Dealing with the Put-Downs

Sometimes it really is about them, not you

Posted Aug 04, 2010

The comments section of this Living Single blog is such a great source of questions to ponder and issues to tackle. I've been thinking about the discussion of this post, especially these observations posted by Deb01 in response to Anonymous:

"I think what you are saying is that you really enjoy the freedom and increased control over your life that being single allows. At the same time, it is often difficult to deal with the social putdowns, negative comments and lack of acknowledgement of your achievements which come from others around you because you are single.

"I really struggle with the second part of this as well. I think it would be good to see a post or two from Bella as to how we could better deal with this side of things."

I just know that Living Single readers will have lots of their own ideas to contribute, so I'll just mention a few of my own and then watch for comments.

First, sometimes it really isn't you - it's them. Remember the study I described in which people felt especially angry toward singles who had chosen to be single (compared to those who wanted to become unsingle)? The people expressing such hostility did not even know the singles they were damning. They just knew that the single person they were reading about liked his or her single life, and that was enough to unleash their condemnation.

Second, for me, trying to figure out what's going on when people react negatively to me or to other singles is itself helpful. Now, when I experience or learn about an instance of singlism, it still bothers me, but it also intrigues me. Why, I wonder, would someone think less of another person, or treat them unfairly, or ignore their accomplishments, just because that person is single? That's a question I address often in my writings. Happily, research is continuing, and critical analyses keep coming, too, so I think we are making progress. As we get a better grip on where singlism is coming from, we should be able to come up with better ways of tamping it down.

Not everyone reacts to single people - even the happy ones - with hostility. What separates the people who can and cannot deal with happy single people? I think about that too. I wonder, as readers have suggested, whether those who are quick to put down single people are not so happy with their own lives. At this point, that's just a guess. As we say in the journals, "more research is needed."

Another thing I like to do is take my own values and live them out loud. I don't want to hear "are you seeing anyone" as a conversation-opener (or at all, for that matter), so I don't greet other people with that inquiry. Regardless of whether another person is single or coupled, I want to know whom they care about (other than a romantic partner), what interests them, what they are passionate about, what they are worried about. I bet they'd like to discuss those things. I'm happy to talk about their partner, too, if that's relevant and of interest to them, but if I can help it, that will never be the only topic of our conversations.

I think that we should value the people who are important to us, regardless of whether we are having sex with them. I try to live that value out loud, too. If I'm hosting a social gathering, for example, I let guests know that they are welcome to bring friends or relatives.

My big-picture goal is consciousness-raising. I want people to think about singles in more enlightened ways. That includes fellow scholars and bloggers, your family members and so-called friends who badger you about being single, your employers and co-workers who think you don't have a life (or who see your life as less important than everyone else's), community and political leaders, and people with media megaphones. When other people practice singlism, THEY are the ones who should end up feeling badly.