocking the new Time app, please post the links in the Comments section so we can all enjoy them.

And, since the thinking in Time is so matrimaniacal and myth-soaked, this may be an appropriate place to mention my collections of articles debunking myths about marriage, all in one place: Everything you think you know about the benefits of marrying is wrong: The evidence.

I won’t be writing anything else relevant to Valentine’s Day this year, so if you are interested, here are some of my other posts:

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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