One of the most tenacious myths about single people is that they are miserable and lonely, and suffer from ill-health and low self-esteem because, after all, they "don't have anyone." All that is pure nonsense - that's why I get to call these notions myths rather than realities.
In many ways, though, it is understandable that people THINK singles are miserable. Singlism (the stereotyping and stigmatizing of people who are single) and matrimania (the over-the-top hyping of marriage and coupling) are the wallpaper of contemporary American life.
SNIPPETS OF SINGLISM
Here are 6 sample snippets of everyday singlism and matrimania:
1. On April 23, the day after the Pennsylvania primary, Jack Cafferty of CNN posed this question: "Why can't Barack Obama close the deal?" Of the hundreds of responses that viewers sent in, only 5 were read on the air. This, from Steve in Atlanta, was one of them: "Jack, Obama can't close the deal because all of the older women are voting for the Clintons. Every family has a crazy aunt. I just found out that mine thinks Hillary is the best candidate. These women should stay out of politics and go play with their 11 cats."
2. A few months ago, Time magazine published a special issue on the science of romance. In an article called "Marry Me," Time claimed that getting married makes you healthier. (In Singled Out, I debunked that claim, and showed why some of the very studies cited by Time really do not support that conclusion.) To explain this (false) statement, Time said, "Marriage means no more drinking at singles' bars until closing, no more eating uncooked ramen noodles out of the bag and calling it a meal."
3. During the Pope's recent visit to the U.S., CNN commentators did the play-by-play of the Bushes meeting the pontiff at the airport. One of them noted, "I know that the Pope was very interested in meeting the president's family, especially Jenna, since she's going to be married soon." Wolf Blitzer then speculated that the Pope must be planning a blessing for the occasion. The reporter replied, "Well, I understand that the gift that he's going to give is going to be designed for Jenna."
Personally, I don't know why anyone should be more interested in meeting someone about to be married than someone who is single and not planning to become unsingle anytime soon. But the POPE? Isn't HE single? Here, I want to give a shout-out to the wonderful title of a book written by Karen Salmansohn, another Psychology Today blogger: Even God is Single (so stop giving me a hard time).
4. During the Hardball College Tour, Chris Matthews asked Barack Obama how he manages to stay away from smoking. The Democratic Presidential candidate replied, "I think that it is important to just keep in mind, I have a nine-year-old daughter and a six-year-old daughter. And I want to give them away at their weddings."
5. A few weeks later, on the day after one of the Democratic Presidential debates, Chris Matthews offered this guess about what the debate watchers were thinking as the evening progressed: "They stopped listening a half-hour in, and they noticed how pretty she is - Michelle - and they said, ‘I like the fact he's [Obama] got this pretty wife. He's happily married. I like that.'"
6. I have in front of me a March 2008 magazine that includes a story on wedding planning. It is a straightforward how-to guide, with tips such as "Get organized," "Enlist help," and "Enjoy the day." What magazine was this in? GradPSYCH, a professional magazine for graduate students published by the American Psychological Association. I swear I am not making this up.
For those of you already set to pounce, let me concede your point: This is all small stuff.
1. Jack Cafferty reads lots of outrageous responses.
2. Most grown-ups know better than to believe everything they read in Time.
3. Maybe Jenna's single sister was thrilled to be exempt from the Pope-a-thon.
4. Perhaps Barack Obama did not mean to imply that he would be disappointed if his daughters stayed single.
5. Chris Matthews makes so many insensitive remarks that Media Matters keeps tabs on them.
6. Who cares if a professional magazine prints a story on wedding planning.
There are instances of singlism that are more serious than the ones I've described here. (I reviewed some of them in Chapter 12 of Singled Out.) Still, in its level of intensity, vitriol, and destructiveness, the discrimination faced by people who are single is not on a par with that faced by the targets of, say, racism or heterosexism.
Unlike the better-known isms, however, singlism is often practiced without apology or even awareness. Also, although singlism is not likely to be as scathing as racism, the steady drip, drip, drip of it could drive single people over the edge - if they were not so amazingly resilient.