- People who are single are used to experiencing stereotyping, stigmatization, and condescension.
- One way that they are reclaiming their power is by choosing more empowering terms to describe their single lifestyle.
- Some popular positive terms for single people today include Single at Heart, quirkyalone, self-partnered, consciously uncoupled, and solitaries.
At different times and different places, single people—especially women—have been tagged with all sorts of disparaging labels. That continues even now. The term spinster, which some are trying to reclaim, is hardly the worst of it.
Over the past decade or so, though, something entirely different has been happening. The number of single people has grown dramatically in many places all around the world. Also growing is the number of single people who want to be single. This new demographic is tired of all the stereotyping, stigmatization, and condescension, and they are not going to take it anymore.
What we are seeing now is a proliferation of terms for people who are owning their single lives. They are thriving and proud of themselves. Here are a few examples.
Single at Heart
“Single at Heart” is my term for people for whom single life is their best life—their most authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life. It is the boldest, most unambivalent, and most unapologetic of all the terms I will introduce. People who are Single at Heart disagree with those sayings they hear way too often: “It is better to be single than in a bad relationship,” or “It is better to be single than to wish you were.” Those sentiments are far too grudging. They are too wordy, too. Here’s how the Single at Heart feel: “It is better to be single.” Period.
I first introduced the term here in 2010 and asked readers for feedback. An early version of the Single at Heart quiz was published in the Psychology Today print magazine. I posted an updated version, “Are You Single at Heart?” online on Valentine’s Day in 2012. More than 16,000 people (and counting) from more than 100 nations have taken it.
Sasha Cagen put “quirkyalone” on the map with a viral essay she published in 2000 and then in her book by the same name. Of quirkyalones, Cagen said, “Romantics, idealists, eccentrics, we inhabit single-dom as our natural resting state... For the quirkyalone, there is no patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone. We want a miracle. Out of millions, we have to find the one who will understand.”
The quirkyalone concept said: We are people who are happily single, with friends and passions and full lives, but we are also romantics. We love those silly love songs, even as we recognize their silliness. Once we find that one perfect person, “Ooh la la.” I think the Single at Heart are the quirkyalones’ naughty cousins: We are joyfully single without waiting for that perfect person to come along. We are not lusting after a life that puts a romantic partner at the center, not even one who meets very high standards.
In an interview with British Vogue in 2019, actress Emma Watson admitted that she “never believed the whole ‘I’m happy single’ spiel.” But as she was approaching the age of 30, she was feeling anxious about all the singlist messaging telling her that she should have a husband and baby by now. Yes, this wildly successful woman had been fretting because, at 29, she was not married and did not have children. She told Vogue that she now realizes that single life is a happy life and called herself “self-partnered.” I have my doubts about the term, but it was great that the term went viral and inspired endless discussions of single people that renounced that antiquated and embarrassing view that sees them as leading lesser lives.
“Conscious uncoupling” became a buzz phrase when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin used it in 2014 to describe their divorce. In an essay for British Vogue, Paltrow said that when it was becoming clear that her marriage would not last, she worried about letting people down, especially her children. She wondered, “Was there a world where we could break up and not lose everything? Could we be a family, even though we were not a couple?”
The term “conscious uncoupling” was coined by Katherine Woodward Thomas, a psychotherapist and relationship coach. Her book by the same name describes five steps of learning from the experience of separation and divorce, with the goal of going on to have happier and healthier relationships.
Probably because it was Paltrow who popularized it, the term was often ridiculed. But I appreciate Woodward Thomas’s reframing of divorce. It doesn’t have to be an unmitigated disaster that leaves the couple and their children (if they have any) lastingly damaged. Newly single adults and their children can live happy and healthy lives. I’d add that the grown-ups do not need to recouple to thrive or to raise children who prosper; many will flourish as single people—some of them even more so than when they were coupled.
In his book, At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life, Fenton Johnson introduces us to “solitaries.” They are people “who are choosing to live alone or who deliberately carve out periods of solitude from otherwise conventionally coupled lives.” As that definition indicates, you don’t have to be single in order to be solitary, but if you are coupled, you need to have a partner who can deal with your love of solitude.
Johnson’s view of solitaries is highly affirming. “Those who have the most profound experience of solitude may have the most to teach,” he says. He sees solitaries “as role models for the cultivation of an inner life; as role models for leading the fruitful, engaged life of a solitary.” Note the term “engaged.” I like to say that whereas coupled people have “The One,” single people often have “the ones.” Johnson says something similar: “Perhaps that is what defines my solitaries—a reluctance to sacrifice openness to all for openness to one.”
Whether you favor one of these terms or some other one, I hope that if you love your single life, you will own it. In doing so, you will not only have a happier, more authentic life yourself; you will also be a role model for others.
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