It’s incredible that in 2018 women are still facing and fighting back against “-isms” like rampant sexism, ageism, and other forms of discrimination, prejudice, and negativity. The list is long, but here’s one you may not have heard of: singlism, a term coined in 2005 by Bella DePaulo, PhD, a psychologist and author of Singled Out. Singlism is defined as the stigmatizing of adults who are single. If you’re a single lady, you’re probably no stranger to feeling like there’s something wrong with you for not having (or wanting) a significant other — and if you’re coupled, perhaps you’re unknowingly contributing to the problem.
DePaulo points to several telltale signs of singlism. Ask yourself if you’ve committed or fallen victim to any of the following offenses:
- You feel sorry for your friend or family member because she’s single, even though she seems perfectly content with her relationship status.
- You try fixing up the single person in your life with someone else, as if she is broken and needs fixing
- When a single person stays at your home, you put her on the couch in the living room instead of in an extra room with a door that shuts because you figure she doesn’t need the privacy.
- When you make dinner plans or schedule social events with other couples, you purposefully leave out your single friend because you assume she will feel like a fifth wheel.
- If you’re a boss, you ask your single employees, rather than your married ones, to stay late or cover undesirable shifts or take inconvenient business trips.
“Whenever people assume that you are miserable or lonely or selfish or self-centered because you are single, that’s singlism,” explains DePaulo. But it doesn’t stop there. Businesses promote singlism all the time. “You often pay more per person than couples do for insurance, memberships to health clubs or professional organizations, tickets to events, vacation packages, and so much more,” says DePaulo.
If you’re on the receiving end of singlism, the best way to deal is to not go along with it, says DePaulo. For example, if you go to a restaurant by yourself, and the host or hostess tries to seat you in a place where you don’t want to be, like some far-off corner, let them know where you’d rather be seated.
Or when new people you meet act as if the most interesting thing about you is whether you are seeing someone, redirect the conversation. “Instead of answering that [relationship] question, talk about what matters in your life — the people you care about and what you are doing that excites you,” says DePaulo.
The good news is the tide may be turning. “People are slowly starting to realize that many single people are living full, joyful, and meaningful lives,” says DePaulo. “Even among those people who will eventually marry, they are, on the average, getting to it later in life than ever before.”
When nearly half of all adults in the U.S. are not married, she notes, it is hard to make the case that single people are unhappy or unhealthy or worse off in other ways. Some studies have even shown the opposite is true. In effect, more people identifying as single means there are more people willing to push back on the notion of singlism, and to fight for fairer workplace and business practices. And that benefits everyone.