Thursday, August 5, 2010

Living a single existence... Part 1

Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After

Lately, something that has been a big part of my life and at the forefront of my mind, is my identity as a single woman. I have been reading a book and a blog written by the author Bella DePaulo; a social psychologist and a happily single woman. Her book "Singled Out," is about how single people are "stigmatized, stereotyped and ignored and still live happily ever after."

Her blog "Living Single" has really confronted many issues I deal with as a single woman.

This whole journey of venturing into my struggles of being a single woman all started when I admitted to a close friend recently (a friend who is marreid btw) that when I am in a group of married women or even women who are engaged... I automatically feel less important. I am an opinionated and independent person and I think as a result, a lot of times, I come off as very confident and strong (even though I rarely feel that way inside) and yet...put me in a group of married women and I will automatically feel self conscious and less important...less valued. Like how I feel or what I think is not as worthy as what a married woman has to say.

Admitting that for the first time was huge for me, because to be honest I don't think it was something I had even openly acknowledged for myself.

 I think for a lot of fact the majority of women in our culture, marriage is something that defines you. Women find worth, value and identity in being a wife or being desired by a man... but it wasn't until I had this conversation with my friend Kelly, that I was able to stand back and really evaluate my view on marriage and singleness.

Shortly after that conversation, I came across a post on the Living Single blog that truly resonated with how I felt. In summary this is what the post was about.

30 single women from the UK, between the ages of 30 and 60 were involved in informal interviews about their singleness. The researcher, Jill Reynolds told them she was single, even though she was married, hoping they would speak more freely to her about the subject.

This is directly from the blog post:
"Reynolds identified four different ways of thinking about single status. (She called them "interpretive repertoires of singleness.")

1. Singleness as personal deficit
2. Singleness as social exclusion
3. Singleness as independence and choice
4. Singleness as self-development and achievement

The women who talked about singleness as a personal deficit were not necessarily saying that they felt deficient because they were single. Rather, they recognized that women who are single - especially past a certain age - are often viewed by others as deficient. Their hesitation in saying that they don't have a partner (even though they already said so in signing up for the research, and even though they were talking to a woman who told them she was single, too) could have been an indication of their sense that their single status was something that needed to be explained. As Reynolds put it, "Single women in effect always stand accused."
One of Reynolds' most intriguing suggestions is that there are dilemmas involved in all of the different perspectives on single life, not just the negative ones. Of course, it is painful to be viewed as damaged goods and to be excluded. But women who describe their singleness as independence and as a choice they have made are not home free. For example, others sometimes see them as selfish. Or, people tell those contented single people that they are just rationalizing.

The single women, as I've noted, seemed to feel the need to explain and elaborate when asked if they had a partner. Reynolds found it even more surprising that the women were apologetic when they said that they DID want a partner in the future. Why should that have been so difficult to admit? Why even think of it as an admission?

The dilemma, Reynolds thinks, is that when women "talk unashamedly about their desire for a relationship," they "risk being constructed as deficient and ‘desperate', and marked by their failure to already have a man.""

I think she hit the nail right on the head there... I think in so many ways I have viewed myself as unworthy of love if I am single and in the process have had a very insufficient view of marriage and of singlehood as a result.

I could really write forever about the subject because it is something I have been intentionally sorting through...but I won't go on forever about it in this post... hence this being "Part 1". :)

In the meantime... I'm curious about your view of singlehood? For those of you who are married...did you ever feel deficient because you were single? And those that are single you feel like you are viewed as deficient by others because of your singleness?


  1. I've been thinking more about this lately too! Mostly I've been thinking a lot about what you said and then thinking about my own family experiences (where in a family of 6 kids--4 women, two men--1 of the women married and three didn't) and how that shaped my views of marriage/singleness/self. I think because I grew up with strong role models who were both married and single, I was never under the impression that one was superior to the other or one was deficient or anything. (I think especially when you're a kid, you don't really question anything and 'society' at large has no real bearing on your more direct experience, so from a young age it seemed totally normal to me both for a woman to be married and not be married, and there wasn't any kind of stigma attached either way.) And growing up, actually, I didn't really expect to get married, and while the thought was something of a bummer because I wanted to, I don't know that I ever tied it to self-worth necessarily. (Ha, THAT issue manifested itself in other ways entirely ....) But I've definitely been thinking about that a lot lately. If I ever have kids/girls especially, I definitely want them to grow up feeling like either choice is totally valid; I really appreciate growing up with that mentality and I'd love for my maybe-future-kids to feel that way too. I think for me just being around people who were married without kids, married with kids, and single was really great, because then I grew up with that model of knowing that you can be happy and fulfilled and live a meaningful life in whatever situation. I hope I'm able to provide that kind of environment for my own kids someday.

    This got really long. Haha. Especially because I feel like I've mentioned all this to you already. The end. But I'm excited to see what others say!

    P.S. It's really weird to me that I've pretty much ONLY known you/our group when I was already with Jesse. I definitely feel like in terms of like ... formative life experiences/self worth stuff/etc., that all happened when I was single (which was all my life before that). SUPER WEIRD to think about.


  2. I was single throughout most of my university days and felt very much like damaged goods because of it. I didn't necessarily want to be in a relationship, but there was definitely pressure to do so. Now that I'm about to be married, I'm grateful for that time I had to figure myself out and to just be alone with me. It really was needed.

    I have two uncles (one on each side) who are still single. Funny, because they don't seem to face the same pressure as a single woman in their 40's would. Everyone chuckles and calls them the perpetual bachelors.

  3. @Britt, yup, how interesting about your uncles! Men definitely don't face the same judgment that women do. I don't think being single as a woman is ever easy but especially as you get older... still I think there is a lot of value in having time to become secure in yourself like you said.