Instead of trying to avoid calling ourselves single, what if we embraced it and worked together to achieve the same rights enjoyed by those who are married?
A couple of years ago, I was honored by a request from singles expert Bella DePaulo to participate in an interview she was conducting with people she considered to be change agents working to transform the negative perceptions and stereotypes that exist about single people.
DePaulo, a social psychologist with a Ph.D., is considered one of the leading experts on the topic of living single, with several books to her credit, including Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After and Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stop It. Her work was instrumental in my own epiphany about how single people are discriminated against — by their families, their communities, their employers and their government.
One of the questions DePaulo asked was if there was a specific thing I would like to see happen — one particular goal or issue that was especially important to me — in regard to creating social change.
It only took a few minutes to realize my answer: for unmarried people to see themselves as a unified group, to identify as single whether or not they are dating, “in a relationship,” divorced, widowed, never married or “not married yet” — along with all the other labels unmarried people find to describe their status in order to avoid the term “single.”
This kind of factionalism among people who are not married makes it difficult, if not downright impossible, for single people to form a coalition to effect positive change.
As long as the general consensus is that being single means 1) you’re looking for a date or 2) there’s something so wrong with you that you can’t find a date, how can we possibly be recognized for who we are — a diverse group of people who make up half of the U.S. population, half of the work force and half of the voters in the country, yet do not have access to what DePaulo and bloggers Christina and Lisa of Onely identify as over 1,000 perks and privileges granted to those who are married? And that’s not even including the social pressures singles face in a society that sees being married as the hallmark of successful adulthood.
Even singles rights activists often disagree about what being single means. Is it living alone? Is it not being in a romantic relationship? Does it mean being anti-marriage?
And please, let’s not start with how there are far bigger social injustices than discrimination against those who are unmarried. When such a significant segment of the population is being constantly reminded (seen any Hollywood romantic comedies lately?) that there’s something wrong with them, something about them that needs to be fixed just because they don’t have a spouse, how can those people ever rise to their full potential in our society? What kind of human capital is forever lost?
I propose we get into agreement with the definition used by the government, the workplace, car insurance companies and our mothers: if you’re not married, you’re single. It’s that simple. Let’s stop with all the micro definitions that divide our singular house upon itself so we can finally stand up for who we are: people who are not given access to equal rights, equal protection and freedom from social discrimination just because of our marital status.
Imagine where we would be today if racial minorities, gays and women had not stood together within their own very diverse groups to demand justice. One hundred years ago, women in the United States were not permitted to vote in national elections. With the exception of the suffragettes, how many women do you think just accepted their lack of civil rights as normal, even proper and correct? How many single people today are just accepting their “less than” status as normal?
I can remember as a kid taking a road trip to Mississippi with my aunt and seeing signs on restaurant doors that said “Whites Only” — something that would be unthinkable today. Yet in a figurative sense, “Married Only” is on the door to social acceptance, and one of the big reasons it remains there is because single people refuse to self-identify as single and work together to bring about positive social change for the benefit for all of us.
If those who are legally single could stand together and refuse to continue to accept a societal norm where “Married Only” signs are posted on the doors to a better job, affordable health and car insurance, full acceptance in our churches, equal benefits from the Social Security Administration and the IRS — as well as social acceptance in our families and our communities — maybe they would finally be willing to say “I’m single” with the same sense of pride as those who say, “I’m married.”
Copyright © Kim Calvert/2016 Singular Communications, LLC.
Kim Calvert is the editor of Singular magazine and the founder of the SingularCity social networking community. An outspoken champion of people who are living their lives as a “me” instead of a “we,” Kim oversees the creative direction and editorial content of the magazine and online social networking community. She secures contributors and is responsible for maintaining the fun, upbeat, inspirational and often-humorous tone of Singular, a lifestyle guide for successful single living.