11 Stereotypes About Single Women We Seriously Need To Leave Behind

More than half a century after the women's liberation movement in the U.S., it's nice to imagine that we've left old, patriarchal stereotypes about single women behind us. But the truth is that some stereotypes persist, and they can have a devastating impact on single women's physical and mental health.

According to a study from the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, for instance, the persistence of gender stereotypes in today's media is having a profound impact on children and teens. This includes negatively influencing young girls' beliefs about standards of beauty, career opportunities, and the overall role of women and girls in modern society.

And stereotypes about single women tend to be especially persistent (and pernicious), particularly when a woman has not married or married and divorced by the age of 30. But what are the most prevalent stereotypes concerning single women today, and what can be done about them? We'll take a look at 11 of the most common and potentially damaging of these myths about the single lady.

All single women want a partner

The assumption that every woman who isn't paired up is actively looking for a mate isn't just false — it can also be damaging. It can put women on the defensive, as they find themselves constantly having to defend or explain their life choices.

The reality is that increasing numbers of women are choosing to remain single well into adulthood, and a significant proportion of those assert that they are not seeking a relationship. Indeed, these single-by-choice women appear to be comfortable with the prospect of never marrying, which is entirely antithetical to the stereotype that women consider their single lives as necessarily temporary and inherently inferior to some future (and hoped-for) married life.

A woman's choice to be single derives from a host of factors. Some are choosing to focus on their careers. Others find the intimacy and companionship they need in platonic friendships and close relatives. Some prefer ethical non-monogamy, polyamory, or other "non-traditional" forms of partnership. And, finally, there are those who are simply content and fulfilled in their current lives, with no desire to change that. These single-by-choice women are living the autonomy that the women's liberation movement pursued and proclaimed, even in the face of the persistent and false belief that a single woman always is in search of her "other half."

Single women who don't want a partner are broken

We've already seen that single women aren't always, or even often, in search of a partner. However, persistent stereotypes can make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to say this. When a woman asserts that she is not seeking a relationship, the assumption is often that there's something "wrong" with her.

Others may assume that she is still grieving a break-up or is bitter or broken due to a past relationship or some kind of trauma. They may also judge her as somehow medically, emotionally, or psychologically abnormal, a throwback to the "frigid" woman stereotype. Unmarried and never-married women who are not actively seeking a relationship are sometimes assumed to have something "wrong" with them or their mental health.

This trope suggests that single-by-choice women are in need of "curing," and they must be "treated" by a doctor, a psychiatrist, or even a member of the clergy in order to free them of their ailment and make them normal, healthy, and whole again. In fact, women who choose to be single are rarely reacting out of fear, incapacity, or some kind of "brokenness." Their choices derive from their priorities in the moment and the courage to pursue exactly the life that suits them best.

Single women are bitter, angry, and pathetic

Stereotypes surrounding single women suggest that they're not exactly the kind of women you want to hang out with. In fact, there's a pervasive myth that women who are single will be so soured by their life's circumstances that they're pretty much irredeemable.

The implication is that the loneliness and heartache that is (wrongly) assumed to be the single woman's lot have inevitably made her bitter, angry, or simply pathetic. And this bitterness, the myth goes, will only lead to a vicious cycle of unhappiness and desperation that will perpetuate her loneliness. She'll either leap recklessly into some dysfunctional relationship with an unworthy partner in order to avoid being alone any longer, or she'll simply continue to be unable to attract a desirable mate. And, in that case, she'll just continue to pine for the "traditional" family she is increasingly less likely to find.

It's a view of single women that is not only false but also profoundly unfair, disempowering, and discriminatory — one based on the erroneous assumption that being paired up is always already "better" and more desirable than being single. In reality, women with the means and opportunity to live their lives as they choose are probably going to be happier, more fulfilled, and more satisfied than if they submitted to living someone else's idea of perfection.

Single women have not been chosen

Another common single-woman stereotype is that she has not been able to attract or "hold on to" a partner. This stereotype suggests that single women are not single by choice but, rather, because they themselves have not been "chosen." This, again, harkens back to the premise that there's some kind of deficiency, such as a physical, sexual, or psychological "lack" in a woman who is single and not looking, one that makes her inherently unworthy of love and commitment.

According to a study published by Social Psychological and Personality Science, relationship status is strongly linked to "social support" and stigmatization. Being single, for both men and women, is often perceived as a marker of a lack of desirability, whether physical, sexual, emotional, or some combination of these.

The presumption is that a single woman has likely been found wanting by prospective partners in the past and that, no matter what she may do, how she may seem, or what she may say, there is a flaw somewhere that leads the wise to move on to other more "worthy" candidates. The reality, though, is that single women, including those who have never married or been in a committed relationship, are rarely without options. Their status is about choice, not the lack of it.

Single women are lonely

This stereotype suggests that you can't really experience true connection, companionship, or community unless it's in the context of a romantic partnership. The presumption here is that the best, truest, and most enduring form of intimacy is one that involves both a deep emotional and sexual connection. It also suggests that the antidote to loneliness comes only and always in the form of a monogamous sexual relationship, usually within marriage and involving a shared home and children.

The reality, though, is that single women can build highly emotionally fulfilling relationships and cultivate a deep sense of familial belonging with platonic friends as well as within their extended family unit.

It's often said, for instance, that your friends are the family you get to choose. And, for many women, there can be just as much connection and fulfillment in being a daughter, sister, auntie, or cousin as there is in being a wife, mommy, or grammie. After all, families come in all varieties, shapes, and sizes, and just because you're not filing a joint income tax doesn't mean you're alone or lonely.

Single women can't parent as well as married women

As stigmatized as single women without children often are, it's single mothers and their children who often face the most judgment. The presumption is that women who are parenting without a partner simply can't do as good a job as someone with a spouse or co-parent.

This stereotype suggests that the children of single mothers are likely to be deprived of healthy male role models and father figures. And, by extension, this means that boys won't learn how to grow up, and girls won't learn to develop healthy relationships in their adult lives.

The assumption also holds that single mothers will not be able to provide the time or the financial, educational, and physical resources a married mother could. In truth, with divorce rates nearing 50% and more and more single women choosing to conceive or adopt, large segments of the population will have been raised, at least for a time, in single-parent homes. Yet, the world has not ended, and the rising generation has proven to be as happy, competent, and successful as any other.

Women who are single are pathologically obsessed with their career

Thank Bette Davis in "All About Eve" for this one. The myth here is that women who are single, especially if they've never been married or had children, are so obsessed with their careers that they're practically pathological. The stereotype maintains that single women who are also highly successful in their careers have had to renounce their femininity in order to climb the ladder of success.

The presumption is that they've chosen to sacrifice marriage and motherhood in order to become a kind of apex predator in their field. But the single career woman stereotype also often ties in strongly with other myths, such as the idea that being single, especially single and childless, is only a temporary state and that the woman is, or should be, moving toward a more fulfilling destiny. Once upon a time, it was presumed, of course, that that destiny would be as a stay-at-home mom.

Today, however, the more common presumption is that the woman will choose to marry, have children, and maintain a career, no matter how difficult and draining this trope of having it all may be. In truth, the decision to focus on one's career is a choice like any other, no better and no worse. It's the individual who gets to decide whether it's the right path for them.

Single women are immature

No matter how old you are, how long you've lived on your own, or how accomplished you are in your career and community, you're still likely to be infantilized if you pass a certain stage of adulthood without having married and borne children. The stereotype that single women are immature is rooted in this antiquated paradigm. It presumes that those who have not built a "traditional" family or something close to it (i.e., a long-term relationship with a cohabitating partner) are not really fulfilling the obligations of a true adult.

It suggests that you're either too afraid or too incompetent to take on adult burdens, such as earning a stable income, managing your own home and finances, raising children, and in general, being a contributing member of society. The assumption here also holds that an adult without these more traditional bonds of obligation enjoys a leisurely and sort of provisional life, that they may flee back to their parent's basement, run off to a commune, or quit their job at a moment's notice just because they can.

And thus, in their "immaturity," the single person is also unpredictable, unreliable, frivolous, and often in need of a parent or responsible adult to counsel and rescue them. In truth, it takes a tremendous amount of strength, self-awareness, and, yes, maturity to follow your own path.

Single women are self-centered and high maintenance

Another stereotype is that single women are almost always self-centered and high-maintenance. This goes back to the assumption that there's "something" wrong with a woman who is single and not looking. The premise is that single women are too preoccupied with their own very particular needs that they cannot or will not care about the needs of others, particularly those of a romantic partner.

Maintaining a healthy, long-term relationship, after all, takes work. It requires you to have empathy, to be able to compromise, and, often, to put your partner's needs ahead of your own. Thus, when a woman is single, especially if she has never been married or in a long-term relationship, then the stereotypical assumption is that she's too self-involved to commit to anyone beyond herself.

The corollary to this, of course, is that she's pretty much too high-maintenance to tolerate for long. This suggests that she's not only too wrapped up in her own wants and needs to think of anyone else's but also that those needs are so exacting as to make her insufferable. And so, the story goes, prospective partners quickly head for the hills, and she barely even notices. In reality, the choice to remain single can be a tremendously selfless act because you're refusing to use someone else simply to make yourself appear more socially "acceptable."

Women who are single aren't busy

When you're unmarried, especially if you don't have children, then it's also commonly assumed that you're not busy in your life. This stereotype can be especially damaging in the workplace, as single women who are childless are often the first to be asked to work late or take on additional projects (via Forbes). Bosses and colleagues alike often expect them to put in the extra hours because, unlike wives and mothers, they don't have anything "significant" to do with their off-hours.

This can result in enormous pressure on single women to do far more than their fair share in the workplace for fear of retribution if they don't. The idea, for instance, that colleagues, employers, and even friends and family will expect you to always be available to pick up the slack when married people and parents can't is based on one critical idea: Single people's lives just aren't as important as those of married people, especially those with children.

The presumption is that singletons have no demands on their time outside of work and that any commitments outside of work are superficial and provisional. A single woman who has her priorities straight, the myth holds, will be more than happy to work overtime or to run errands so that her married coworkers and friends can get home to their families. The truth is that a single woman's obligations are just as valuable, and her free time is just as important as any other person's.

Single women would be happier if they were paired up

Another single-woman stereotype is the presumption that all singletons would be happier if they were married or, at least, in a committed relationship. This stereotype connects with the infantilization of single women previously described. It suggests that single women don't really know or understand their own minds, and they're lying to themselves or others when they claim they are single by choice and happy about it.

The assumption here is that these women either don't know what they're missing or that they really aren't single by choice after all and that, at the end of the day, they would be happier if they found a partner. Ultimately, such a stereotype is deeply condescending because it implies that only those with a long-term partner truly understand what the singleton needs.

This connects strongly with a centuries-old paternalism that assumes that all women require guidance, tutoring, and even a measure of discipline and control by and from those who are wiser than they. Historically, this "wise" figure was a father, husband, uncle, or brother. But it could also be an older, married woman who was herself under the guidance and protection of a male. Today, though, the stereotype can be perpetuated by and through anyone who consciously or unconsciously assumes that marriage or long-term partnerships are the apotheoses of human life. It's sustained by a culture that presumes that all adult women are, or should be, working to find "the one."