Slating the singles. Again...

by Abby O'Reilly // 2 August 2008, 21:09

Firstly, I realise the irony in this statement, but whenever a female journalist/columnist has a deadline to meet it seems lack of originality and laziness forces them to take recourse to the same old tired topics that have been chewed to death and spat out over and over again, single life reigning high on this vomit-inducing menu. Today Stefanie Marsh over at the Times thought she’d offer a refreshing take on the “myth that being single is great,” by courageously admitting her own discontentment with life without a partner. The whole premise behind the piece is simple: unlike so many other singletons who insist they are happy, Marsh thought she’d take the initiative to say what going it alone is “really” like - “it can be horrendous, only I’m not allowed to admit it.” She claims that false press perpetuating the idea that being single can be enjoyable distracts people from the truth, and prevents those who are miserable from making their feelings known. What makes it worse is that she clearly thinks she is being dynamic.

So, there we go then. You’re sad. You’re pathetic. You’re unloved and unwanted in equal measures. There’s a “musty smell in your flat because you spend far too much time in it,” and “absolutely nobody in the world gives a toss about you, but, never mind, you’ve won the lottery of life.” Those who claim differently are either too proud to admit the fact they are crying on the inside, or worse still are trying to convince themselves that their lives are not completely meaningless without a partner. Marsh goes on to explain:

Connected to this syndrome is another unacknowledged truth: that a lot of single people are mad. Some of them are single because they are mad. They tack uplifting quotes to their bedroom walls; they try to allure the attached away from their beloved with promises of a fabulous new life in which no one ever need share a tube of toothpaste again. They begin to excel in those activities that are traditionally dominated by the singleton culture, stalking and conspiracy theorising.

Not only are single people weridos, then, but they also actively try to infect otherwise normal couples with this anti-social malign. Further still, single people are apparently socially inept, driven mad by their inability to forge an intimate relationship. Marsh not only fails to realise that the vast majority of us do not need a partner to validate our status as well-adjusted and worthwhile members of society, but that many single people have actually made an active choice not to be attached.

While Marsh is entitled to her opinion, and to write about her subjective experiences in order to illustrate her arguments, it’s unfair for her to make generic assumptions on a faction of people because of her own feelings of inadequacy. All she has done is perpetuate negative stereotypes about single life, specifically about single women (because she is one), which do nothing but undermine personal life choices. Yes, some people can be despondent with single life, and yearn for the emotional connection with another person that comes with a relationship, but others enjoy the freedoms that so-called solitude can elicit. Despite Marsh’s claims, being single does not necessarily isolate an individual from civilisation, and the vast majority have a strong network of family and friends whose company they can enjoy as and when they please. There are both positive and negative aspects to being attached and single, and neither choice should be berated and elevated above another. It's about choice, and neither should be negated.

What’s perhaps most interesting about this is that it’s a topic spoken about in the main by women. While probably not unheard of, I personally have never read a comparable comment piece by a man, with the malady of single life portrayed by the media as being something that primarily affects women. Or rather, something that reflects most negatively on the female of the species. Being single is less of a taboo for a man than for a woman, but why? Is it because we women should all be aspiring to get paired up as quickly as possible so that we are having sex within a committed relationship, whereas it’s ok for men to spread their seed like deranged sprinklers and shag whoever they want? Is this why there is less pressure on men to pair up?

The vast majority of my female friends are single, and they lead active, full, interesting and sexually fulfilling lives. Unlike Marsh, they don’t consider this as symptomatic of their own personal failings and incapabilities, but rather see their single status as an opportunity to explore their own wants and needs, and a time to figure out what it is that they actually want. They are not maudlin. They do not sit in musty flats in dirty underwear waiting for some handsome night to turn up and whisk them away to a world of perfectly mowed lawns, home baking and picket fences. In fact, by comparison, it is my male friends who find single life more difficult to adapt to when they end relationships. But maybe these gender stereotypes are mutually damaging? While, for the most part, women are encouraged to revel in their single-ness and still feel confident, men are not provided with the same support network. This is because it is always assumed that men have some sort of predisposed aversion to emotional attachments, and much rather prefer the casual sex and variety that can characterise single life. This may be true, but it's not something confined to the male sex: women can and do feel the same way. But does this mean, then, that single men feel disempowered to express their feelings, ashamed of their perceived “neediness,” and so have to internalise these feelings since they do not have a platform to express it? While most women can rely on friends, do men feel comfortable speaking about this loneliness with male counterparts, or have these feelings ironically been “feminised” to such an extent that men feel emasculated doing so? The press needs to stop representing single life as a female problem, because it is neither a difficulty nor isolated to women. Some people are happy being single, some people are not. What's so difficult to understand?

So, generally, who do you think can adjust to single life more successfully? Men or women? Do you think it needs to stop being considered in terms of gender? And to what extent do you think prevailing belief systems precipitate these difficulties?

Comments From You

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 02 August 2008 at 22:17

The only one of any of my single friends who remotely has a complex about being single is a man. We've had long, long conversations about what may or may not be "wrong" with him but it seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy with him. He'd really like a wife but gets tongue tied and stares at his shoes when he meets a lady he likes...

*If anyone is interested in an extremely intelligent, gainfully employed and creative man in his early thirties, going gracefully bald and not bad looking, let me know!*

Ellie // Posted 03 August 2008 at 00:44

On the 'being single is bad' note, I find Facebook really annoying at this. They clearly target advertising at me because I am listed as single, so I get all these 'SINGLE AT 19?' 'SINGLE AND LONELY?' adverts which imply that my only chance of happiness is to join some dating site and find love. Well thankyou very much, but being single is an active and thought out decision which is right for me. I don't need a relationship to validate myself and I hate that assumption. I also dislike that my 'coupley couple' friends do the smug, self satisfied 'it will happen for you too' thing. Have they ever thought that I'm quite fine how I am and might not want 'it' to happen for me?

Rant over!

bobo val // Posted 03 August 2008 at 01:27

It is interesting you feel the need to emphasize the fact that many single women enjoy "sexually fulfilling" lives. That is really good, but it seems when the debate starts on this topic, the option of women who are voluntarily not having sex, can not even be mentioned at all. With a colourful past, I haven't slept with anyone for nearly two years to avoid the emotional upheaval, and I am actually much happier now. Why can't women even consider that option? Is celibacy the last taboo?

Barnaby Dawson // Posted 03 August 2008 at 09:57

I'm not currently single, however, I do find it hard to deal with and yes I do think that there is less of a support network available for many men. Part of male culture sees the difficulty of being single in primarily sexual terms wereas really the lack of emotional support, reduced self confidence and lack of relationship warmth is much more important to many men.

Lack of self-confidence tends to make it harder to find a partner and this becomes a negative cycle. I've seen several good (male) friends of mine experience this. I suspect this is more of a problem for men too due to the high social importance placed on confidence in men.

Out of those of my aquaintence the women seem to find it easier to deal with being single on average.

To answer the questions in the post:

1) I surround myself with male and female friends who don't sterertype men and women so I personally have a support network. However, many male friends of mine have no network (or rely on me) for support.

I suspect that were society more equal men and women (but particularly men) would find adjusting to single status easier.

Aimee // Posted 03 August 2008 at 13:21

I have to concur, the only people i ever hear complaining about how they're 'sad and alone' are men! And I have no time for them. I've been 'sad and alone' and it made no difference to me. A lot of my friends are 'sad and alone' and are having a rather happy and people-filled existence and don't spend every waking moment contriving ways to 'snag a partner'. This idea that being single means spending friday nights alone on the sofa with a microwave meal for one is ridiculous to me. First of all vegging out on the sofa on you're own is fun! And secondly, invite a friend round? It's not that hard! I find the best advice to give to people who are 'sad and alone' and not happy with it is that 'sad and alone' is nothing but a state of mind, and furthermore, no one is attracted to a whining, self depricating attitude, so if they are that desperate for a partner, harping on about how miserable they are is not the best way to go.

Jess // Posted 03 August 2008 at 15:13

"whenever a female journalist/columnist has a deadline to meet it seems lack of originality and laziness forces them to take recourse to the same old tired topics that have been chewed to death and spat out over and over again, single life reigning high on this vomit-inducing menu"

Hmm, I really disagree with this. It's more to do, surely, with what newspapers want to publish, the type of women's voices they want to give a platform for, etc, than something about the nature of being a female columnist(!)

Sian // Posted 03 August 2008 at 17:21

I hate it when journalists think because something applies to them, it must apply to everyone. The "I'm sick of being single" feeling does not translate to "being single is rubbish for everyone" As with this article. Why can't people accept that different people want different things? It's really not new either, I feel like I've read similar articles a hundred times before-so fairly lazy journalism.

I think there's definitely a gender difference in people's perceptions of single/coupled life-my boyfriend says that some acquaintances in uni almost act like they feel sorry for him for being 'tied down' (we've been living together since we were 19, unusual I realise but nobody forced us to!) whereas I've never had anyone say that to me. This is partly due to our relatively young age but also fits in with the happy bachelor/crazed with unfilled lust spinster dichotomy. These assumptions end up being unfair on both genders when you don't fit in with them.

Alicia // Posted 03 August 2008 at 17:46

Actually, if you are spending a lot of time in your flat, it smells much less musty than if you are out and about because you can open the windows.

Mobot // Posted 03 August 2008 at 22:19

Oh ffs! The article in question reads like something from the 1950s - it's all based around the idea that all women *need* a man to complete them so that they can live "normal" lives in nice little suburban boxes with a manicured lawns and children to fully validate their existence (and obviously it's men that women need specifically, since lesbians are really just "man-haters", bisexual women are just "showing off for men" or don't exist, etc etc).
I am fiercely protective of my single status, having spent too much time in damaging relationships, and have had plenty of opportunities to give up being single but have chosen not to take them up.
I find that the single men around me are often preoccupied with sex and relationships (and some will generally try it on with every female in sight until one *gives in*, having been conditioned to believe that this is normal and natural, and even perhaps a good way to begin a potential relationship, which they're never supposed to admit to wanting), whereas the women closest to me tend more towards leading full and happy lives with great support networks, regardless of their status in the relationship department... well, apart from the ones in unfulfilling relationships of course - which is another issue completely ignored by the hetero-sexist, anti-single, transphobic, misogynistic - I could go on - mainstream media.

jj // Posted 04 August 2008 at 06:36

Abby O'Reilly,

"But does this mean, then, that single men feel disempowered to express their feelings, ashamed of their perceived “neediness,” and so have to internalise these feelings since they do not have a platform to express it?"

I think that "neediness" (some sort of lack of control over one's life) issue only comes up with women, in my experience. If there's any woman who has ever been attracted to a man exposing this kind of emotional weakness (which is very different from exposing certain emotional vulnerabilities while getting to know each other), I'd be very surprised. Even if I were profoundly unhappy about my single life and hadn't had sex in a year, I'd write an article like this one saying how I'm single and fabulous and bedding another woman at least every other week.

ConservaToryGirl,

"He'd really like a wife but gets tongue tied and stares at his shoes when he meets a lady he likes..."

You know there are workshops for this kind of problem? Approach anxiety is something that can be handled quite successfully.

Aimee // Posted 04 August 2008 at 09:34

"If there's any woman who has ever been attracted to a man exposing this kind of emotional weakness (which is very different from exposing certain emotional vulnerabilities while getting to know each other), I'd be very surprised."

This is a very, very strange judgement to make and a very odd presumption on your behalf, claiming to be able to confidently evaluate the pschye, wants and desires of every woman, ever. Whilst I personally don't consider 'neediness' to be a desirable quality in anyone, male or female, I don't presume to be able to speak for every woman who has ever existed in stating that NO woman would find this quality desirable. People are attracted to very different things. It's very arrogant to assume that you are in a position to say that no one would be attracted to a man disaplying qualities that emulate so called 'neediness'.

jj // Posted 04 August 2008 at 14:45

Aimee,

"Whilst I personally don't consider 'neediness' to be a desirable quality in anyone, male or female, I don't presume to be able to speak for every woman who has ever existed in stating that NO woman would find this quality desirable."

Well, I said I'd be *surprised* if a woman would find it attractive. Not that it's impossible. Not sure how you read an intention to confidently assess the desires of every woman that ever existed into that. You don't think "neediness" is attractive in anyone, apparently - and, logical disclaimers about the possibility of someone who does aside, you even indirectly argue my point -

"disaplying qualities that emulate so called 'neediness'."

Emulate? Because 'real' neediness isn't attractive?

Lizzie // Posted 04 August 2008 at 19:39

I found the Times article funny until i remembered it was sincere.
The tone was so bitter and unhappy, i wonder why the Times published this rather than funding councilling for the author.
Perhaps they did both.
Some statements are just incredible, like
"single people spend most of their time inside their heads".
Really? I don't see what that has to do with being single at all. I thought the whole article was ridiculous.

People's feelings about being single is as individual as any other opinion, columnists should not generalise like in this article. Some statements are just incredible, like
"single people spend most of their time inside their heads".
Really? I don't see what that has to do with being single at all.
Women are pressurised to form meaniingful, fulfilling, life-enhancing *cough* relationships with Mr Right as it is, without this kind of stupid onslaught.

Sara Schultz // Posted 05 August 2008 at 10:00

It's sad that our society continues to bemoan and belittle the single woman. It's not doing a service to ANYONE, man nor woman. I'd say on the whole, more of my male friends have issues with singledom, but who wouldn't develop a complex in this society with articles such as these?

As a single woman, I've been subjected to suggestions of prince charming coming through the next door, artificial insemination (though I've never said I wanted children), and from my mom, the suggestion that I've chosen to not even live my life (given up on relationships with males after losing my dad to cancer when I was seven).

A partner is not going to make you happy if you are not happy with yourself--- how can they even publish these articles anymore? It's appalling.

Shea // Posted 05 August 2008 at 13:04

I just want to join those in calling this article totally ridiculous.

Articles like this in the Times never consider that this time now is the best ever in history for single women of all ages. We have never had so much privilege or freedom . We have the option to make the meaningful choices about our lives, whether to have children, to travel, to have a career-- entirely free of male interference. Even having children is something we alone get to decide. We have unlimited potential, we can vote, we can work and live independently. To my grandmothers generation this was unheard of. We even have a sexual freedom that was unknown in the past and is unthinkable in a lot of the majority world. But no, it is vital that we have these pointless article ruminating on the misery to be found in all of the above. Really?! I don't think we have ever had it better, single or married, or any other state and we should be rejoicing.

I also agree with the commentators above that being single and lonely seems to be much more of a male phenomenon. Wasn't there some research done that showed men are much happier and healthier in a marriage but for women it was being single?

Chloe // Posted 06 August 2008 at 17:15

I've had much more fun on my own watching tv in my pjs eating ice cream than on any of the tedious dates I've been on lately...

Night vs. Knight // Posted 07 August 2008 at 21:01

Maybe if she spelled "knight" the correct way...when she means the one in shining armor and not the part of the day after the sun sets...I would have an easier time seeing her point of view. Hm.

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