A Living Single reader who has always been single emailed me to ask if I had any ideas about why her single status seemed to elicit such hostility from others. It was her impression that not all singles are targets of other people's anger. Did she have some role in evoking that sort of response?
It was an intriguing question, and I've been thinking about it for nearly a month. Then, out of the blue, I got an email from an Israeli scholar, Gal Slonim, who shared the results of a study he just presented (together with Nurit Gur-Yaish and Ruth Katz) at the 2010 International Association for Relationship Research.
Gal Slonim wondered whether singles in Israel were also targets of the same kinds of negative stereotypes that other scholars (myself included) have documented in places such as the U.S. and Germany. The short answer was yes. Participants read brief biographical sketches of other people that were identical except that the target person was sometimes described as single and other times as coupled. The single people were perceived as lonelier and more miserable than the coupled people, whereas the coupled targets were perceived as warmer and more sociable than the single targets.
Even more interesting, though, were the new questions the Israeli researchers added: What kinds of emotional reactions do singles elicit? And, does it matter if the single people say that they prefer to be single (they are single by choice) or that they want to be partnered?
Oh yes, it did matter. The 480 Israelis who took part in the study (ranging in age from 15 to 65) were more likely to feel anger toward single people who said they wanted to be single than toward singles who were looking to become partnered. They also judged those who were single by choice as lonelier and more miserable than the singles who wanted to become unsingle.
It was different for the singles who were hoping to have a long-term coupled relationship. They elicited more sympathy than did the targets who were single by choice. They were also seen as warmer and more sociable than the singles who wanted to be single.
From the data they collected, the authors cannot know for sure why the targets who were single-by-choice elicited more anger from other people, as well as more damning perceptions. Their guess is that singles who like their single lives are challenging social norms. Basically, they are rocking the boat.
I think the study also speaks to a discussion we had previously about singles who are quirkyalone vs. single at heart. When Sasha Cagen introduced her readership to quirkyalones, she described them as people who liked their single lives but would still love to find that one person in a million to be their great love. The concept took off. Lots of people wrote about it and identified with it. Those of us who are "single at heart" (not looking to become unsingle) are likely to meet with much more resistance and even hostility.
There are more answers to the reader's question about why some singles elicit more hostility and singlism than others, but I think we may now have a very telling piece of the puzzle.