Yes, We Really Do Want Lifelong Singlehood

People who are single-at-heart do want lifelong singlehood.

Posted Sep 10, 2012

Here’s the short answer to the question posed by the recent Psychology Today post, “Do you really want lifelong singlehood?” Yes.

Yes, we do. We who are single at heart love our single lives. To live single is to live our most authentic and meaningful lives. We are not just telling ourselves that, “consciously or unconsciously hiding from the pain of not having the relationship [we] truly want.” I wonder whether the authors realize, consciously or unconsciously, just how condescending that statement truly is. They, who have never met the vast majority of the single people they are demeaning by their “hiding from the pain” insult, seem to think they know better than the single people themselves.

The authors note that teenagers still say that marriage is very important to them. Teenagers, yes. But what about the Pew surveys of grown-ups? In response to the question, “Do you want to get married,” only 46 percent said yes.

Of course, the authors did throw us the sop, “while some may be perfectly happy being single;” yet the rest of the post is a throw-back to the days before there was much consciousness-raising about single life or critical thinking about marriage and matrimania. Now, there are so many bloggers writing in thoughtful ways about single life that there is a website, Single with Attitude, which aggregates their feeds. You won’t find those bloggers whining, “Poor me, I’m single!” They are not yearning to become unsingle.

Consider a few choice excerpts from the post questioning whether we really want lifelong singlehood:

  • “People stop fixing you up for dates, because they believe you really prefer being single, even if you don’t really want to be.” (They say this as if it is a bad thing if people stop trying to “fix” you.)
  • Hey, relationships aren’t easy, but they can help: “So don’t give up yet!”
  • Then there’s this: “Stay tuned – and stay Couple!”
  • This next one is almost a self-parody. The authors advise couples to come up with a “couple proclamation” such as “We are one” and recite it every day. As Dave Barry used to say, I swear I’m not making this up. The authors promise that if you say your “We are one” proclamation every day you will have “couple power.”

The authors also seem totally oblivious to the embarrassing methodological problems that plague most studies claiming to show the “marked personal and social benefits of marriage over singlehood or cohabitation.” I reviewed those scientific embarrassments, and described what really could be concluded from that research, in one chapter after another of Singled Out. As more studies have appeared, I have continued to critique them in this Living Single blog that I have been writing since 2008. (I collected many of the relevant posts from the first few years of the blog and other relevant critiques from my op-ed pieces here. There’s also a brief summary of my arguments in The Case for Marriage is a Sham. Also check out, Is cohabiting bad for you?)

I guess the authors also don’t know about the many ways in which people who stay single for life do just fine. Maybe they have not considered the possibility that many Americans just want to be single. (They cite the matrimaniacal National Marriage Project in their opening paragraph, so that gives you a hint about where they are coming from.)

So to the authors: If you have single people who come to you in your practice and say they are wondering whether they really do want to be coupled, and would like some help, then have at them. But please do not presume that the people who come to see you in your practice represent all or even most single people. Please do not imply that if only we got married, we would enjoy “marked personal and social benefits.” There are many of us who love our single lives, and are tremendously grateful that we live in a time when we don’t all have to live a one-size-fits-all life and get married and have children. That was the 1950s. This is the 21st century. Now our wish is for the singlism to stop. I think you can help people who want to be coupled without denigrating those who do not. And as PhDs, I think it is particular important that you not make claims about the scientific literature that are exaggerated or just plain false.

For anyone who wants to read more about being Single at Heart, below are links to some previous posts.

Posts about “Single at Heart” (other than the survey results):

Here are results from the first 1200 participants in the Single at Heart survey: