Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Is it ok to be single?

Bridget Jones reflects the single life for a lot of women.Photo / File
Bridget Jones reflects the single life for a lot of women.Photo / File

"Coupledom shrinks the world ... You have fewer friends, you have fewer opportunities to go out in the world and explore ..." says Michael Cobb, a Toronto-based professor and author of Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled in Two against one: About coupledom and the stigma of being single.

According to the article, singles "don't really exist as a recognized category, because our prevailing cultural narrative sees them as "real" people in waiting". We see being single as a temporary state, connected with loss if you are divorced or widowed, transitory if you are between relationships or yet to partner up. It is seldom acknowledged that being single may be a choice rather than an unfortunate circumstance.

Cobb is not the first person to identify the culturally and socially entrenched negative attitudes towards single people. Helen Fielding, creator of fictional singleton Bridget Jones, coined the term "smug marrieds" for those cosy coupled up people who have a sense of superiority over their single friends.

In The single files, I interviewed four women who were happily single. Even though their stories were upbeat I was unable to resist the journalistic urge to categorise and explain why these women were still single: they were variously labelled "too independent", "too fussy", "so empowered" and "on a journey of self-discovery". (I also recall it wasn't entirely straightforward finding candidates for the article. Several women I approached told me: "Well, I am single but I wouldn't say I'm happily so.")

Singled out: Are unmarried people discriminated against? says that single people pay more for health and car insurance, and are discriminated against by landlords and employees.

Singleedition.com is "the premier lifestyle destination for singles". I expected it to be an inspirational forum that made the state of being single covetable but Celebrate your independence, the first story I clicked on, portrayed singles as a needy bunch and parroted dreary bullet-points such as "Pretty people can be lonely too" and "Love knocks, but not when you're sitting at home."

The stigmatisation of single people has its roots in earlier decades. 'Spinster' and the Stigma of Being Single cited a 1957 survey that found "eighty percent of Americans believed that people who preferred to remain single were 'sick', 'neurotic' or 'immoral'. Unmarried women were deemed suspect, as they could steal away a husband at any time. And unwed men were seen as 'narcissistic, deviant, and pathological'."

It seems that even today assimilating single people into social situations can sometimes need delicate handling. Etiquettescholar.com recommends we "[a]void inviting one single person to an all couples event. Instead, invite a few single people so no one feels unescorted."

The etiquette experts at Ecco Domani take that advice a step further with "if most of your guests are couples, invite single people in pairs. A lone single person at a party can feel stranded." Now that's an ingenious way to sort out the issue of singletons who refuse to subscribe to societal norms. Take two of those pesky single people, join them together, call them a couple and the problem is solved. How convenient is that?

What's your view on society's obsession with "coupledom"? Is the stigma of being single diminishing? Have you ever been discriminated against for being single?

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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