When I talk about people's stereotypes about singles, one of the reactions I sometimes get is, "So what?" Why, the skeptics are asking, should I care about what other people think, even if it is negative and wrong.
So suppose I meet someone for the first time, let's say a man, who believes that single people are miserable and lonely and want nothing more than to become unsingle. He has no particular animus toward me or toward single people in general - he just expects single people to have certain emotions and motivations. Those are his beliefs. Would he behave toward me any differently than if he did not have those beliefs? Specifically, might he somehow get me to behave in ways that are in keeping with his false expectations about what I'm really like?
With regard to this specific question about whether expectations about single people can shape singles' behavior in ways that confirm those expectations - well, there is no research that tests exactly that. There are, however, hundreds - if not thousands - of studies of the ways that one person's expectations can shape another person's behavior. This isn't dopey Law of Attraction stuff - the studies show just how the process unfolds, and it is not by "manifesting" or other voodoo.
Early Studies of Expectancy Effects
One of the classic early studies of expectancy effects was conducted by my graduate advisor, Robert Rosenthal. He told elementary school teachers that some of the students had been identified as intellectual bloomers by a test they took. The teachers were told the names of those students and led to expect that those students would do particularly well over the course of the coming academic year.
In fact, the information given to the teachers was bogus. The students identified as bloomers were no different academically from the other students. Their names were selected at random. Only their teachers' expectations for them differed. Yet, sure enough, the students who were expected to bloom really did do better than the others by the end of the school year.
That study was conducted decades ago. By now, the power of expectations has been demonstrated not just in classrooms, but also in workplaces, courtrooms, doctor-patient interactions, parent-child interactions, psychotherapy, consumer transactions, and more.
After the first 30 or so studies had been published, Rosenthal was able to specify how teachers (and others) behaved differently toward people for whom they had different expectations. For example, when teachers were interacting with students they expected to bloom academically, compared to when they were interacting with their other students:
In those ways, and others discovered over subsequent years, teachers convey their expectations without ever having to say directly that they think particular students are particularly smart. Most likely, the teachers were good teachers, trying to be fair and encouraging to all of their students. But their behavior was not the same, and their students' outcomes were not the same either.
In other contexts (such as medical settings or courtrooms), the particular ways in which expectations are conveyed may differ, but the point gets across and behavior is shaped.
How Might Single People Be Influenced by Other People's Stereotypes and Expectations?
There are countless factors that influence human behavior; other people's expectations comprise just one of them. Moreover, some people may be more resistant than their peers to the expectations of others. With those qualifications in mind, how - if at all - do you think your own behavior as a single person might be shaped by other people's expectations?
I'll offer just a few suggestions here, then look for your ideas in the comments section. Maybe someone will then go out and conduct the relevant research to see what really does happen.
Okay, well you get the picture. What do you think? Could acquaintances, relatives, and others who believe that singles are miserable, lonely, and desperate to find The One get you to doubt yourself? Could you end up feeling a bit sad and lonely, even if you did not feel that way before the conversation began? If you don't think you would be affected by other people's stereotypes and expectations, what about other singles - could they be affected? I guess an even bigger question is how you can stand your ground and be the person you really want to be, even if others don't get it about the life you prefer.